Album Review: Vanquish by Two Steps From HellNiktheWiz Here is a brief introduction for those who are unfamiliar with Two Steps From Hell: TSFH is a music company that composes music primarily for trailers in movies, video games, or other forms of media. It consists of two primary members: Norwegian composer and multi-instrumentalist Thomas J. Bergersen, the primary founder and composer for most of the company's music, and London composer and co-founder Nick Phoenix. They have been around in the music industry since 2006 and burst onto the scene in 2010 with their breakthrough album, Invincible. On the surface, they may not seem that huge, but their music has been featured on several occasions throughout television, movies, and video games. Appearances range from segments of America's Got Talent to the trailer for Interstellar to even a segment in the 2012 London Olympics. There are even more appearances than that. As of today, TSFH has released dozens of albums, not even including Bergersen's solo projects like Sun and Illusions.
After discussing pop and country music for a while now, I think it is finally time to discuss one of my top 5 favorite music genre of all time: orchestral. What's always been so captivating about the genre is that with or without lyrics, it can deliver some of the best instrumentals in any genre of music, which is what brings us to the group that has got me into music in the first place: Two Steps from Hell. Normally, they are more known for their uplifting and empowering songs like Heart of Courage, Victory, Protectors of the Earth, El Dorado, etc., but they have proven time to time that they are more than just that. Thomas Bergersen has gone on to say that Two Steps from Hell is not limited to one genre or style of music, which is something I can applaud him for, because unlike several artists who have used it as a defense for mislabeling their music for commercial gain, Thomas Bergersen and Nick Phoenix actually use it as an opportunity to experiment with different sounds to create versatile music, such as the best song off SkyWorld: Big Sky, a song that sounds nothing like what one usually hears in TSFH. Long story short: imagine you are walking in Ancient Egypt while listening to that song.
As much as I originally spoke about Enchantress being TSFH's best song earlier, revisiting their discography has made me re-access that claim not because the song shrunk on me, but because of the many, many sides that this group offers. If there is one thing Enchantress has showed me, it's that TSFH's best songs are often their longer songs. Enchantress consisted of eight minutes, yet it is not even their longest song to date. With all that said, the song was so spectacular, that it really raised my expectations of this album when I first saw that they were releasing a new album because there was so much going on in that song throughout the entire eight minutes, from opening with piano and strings to bringing out the lovely choir to having more than one crescendo to following a buildup with yet another buildup. With that much power and brilliance wrapped up in one song, what was the result of the album?
Despite Enchantress still remaining as the best song on the entire album, the album did not disappoint in terms of expectations of what the album was going to be like. This may not be their most bombastic album to date like Invincible or their most mature album like Miracles, but it is a bit of a mixture of Two Steps from Hell's best traits when it comes to composing music. For starters, there is still that plethora of intense energy that is frequently found in records like Invincible and Archangel. With the exceptions of when the tracks need to breathe, the high energy is there for a majority of the Vanquish, with the most rapid track on here being High C's, a song so energetic, that it really serves as a test to how well everyone involved can play his or her instrument.
To make matters even better, there actually are individual production choices on the album that top Enchantress. For instance, in Dangerous, the song relies on an acoustic guitar to open up the song, and it carries the epic tone incredibly well. In Stallion, after opening up with some elegant strings and following them up with intense violins and brass instruments, they resort to briefly switching over to an electric guitar and organ in the same portion, and for the cherry on top of the sundae, after the buildup, they pay that off with one of the most powerful key changes ever.
There is another instrument on this record that is so worth mention: the vocals. While they may not be entirely prevalent in most of the songs, they show that TSFH has some of the best female vocals one will ever hear. In Dangerous, Linea Adamson's vocals blend in perfectly with the acoustic guitar accompanying her. Even when the vocals are not as omnipresent on tracks like Fall of the Fountain World, there are still moments where female vocalists Felicia Farerre and Asja Kadric really show off their vocal pipes. The choirs also hold up such large vocal power, probably not as much as the aforementioned female vocalists, but they are still up there, especially on High C's, where the choir speeds up its singing to match the high energy of the instrumentation.
Not even the worst parts of the album dampen the mood of the album. For instance, Dangerous is the only song on the album that has lyrics to it, and even though they are not the best songwriters, they still at least make the lyrical content work by keeping it consistent with the music surrounding it without overdoing the lyrics, and frankly, that is good enough. I will say this: if I were to make a suggestion to improve the album a bit, it would be to put the closing track, Inferini, at the beginning of the record instead of the end of it. As the shortest song on the entire album, it would do a great job at hooking listeners in while wanting them to venture deeper into the album.
Now, is this the best album of Two Steps from Hell's entire discography? Not really, but it is up there, as that title would go out to Miracles. At the end of the day, it is still a transcendent orchestral album that combines the group's best traits into one by providing the high energy, mature musical styles, and phenomenal vocals. This album strives as close it can possibly can to be a perfect album. It is a definite recommendation to check out.
BEST SONGS: "Enchantress", "High C's", "Stallion", "Dangerous" ft. Linea Adamson, "Fall of the Fountain World", "His Brightest Star Was You", "Evergreen", "Pegasus"
Worst Song: Uhh ... I guess "Inferni"
Genres: Orchestral, Modern Classical, Choral
Oh my god-- you are excellent at this. I wasn't way too huge on this album, I thought it contained way too much "epicness" and tried so hard to go for maturity while balancing bombast and atmosphere at the same time. You may have noticed this album missing my best albums of 2016 list. I had meant to add it as an HM, as it was barely edged out, but I thoughtthey'd done better (Mcgillacuddy actually showed me some of their stuff beforehand), so I decided against it. Middle 7/10, would recommend if you're into gaming or trailer music and whatnot. Above all, once again, excellent review, hope to see more of there soon. - ProPanda
Thanks, man. I can see where you are coming from. I guess that is why I tend to prefer Miracles over this. I very much appreciate the comment. - NiktheWiz