Jackal – Vague Visions
Written by Kevin Tanza on October 13, 2021
Full Vague Visions album
Metal at times can be an endless ocean of possibilities–when you think you have discovered every single band worth your time, all of the sudden you discover a new one that surprises you and shows you that there is a lot more on this genre than you may believe. And while today’s protagonists are not the most groundbreaking group, they are certainly quite good and very underrated.
Jackal are one of the many, many European Heavy/Power Metal bands that started in the early 90s at a time where music of this ilk wasn’t so commercially viable, which is why perhaps they never got the credit they deserved. But there is a lot more history behind this band than you may think: hailing from Denmark, guitarist and lead songwriter Benny Petersen was actually a member of some of the finest bands from that country, such as Pretty Maids, Artillery and Mercyful Fate during their demo stages, so we’re talking about someone who had a ton of experience when Jackal released their first three albums in the early 90s.
And while 1990’s debut Rise and 1994’s A Safe Look in Mirrors are fine releases in their own right, it’s the second album, 1993’s Vague Visions, where the Danish band really found their sound and delivered the goods from beginning to end. If you’re a fan of melodic Heavy Metal a la Queensryche and Iron Maiden, then this is the band (and the album) for you.
You hear the opening title track and there is no hiding there: the band takes no time in showing those melodic and powerful guitar riffs, which are complemented by the great voice of Brian Rich, who sadly passed away in 2013. This song is a great representation of what the band is because it is fast-paced, it has a strong guitar riff, it has some fascinating rhythm changes and the vocal melodies are top notch. The guitar work of Benny Petersen is certainly one of the band’s biggest selling points and the solo here is one of the best in the entire album, so I personally think that this one song is a very good introduction to the band as a whole and what they have to offer.
Jackal in 1993
There is also a bit of Keepers-era Helloween thrown into the band’s sound and some slight Thrash Metal elements in terms of the intensity of their music, which is a very fascinating mix, all things considered.
The opening bass line of Only a Crime Away by Søren Hee Johansen certainly plays on that Maiden influence, but the band slowly but surely moves towards a heavier and more straightforward approach with that powerful main riff that Petersen plays. It is quite fun how they mix up faster passages with quieter ones, which makes for an almost dream-like experience when listening to it. Rich does another phenomenal vocal performance (a running theme on this record).
While another song was chosen to be the album’s big single and music video, I think this would have been a better choice because it shows Jackal’s more melodic sensibilities and I believe that would have had a much better impact on a commercial level, but what do I know? I’m just a music critic.
It’s interesting, but the opening guitar lick in Still Not Gone does remind me to Iron Maiden, but actually to 2000s Maiden. I don’t think Steve Harris knows who these guys are, but that guitar lick does sound a bit familiar. Regardless, this track goes in crescendo and it’s Rich who carries the weight of the song with some really powerful and heartfelt singing. It’s a shame that he didn’t get the chance to perform in other bands after Jackal’s breakup in the mid-90s because he was certainly a phenomenal vocalist.
Still Not Gone is a more subtle, calmer and melodic track, but one that I think adds a bit of variety to the whole experience, which is always nice.
More powerful and a lot straighter to the point is Being Alone, with the band going for the jugular. This is also where drummer Per Fisker gets a chance to shine during some passages of the song and for a good reason because he is the kind of drummer that perhaps doesn’t show off that much, but manages to make things work. But as a whole, it is a very interesting song because the band adds some fun rhythm changes and they have a knack for writing great melodies.
Jackal in Japan on tour in 1993
In recent years I have viewed Jackal as a musicians’ band. Not saying that the average metalhead cannot enjoy them (of course they can), but their songs always had some nice musical passages that make for an interesting listen from a technical perspective and I think Being Alone is a great sample of that asseveration. It’s one of those songs where everybody in the band gets a moment to shine.
One of the standout tracks for me in the whole album is definitely No Sign of Heaven, with that opening vocal line and then how the whole song kicks off in a very intense manner. It is once again the duo of Rich and Petersen carrying the weight of the song and they do so with elegance, quality and making every single count, which is something that I personally enjoy a lot about this band: they don’t waste any time meandering or adding long, unnecessary instrumental passages when the song doesn’t demand it. They are great musicians, but they apply that technicality in favor of the song.
It’s a powerful song, with a lot of great moments and showcasing Jackal at the height of their powers, so this is another track that I consider good enough for a quality first impression if you want to show it to a friend.
Virgin in Black is definitely my favorite song of the entire album, not just because of its great atmosphere and Rich delivering some great storytelling besides his usual brilliant singing, but also because this track has some of the best guitar playing that Petersen has done in his entire career.
It’s one of the most elaborate tracks of Vague Visions and it shows how the band can combine a lot of fun atmospheres with straightforward Heavy Metal elements. It’s also a great story, so you have a lot of excellent traits in this song that make up a very fascinating listening. The ending is particularly passionate and exciting, thus making for what I consider the best Jackal song of their entire careers.
Music video for Breakin’ Time
Breakin’ Time was the choice for the big single and while I think it’s a phenomenal song, I would have gone for a different alternative. Regardless, this is a song that follows what we already understand as the Jackal formula: a lot of great guitar playing, intense moments interchanged with some melodic passages, great vocals by Rich and a very strong rhythm base that perhaps doesn’t show off as much as others but they definitely get the job done.
Pay attention to Petersen’s guitar solo here because is simply breathtaking and it is complemented by the dramatic and almost wholesome chorus. It’s an interesting song to analyze and dissect because it has some fun details thrown here and there, such as the underlying riff as Rich is singing in the final parts of the song. Simply amazing.
If I have one criticism about this album is that I think that it ends on a somewhat dour note. Now, I don’t mean to say that Our Love is My Religion is an awful song or something along those lines, but it definitely lacks some of the punch, energy and catchy melodies that the rest of the album has. Sure, Petersen delivers some interesting guitar licks and the band as a whole is still playing some good stuff, but nothing like what we have listened so far.
There By The Trees is a lot more straightforward than the rest of the album and it definitely gives the rhythm base a bit more of the spotlight, but it might be a tad too simple for some listeners (and others might love it because of that). And the instrumental track 2001 is an experimental and yet somewhat uninspired finale to what is a really good album, which is a shame because the final three tracks bring the quality down a bit.
Vague Visions is an excellent album for those that want classic Heavy Metal with some great technical elements and a lot of great hooks–it’s one of those phenomenal records that had the misfortune of coming out in 1993, when Heavy Metal music was about to go on a downward spiral. But regardless of that, it is a musical testament of a band that never received the level of exposure that they deserved and in a brief but brilliant career they managed to deliver some really wonderful stuff.
Definitely a band well worth your time.