Review: Vanden Plas – Chronicles of the Immortals Netherworld II
What is there to say about Vanden Plas? First of all, they are virtually unknown on this side of the Atlantic, and that is truly an injustice. They are one of the best progressive metal bands I’ve ever heard. In terms of their compositions, they aren’t as flashy and/or technical as some of their peers, and this is exactly why they remain one of the few progressive bands I can enjoy. They put emotion first and technique second, and that makes a world of difference. Secondly, I’ve been a fan of Vanden Plas since their masterpiece, ‘Christ 0’ was released in 2006. One of the things that initially drew me to the band was the incredible voice of Andy Kuntz, a man I consider to be one of Germany’s national treasures. The rest of the band are technical wizards, but tend to keep the technical showboating, which each of them are capable of, to a bare minimum.
‘Even in My Universe’ opens the album in a rather interesting way. You are tricked into believing that you will have to endure the obligatory symphonic intro so common in European metal these days. Don’t get me wrong, I like these types of intros, but seconds into the song I, admittedly, found myself thinking, “I can’t wait to tear them apart for this.” Alas, I was deceived, as it was only a segue into a full song that is rather characteristic of the rest of the album. The verses are soft and laden with luscious clean guitars while the choruses are heavy and melodic, all while Kuntz crowns the music with his magical vocals.
‘Godmaker’s Temptation’ is another wonderful track whose schematic is somewhat similar to ‘Even in My Universe.’ The melodies are dissimilar, but the formula of clean, soft verses and heavy choruses is reemployed to great effect, while strong melodies and ethereal keyboards in the intro dispel any notion that the song is formulaic.
‘Stone Roses Edge’ is the first single from the album, and for very good reason. In addition to being one of the strongest tracks, among an album of strong tracks, it is the one song that seems most accessible to listeners who find it difficult to palate progressive music. While I feel Vanden Plas has few similarities to progressive giants, Dream Theater, it would be dishonest of me to say I didn’t hear a bit more than surface similarities in this song. Even so, it is unique in its own way, largely in part to the melodies. It was, in my opinion, the perfect choice for a single.
‘Blood of Eden (All Love Must Die)’ is a beautiful, epic track that clocks in at 13+ minutes. It begins with a tender piano intro, excellent melodies and lovely female background vocals, eventually crescendoing into a monolithic masterpiece that sways in and out, and to and fro. Never staying constant, the song does not allow the listener to get familiar with a particular movement. As usual, I like to point out variety, not just between songs, but within them, and this song has it in spades!
‘Monster’ is another great track that has a Led Zepplin feel (ala Kashmir) in its verses. The song follows an expected formula: excellent composition/arrangement, strong musicianship and powerful melodies.
‘Diabolica Comedia’ is a somewhat relaxing track whose verses are somewhat unorthodox for a metal band. The song, like others on the album, isn’t really heavy and it’s not really soft. It morphs from start to finish, which is something characteristic of nearly every song on this album.
‘Where Have The Children Gone’ is a fantastic ballad, though ballad might not be the best adjective, with excellent piano work and a nice flow, going from slow and tender to heavy a number of times. ‘The Last Fight’ starts off with an eerie, Danny Elfman-like intro and then explodes into mid-tempo heaviness that sounds almost like modern Nightwish to my ears. The heaviness subsides just before reaching the first verses, which then give way to excellent parts full of beautiful clean guitars, choirs and a chorus that will give you chills. I would go as far as to say this is my favorite chorus on the album.
‘Circle of the Devil’ closes the album in a very theatrical way. The first 2 minutes of the song are mainly strings and vocals, while the next 2 minutes are a build-up, complete with choirs and additional instrumentation, for the rest of the band. From there, the song reflects the overall personality of the whole and brings to a close an album I think Vanden Plas should take great pride in.
There is little more they could’ve done to put this album safely near the top of their excellent discography. That being said, there isn’t a single weak track on the album. It has just about everything you could possibly want from a progressive metal band: phenomenal musicianship, emotive songwriting, high quality production. Furthermore, Vanden Plas has developed its own unique approach to progressive metal, and that counts for a great deal in an age where many bands, inside and outside of metal, are indistinguishable. In closing, I’d like to mention that I love the mix on this album and find the separation of instruments in the mix, especially the voice, just about perfect. I can only hope ‘Chronicles of the Immortals Netherworld II’ will help propel them to the heights of success they truly deserve. 9.5/10