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Vanden Plas - Chronicles Of The Immortals - Netherworld (Path One) CD (album) cover


Vanden Plas

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Second Life Syndrome
4 stars This isn't a progressive metal album. You can argue with me about that, but I will never admit it to you. Vanden Plas, a progressive metal band, has crafted the first chapter of a two-part concept (based on a story by author Wolfgang Hohlbein) that utilizes progressive metal, classical music, dark ballads, and truly sophisticated structures to tell the theatrical story of the battle between heaven and hell through eyes of the immortals. Honestly, I don't quite understand the story completely, though I'm sure I will after I hear the second part (due out in 2015). I simply understand that it follows a young man that every one knows is different, and he seems to have bottomless understanding.

So, then, "Chronicles of the Immortals, Part 1: Netherworld" (takes breath) is no progressive metal album. This is because the metal portion of this album is rather subdued. Again and again, I kept telling myself that this might be the progressive metal album for the entirety of the prog world. While it certainly contains its fair share of dark, gigantic riffing, Vanden Plas has crafted what may be the most balanced metal album I've heard in some time. Nowadays, I expect an album of this genre to be technical throughout, focused on showboating and the number of notes per second that can be jammed into a verse. Vanden Plas, though, has changed the game.

Starting off with a narrated track (voiced impeccably by vocalist Andy Kuntz), "Chronicles of the Immortals" seems to have two things as its focus: melody and anticipation. The latter is the first impression I got of the album. Again and again, the band would play a track that never quite climaxed, but you could feel something was coming soon. The first couple tracks are especially this way: They instill an excitement in the listener. This anticipatory songwriting also helps this album swerve away from the standardized sound of many modern progressive metal releases.

The music is constructed using hefty riffs, piercing synth lines, delicate piano passages, and a deep, throbbing heart of mystery. Andy is incredible on vocals, as his unmistakable voice is always there, emoting furiously. However, he is joined by female vocals and a haunting children's choir to tell the story. Indeed, the vocal performances on this album are some of the best I've heard this year so far; memorable and spine-tingling.

However, the musical structures are pure gold. The album seems to use metallic riffing only as a framework for melody and emotion. Again and again, the band utilizes metal to accent the portions of a song that contains none at all. Therefore, much of this album is made up of smooth vocals, piano, and atmosphere. That's it, but somehow it's elating and completely realized. On top of this, the album also features a large amount of ballads. I'm not sure "ballad" is the correct word, as it feels more like a theatrical interlude featuring the interplay of the different vocalists; a setting for dialogue and beauty and further anticipation.

By far, my favorite tracks are "The Black Knight" with its synth lines, the "Misery Affection" couplet with their delicacy, and "The King and the Children of the Lost World" with its catchy chorus. All of the tracks, though, are necessary and truly great.

Vanden Plas, then, has crafted an album that defies the norm in progressive metal. They have surely composed masterful riffs and heavy portions, but they have also shown their expertise in creating atmosphere, gorgeous melodies, and odd structures that belay themselves against criticism. From the anticipation of "Vision 1ne" to the melody of "Misery Affection" to the metal of "Soul Alliance", part one of "Chronicles of the Immortals" is an album that should be heard by all in the progressive world this year, a progressive metal album for the entirety of the prog world. Its fathoms of mystery, firm grasp on the story, and perfect execution all combine to form a truly special production.

Report this review (#1135254)
Posted Saturday, February 22, 2014 | Review Permalink
5 stars "Immortals"

A fantastic release from one of the best prog-metal bands on the planet! Frankly, I didn't think it would be possible for Vanden Plas to transcend their previous effort, The Seraphic Clockwork, but they have certainly done so with Chronicles of the Immortals: Netherworld (Path One). With exceptionally beautiful vocals from Andy, brilliant instrumentation by Torsten, Andreas, and Gunter, and powerfully heavy guitar work from Stephan... this is nothing short of an epic masterpiece.

Another spectacular concept album, this time penned by Andy and Germany's biggest-selling author, Wolfgang Hohlbein. The story evolves around an immortal being who desires only to be human, but is incapable of sharing his life with mortals. While wandering through the centuries searching for answers, he is confronted by a dark shape-shifter with the temptation of giving up his humanity forever to become a god.

With hauntingly gorgeous melodies, lush orchestration, angelic vocal harmonies (featuring a special guest), a full choir, and plenty of progressive inspiration, Netherworld is bound to win over thousands of new fans, while deeply satisfying long-time followers. I have lovingly enjoyed every release from Vanden Plas and remain astonished that each output somehow surpasses their last, while always remaining true to their unique sound.

Very nicely done guys!

Report this review (#1142575)
Posted Wednesday, March 5, 2014 | Review Permalink
5 stars Non-existed dream came true...

I am a fan of Vanden Plas from day one. They stand out from the crowd of prog-metal bands by exceptional vocal and tasteful approach to their genre of music, which excluded brainless speed-drumming. However, for their 7th album band changed direction quiet a lot to... Epic Melodic Symphonic. As a lover of this genre, I was very pleased to learn that. To say that I was wishing on a star and it happened, would not be true. Like it was, when Tarja left Nightwish, I was dreaming: It would be nice, if disbanded After Forever Dutch soprano lead vocalist Floor Jansen will take her place. And it did happen. But in case with Vanden Plas, I, to be honest, even didn't dare to dream about it.

Guys entered in new genre with weighty luggage of prog and fit in so perfectly, as they are doing it for last 20 years. Everything is on the right place: brilliant compositions, crunchy riffs, prominent guitar solo, huge choruses, heart-wrenched ballads, even female vocal blends in for duets to elevate sound to the next level. And everything with good taste and right measure. And Andy, Andy's vocal on a top of all of that shines through, makes sound unique Vanden Plas trademark.

Is it Prog? Sure, it is. It's definitely Rock - nobody will argue with that. Is it progressive music? No doubts, as song's structure of concept album is pushing boundaries of the songs. And that what matters. It's no accident that guys named their songs - visions: Vision1, Vision2 and on... That is how they see their new direction in music. And they are on a right track. The band is unstoppable now. Someday I will buy Live performance Blu-ray with full range orchestra and Tarja Turunen as a guest. But now, I cannot wait for Part 2. In two words: Good Job. 5 epic symphonic stars.

Report this review (#1163605)
Posted Saturday, April 19, 2014 | Review Permalink
3 stars On their latest offering, Vanden Plas continue with their European prog power style with symphonic and gothic touches, with maybe an added layer of gothic cheese in form of some female vocals, choirs and wimpy tragic ballads. This moves them closer to Kamelot territory, which comes, I think, at the expense of certain intelligence present in their music. Prog-wise, even though this is a two-part concept album, it's a step down from their previous effort, Seraphic Clockwork.

The second, and first proper track, The Dark Knight, showcases the best that the band has to offer - great, driving opening riff, nice contrast between heavier and softer passages, anthemic choruses. It goes on basically in the same vein, interspersed with filler ballads. And even though Vanden Plas' riffs and melodies would put 99 percent of power bands to shame, towards the end you get a feeling of sameness. Let's hope the second part has more interesting stuff to offer besides some head banging and air guitar.

Report this review (#1245322)
Posted Tuesday, August 12, 2014 | Review Permalink
3 stars As I said before in other reviews about this band, Vanden Plac carved their own path in prog metal zone since the beggining 20 years ago, being today one of the respected bands in this field,. I like all their albums, is one of the few prog metal bands from old school that has a constant quality in their song writting and implicit the releases all are above good. The latest album of the band is Chronicles of the immortals part I issued this year in february. Well, I must admit, even I like the album I was not impressed at all by the arrangements and overall atmosphere. The last 3 albums I found them ok, good for sure, but the magic moments of their '90s period is kinda far. The god thing, Farr of grace and Beyond daylight are corner stones of prog metal, har to beat them in terms of sound , songwritting, tight musicinship, so their lates album is for sure not their best. The album is far as I understand a concept based on a story by author Wolfgang Hohlbein and is a battle between heaven and hell through eyes of the immortals, an ok story to me, nothing more nothing less. As always on every Vanden Plas album the vocal parts are impressive, Andy Kuntz is definetly one of the better singers in this field for more then 20 yers, here he does no wrong again, his tone, his voice, from mellow to more angry is excellent, being on every release the cherry on the cake. The duel between guitars and keybords while are good, are no close to perfection like on their older stuff. The music is constructed on same coordonates as on previous 2-3 albums,Andreas Lill heavy riffs over Günter Werno waving keybords and beating drums. No particular pices is better then other, maybe The Black Knight is little more catchy then the rest. All in all decent, good but not among their most intrsting ones like first 4 albums. Still a band to watch in the future, thay have the same line up since the beggining and that si for sure a winning point in any bands career for that matter they have constant quality on every album. 3 stars for sure.
Report this review (#1287034)
Posted Friday, October 3, 2014 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars German band VANDEN PLAS has a history that goes back more than 30 years, and even if they didn't release their debut album until 1994 they merits to be reckoned among the veteran bands in the European metal scene, and coming rather close to merit a description as elder statesmen fairly soon too I'd imagine. If you count in their 1996 release "AcCult" they have 8 studio productions to their name as of March 2015. "Chronicles of the Immortals - Netherworld (Path 1) " is the most recent of these, and was released through Italian label Frontiers Records in early 2014.

Vanden Plas has earned themselves a name as a quality progressive metal band, and especially early in their careers they were often compared to the likes of Dream Theater. While I'm not overly familiar with their earlier material, comparisons of that nature doesn't come easy with this latest production of theirs, and I presume that the fairly soon to be released continuation of this disc will be rather similar in nature to this one as far as that detail goes, as this conceptual CD is the first of a series that will include at least one additional chapter. The music is still quite clearly one that resides within the progressive metal realm, but one that orients itself much closer to a different territory altogether.

Rock opera is a description that have grown fairly popular in the last couple of decades, and a growing number of metal bands have approached productions of that kind in fairly different manners. The conceptual story is a key element shared between them, but apart from that you have everything from metal bands doing what they have always done, but with a storyline and often multiple vocals roles, to the ones that take it all out and develop multiple person stories with an extensive use of vocalists to have lead vocal roles and unfolding more or less grandiose stories, of which the greater part have a foundation in fantasy and science fiction.

Vanden Plas approach to the rock opera is a different one. There's a narratoir in place for the opening part, there's a female guest vocalist given a few leads, but more often used as a backing vocalist and as a supplement to the powerful, melodic lead vocals of Andy Kuntz. There is a story told here, but mainly from a lead person point of view from what I can grasp, and the opera part of the rock opera is in this case one that revolves around arrangements and instrumentation more than anything else.

Orchestral details and arrangements is a just about constant presence throughout here, and executed in a manner that indicates that this is a band with a true affection for classical symphonic music. Not that we're given all that many instances where the orchestral arrangements dominates through and through, but they are a constant presence, and as with traditional operas we're given a fair share of sequences that highlights the lead vocals on top of a more sparse and frail instrument backing. As this is a metal band we're also treated to a liberal amount of guitar riff driven excursions of course, if you're fond of powerful and grinding guitar riffs as standalone features and as part of majestic arrangements with keyboards and orchestral textures in multiple layered, expressive runs you'll get your fill of both of these. Occasional exotic timbres and unexpected frail piano details is also a part of the big picture here, and you get a distinct impression that this is a production written and planned for a stage performance with full symphony orchestra and old fashioned opera vocalists as this creation unfolds.

I suspect this aspect of this production is the main drawback here. On an album with material impeccably performed that has been mixed and produced to just about perfection, the lacking magical extra ingredient is the power this material would have if performed with a full symphonic orchestra in a theater. That power is difficult to capture on a studio production. Still, if a band that blends progressive metal inside a framework built with heavy inspiration from classical music in general and classical opera in particular sounds intriguing, and you fancy such material performed by quality metal vocalists rather than traditional opera singers, then Vanden Plas have made an album you should enjoy through and through.

Report this review (#1376740)
Posted Monday, March 2, 2015 | Review Permalink

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