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Vangough - Between The Madness CD (album) cover




Progressive Metal

3.96 | 56 ratings

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Conor Fynes
Prog Reviewer
3 stars 'Between the Madness' - Vangough (6/10)

I have followed Vangough since the release of their debut, Manikin Parade in 2009. Even if I may have interpreted them as something of a Pain of Salvation clone from the start, they were one of the best acolytes Pain of Salvation could have hoped for. Where Vangough hadn't erupted with a fresh new sound, they made up for it in part with solid songwriting and incredible musicianship on par with any of their prog metal contemporaries. Between then and the release of Between the Madness, Vangough came out with a decent second album, and a compilation of video game covers that basked in nostalgia like the world was ending. Comparing this latest record to Vangough's past oeuvre, it feels very much a child of 2011's Kingdom of Ruin, where they placed an emphasis on strictly melodic songwriting. Thought I still miss the proggier sound of Manikin Parade and indeed prefer it over the more song- oriented path the band have taken, Between the Madness is a fine addition to the band's catalogue, revisiting much of the same territory they explored on Kingdom of Ruin and improving upon it.

It's not at all common for a progressive metal band to be a threepiece, but Vangough deliver a full-fleshed sound as a trio, to the point where more members might have made it a crowd. Even in a genre like progressive metal, where musical virtuosity and skill with technique are nearly ubiquitous and to be expected, the band still manages to impress me. From Manikin Parade onward, Vangough have had no trouble expressing their apparent skill in their music without resorting to the sort of superfluous noodling that has made the genre slightly infamous to begin with. For all of their skill, Vangough stick to the fundaments of their songwriting. This sense of tasteful restraint has metastasized further on Between the Madness. Compared to Kingdom of Ruin, an album that sadly didn't hold my interest for long, Vangough have refined their tact with songwriting and melody making. "Afterfall" is one of the most skilfully arranged pieces Vangough have ever penned, a surprisingly dark and personal song about loss and a miscarried pregnancy. "Between the Madness" is a gorgeous interlude that also stands out, particularly for a cinematic violin guest performance from Justus Johnston. The album's arguable highlight comes in the form of a rare instrumental however; "Thy Flesh Consumed" is a moody miniature epic reminiscent of Metallica's "Orion", a composition that dares to dwell on motifs and instrumental ideas that other songs on the album may have only had time to touch upon.

Between the Madness enjoys a few tracks where Vangough flirt with brilliance, both on a level of performance and songwriting. The decision to pursue a more melodic and concise form of progressive metal has resulted in a pretty consistent collection of songs, but for the most part, the writing does not feel particularly exciting. Vangough have trimmed the fat from their sound, but in doing so, they have lost some of the distinct, independently interesting moments that made their debut so interesting. At worst, the songwriting is predictable, and doesn't offer much in the way of shock or surprise once you've grown accustomed to the structured formula. I don't think the matured approach to composition is a total loss (and "Afterfall" proves that they can make it work to passionate effect) but Between the Madness never really seems to sweep my imagination away the way I would hope to hear from such a talented cast of musicians. If anything really disappoints me, it's the knowledge and faith that Vangough could be impressing me much more. The few moments where the band really decides to let loose are proof of this; one of the album's brightest moments, "The Abyss", was strangely left as a bonus selection, but develops upon the instrumental potential I first heard on "Thy Flesh Consumed". When Vangough harken back to proggier days, the effect is promising.

Although Vangough's debt to Pain of Salvation is less overt here than before, the influence is still vividly apparent. While Manikin Parade may have taken more after The Perfect Element and Remedy Lane" era Pain of Salvation, Between the Madness often echoes Scarsick, an album that has long split listeners for its roots in nu-metal aesthetics. Vangough thankfully keep the rapping to a relative minimum, but the music's dark, rhythmic direction and its scathing criticism of modern society feel largely drawn from Pain of Salvation. This is especially evident in the case of "Useless" and "Corporatocracy", the former of which features Clay Withrow rapping in a manner incredibly close to Gildenlow's performance on the songs Scarsick and "Spitfall". In the case of "Corporatocracy", the instrumentation draws in an Oriental tinge and twangy guitars that sound a bit too close to Scarsick to be mere coincidence, not to mention the song title itself bears a stunning resemblance to "Idiocracy", a song from, yes, Scarsick. Withrow and company have never tried to hide the major influence Pain of Salvation have had on their sound, and while I still feel that this dedication to another band's legacy isn't doing Vangough any favours, the tribute and influence is sincere and well-intended.

Between the Madness has not seen Vangough emerge from their shell of influences, but their execution and standard of performance remains excellent. In spite of some of my negative criticisms of the band and their work thus far, Clay Withrow is an exceptional vocalist, with a delivery that marries power and emotional sensitivity in perfectly blended matrimony. Even in such a competitive genre like prog metal, Clay still manages to wow me with his vocals. While Daniel Gildenlow seems to be his likely model with regards to singing (and to a lesser extent, James Hetfield), there are times here where I feel like his talents are able to come out and take a life of their own. This sentiment can be applied to the rest of Vangough; the full extent of their potential remains hidden under the shadow of their influences. If Vangough could just break through this shell and find a stronger sense of personal identity to call their own, I have high hopes they could amaze me and knock out the competition. Between the Madness is a solid album by all accounts, but does not amaze me in the way I know they're capable of.

Conor Fynes | 3/5 |


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