Released: 2014, Frontiers Records
German progressive metal institution Vanden Plas have returned with what is perhaps their most ambitious project yet for the band’s seventh album. CHRONICLES OF THE IMMORTALS – NETHERWORLD is the soundtrack to a rock opera that featured vocalist Andy Kuntz titled Blutnacht (Bloodnight). The rock opera was collaboration between best selling German author Wolfgang Holbein and the band, and the new album is a more metallic adaption of the first 10 songs in the opera. This album will be the first part, with the second expected sometime in 2015. Clocking in at 57 minutes, there is much to admire and absorb on this labyrinthine but ultimately rewarding paean to bombast.
I have always respected Vanden Plas, but never been what I would call an enthusiastic fan. The new album though has prompted me to consider carefully listening to the entire catalog. Yes, it is that good, especially if you are a fan of progressive metal. After a spoken intro, and a cinematic instrumental section, the album truly kicks in with the “Vision 2wo The Black Night.” The song is a snapshot of the album, featuring prominent keyboards, heavy riffing and soaring vocals with numerous tempo and key changes. Kuntz is at the top of his game, clearly proving why he is the focal point of the song and album. “Godmaker” is the next tune which moves into heavier territory, with booming and pronounced bass thumping through the entire song and many hints of heavy Dream Theater-inspired guitar work.
The next two songs, “Misery Affection Prelude” and “A Ghost’s Requiem” enter calmer territory, being mostly piano ballads. Each features delicate and girlish female vocals to accompany Kuntz, the contrast being accomplished at the loss of some momentum and in my view, the weakest part of the album. Fortunately, “New Vampyre” brings back some of the power particularly come chorus time. “The King and The Children of Lost World” is probably the heaviest tune, and my favorite, definitely comparable to Dream Theater’s heftier numbers.
The production on the album is top notch and the music is Vanden Plas’s most ambitious, while the songs are among the bands most accessible. The long running time makes it difficult to digest this in one listen though, and there are points when mood and bombast sap some of the energy from the album. One other point of note is that this is not purely a progressive metal album, as the rock opera nature of the project makes this atmospheric in lots of places, moody and piano driven in others. It is hard to imagine many better progressive metal albums being released this year, so do not be surprised to see this near the top of many end-of-the-year progressive metal lists.