Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals – Netherworld (Path One)
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals – Netherworld (Path One) (2014)
Reviewed by Jeff Teets
Over the course of (now) seven studio albums, German progressive metal veterans Vanden Plas have garnered a strong reputation for consistency. Despite small changes in production value over the years and the occasional peak or small pothole, their discography stands as one very admirable body of work, making them probably one of the best and more underrated bands in their field. This consistency should come as no surprise when considering the band has been going strong for years without any lineup changes whatsoever: meaning that quality of songwriting, stylistic direction, and overall musical compatibility has remained unwavering.
I am pleased to report that the band’s new album Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld (Path 1) continues in this vein of unfettered quality. Arriving a few months shy of four years after The Seraphic Clockwork, …Netherworld takes the listener on quite a journey. The band’s passion for theatrically-driven “Rock Opera” stuff is rather evident throughout, which makes sense as this album is a concept record based on the series “Chronicles of the Immortals”, written by successful German author Wolfgang Hohlbein. The series was previously adapted into a stage musical entitled “Bloodnight”, featuring Vanden Plas’s Andy Kuntz in the lead role, and the rest of the group providing the musical backdrop. The band is expected to deliver the currently untitled second half of this story and concept in 2015.
Overall, …Netherworld has all of the musical elements that fans of Vanden Plas have come to love over the band’s career. Despite the music being full of great melodies, Vanden Plas has usually favored passing up conventional hooks in favor of more sweeping, dramatic, and developed melodic lines. Andy Kuntz’s vocal prowess is much more noticeable in his unmistakable charisma and powerful, emotional delivery rather than senseless histrionics and showmanship purely for the sake of vocal range. His unique voice is as much on display here as ever before. The whole band has a niche for really finding the pocket that best suits the overall musical picture that’s being painted. For a band full of top-notch musicians, the playing is often notably reserved, and usually seems to fit a bigger compositional purpose – something many bands that play this style of music seem to miss entirely.
The songwriting on the album also seems to serve a purpose greater than individual tracks, another key element to making a successful concept record that countless bands miss. When not paying too close of attention, I frequently miss the transitions from track-to-track, especially the one from “The Black Night” to “Godmaker”, “Misery Affection Prelude” to “A Ghost’s Requiem”, and “Soul Alliance” to the album’s epic closer “Inside”. Breaking down an album like this in terms of individual tracks’ strengths and weaknesses is difficult, and that’s the way it should be. A few individual pieces, such as “Godmaker”, “New Vampyre”, and the emotional ballad “Misery Affection” (featuring a nice touch of female vocals) stand out as more conventional tracks, likely to be used for singles or become featured in live setlists, but overall the album is more of an encompassing journey for the listener.
What’s even more indicative of album quality to me is that, despite being a smoothly flowing, encompassing, and conceptual journey, the album doesn’t overstay its welcome. I assume this is because of a guaranteed second part coming next year, and thus no need to cram more music and story into one release. The album’s total run-time is only a little more than 55 minutes, a full 10 minutes shorter than its predecessor, which works to its benefit. Despite some people wishing for albums to give them as much music as possible on each disc, I prefer albums that give the listener as much as is required while not overstaying their welcome. As a result, …Netherworld instantly grabbed me a bit more than The Seraphic Clockwork.
All in all, …Netherworld is another testament as to why Vanden Plas, despite a lack of mainstream praise (even within the underground world in which they exist) is one of the most worthwhile bands on the scene. Every aspect of the album seems to find the band firing on all cylinders, as unfettered and passionately developed as ever before. Despite being up against some stiff competition, I think time will place this album among the band’s best and most-remembered works, and hopefully give way to a conclusion every bit as enthralling.
4.5 // 5