Vangough – Kingdom Of Ruin
Kingdom of Ruin
Sometimes listening to an album can be a long process, as some albums simply aren’t meant to be figured out within one or two listens: They can take a long time to really sink in and reveal all their secrets. About a month ago I heard such an album. It was Manikin Parade, the debut of American band Vangough. It was very complicated, with each song being one complex sequence after another, though overall it was rather melodic. The band made an instrumental album afterward, but this was just a bunch of covers of videogame songs, so I decided not to try it for now. Then I saw they had a new album coming out, called Kingdom of Ruin, and I was excited to see what surprises would await me this time.
If anything, this album might be more complex than before, as just when I seemed to be figuring a song out, it would do something to surprise me. After two listens I was both intrigued and frustrated. Parts of the album were clicking right away, while others weren’t making any sense whatsoever. I find the lyrical content to be quite on the emotional side, and even there the tone changes quite a bit as the album progresses, with some really dark and melancholic, angry, and sad sections, along with some very beautiful sections (particularly on the piano ballad “A Father’s Love”). The lyrics are definitely one of the biggest strengths of the album, so it helps to pay attention to them while listening.
Musically there is a whole lot going on here. The main genre is Progressive Metal, but there are some very quiet sections that are more Progressive Rock, and also some sections with symphonic keys. Singer, guitarist and songwriter Clay Withrow has clearly been influenced by Dream Theater, as several parts of both proper Vangough albums remind me of them. In general, I find the first half of the album to be darker, and while the album is never terribly heavy, the most explosive sections can be found within the first six songs, particular on “Disloyal” and “Abandon Me”. The latter reminds me a lot of the DT classic Awake, with a similar guitar tone and similar sounding riffs. There are even a couple sections on the first half of the album that remind me a bit of Evergrey, with some of the heavier sections and overall dark atmosphere at points. But these parts don’t last too long, as there are lots of shifts in sound and tone throughout, and even early on the music is mostly melodic.
The second half (which is preceded by a brief instrumental interlude in the form of “Transformation”) has very little of the heaviness, and is decidedly lighter than the first half. The aforementioned “A Father’s Love” can be found here and is not the only ballad, as “Alice” follows suit and is just as beautiful. A lot of the second half is more progressive rock than metal, so be prepared for that. Personally, I find these sections to be much more enjoyable and easier to get into. The album ends with the near 14 minute monster “The Garden Time Forgot”, which has some very interesting instrumental sections. Though overall, the focus is more upon complicated structures than on technical playing, as there aren’t many solos or anything of that nature.
To go along with the ever changing tone of the music, Clay is a very versatile vocalist. This is a double-edged sword: yes, being able to do a lot allows him to sing each section with the required feeling, but there are times during the more emotional parts where he really strains himself and sounds just a little bit irritating. He also does some growls on “Choke Faint Drown” and “Abandon Me” which are decent but not great. He’s at his best when singing calmly, as he does have a very pleasant voice. Overall, I’d have to say the vocals are easily the weakest link of the album, since about half of the time I really struggle with them. The more aggressive sections were the parts I had the hardest time getting used to because of how he sings them.
Kingdom of Ruin is not an album you can listen to once and expect it to blow you away, it requires several listens for it to slowly reveal itself to you. In the end, while there are some rough sections where the vocals annoy me a bit, in terms of music and songwriting the album is both very challenging and very rewarding. Fans of mostly melodic music with complicated structures (and who have the patience required) should definitely give this a try. Not one of my favorites of the year, but still very good, though I do slightly prefer the debut (which is also recommended).
Travis Green’s Rating: 3.5 out of 5