Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Album Review: Vanden Plas - Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld II

Vanden Plas has, through their string of theatrical concept albums, made quite the name for themselves in the progressive metal scene. I first heard their name in conjunction with their album "Christ 0", and ever since, they have been talked about regularly in places where I hear of new music. While they have that degree of popularity, I will admit that I have never been able to get into the band as much as it seems everyone else has. I don't discount their talent, nor do I necessarily dislike what they're doing, but something hasn't connected with me. And as someone who's formative musical memories involve the music of Jim Steinman, it is clearly not an issue of me being put off by the more Broadway-esque moments.

This album finds the band telling the second half of the story that their previous album began, which is much too long and convoluted to recount here. It's a story of gods and wars, but I have to say it doesn't exactly come through with much detail through the lyrics. That happens to a large number of concept albums, and I rarely know the stories anyway, so I'm not holding that against the music.

Vanden Plas gets labelled a progressive metal band, but that's not an accurate description. They don't play in dizzying time signatures, nor do they write lengthy songs with incomprehensible structures. They're a melodic metal band that writes in epic scope, which they have used the concept album format to embrace and develop. That decision can be a blessing, as it can mask issues that arise in the songwriting. That rears its head on the opening number, "In My Universe", which is a song that doesn't really hold a lot of appeal to me. I'm not hearing in it either the grandeur that I'm expecting from a concept record like this, nor the strong melody from a regular melodic metal album.

But "Godmaker's Temptation" follows to rectify that. This song embraces the theatrical elements, swelling with emotion, and culminating in a chorus that has the kind of killer melody that I was hoping for. In that moment, I can hear what everyone else does in Vanden Plas, and I understand why they're spoken so highly of.

"Stone Roses Edge" is a more metallic track, which is both positive and negative. The added energy is refreshing after two tracks that weren't exactly setting the world on fire, but the added heft isn't balanced with as strong a melody. Instead of letting the notes rise and fall, the chorus is largely focused on a few notes that ring out, which isn't much of a composition.

The centerpiece of the album is the thirteen minute epic, "Blood Of Eden". Starting off as a loving ballad, complete with female vocals lingering in the background, it's the kind of striking song that makes people hate power metal. That's a compliment, by the way. Those first four minutes are beautiful music, which makes it disappointing when the remainder of the song can't hold up to that quality. That's not to say it's bad, but the alternating sections of metallic instrumentals and heartfelt vocals don't offer up a solid enough hook to justify the nine minute excursion.

The songs that follow all fit the same mold; dramatic, melodic, and solid. There's nothing bad to say about any of these tracks. Vanden Plas has been doing this long enough that they know how to put together their music. The problem is that I can't help but feel like there's something missing here. The songs are good, but they rarely grab me. The music is suitably dramatic, but it never changes to fit the narrative of the story. The whole package is just not quite sharp enough.

And that's my ultimate takeaway from the album. Vanden Plas is good at what they do, but what they do isn't something that particularly excites me. People who love melodic metal, and overly dramatic music, will enjoy this greatly. For me, I hear an album that is working hard to be grand and melodic, but does so at the expense of being truly memorable.

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