vandenplas

Vanden Plas’s album Chronicles of the Immortals: Netherworld II has been playing in my head for almost exactly one year, and I finally have decided to expose it to my readers who may not know it, even though it is over one year old.

(Can you tell I have been itching to write about metal, based on my analysis of Malmsteen?)

Released in November 2015 on Frontiers Records, this powerful progressive metal explosion is less sonically dense than the first installment of the story chronicled in the album preceding this (Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld Path 1).  This second installment in the concept albums series, based on the writing of German author Wolfgang Hohlbein, is rather more melodic, more mid- and treble-heavy, opting for much sparser textures in the first album at times, but these textures make the climaxes and surges of energy even more epic (to use the cliche that “epic” has become).

It seems that Vanden Plas have made several important changes in their work with this album, which contribute to its all-around strength:

  1. Unlike past albums, they don’t over-rely on vocal harmonizing, which is a powerful technique, but had become hackneyed over their output.  Instead, they back off the harmonizing, and allow this to create a more nuanced, less compressed texture.
  2. They don’t overdo the bass.  In Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld Path 1, they seemed to equate heaviness and seriousness with excessive bass frequency bias.  Now their guitar tones are clearer in the low end, their mix has more treble, and their riffs soar and are lyrical, not too low or dense for too long.
  3. They use different language–literally: in the fourth track they break out of English into what sounds like Italian, French, and German.  This adds an artistic touch and nuance that showcases their seasoned and well-crafted musicianship.
  4. They still do what they do best, best: the use of extended tonal harmonies, mixed meter, countermelody, and spacious guitar and keyboard textures, are still top-notch but this time not overblown.  This makes their gestures less melodramatic and easier to get emotionally involved with.

Overall, this album is very compelling, both as a unit (full concept), but also as individual tracks.  If you like heavy death-metal choruses, try track 5, “Monster”.  If you like lyrical melodies over succulent chords, you’ll love track 2, “Godmaker’s Temptation”.  If you like more conventional power metal, track 3, “Stone Roses Edge” is the track for you.

This album comes at a time when bands that turn to the dark, gritty, screaming aesthetic are becoming the norm, and bands that buck the trend such as Opeth are being disavowed.  While most of this album is a shift towards color and less to grayscale, there are impulses and effects where Vanden Plas nod to this shift, and to their more straightforward metal past.  Luckily for us, and for the sake of preserving color and variety in metal, they have chosen to over all embrace the lyrical as much as the dark, and fused them into an exquisite, gnarled tree growing in the middle of an autumn forest.  This album, showcasing color as much as the strength of grayness, is a testament to their commitment and belief in their band and its progressive metal heritage, as they move the genre forward and keep on creating works like this.

Album review: 8.5/10 – not Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, but an essential part of today’s progressive metal scene