Over the past few years I seem to have moved away from Progressive Metal more and more, not quite sure why, but less and less albums of this style found their way into my player or my liking, so I kind of lost touch with good parts of what has been going on in that particular genre. So much that I actually missed the latest release by one of my all-time favourites: Germany’s VANDEN PLAS.
A huge fan ever since their amazing debut “Colour Temple”, the quintet released “The Seraphic Clockwork”, their first album since 2006’s “Christ 0” and only when playing catch up with the Top 20 lists of 2010, Eric’s mentioning of this album brought to my attention that they actually had come up with a new one, enough to spur me on to check it out immediately and I am more than happy that they once more know how to convince.
With “The Seraphic Clockwork” the band has stayed in the a little more progressive territory, but there are several elements that set them apart from your every-day Prog band and album. The number one factor definitely is the once more outstanding vocal performance of Andy Kuntz, whose soulful delivery elevates the songs simply through the passion he conveys and I believe that the band’s theatre work definitely helps him with achieving this. Also unchanged is the band’s talent to weave intricate and progressive structures into immensely catchy and accessible passages and seamlessly drop all progressive pretence and deliver an unabashedly straight and at times surprisingly heavy part that will sweep you away before stopping you dead in your tracks with a twist and turn in the music that will lead you into the next direction, but without leaving you stranded if you don’t have a degree in musical theory.
Something that VANDEN PLAS have always had going for them was the fact that they have a knack for unexpectedly heavy riffing, as on opener “Frequency”, but at a heartbeat they break it down into a beautiful interlude of piano and violin, just to erect a progressive wall right after that you will have to scale, aided by some tasteful solo performances that never slide off into noodling for noodling’s sake, which also is a welcome difference to most so-called “progressive” bands out there. The combination of demand and accessibility is amazing and in some of the calmer sections and overall arrangements, the band’s theatre experience is definitely paying off, in the ease that they weave back and forth through the different influences, uniting them into cohesive wholes (just listen to the implementation of the choir in “Sound Of Blood”, which definitely adds to the song as a whole.
Technically I should not be pointing out single songs, since they all serve their purpose and are all dynamic and masterfully arranged and executed, with different emphasises, be it technicality, theatrical drama, emotional depth or a mix of all of them, VANDEN PLAS are one of those progressive bands that do not put the musicianship in the foreground, but the emotion and the song as a whole and I have to continuously commend them for that. One Prog highlight, even for me who has lost his Prog vein with time, if you are into this style at all, I urge you to give these Germans a much deserved chance!
(Online January 27, 2012)