After hearing (and reading) many positive things about VANDEN PLAS's newest album "Beyond Daylight", I did not hesitate to purchase their 1999 release "Far Off Grace" when I happened upon it at my local used music store. While I was not overly impressed with it the first time around, subsequent listens caused me to notice many things that I had previously overlooked. Now that I have given it numerous listens, I can conclude that VANDEN PLAS are a force to be reckoned with in Progressive Metal, a fact demonstrated by "Far Off Grace".
One of the most notable differences between this album and "Beyond Daylight" is the level of heaviness attained. While the latter saw the band focusing more on the progressive side of the music, "Far Off Grace" sees VANDEN PLAS putting a stronger emphasis on heaviness, which is quickly noticeable in the opening riff of the first song "I Can See". While some bands sacrifice melody and accessibility for a heavier sound, VANDEN PLAS manage to strike a perfect balance between the two on such tracks as the aforementioned "I Can See", "Into The Sun", and "Where Is The Man".
For those seeking a blend of heaviness, technicality, and melody, look no further than the excellent "Iodic Rain", or the middle-eastern flavoured "Fields Of Hope" to fulfil your Progressive Metal desires. To round out this already impressive collection of songs, VANDEN PLAS give us some ballads in the form of "I Don't Miss You", and "I'm In You", the latter being one of my personal favourites on this album thanks to an excellent vocal melody that accompanies the chorus near the end of the song.
The remaining songs (the title-track, "Inside Of Your Head", and the DOKKEN cover of "Kiss Of Death") are definitely the weakest of the album. While the title-track begins in a promising fashion, the weak chorus really hurts it in the end. The same can be said for the ballad "Inside Of Your Head". Regarding cover songs, I have never been a fan of them on studio releases as I feel that artists should focus more on creating original material, while saving covers for best-of compilations. Though "Kiss Of Death" is well executed, I still stand by my position.
With all of these flaws taken into consideration, we are still left with a great Progressive Metal album. Fans of "Beyond Daylight" should not hesitate to pick up "Far Off Grace", as the album's strengths easily outweigh its weaknesses. (Online May 11, 2003)