Frontiers [Release date 04.12.20]
Vanden Plas are something of an institution in their native Germany, and indeed increasingly in the wider world. The Ghost Experiment, Illumination is their 12th studio album.
So many Progressive Rock bands succumb to Must Have A Concept Syndrome, suffocating the songs and the music with an impenetrable storyline.
Vanden Plas are an exception. Illumination, the second part of The Ghost Experiment, is where the album’s high concept Frankenstein plot reaches a complex, but satisfying resolution.
As with all Vanden Plas material, events are woven through fabulously musical compositions and compelling, expressive arrangements. Key tracks in the story, ‘The Lonely Psychogen’ and ‘Fatal Arcadia’, are both provocatively tense.
The harmonies are powerful and punchy. Andy Kuntz’s voice frequently scales vocal skyscrapers and stays there, buoyed by multi layered instrumentation that frequently drifts between driven hard rock, and high pressure power metal. Impressive.
The dramatic ‘When The World Is Falling Down’ opens with a bit of Chopin, or it could be John Williams, who knows nowadays? With ‘Under The Horizon’ it sets the scene. Vocals, keys, guitars, bass and drums all play significant roles … this is equal opportunity Progressive Rock, and storytelling on a grand scale.
A world within a world, one that frequently reflects the members’ involvement in musicals and drama down through the years, including works by literary giants, Alexandre Dumas and Wolfgang Holbein. They coat the choruses with a thin veneer of operatic grandeur, just enough to add a sense of theatre.
And like all skilled storytellers, they counter the drama with softer, more thoughtful moments. Like weaving piano and strings through the sombre passages of ‘Black Waltz Death’, then kicking it up through the gears in order to grasp a climactic conclusion. The thirteen minute ‘Ouroboros’ cleverly repeats and expands on this approach, as the protagonist recognises his genesis and his potential fate.
Many music critics, even those who’ve long admired the band, wondered if they could rise to the challenge of writing and recording this sequel. Illumination shows us a band who have met that challenge head on, delivering 8 heavy duty progrock tracks that sound fresh, exciting and … yes, interesting. ****
Review by Brian McGowan
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