Last year, legendary progressive metal band Vanden Plas released the first part of their new two-part story, “Chronicles of the Immortals”. Yes, the story is as crazy and complex as you’d expect. But the album was rather good, featuring some really good vocal lines mixed with the satisfying crunch of their signature guitars, though I felt the pacing was somewhat stilted. Color me surprised, however, that the band has gotten part two “Netherworld” out in just a year’s time. The question, however, is whether or not the quality can be sustained with so much writing taking place.
The short answer is “yes”. The long answer is “maybe”. “Netherworld” is a dark album of tectonic events that emerge in soul-rending choruses and complicated emotions. I’m not even going to begin to try to relate the story to you (right now, anyways), but let’s just say that it is evocative and otherworldly. Day and night, darkness and light, the album relays monolithic conflicts but personal fights.
The band returns, namely, Andy Kuntz on vocals, Stephan Lill on guitars, Günter Werno on keyboards, Torsten Reichert on bass, and Andreas Lill on drums. These guys are seasoned veterans that need no introduction, really, and their performances are never in questions. Andy’s vocals are haunting and spine-tingling, Stephen’s guitars are hefty and full, Günter’s keys are a rich tapestry, and Torsten’s bass and Andreas’ drums form a formidable rhythm section. I was really impressed with their music video for “Stone Roses Edge” (below), as they all look great and even in their primes.
I’m not sounding as enthusiastic as usual, though, am I? What’s wrong with me? Well, I liked the first part of the story, and this second part is probably better overall. Tracks like “Stone Roses Edge”, the epic “Blood of Eden”, and “Monster” are truly incredible tracks, with “Godmaker’s Temptation” being my favorite on the album. The vocal lines just feel so good and the the solos, too, are spot on again and again. “Godmaker’s Temptation”, especially, has emotions and a riveting style that just sucks you into this world they’ve created.
But I’m not feeling great about the last half of the album. Don’t get me wrong here: it’s good and enjoyable. The problem is that, starting with “Diabolica Comedia”, I just don’t get the same feelings as I did with the first five tracks. I can’t help but feel like they are running out of material before they are running out of story. Sure, it’s made for two good albums, but I almost feel like they could have combined the best parts of parts one and two to mind-blowing effect. It would have been an album for the ages! Instead, I feel like there is plenty of filler in the second half of this album, complete with rather uninspired melodies and kinda just more of the same. A little riffing here, some orchestral there, and Andy is just relaying the story more than lighting my soul on fire. It all makes for some great progressive metal, but I’m not sure if it is the way to finish off an album that should transcend all subgenres with its brilliance and inspiration.
So, yes, “Netherworld” is a solid album that I believe is better than part one, as there is a fuller and better storytelling pace along with more sublime moments. But I’m worried that their next album will fall flat. And that’s a shame, as their stories are interesting and I know that Vanden Plas is capable of music that can absolutely floor me emotionally. I hope, in a way, that the next album is a couple years off yet, just so that inspiration can be part of the process again.