One of the big problems about talking about this record is that it is the second part of a two part concept album (kind of like what Kamelot did with Epica and The Black Halo)…and I have not heard the first part. Because of this, I am going to have to start by saying that the story being told in this record is NOT going to be discussed in this review because it would be rather like trying to critique The Return of the King without having read the previous two books in the series: the chances are good that the final review would be asking questions that more informed readers will already have answers for due to them having been introduced/resolved in the previous parts of the story. For those who really want to know the basics and haven’t read the series of novels that the albums are based on (The Chronicle of the Immortals by German author Wolfgang Hohlbein, if you’re curious…although very few of the guy’s works have been translated into English yet, so English-only speakers would be forgiven for not having heard of him!), the story, from what I was able to gather, basically involves a guy who is immortal getting struck down with a cursed blade and deciding to take a path into the netherworld to rescue the souls of the damned. Which makes me think of the video game of Dante’s Inferno meets the Greek legend of Orpheus, for some reason…
So, with that out of the way, let me start by admitting that the German progressive power band Vanden Plas were not a band I had listened to prior to this promo arriving. I probably had read their name in passing somewhere, as it rang a slight bell, but I had never actually heard any material by them. Much like Royal Hunt, they had been a band that I likely hadn’t bothered with because I spotted the word “progressive” in their genre description and immediately passed over them. But Royal Hunt impressed me with their album earlier this year, so Vanden Plas deserved a chance as well.
Well…I wasn’t as impressed with Vanden Plas as I was with Royal Hunt, but the ambition they have with Chronicles of the Immortals: Netherworld II is undeniable and I will admit that it was certainly an interesting listen, although it isn’t a record I personally will be returning to much.
Ignoring the concept of the record and moving to the sound of it, the record falls into a sound that I can best describe as epic progressive power metal, as it has a lot of progressive touches, is very melodic (and fantasy oriented) and has a very grand, almost operatic sound to it that gives the whole record a larger-than-life feeling to it. Considering the nature of the record, this is certainly an appropriate sound for the album and I can’t fault the execution of the record, as it is obvious that the band are putting effort into their material, and I can see why this would be liked by people as a result. Unfortunately, I personally think the songwriting plods a bit too much for my liking, as the general vibe I got is that the record feels very mid tempo throughout, which makes it a bit of a slog to listen to because it feels like it goes on far longer than it should do. Not helping matters is that the songs are generally around the seven minute mark, with only two relatively short (around five minutes long) tracks to make the record a bit easier to approach. I have no problems of records comprising only of long songs, but they really need to have variety to their tempos to stop the whole thing from blending together, which I feel Vanden Plas failed to do here. I am not exaggerating when I say that I was surprised on my first listen to find that what I thought was approaching the end of the record was actually just the first three and a half tracks! It did get better with repeated listens, but I still felt intimidated about listening to the record in one sitting again even in the lead up to doing this review.
Still, praise is definitely due on the performance front, as everyone definitely does a solid job with the material on display. I particularly enjoyed vocalist Andy Kuntz’ performances on the record, as he has a fairly unique voice and he utilised it well across the record. I can see why the guy is highly regarded, to say the least!
The production is also very good. I do think the bass presence is a bit less prominent than I would like, but it is still audible with little difficulty, so this is more of a nitpick than my usual complaining about it. I also found the production to be surprisingly restrained, being loud when it needed to be, but not excessively so, which is a step up from what I usually hear as well. I wouldn’t say this is the best production job of 2015, but, in terms of what I usually have issues with, this is certainly one of the few cases where my common complaints aren’t a case of me complaining, but going “This could have been better, but is still fine”. I don’t know who did the production work on this album, but they deserve praise, whoever they are!
Ultimately…well, I can’t say that I personally liked this record much in terms of my personal taste in music, but it isn’t a bad record when viewed with as unbiased a viewpoint as I can manage: it’s got a lot of good points to it that just don’t work for me personally. So, if you’re a fan of progressive power metal and don’t mind material that is a bit on the slow, lengthy side, then this record is certainly worth checking out.
Chronicles of the Immortals: Netherworld II will be released on the 6th of November by Frontier Records. A promo copy of the album was provided for review purposes.