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When people think of progressive metal they often think of a genre with limitless possibilities. Many do not realize there are in fact several rules to the genre. Just because a band can do whatever they want does not mean that their fans will be overly accepting of it. On the other hand if a band continues to release the same album over and over again the validity of their abilities to write new and exciting music often comes into question.

Most progressive bands take their time in between albums and usually end up with a finished product that is distinctively their own, but also not a carbon copy of their past work. One band that has gone under the radar of many has been Vanden Plas out of Germany. Having formed in 1986 and having zero lineup changes makes them an extreme anomaly. They aren't exactly a household name or as quite as respected as bands like Dream Theater and Rush may seem rather shocking to some. They really never released two albums that sounded exactly the same although there are several elements that are obviously a part of their overall framework.

One of the most noticeable aspects of their newest release Chronicles of Immortals: Netherworld Part II is that it was released barely a year from its predecessor. Vanden Plas has been known to take two or three years to completely fine tune their albums and usually come back with something really special that is able to hold over their listeners until they get around to releasing their next release. It may seem like a bit of a gamble to some to come back with a new album so quickly, but it also may be in the band's best interest to finish their album's concept while it is still relatively fresh in everyone's mind. The first part of their story for me at first glance seemed great, then the more I listened to it the more I found several areas that could be improved. There were several long ambient instrumental passages that didn't really advance the songs to much of an extent, most of the songs were performed at a much slower tempo than what many would expect from the band, and all in all there weren't nearly as many hooks as I would have liked. With the short time span between albums I was really expecting more of the same.

From the very beginning of Part II it is easy to see that the band realized some of the shortcomings of the first album and worked more diligently on re-establishing their trademark clean guitar passages and soothing yet occasionally high vocal lines from singer Andy Kuntz. The storyline about the apocalyptic battle between good and evil is a very impressive concept and I felt was explained quite well throughout the course of two albums. The opening track “In My Universe” begins a bit more upbeat than the majority of the last album and although the vocals are very calm and clean there is quite a bit of crunch to the guitar tone. The hooks as well as vocal delivery reminds me much more of their classic albums Far Off Grace and Beyond Daylight than their more recent material in that I find them to be much more memorable.

Vanden Plas
Chronicles of Immortals:
The Netherworld Part II
Written by: Adam Phillips
9 out of 10

The most impressive song on the album has to be “Stone Roses Edge”, which is also the first song released and accompanied by a music video. The track is far more upbeat than anything on the previous release and is definitely the most memorable riff and chorus. It also showcases just how unique Andy's vocals are and how much of a range he has. The keyboards of virtuoso Gunter Werno are at full force here as well. As he executes a fantastic solo - it kicks straight into the guitar solo bringing the song full circle. The last minute or so of the song also has some of the most impressive guitar and keyboard solos I have ever heard out of the band.

There are also quite a few moments on this album where they take a page out of the progressive metal playbook and just go completely crazy in song structure, time changes, and composition and even recorded a 13 minute epic right in the middle of the release. The biggest difference in these tracks from the ones on the last album certainly has to do with the amount of ambience recorded. There is virtually no space on Part II that has been a waste of time and effort. The only track with any kind of extended ambience is the final track, which is used rather well in terms of bringing the album to complete climax.

I certainly got way more than I expected out of Chronicles of Immortals: Netherworld Part II. I really can't find many flaws with the release at all. The album is really emotional and memorable, yet powerful and not long and drawn out at all. The guitar and keyboard solos are among some of the best I've heard out of the band in the past 3 or 4 albums and Andy Kuntz definitely achieves some extremely impressive vocal moments. For this only being a year since their last album it seems like it completely corrected any shortcomings anybody may have had to say about the previous release. I would have to give it a very solid rating of 9 out of 10.

Adam Phillips, HMS

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