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Vanden Plas: Beyond Daylight

Too many songs by Germany's epic prog-metal masters Vanden Plas just sound too damn similar. But when they're as intricate and well-performed as the nine tracks showcased on Beyond Daylight (the band's fourth full-length album), it's tough to complain too much. Many of the songs here probably could also have appeared on the quintet's last studio album, 1999's Far Off Grace, which seamlessly melded elements of classical and symphonic rock music with aggressive, intelligent, technical and tasteful metal.

Andreas Kuntz mesmerizes listeners with his lofty vocals, whether waxing introspective on the atmospheric ballad "Can You Hear Me" or leading a sing-along chorus on "Free the Fire" - one of Beyond Daylight's few true surprises. The trouble with Kuntz's voice throughout this record is that it lacks emotional range, giving most songs a feeling of unwavering intensity that grows wearisome over the course of 57 minutes.

Granted, many prog-metal fans will no doubt relish the seven-and-a-half-minute opening anthem "Nightwalker," which segues from violins to chunky power chords to a soaring chorus, as well as the nearly 11-minute-long title track, which passes through a spectrum of time changes and moods. And granted, all of the songs here are impressive, if not rather antiseptic. They also don't really go anywhere. Still, for impeccable European progressive metal performed with more finesse than charisma, Vanden Plas are tough to beat. It's all a matter of preference with this one.

(Although it is not featured on review copies, a bonus track of Kansas' "Point of Know Return" will be included on Beyond Daylight's first pressing.)

Added: March 26th 2006
Reviewer: Michael Popke
Score:
Related Link: Vanden Plas' Web Site
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Vanden Plas: Beyond Daylight
Posted by Murat Batmaz, SoT Staff Writer on 2006-03-26 07:13:57
My Score:

When I first heard Vanden Plas' second studio album The God Thing, I thought that was the top of the line. It was simply a mindblowing album that blew me away with its content, the amazing musicianship, and cerebral lyrics. While I thought the following album Far Off Grace was still a worthwhile effort, I felt it paled in comparison to its predecessor. But I wasn't disappointed; I just didn't believe they would ever surpass the beauty of The God Thing.

But today, after having listened to Beyond Daylight for almost a year, I am eating my words. This is the best prog metal album of 2002 after Pain of Salvation's Remedy Lane (which is another masterpiece in its own league). Beyond Daylight is an album wonderfully easy to enjoy. Fans who know nothing of Vanden Plas or prog metal can still be drawn into this album after hearing only a few songs. But there is more to this wonderful album. The further it is explored the more it offers.

One thing that definitely shows is the steady line-up of the band. They have consistently stayed together and have matured greatly over the years. Keyboardist Gunter Werno is the only member who has been involved in outside projects if I'm not mistaken. He has played on a live Kamelot album, DC Cooper's solo album, a rock opera called Missa Mercuria (along with the other Vanden Plas guys) and Section A's The Seventh Sign. And, he shines on each and every one of these CDs.

Vocalist Andy Kuntz, having co-written the whole album with Lill, plays central role in all the songs. His vocals sit right in the centre of the tracks defining the current Vanden Plas sound. He seems to be in perfect form with his sometimes warm and sometimes aggressive vocals. He uses his voice as a great texture to layer over the perfectly performed instruments. The band behind him are also amazing. Stephan Lill's guitar playing has since day one appealed to the fans. He was obviously influenced by the 80's guitarists very heavily, but his phrasing is very progressive and fluid. He has a very fitting tone to the music. His solos are razor sharp, yet still contain a lot of melody and warmth. He has tremendous technique but doesn't necessarily put it on the forefront every second. The solo in the second song "Cold Wind" is one of the most fitting guitar solos I've heard in years. His riffs have tonnes of crunch that flirts with suggestive melodies.

But it's not just Andy and Stephan that come to mind when the name Vanden Plas is uttered. Actually, the rest of the band is equally amazing, crafting unbelievable musicianship, blending their styles into one form that eventually defines the current Vanden Plas sound. Gunter Werno knows exactly when to restrain himself with the keys and when to let himself loose. He plays some of the most beautifully complex keyboard solos to accompany Lill and bassist Reichert I lack words to explain it to you. His piano renditions are also fantastic. I have never heard or read it anywhere and do not know if anyone would agree, but I think he happens to be a big, big fan of Jon Oliva's piano work from Savatage. His style is just a more proggified version of Oliva's. Jon Oliva being one of my musical heros, I of course embrace the resemblance!

Now as for the drummer Andreas Lill... oh, what can I say? He simply has got one of the best drum tones I have ever heard in prog metal. I don't think anyone has impressed me so much with his drumming since Portnoy's godly performance on Images & Words or Zonder's stuff on A Pleasant Shade of Gray. While Andreas, unlike most of his contemporaries, prefers to play within the song structures, his drumming sounds so concise and absolutely pushes the band's music to a different level. Bassist Torsten Reichert is another phenomenal player. For so many years prog fans have complained about great bassists' being mixed too low on the albums. Well Vanden Plas destroys this theory on Beyond Daylight, for Reichert, right from the very beginning of the album, plays fiery and subtle bass lines that make the songs sound more intense, more aggressive, more complex, more progressive, and 100% Vanden Plas! Each member is a key factor of the band. Take one of them out, and even if you replace him with the best, technically most proficient musician, I guarantee you the next Vanden Plas album would suffer. It must be the chemistry between these guys that make them sound so tight and soulful.

The title track, also the longest song on the disc, is sublime in every respect. It showcases every aspect of the band without getting the least bit pretentious. Kansas' "Point of Know Return" closes the album. While I like Kansas a lot and think the cover sounds really great, I happen to think the song doesn't go too well with the rest of the disc. It has a totally different vibe to it, both musically and sonically.

The mix and production are brilliant. Nothing wrong with this album. They cover a lot of ground lyrically as well. Some of the lyrics are very pastoral dripping with emotion and sentiment. Few bands have managed to release albums as "complete" as Beyond Daylight. It has become an instant classic. People will still be raving about it 10 years from now, just as we are still raving about 1992's Images & Words. Mark my words.



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