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Vanden Plas: The Seraphic Clockwork

Now I have to start with a bit of a confession. Over the past few years I have steadily moved away from progressive metal. I have found that most of the bands I have listened to are happy to retread old ground and present it as something shiny and new when it blatantly isn't. Even the most recent and critically acclaimed Dream Theater album Black Clouds and Silver Linings failed to convince me that I was missing out. So with that in mind, I have to say that I approached Vanden Plas first album since the admittedly excellent Christ O, which was released some four years ago, with a little trepidation. I knew I could expect tremendous musical virtuosity and excellent vocals, however more importantly, could the music held within The Seraphic Clockwork actually move me?

Well I have to take my hat off to the band, not only have I and continue to be moved by the music on this release, but I have been completely engulfed by it and can barely stop pressing play to hear it again. Impassioned songs, exciting musicianship, well thought out musical and lyrical themes and technical ability all collide to create an album that is full of subtle force and savage beauty. Many people struggle - and I had begun to include myself in this category with the million miles an hour shredding that dominates much of this genre and the great majority of bands desire to almost shove their prowess down the listener's throat at the cost of creating music that touched the heart and mind in equal amounts. I'm pleased to say that Vanden Plas have taken a completely different approach with this album by starting out with songs that rely on melody and emotion and only then have they embellished them with playing of the highest calibre. Right from the opening blasts of "Frequency" where the bass line circles your mind before a guttural riff punches a hole through it, you are left in no doubt that this is a beast of an album that uses a kaleidoscope of textures to take you on a voyage through some tremendous progressive themes. Vocalist Andy Kuntz is a true storyteller and as he sings the words to the songs, the overall feeling is that he is talking directly to you and nobody else. Being able to have that effect in a genre that can be very cold and ordered gives a completely different lease of life to the music where no note has been added to highlight dexterity over necessity.

Don't take that to mean that if you are a fan of blindingly impressive guitar solos, keyboard flicks and tricks, or tempestuous drum fills that you won't get your fix and then some from this album, as that could not further from the truth. Throughout the disc Stephan Lill moves from hard hitting riffs, furious fret board flurries and restrained acoustic passages with consummate ease while Gunter Werno continually adds layers of atmosphere to the already heady brew. The rhythm section of Torsten Reichert on bass and drummer Andreas Lill drive the songs to perfection with sympathetic playing that both allows them to shine in their own right and blend all the other component parts into highly impressive songs.

Choosing highlights is remarkably difficult as there isn't a song here that doesn't merit its inclusion, or enhance the album, however the soaring, yet controlled "Scar of An Angel" illustrates Vanden Plas' ability to go from highly atmospheric and sparsely arranged sections, straight into full on bombastic riffs and roars with ease and skill. The slow build of "Holes In The Sky" also allows the band to show how they can revisit themes and motifs in a variety of styles and really sees the keyboards come to the fore to support one of Kuntz's best vocals on the album. It is also a testament to the song writing on The Seraphic Clockwork that tracks like "The Final Murder" and the seductive "Quicksilver" really feels like music that tells the story of the lyrics. Both songs use a variety of tempos and emotions to convey their message; however the fact that they do so with such an air of believability is quite some achievement.

The Seraphic Clockwork is not only a fantastic album that really deserves to launch Vanden Plas into mainstream success; it has genuinely rekindled my faith in this style of music having something extremely worthwhile to say.


Track Listing
1. Frequency
2. Holes In The Sky
3. Scar of an Angel
4. Sound of Blood
5. The Final Murder
6. Quicksilver
7. Rush of Silence
8. On My Way to Jerusalem
9. Eleyson

Added: December 27th 2010
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Score:
Related Link: Vanden Plas Official Web Site
Hits: 3442
Language: english

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» SoT Staff Roundtable Reviews:

Vanden Plas: The Seraphic Clockwork
Posted by Jeff B, SoT Staff Writer on 2010-12-27 18:21:29
My Score:

Quicksilver

Vanden Plas is one of the superior progressive metal groups in Germany - which is certainly saying a lot when considering all of the German prog metal bands out there. Although Vanden Plas has never been recognized as much their American brethren such as Symphony X, Dream Theater, or Fates Warning, The Seraphic Clockwork further confirms that Vanden Plas deserve to be regarded as one of the best groups in the melodic prog metal genre. This isn't an album that's going to blow you away with a highly original approac, but it succeeds tremendously with its intention - and that's creating excellent prog metal that proves the genre is far from dead. If you're someone who's tired of the style of music that Vanden Plas plays, I'd still recommend giving it a shot - it's that good. Every song is spectacular in its own way, and when you put it all together you have a brilliant gem of an album. Fans of Vanden Plas and progressive metal in general should definitely check out The Seraphic Clockwork!

The music here is unquestionably Vanden Plas. They play progressive metal in the style of Dream Theater, but with less of an emphasis on soloing and more of a focus on melody. There's still some terrific guitar and keyboard duals, but don't expect a whole lot of noodling on The Seraphic Clockwork. A lot of the music is focused around the terrific vocals from Andy Kuntz and melodic instrumentation. Just listen to a tune like the ballad-ish "Quicksilver" or the epic "On My Way to Jerusalem", and it's obvious that Vanden Plas isn't entirely engulfed in attempts to play at the speed of light. All 9 songs here are absolutely wonderful progressive metal tracks, so it's difficult to pick a favorite. However, it'd be criminal to not mention "On My Way to Jerusalem" as a standout track, considering that is one of the best progressive metal songs in all of 2010. The instrumental section towards the end of "Rush of Silence" is also noteworthy. Even though much of this album is focused on melody, this complex instrumental section proves how excellent these guys can also be from a technical standpoint. Of course, another great thing about Vanden Plas is the group of musicians that make up the band. They're a tight playing unit that still puts feeling and emotion into their playing. There's not much more you could ask from a progressive metal band!

The production is great. It's nothing too special in the modern prog metal scene (a lot of albums have a similar production), but that's not necessarily a bad thing, is it? The transitions between heavy and atmospheric sections sound great and certainly get the job done.

Conclusion:

Vanden Plas is one of the best bands in prog metal, and they've once again proved that with The Seraphic Clockwork. Although this isn't going to satisfy somebody who's craving a revolutionary album, it's an essential purchase for any fan of melodic progressive metal. There isn't a single weak track on the entire album, which is saying something when we're talking about a 72 minute album. This is 4.5 stars well-earned - one of the best albums in its genre from 2010. After giving the album many spins, it's clear that every second of the four-year wait for The Seraphic Clockwork was worth it. Let's just hope it's not nearly that long until we hear another great album from Vanden Plas! Strongly Recommended!

Vanden Plas: The Seraphic Clockwork
Posted by Pete Pardo, SoT Staff Writer on 2010-07-01 17:53:55
My Score:

The Seraphic Clockwork contains just about every element of what most of us love about progressive metal; powerful vocals, catchy melodies, thunderous rhythms, crunchy guitar riffage, orchestral keyboards, and moments of complex musical interplay.Germany's Vanden Plas have been delivering the goods for quite a few years now, and this follow-up to ChristO is a winner on all fronts. Andy Kuntz and Co. have crafted 9 excellent tracks of melodic progressive metal that is sure to be a favorite of genre fans here in 2010.

Starting off with the raucous "Frequency", the patented attack of Vanden Plas is in full force, complete with Kuntz soaring over the top of symphonic keyoards from Gunter Werno and Stephan Lill's crushing riffs. The irresistable melodies of "Holes in the Sky" follows, an engaging number that will instantly appeal to fans of early Dream Theater, and the mix of atmospheric prog and bombastic metal of "Scar of An Angel" shows the diversity of the band as they rampage through this near 8-minute piece. Other hot songs include the driving "Sound of Blood", the dramatic "The Final Murder", and the 13-minute epic "On My Way to Jerusalem". The latter has some highly impressive lyrics, and is actually listed as the 'final Psalm' of this tale, so you'll want to make sure to follow along with the lyrics as you take this journey with the band.

It's always nice when a band in the prog-metal genre really focuses on the story they are telling and letting the music complement the songs. Sure, there's plenty of bombast here as well as instrumental virtuosity, but Vanden Plas don't batter you over the head with it, instead adding in plenty of musical layers to help lead the listener through their epic sagas.

Vanden Plas have delivered another stellar effort here with The Seraphim Clockwork-don't miss out on this one folks.


» Reader Comments:

Vanden Plas: The Seraphic Clockwork
Posted by Brian from Canada on 2010-10-02 15:57:24
My Score:

Just wanted to commend you on your well written, well thought out, and very accurate review of Vanden Plas The Seraphic Clockwork. I've been listenting to the album for about a month now, and like you I can't get enough of it. I don't think I'm overstating it when I say this is one of the best progressive metal albums of all time. I've been a fan a Dream Theater for years but lately have been discouraged with their albums...they're just okay, and certainly don't inspire me like Scenes from a Memory or Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence did. Meanwhile, Vanden Plas comes along and completely blows me away with this release. This is a band at the peak of the creative genius. Can you imagine the work that was put into this? If there's one thing that makes this release stand out above most other prog-metal realease these days it's the quality of the song writing - many bands have the technical playing ability, but Vanden Plas can write catchy music that has you singing along and coming back for more. Combine that with the incredible musicianship, storytelling and production, and you've got a masterpiece.

Vanden Plas: The Seraphic Clockwork
Posted by Mike on 2010-06-28 13:29:57
My Score:

Vanden Plas is certainly in the top tier of progressive metal bands. Yet they're such good songwriters that I can play them for people that normally are indifferent to the genre and astound them. Christ 0 was a masterpiece and there's a good chance that in time I will view this one in the same way.

Vanden Plas: The Seraphic Clockwork
Posted by Danniel Cecava on 2010-06-25 19:10:15
My Score:

I completely agree with this review, including the scoring. While I faithfully love Vanden Plas and their songs writing, this album carries the distinctive character of being heavily influenced by their theater work. The complexity of the music and lyrical narrative takes multiply listens to entirely appreciate. You can literally see this album being performed entirely for the stage. Unless you happen to be familiar with Vanden Plas' musical performances, The Seraphic Clockwork will feel "confusing" on first listen. There are no real stand out singles, with the exception of perhaps 'Holes In The Sky', but rather the entire album acts as a single unified piece of grand music of the highest caliber.

Vanden Plas: The Seraphic Clockwork
Posted by peter finnigan on 2010-06-23 16:04:20
My Score:

Fantastic review,absolutely spot on,but why only 4.5 out of 5?I have been a heavy rock/metal fan for 35 years and i have never heard anything better than this,it is a perfect progressive metal album that has absolutely everything.Christ 0 is also stunning,and it is a mystery why this phenomenal band are not more widely acknowledged.




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