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Vanden Plas: Christ O

Vanden Plas have been a fairly active progressive metal band for quite a long time, but I'll be the first to admit that for whatever reason I've never really gotten into these German veterans. Sure, a few of their albums, like The God Thing and Far Off Grace were pretty strong representations of the genre, but something just never clicked with me. Well, with their latest Christ O, a concept piece loosely based on the story Count of Monte Cristo, my opinion might start to change. It's been four years since the band released Beyond Daylight on InsideOut Records, and in the interim Vanden Plas lead singer Andy Kuntz worked on and released his side project Abydos. Well, the time off and other projects really seemed to have invigorized the band, as Christ O is a smoldering and symphonic prog metal opus, filled with tasty playing, soaring melodies, and lots of complex and heavy metal crunch.

What's instantly noticeable is how much Kuntz has matured as a vocalist. The singer has been doing a fair amount of theater work over the last few years, and it shows here. Tracks like the symphonic and emotional title track and "Wish You Were Here" show a powerful and assured Kuntz soaring with more melody and emotion than he has ever shown before, and the instrumental aspect is capably led by guitarist Stephan Lil and keyboard player Gunter Werno. Those that are into Dream Theater styled heavy numbers with plenty of complex and intricate bits will love the chugging romp of "Silently", featuring heavy riffs from Lil, and the searing keyboard led progressive metal of "Shadow I Am", where bassist Torsten Reichert also gets to show off his sinewy style alongside Werno's nimble and symphonic keys. The theater influence shows up on the majestic and poignant "Fireroses Dance", a great vehicle for Kruntz, and drummer Andreas Lil leads the band through the complex workout of "Somewhere Alone In the Dark". Due to the dark nature of the CD's storyline, there's also a few atmospheric and moody pieces, such as the excellent "January Sun", and the emotional "Lost In Silence", two songs that venture into new territory for the band, as they contain more progressive and AOR elements than the band has dipped into in the past. Make sure you get the special edition which comes with a bonus track number ten, a fantastic cover of "Gethsemane (I Only Want To Say) " from Jesus Christ Superstar, with Kuntz doing his best to hit some of Ian Gillan's high notes while the band rumbles beneath him.

Vanden Plas have long been revered as a solid band in the progressive metal scene, but I think things are going to change with the release of Christ O. This is a stunning and mature release that sparkles of professionalism and quality all around.

Track Listing
1. Christ 0
2. Postcard To God
3. Wish You Were Here
4. Silently
5. Shadow I Am
6. Fireroses Dance
7. Somewhere Alone In The Dark
8. January Sun
9. Lost In Silence

Added: September 4th 2006
Reviewer: Pete Pardo
Related Link: Vanden Plas Website
Hits: 11610
Language: english

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» SoT Staff Roundtable Reviews:

Vanden Plas: Christ O
Posted by Ken Pierce, SoT Staff Writer on 2006-09-04 09:42:50
My Score:

It's been four years since Vanden Plas released "Beyond Daylight" and for many fans of the Progressive Metal the new album would be a welcome return of a very excellent and powerful band. As I listened to the album, I wondered how this group escaped my notice before as they offer a lot of what fans of Melodic and Progressive Metal are looking for. The band takes a strong queue from Dream Theater as far as the ability to craft both powerful melody and metallic technique together, but their music doesn't take you into wild technical displays and that keeps them unique from Portnoy and company. The album takes you on a journey into a tale that is based on the Alexander Dumas "Count Of Monte Cristo" tale; however this story is a little bit darker and does not find the Count the hero that the classic tale does. As a matter of fact he is a villain and while still a character to be pitied he is getting that which is rightly served for such action. The album displays an excellent array of Progressive Metal riffs and melodies that bring you right into the recording and lead singer Andy Kuntz is simply amazing across the whole thing. The main reason for the absence in Vanden Plas recordings was due to the singer working in theatre and his side-project Abydos. The theatre experience clearly shows in the album as far as the dramatic peaks and valleys it explores as Kuntz delivers passionate vocals in every song. Crunching Metal fans need not fear that the stage experience has softened his delivery of the bands music and can confirm this on songs like "Somewhere Alone In The Dark" and "Silently". The band also explores some levels of mood and atmosphere, as a dark and foreboding storyline will definitely put you in that place. A great example of this can be found in "Lost In Silence" and their inclusion offers the chance for a wider variety of listener to now enjoy the band. The closer of the album came as a complete and yet wonderful surprise as the band delivers the song "Gethsemane" (I Only Want To Say); the song which was originally sung by Ian Gillan in the Broadway play "Jesus Christ Superstar" is a powerful tune and delivered to excellence. This is available on the special edition of the CD if I am not mistaken.

Above all this is an excellent piece of music and even though I was new to the band I found myself listening to the entire piece a good four times before I even began coming up with thoughts on it. It is musically powerfully and lyrically sound and should prove to satisfy the most finicky of Progressive Metal fans. It is recommended for those who enjoy Dream Theater, Symphony X and others who fall into this dynamic style.

Vanden Plas: Christ O
Posted by John Larocque, SoT Staff Writer on 2006-04-25 18:10:05
My Score:

Christ O marks the welcome return of Inside Out progressive metal artists Vanden Plas, after a four year hiatus and several side-projects. One of this band's strengths is taking the Dream Theater template and crafting good keyboard-heavy guitar-driven songs, veering between full-out progressive metal and complex commercially-driven melodic rock. Christ O draws its lyrical inspiration from the story The Count of Monte Christo, and is solidly into the progressive territory, and crunchier than past efforts, resulting one of their strongest and most musically interesting albums in years. One of the heavier numbers on this release is "Postcard to God", a pounding six-minute track with a tasty guitar solo. "Silently" would not be out of place on a Dream Theater album, an eight-minute opus with extended acoustic and electric guitar and keyboard solos and plenty of time changes sandwiched between a piano section at the beginning and end. "Shadow I am" is admirable both for its five-minute melodic rock brevity and Stephan Lill 40-second solo. He really shines on this release, as well as keyboardist Gunter Werno on such tracks as "Somewhere Alone in the Dark." "Firerose Dance" took its time to build up to a choir section toward the end. "January Sun" is a powerful ten-minute showpiece for each of the band members, especially Andy Kuntz whose best moments are here. The album ends with a cover of "Gethsemene" from Jesus Christ Superstar and fits in well with the "progmetal opera" tone they've established on the album. There's not really much more that needs to be said about this release except that it is a welcome addition to the Vanden Plas library and will not disappoint its many fans.

Vanden Plas: Christ O
Posted by Murat Batmaz, SoT Staff Writer on 2006-04-03 16:59:53
My Score:

Four years have passed since Vanden Plas' amazing album Beyond Daylight, by many considered their creative peak and most consistent release. The band have taken their time to write their new concept album Christ O (Christ-less), basing it on the story of The Count of Monte Cristo. Yet again, it seems this may be Vanden Plas' best effort, as they continue to outdo themselves with each successive release, surprising their entire fanbase.

Christ 0 not only combines the band's traditional progressive metal leanings with the more theatrical work heard on Andy Kuntz' solo project Abydos, it also involves a 40-piece classic choir and a cleverly arranged full orchestra that contribute to the album's diversity. The result is nothing short of stunning. The production is mammoth, and the songwriting vivid. Beginning with great soprano vocals and a very symphonic arrangement, the title track features every single Vanden Plas characteristic they've trademarked over the years: hard-hitting guitars, slick arrangements, wonderful melodies, powerful drum and bass rhythms, and excellent keyboard work. The band's writing team again consists of guitarist Stefan Lill, vocalist Andy Kuntz, and keyboardist Gunter Werno, but as with all of their albums, there's room for every member, especially the band's unmistakable rhythm duo. As a matter of fact, Andreas Lill's drum sound may be the most prominent on any of the releases yet, while Torsten Reichert's bass mostly serves to fatten the guitars. That said, track five, "Shadow I Am", puts the focus on his growling bass lines, underneath Kuntz' infectious chorus and Werno's unconventional synth patch.

"Postcard to God" is arguably the heaviest song on the album, at times evoking Dream Theater circa Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence (which is a great thing!) in the way that Reichert and Lill feed the piece with thundering syncopation that follows ethereal keyboard and piano melodies, stop-start guitar riffage, and excellent vocal harmonies before the female choir wraps things up. "Wish You Were Here" has a moody start that slowly develops into a passage with deeply snarling bass guitar, shifting tempos, and tasty backing vocals. The track embarks on a killer interplay between shredding lead guitars and analog synths, as the song slowly segues into the album's most powerful piece: "Silently". Slow piano notes, subtle keyboard effects, stomping drums all unite in order to create an almost dreamy, perhaps cinematic number. The chorus of the song is terrific, with Kuntz just singing over solo piano in the first part, and then a thickened string arrangement towards the end. The song runs through several movements, each equally riveting. Stefan Lill's guitar solo may be his most melodic on the album, whilst Kuntz lets out several high screams that would give the best guys a run for their money. Andreas' drums march amidst seas of symphonic textures, as Gunter Werno lays down a synth solo that may be the best I've heard from him ever, and the song concludes with a very unexpected acoustic guitar coda that is simply beautiful. "Silently" is the definitive Christ 0 track, as it envelops everything Vanden Plas stands for.

"Somewhere Alone in the Dark" feels like a leftover from the band's The God Thing sessions, perhaps because it was incomplete at the time of its recording. Very Dream Theater-inspired in some places, the track features a nice chorus, and heavy, thrash metal-like breaks. On the other hand, songs like "Fireroses Dance" and "Lost in Silence" document Kuntz' amazing vocal abilities, dripping with emotion and melody. The Middle Eastern touch on the former and Kuntz' harmonies on the latter are both sublime. "January Tree", the longest track, is the most orchestral piece, with beautifully composed theatrical moments that evoke Abydos and dark spoken vocals that had me think of the last song on Evergrey's The Inner Circle. However, it is Werno's piano and synth playing where he boldly extracts a million colours and shadings out of his instrument that qualifies "January Sun" as another standout on the album. "Gethsemane" is a great bonus track with no relation to the concept of the album. It is a successful interpretation from the Jesus Christ Superstar musical, dealing with schizophrenia in a very Vanden Plas meets Abydos way. A dark yet fitting finale for Christ Zero.

Sound engineer Markus Teske (Saga, Spock's Beard) has done an amazing job on the mix and the artwork is terrific. I don't have a single bad thing to say about this album and it has already become my early contender for melodic prog metal album of the year.

» Reader Comments:

Vanden Plas: Christ O
Posted by ROBERT LISANTI on 2008-07-02 13:41:03
My Score:

One of the best Prog Metal albums out there, This band has paid it's dues and it show on this latest effort. Andy does sound really good on this and the production is superb. a "Must Have" for Vanden Plas fans, but any fan of Progressive metal/Rock.

Vanden Plas: Christ O
Posted by Valacar on 2006-03-31 13:54:11
My Score:

An excellent piece of "classic prog metal" and Vanden Plas' best output upto now.

Highly recommended.


Vanden Plas: Christ O
Posted by Dario on 2006-03-19 11:50:34
My Score:

Once again a beautiful album from the best progressive metal band on this planet.
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