I must admit that I’m not a huge fan of Progressive Metal/Rock. Some of my friends might go “WHAT??!!” on that comment because there are, of course, Progressive Metal bands that I do enjoy. Dream Theater, Shadow Gallery, Opeth, Bigelf, Queensrÿche, Flying Colors, Sons Of Apollo. And I do love those acts dearly. However, it pretty much stops there. It’s not that I dislike the genre, it’s just that most of the stuff that I have tried to listen to throughout the years has left me underwhelmed, I have a hard time grasping most it. I can certainly hear that they’re all great musicians and they’re great at what they do, it’s just that I for the most part can’t get the songs to stay with me and I lose interest too quickly. The first time I ever heard German prog-rockers Vanden Plas was when they opened for Dream Theater some aeons ago – and I wasn’t overly impressed. Since then I have only heard a few songs, none of them made a lasting impression on me at all, but for some reason I got curious when I saw that I had the promo of their new album – their ninth and their first in four years – in my mail-box.
This time, the band has decided on making it a concept-album, the first in what will become a trilogy. The story goes as follows: Based on an actual documented paranormal experiment, the main character in the story is Gideon Grace, who must constantly fight for his life against the relentless shadows of the House Of Rain as he wanders through France. Burdened with a heavy weight of sorrow following the agonizing death of his beloved Ivy, Gideon’s pain is also the driving force in a war with his demons. He expands his knowledge with books he finds in the library of a German school of metaphysics and it is there that he reads about secret teachers and parapsychological experiments which become an important foundation from which he can fight against the creatures of darkness. After the first showdown with these demons, rather than finding peace, the insights Gideon learns from this fight tear open a hole deep into the abyss of Hell.
The band goes out on a heavy and hard note with the opening track and latest single “Cold December Night”, a heavy belter that brings on some staccato Pantera meets Dream Theater riffing, very rhythmically punchy. There’s also a slight Rush influence here which takes on a more dramatic ambience. Over the musical powerhouse that is the song’s structure lies some very memorable melodies and a hook-laden, catchy chorus that falls somewhere between Dream Theater and Shadow Gallery. This is awesome, folks. “The Phantoms Of Prends-Toi-Gardes” comes in a mid pace and holds a steady and heavy beat, dark in atmosphere and progressive but it’s at the same time pretty straight-forward with melodies that goes from laid-back to upbeat. It brings on a clear Dream Theater influence but at the same time, there’s a more modern, electronic touch and some alternative vibes which changes the dynamics. It’s proggy but also very catchy and easy-listened which makes the tune a memorable and pleasant listen. Great stuff, this.
The album’s third taster – an official audio only – “Three Ghosts” starts out with a soft intro with acoustic clean guitars which then continues in a heavier direction only for the verse to go more laid-back and softer with a great synth arrangement to go with it – and both vocal and guitar arrangements here are superb. The atmosphere is both eerie and darkening beautiful. We also get a mid-break with some edgy and gritty guitar-riffing before another break, this time soft and held-back with only piano and vocals, comes in. The rest of the band then comes back with a heavy drum-fill to pave the way. The song also brings on a grandiose and majestic refrain which brings on some very memorable hooks without going the least mawkish or radio-flirtatious. This is brilliant stuff.
Smooth yet progressive with a big keyboard soundscape, “Devil’s Poetry” takes us for a ride carried by chunky guitar-riffing and rocky rhythm section. At first the tune is more of a ballad-like slow-pacer, pretty straight-forward that then turns into a Dream Theater influenced prog-rocker where time-changes takes a hold without losing the intriguing melodies that lies all over the tune like a warming blanket. A laid-back passage shows up before the song goes back to how it started and then it ends with a soft, affable and beautiful piano piece. At almost 10 minutes, it’s the longest track on the album but it feels like only half that time. Awesome!
“Fall From The Skies” lures you into believing we’re in for a soft and relaxing treat as it starts out laid-back and slightly jazzy with only piano and vocals. But just when relaxation sets in the tune gets heavy and pounding with a dark and sinister outlook and some rowdy and sharp riffing. Then the verse starts and the tune slows down ones more and takes another softer and laid-back turn, ballad-style only for the song to change back into a heavier and more aggressive mode when the pre-chorus enters and the actual chorus goes even rougher and more robust, very much in-your-face. When the verse comes back it’s on heavy note, still slow yet rough and dark only for the song to speed up more and go more straight-forward and in-your face on a punchy rhythm before the big refrain comes back again. It’s a progressive number but all the while there are clear melodies that gives the tune a catchy strike. Good one.
With the title-track, Vanden Plas ends the first chapter in the trilogy. This one is a direct metal-bouncer, heavy and straight ahead in a mid pace yet with a distinct main melody, crispy guitars and a rhythmic foundation that makes the song groove. It’s a theatrical and powerful number that also takes a dynamic route when you consider that it also contains both flute, strings and a symphonic arrangement. This is a progressive Hard Rock meets Metal track with all the ingredients that goes with that, but the hooks and the memorable melodies are never far away and the big refrain even draws itself towards Melodic Rock – a very good song and a great closer.
Since what I have heard by this band, this album comes as a big, very pleasant surprise for me. This is a damn good album, lots better than I expected it to be. Fact is, since progressive Hard Rock albums can be somewhat hard to digest and get into, it was also surprising that this record stuck with me from hello – and since then it has kept growing on me. One explanation is that besides the fact that these guys know how to write good songs, the melodies are in focus and musical technique second – which is not to say that we don’t a great deal of that as well. So, not only do I now look forward to the follow-up, The Ghost Xperiment: Illumination, which will see the light of day in 2020, I also have some back-catalogue-digging to do here. Highly recommended!
1. Cold December Night
2. The Phantoms Of Prends-Toi-Gardes
3. Three Ghosts
4. Devils’ Poetry
5. Fall From The Skies
6. The Ghost Xperiment