Well, here we are, into the final five places in my ‘Album of the Year 2015’ Top 30 countdown. Are you excited? I hope so. It has been a long journey to get to this point – late nights, early mornings and very little sleep in between. But it has been worth it, because it gives me the opportunity to do one of the things that I love the most: write about great music and those artists that deserve all the attention that they can get.
As always, a quick reminder that if you’re new to my blog, you can check out each of my choices from 30 down to 6 via the links at the bottom of this post. But without further ado, I give you the first entry in my Top 5 for 2015…
I have been a fan of Germany’s Vanden Plas. Ever since I discovered the enlightened path of progressive metal in my early 20s, Vanden Plas has been a constant musical companion. Theirs is a name synonymous with quality and as such, their entire back catalogue is worthy of your fullest attention. However, I’m here to talk about the 2015 release, ‘Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld II’, not the brilliance of other releases like ‘The Seraphic Clockwork’ or ‘Beyond Daylight’ as just two great examples. Or ‘Christ 0’ or even ‘Far Off Grace’ as another two.
Happily, given their position at number 5 in my list, it goes without saying that ‘Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld’ is magnificent. It is everything that you’ve come to want and expect from such a class act and more besides. AS the title suggests, it is the second of a two-part series of albums and in many ways continues both thematically, lyrically and musically where it’s predecessor ‘Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld’ left off just last year. That record deservedly made it into my Top 10 of 2014 and garnered much praise within the review that I wrote for it, which can be read here if you so wish.
However, if anything, ‘Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld II’ is even better. In saying that, there’s nothing that I can specifically point to in order to prove this statement. Instead, as brilliant as ‘Part I’ was, ‘Part II’ just has a slightly bigger aura to it, a feeling of an increased majesty and all of the component parts that make up the modern Vanden Plas sound are dialled up to 11 and delivered with a consummate professionalism, the kind of delivery that comes only from a band that ooze confidence and understand innately what they are trying to achieve.
I also reviewed ‘Part II’ for this blog and, for the sake of brevity for this post, I’ll just offer the link to it here: ‘Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld II’.
So, why am I giving this record a spot in my Top 5 of 2015 exactly, and what can listeners expect? Well, the first thing to say is that had this record been released earlier in the year, it might well have been even higher in my list, it’s that good. For me, it is the utterly mesmerising blend of progressive heavy metal alongside an increased cinematic and theatrical sheen. Unlike many other progressive metal bands, the guitars are properly crunchy, the rhythm section contains a real bite and together, they create a glorious racket that assaults the ears throughout. In addition, the riffs are a mix of the complex and the gratuitous headbanging fodder which I like too.
Then there are the other elements which Vanden Plas add with aplomb without ending up sounding overly pretentious or cheesy. The keyboards are nothing short of brilliant, adding layers of richness to the already impressive sonic tapestry. Subtle one moment then all-out cinematic bombast the next, it is a great combination that compliments everything else within the compositions. Add to the melting pot some choral vocals as well as an occasional female voice to duet with Andy Kuntz and what you have is something rather special indeed.
Speaking of Mr Kuntz, his vocals are another reason for the strength of this release. Messrs Stephan Lill (guitars), Andreas Lill (drums), Torsten Reichart (bass) and Günter Werno (keyboards) all deliver the goods but Kuntz adds some passionate, heartfelt and powerful icing to the already impressive cake.
And after all that, I’ve not even mentioned one of the biggest strengths of ‘Netherworld II’: the melodies. Time and again, Vanden Plas manage to create music that’s complex, multi-layered and ambitious in the extreme but they never forget how to pen a proper tune. ‘Netherworld II’ is no different in that respect. Each and every one of the nine tracks on this record contain a chorus or a melody that will get stuck in your head in true ‘earworm’ style. That’s what keeps fans coming back for more and Vanden Plas understand this fully, delivering time and again.
For a full breakdown of individual tracks, please head to my in-depth review. In the meantime, for this post, I will conclude with the same conclusion I made within that review as it sums things up perfectly: ‘…‘Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld II’ is a killer slab of adventurous, anthemic and sophisticated progressive metal. It cements the band’s place as a genre leader and shows what is possible when five musicians come together with a shared vision as well as the hunger, desire and willingness to produce something that clearly comes from the heart. I adore this band and you should too. Glorious stuff.’
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 6
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And from previous years: