A progarchy confession: I’m not a big fan of progressive metal. I think bands like Dream Theater and Opeth are downright impressive musically, but their albums aren’t ones I often return to. I rarely find myself “brought home” by prog metal, the way that the best (more recent) offerings of Anathema seem to place everything around (and within) me in perfect balance. Give me the sonic and soulful perfection that is Marillion’s Brave over the collected virtuosity of Dream Theater any day.
But as I’m quickly discovering, exposure to excellent bands and new prog genres is one of the great benefits of citizenship in the Republic of Progarchy. So far, I’ve fallen for The Reasoning, a band that rightly gets a lot of love on these pages. And more recently, Chronicles of the Immortals: Netherworld (Path 1) by the underrated German prog metal band Vanden Plas, a concept album where the virtuosity of Dream Theater meets the storytelling of Marillion — compelling, personal, and one of the best prog offerings of the past year.
Vanden Plas features Stephan Lill (guitars), Torsten Reichert (bass), Andy Kuntz (vocals), Andreas Lill (drums), and Gunter Werno (keyboards), a lineup unchanged since 1986. For Chronicles, the band teamed up with German author Wolfgang Hohlbein (a self proclaimed fan) to interpret his Netherworld novels for the stage. The concept is perfect for prog: a mortal protagonist caught in the apocalyptic battle between heaven and hell, each track revealing one of his “visions.” Its themes are at once cosmic and human, haunting and hopeful. The perennial themes of darkness versus light, good versus evil never seem tired. They get reimagined track after track, complimented and heightened by dynamic musicianship. Between heavy guitar riffs, spoken word, and stunning vocals, the album perfectly balances the intensity of prog metal and moments of deliberate – and startling – restraint. Everything in its rightful place. Listening to this album, you can’t help but feel that Vanden Plas has focused more on revealing, uncovering something true than creating anew.
Dissecting Chronicles track-by-track seems all wrong; this is truly a narrative album. Chronicles displays the unique power of prog music to pull the listener into its own horizon. By the album’s end, we stand on the precipice between blinding beauty and darkness, grateful to Vanden Plas for bringing us there.