Vanden Plas - The Empyrean Equation Of The Long Lost Things

Artist: Vanden Plas

Album Title: The Empyrean Equation Of The Long Lost Things

Label: Frontiers Music

Date of Release: 19 April 2024

Vanden Plas and I go way back. They were one of the first group of bands that I discovered as my love of progressive metal emerged in the very early noughties. In fact, it was their fourth album, ‘Beyond Daylight’ released in 2002 that was the gateway for me into their music. The Germans quickly became a firm favourite for me, with ‘Far Off Grace’ and ‘Christ 0’ also pushing my buttons. And then I had the opportunity to head to Germany to attend a press pre-listening party for ‘The Seraphic Clockwork’ in 2010, interviewing then keyboardist Günter Werno. I was blown away, and if I was to have a gun put to my head, I’d say it remains the German stalwarts’ greatest release.

I have to be brutally honest, though, and say that I have not been such a big fan of their more recent output. Beginning with the ‘Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld’ double-header, the band’s affinity with more theatrical, stage-show-influenced music began to grow greater and greater. It meant that, not only did album titled start to become longer, that their compositions more and more veered away from their riff-heavy, ‘classic’ style of progressive metal into more overblown, ostentatious directions that could support their penchant for taking their music onto the stage amidst lavish productions.

The trouble was, whilst you can’t fault their ambition, for my tastes, whilst there was good music to be heard on the albums, the compositions didn’t consistently grab me as they did in the past. Admittedly, Vanden Plas always used keyboards and synths readily, offering the ubiquitous prog solos and extended instrumental passages. But more and more, they have become used to provide an orchestral element, with a steady decline in overall heaviness along the way. That’s my take, anyway.

It has meant that, coupled with signing to Frontiers Music, Vanden Plas have become less and less important to me in the last decade or so. And that’s a shame, it really is. But it remains the case that if I want a blast of Vanden Plas, I’ll head back to 2010 and further still for my fix. I can’t remember the last time I listened to any of their last four albums. And so to the new album, the ridiculously pompous-sounding ‘The Empyrean Equation Of The Long Lost Things’.

We’re not off to a good start, especially when you throw into the mix the departure of Günter Werno as well. And that’s probably why, in part, I’m late with this review. I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to hear what Vanden Plas were up to now. The addition of well-known keyboardist Alessandro Del Vecchio had more than a faint whiff of typical Frontiers meddling, but ultimately, the Vanden Plas name means too much to me to completely discard them. So here I am, after a long and winding backstory, giving my thoughts to album number eleven.

‘The Empyrean Equation Of The Long Lost Things’ (henceforth in this review ‘…Lost Things’ for sanity and wordcount reasons) features six brand new tracks over a run-time of 55 minutes. It falls under my self-imposed one-hour cut-off, but I have to say that it feels longer than this. And that’s not a great thing, because it implies that the music on the album isn’t as engaging and exciting as it could be. And that’s exactly the problem here with ‘…Lost Things’. I could be really and suggest that one of the ‘lost things’ is the band’s ability to write music that fires up my enthusiasm as it did in the earlier days. Do I like writing this? No, I don’t, especially for a band like Vanden Plas. But my hands are tied.

Vanden Plas - The Empyrean Equation Of The Long Lost Things

All the familiar elements of the band remain, except that ‘je ne sais quoi’ that used to get my blood pumping and my excitement levels rising. It goes without saying that the musicians have not lost any of their technical abilities, with each offering their prowess and professionalism throughout. Guitarist Stephan Lill still dishes out his familiar riffs and solo histrionics, whilst drummer brother Andreas alongside long-time bassist Torsten Reichert mete out some crisp and driving rhythms. And what can be said about vocalist Andy Kuntz that’s not been said a hundred times before? His voice is instantly recognisable and he remains without doubt one of my favourites within prog circles, smooth and effortless, able to weave his narration into the compositions beautifully. Time will tell whether Del Vecchio offers something a little different for the band in future releases, having arrived too late to contribute songwriting ideas to ‘…Lost Things’. But, right now, everything feels too ‘safe’, too ‘paint-by-numbers’ and lacks excitement and bite.

The opening title track is over eight minutes in length and, aside from a couple of lines from Kuntz later in the piece, is ostensibly an instrumental. It starts with a delicate melody that’s very pleasant and gradually builds as it develops. But it doesn’t really do anything. It’s bathed in orchestral sounds and tinkling piano keys, there are a few heavier riffs that drive pace into passages, and plenty of solo wizardry, but I genuinely struggle to remember anything once it finishes.

My interest is more immediately piqued with the introduction of ‘My Icarian Flight’ which delivers one of those trademark crisp and crunchy riffs. This is more like it. At less than six minutes in length, it has a much greater feeling of old-school Vanden Plas, with the moodier verses featuring rich keys and more chugging guitars. When the chorus hits, it allows Kuntz to let his voice soar, and I begin to harbour some hope that the remainder of the album follows this direction more closely. The ubiquitous venturing into instrumental territory isn’t essential and a little of the early power is lost towards the end. But it’s more or less the Vanden Plas that I love.

Unfortunately, the elation felt on my part is short lived. There’s precious little that interests me about the ten-minute ‘Sanctimonarium’, as those heavier, sharper riffs are either non-existent or buried within the mix. There’s a really cool section that emerges at the 4:20 mark, where the riffs and melodies converge is beautiful synchronicity, followed by one of the best solos on the album but within ninety seconds or so, it vanishes never to return. And that’s a huge shame.

I really want to continue the review, but I find it very difficult to do so because I’m so disappointed. I quite like ‘The Sacrilegious Mind Machine’ because it dials up the intensity a little more and the chorus is largely pretty engaging. And the more ballad-like ‘They Call Me God’ is admittedly quite beautiful with repeated listens. But aside from a smattering of bright moments of excellence littered here and there within the fifteen-minute final track ‘March Of The Saints’, there’s too much padding and too much material that feels sub-par for such a special band. I can still recall choruses and other material from earlier albums at the drop of a hat, and I can still feel the rush of hearing ‘The Seraphic Clockwork’ for the first time all those years ago alongside the band in Germany. However, I seriously doubt I will be able to say the same about any of the music on ‘…Lost Things’ in a decade or so from now. It’s perfectly OK, but it’s not amazing. This makes me sad. All I can hope for is that their next release can recapture some of the magic that I know these guys are capable of. I’ll keep my fingers firmly crossed.

The Score of Much Metal: 79%



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