Vanden Plas – The Ghost Xperiment – Awakening (Frontiers Music)

Monday, 14th October 2019
Rating: 9/10

Maintaining the same five-piece lineup for the entire 33 year plus career, Vanden Plas have evolved from their more melodic heavy metal start for their debut album Colour Temple in 1994 on through to their shift to a progressive metal platform. Coming off a two-part conceptual series of records for their last two studio outings, the band return for their ninth outing on The Ghost Xperiment – Awakening, another conceptual story based on an actual paranormal documented experiment. Frontman Andy Kuntz created the main character Gideon Grace and his involvement in a twisting story of agonizing the death of his beloved Ivy, fighting the battle of internal demons, and puts his knowledge to the test to elevate a showdown with the Demons to a surprising conclusion.

Choosing to keep the musical foundation a bit more robust and in your face could be a bit of a throwback to the band’s earlier years. It’s obvious the interplay between the musicians carries many exciting, thoughtful passages that build for emotional intensity – check out the driving keyboard/guitar sequences throughout “The Phantoms of Prends-Toi-Grade” that are hypnotic and dramatic, allowing Andy vocally to surge in unison to the music. Guitarist Stephan Lill and drummer Andreas Lill along with bassist Torsten Reichert throw down some quieter progressive propulsion that again delivers a heavier, resounding payoff during “Three Ghosts”. It’s evident that the band needs longer timeframes to carry out the storyline and complementary progressive textures of the music – but it never feels self-serving or elaborate to the point of exhaustion, even at the nine-minute plus offerings for “”Devils’ Poetry” and “Fall from the Skies”. Reference points can be seen from a variety of angles: Dream Theater, Savatage, and fellow German veterans Mob Rules three probable sources for outlook, musicianship, and songwriting heritage – but there’s this underlying sense of strong vocal melodies/harmonies all the way through that keeps listener engagement.

The Ghost Xperiment won’t necessarily be the most technically ‘wow’ outing – but there are certainly times where the energy and interplay deserve accolades, as you’ll hear keyboard/guitar transitions and solid rhythm section mechanics that grab your brain and never let go (the long instrumental section for “Devils’ Poetry” especially). In the end, Vanden Plas keep challenging themselves and the listeners with solid storylines and equally dynamic music to support their thoughts – which benefits everyone into the group in the long run.

Vanden Plas official website