Audio Mixer: Markus Teske.
Recording information: Bazement Studios, Hünstetten, Germany.
Photographer: Dirk Weiler .
Chronicles of the Immortals: Netherworld, Pt. 2 is the final part of Vanden Plas' musical treatment of author Wolfgang Hohlbein's 12-volume historical vampire cycle of the same name. This German progressive metal band has never done anything half-heartedly. Almost all of their records are concept-oriented. Chronicles of the Immortals details the story of vampire Andrej Delany and his cohorts (also vamps, natch) as they travel through European history to discover their (unknown to them) origins. The first volume, Netherworld, Pt. 1, crunched, swirled, and soared its way through half the story with excellent production, wildly original arrangements that included orchestral and chamber strings, extra backing singers, and a full choir. So too here. The narrative trails Andrej to his meeting with the fateful "Godmaker." Netherworld, Pt. 2 picks up right there. Vanden Plas marries displays of pyrotechnical guitar and drum power metal to progressive -- even vanguard -- pop song structures in pristine (self-) production, enhanced by elements of symphonic metal and musical theater. "Vision 11: In My Universe" offers an elegant lead vocal by Andy Kuntz, dramatic keyboards (Günter Werno), artful drumming (Andreas Lill), and blistering guitars (Stephen Lill) playing over a full choir to create a kaleidoscopic dynamic for the rest of the story to spin on. The 13-minute "Blood of Eden" offers one of several guest vocal appearances from Julia Steingass (an integral part of the first volume). The song's first half is almost theatrical pop, but halfway in, Werno, guitarist Lill, and bassist Torsten Reichert maniacally kick in, and the cut nearly lifts off the record. The melodic, oddly metered "Monster" juxtaposes harmonic lyricism with the guttural death metal chants from guest Falk Leidemer and the choir -- Kuntz never abandons the core melody. "Where Have the Children Gone" is almost a short suite with sparse piano and string accompaniment for Kuntz before Lill's crunch-encrusted guitars and the thundering drums of his brother enter. They drop off for a minute as Reichert's bass and Werno's keyboards carry the lithe melody. When the whole band re-enters, it's with a crash: knotty cadences shapeshift the tune's harmonics via Lill's blistering guitar solo. "The Last Fight" is the heaviest, most hyperkinetic track here with warring guitars, keyboards and drums, and the choir at the center sets up a standoff where Andrej finds his redemption. The over-the-top finale, "Circle of the Devil," reveals that Vanden Plas' gift for musical excess has reached a new level. Chronicles of the Immortals: Netherworld, Pt. 2 is not the best place to start with this band (try 1997's The God Thing). For their ever-increasing legion of fans, however, this is not only a fitting close to the series, but an immensely satisfying catalog entry. Though they sound like no one else, there's a good chance fans of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, Fish-era Marillion, and Symphony X will dig these guys. ~ Thom Jurek