Vanden Plas is the leading band of the German progressive metal. Their first album was published in 1995 with the name "Colour temple", to which followed the mini album "AcCult" one year later. In 1997 they released "The God thing", their second full studio work and their best disk, and recently "Far off grace", with the intention of exploring the most melodic corners in their metallic sound and to advance musically, and the album we will now comment.
Musically, the German band is located comfortably in the limits of the sound that Dream Theater possibly created and certainly impelled, and that at the moment has a good group of followers, among those Rhapsody, Kingdom Come, Magellan, Lana Lane and Stratovarius. In the great majority of the genres of progressive rock, the groups that we could denominate "leaders" and those that appeared later on could end up publishing works of a similar quality, and it is curious that in metal prog this has not happened up to now. Dream Theater artistic and musical distance with the rest of bands of the genre is remarkable and it doesn't seem that it will decrease in a near future.
The formation has not changed since the group was formed and include: Andy Kuntz (leading vocals), Stephan Lill (guitars), Torsten Reichert (bass), Günter Werno (keyboards) and Andreas Lill (drums). The music in "Far off grace" is aggressive progressive metal with melodic elements, and far from the sound of Mike Portnoy's band. It is possible to comment the album in general terms in an immediate way, summarized in three main points: 1) the singer doesn't have the appropriate voice for this music style, 2) the instrumentalists have a lot to learn, and 3) the originality of the album is even inferior to that of neoprog, which is a lot to say.
The work begins with "I can see", with aggressive guitars, powerful keyboards and too fast drums. The voice evolves very poorly and liberates certain screams that should have been saved, while the instrumental fragment is hard, but doesn't present a progressive development. The second song has the title of the album and opens up with an acoustic guitar that is not bad, but that is destroyed literally when the electric guitar enters, in a cheap hard rock imitation, reducing the topic to an unconnected succession of passages with a hard chorus. "Into the Sun" is a very undeveloped hard track that allows us to appreciate that Vanden Plas is a group that still has a lot to learn. To begin with, the guitarist is very bad, always hard and linear, offering the same aggressive passages once and again. The singer's voice is weak, and the choruses too difficult for him. We should add that the bass is not heard (influence from "Scenes from a memory"?), and that the drummer thinks that to make the maximum number of sounds means he is very good, without realizing that the percussion should enter exactly in each precise moment in conjunction with the rest of instruments.
The fourth song is “Where's the man” and presents a marked technological look, with minimum references to the Rush of the eighties that makes it more interesting than the precedent songs. At least it is better built and it seems more coherent, always very near to the Theater sound. "Inside of your heart" is a powerful songs that follows the usual patterns of the band. It is empty of content and has nothing else than aggressiveness with certain melodic elements. Next, “Don't miss you” presents a good introduction of keyboards, ruined when the singer's pathetic voice appears accompanied to the piano and strings arrangements, ending in a completely forgettable song, a pitiful metallic-progressive ballad.
"Lodic rain" is one of more hard songs of the disk and, as a novelty, we can say that it is not well built. It seems that it is a topic thought to be developed in crescendo, but the characteristic of these pieces is that the tension of the music increases as well as the listener's attention, and certainly that this is not the case. "Fields of hope" begins in an acceptable way, with powerful tones and evolves into a refrain with well developed choirs that ends in an instrumental fragment that is the best in the album, but still not good enough. At least the bass is heard and the guitarist slows down a little. The future of Vander Plas should move in this direction, although I hope the next album is not titled "Fields of hope pt. 2: Scenes from a melody", as the copy would be shameless. A better song than the average, with a difference the best arranged piece in the album. The album closes with "I'm with you", a melodic piece with a resemblance to Scorpions ballads although it has a good keyboards solo.
The conclusion is immediate: Vanden Plas must still travel a long road and use a lot more of imagination to be able to record good music. It is not enough to follow the patterns of a style and to try to imitate the most famous group, it is necessary to developed and define an own personality that differentiates them from the rest and makes them interesting. I don't believe that many will like this album, only the followers of the band and the unconditional fans of the genre.