Album Reviews

Issue 2024-045

Duo Review

Vanden Plas — The Empyrean Equation Of The Lost Things

Vanden Plas - The Empyrean Equation Of The Lost Things
The Empyrean Equation Of The Lost Things (8:00), My Icarian Flight (5:57), Sanctimonarium (10:13), The Sacrilegious Mind Machine (8:35), They Call Me God (6:28), March Of The Saints (15:41)
Edwin Roosjen

German progressive metal band Vanden Plas were founded in 1986. On this new album The Empyrean Equation Of The Lost Things we see the first ever change in personnel for this band, which is remarkable. New on keyboards is Alessandro Del Vecchio, replacing Gunter Werno. Still on vocals is Andy Kuntz, brothers Andreas Lill (drums) and Stephan Lill (guitar) are still present, and Torsten Reichtert plays bass guitar. I discovered Vanden Plas when they released their second album The God Thing and sometime in the late nineties I saw them live in concert. In 2006, I saw them again when they toured with Riverside, solid performances by a very capable band. In that year they released Christ 0, an album that many people mark as their best so far. After that I lost track of the band. I still listened to new releases, but I found myself returning to my favourite albums The God Thing and Christ 0.

Vanden Plas are one of those bands where you know what you are going to get, and you know it is going to be good. If you like progressive metal with powerful riffs, great melodies, fast solos and rhythm changes then you should at least have already heard one or two albums by Vanden Plas. Big question is whether this new album will grab my attention and will it make me not constantly return to my old favourite Vanden Plas albums. The answer is yes! Well, not right away, which is actually a good thing. I listened to the old ones briefly, and then returned back to The Empyrean Equation Of The Lost Things.

The album opens with the title track, that long title. It starts with a piano tune introducing the new keyboard player Alessandro Del Vecchio. If there are differences in sound with the previous albums then they are marginal. Maybe a bit more piano than before. Of course, there still are is the heavy keyboard solos we know from the band. In the opening song, Alessandro immediately gets the room to do so. The main riff of the song has a lot of Dream Theater influences. It takes half of the song before the vocals of Andy Kuntz come in and at about six minutes the song suddenly refuels with the opening (Dream Theater-like) riff.

My Icarian Flight has a slower but powerful driving pace and I hear the familiar Vanden Plas sound. At the centre of the song is a small piece of technical trickery after which a guitar solo starts off fast and then evolves into a more melodic style. Very nice showcase of technical ability without overdoing it, just the right amount.

Sanctimonarium is my favourite song from this album. Bombastic and plenty of room for melodic solos and another heavy keyboard solo from new guy Alessandro Del Vecchio. The same level of performance is continued on The Sacrilegious Mind Machine. Another powerful song that many progressive metal fans will instantly like.

At first, I did not like the song The Call Me God much, but it turned out to be somewhat of a grower. It will never be my favourite song on the album but it has definitely skipped its skipping level. It is a ballad where the vocals of Andy are not completely to my liking. The album closes with March Of The Saints, with over fifteen minutes the longest track on the album. The centre part is mellow and then the melody from the opening track gets a reprise and the album comes full circle when it ends with the piano sounds of new keyboard player Alessandro Del Vecchio.

Vanden Plas are a band that has been around for quite some time and have released many high quality albums. They stay loyal to their own progressive metal sound, so fans of Vanden Plas will certainly like this album. Where I usually grabbed my copies of The God Thing or Christ 0 after hearing the in-between albums, with this album that did not happen. The Empyrean Equation Of The Lost Things is now my go-to Vanden Plas record. A very good solid release by these German progressive metal band.

Chris Rafferty

Vanden Plas are a five-piece prog metal band from Germany, and this is their latest release, forgive the length of the title, The Empyrean Equation Of The Long Lost Things. As they say don't judge a book by its cover, likewise, don't judge a record by its title. If you are expecting flowery self-indulgent extended guitar solos or early 70s cloaks and wizardry, don't worry! What you will get is a seriously good selection of melodic driven prog-metal, guitar solos, soaring vocals and a great set of lyrics.

Founded in 1991, Vanden Plas demonstrate considerable diversity. Having released eleven studio albums, they have also been responsible for four rock operas. Following a four-year break, they have bounced back with this release, which is a six-track album of 55 minutes. Their press release states that they are going in a “back to roots direction”.

A rather significant line-up change has taken place, which saw Alessandro Del Vecchio replace Gunter Werno on keyboards. This change has proved to be the one and only line-up change since their formation.

The album commences with keyboards in a subdued manner with the new guy, Alessandro, given the floor. The tempo rapidly increases with the album strong on melody and harmony.

Lyrics and vocals are the responsibility of Andy Kuntz, whereas Stephen Lil takes care of music, marking his territory with his trademark guitar shredding. On the cerebral side of things, they incorporate religion, philosophy and deep lyrics. Musically they use heavy rhythms with melodic solos with symphonic metal.

In true prog fashion, the title track Empyrean Equation Of The Long Lost Things is broken into three parts: A True Illusive Story, Forgotten Kings and Nephilim. Altogether, the three parts add up to eight minutes, on the album there is only one track that is shorter. The word empyrean means celestial, heavenly, or the highest fiery sphere of heaven, where God and the saved souls sometimes resided.

The band bring a lot of variety within their own style. Track two, My Icarian Flight is the first single off the album. Keyboards start with a light touch, followed by a catchy melody and chugging guitar. Sanctimonarium explores spirituality, life and death. On this track, Vanden Plas could be accused of being too close to Dream Theater. The use of a great choral arrangements in The Sacrilegious Mind Machine brings the fourth track to a close. They Call Me God takes Vanden Plas even into ballad territory. And the final track on the album, March Of The Saints, is epic.

The Empyrean Equation is an excellent album that successfully occupies a space where Vanden Plas' previous albums have stood. I have to admit that it is to my regret that in the past I have not given Vanden Plas the attention they deserve, but that said, we are not too late to make up for it.

Duo Review

Wheel — Charasmatic Leaders

Wheel - Charasmatic Leaders
Empire (4:20), Porcelain (7:12), Submission (10:46), Saboteur (9:01), Disciple (4:12), Caught in the Afterglow (1:12), The Freeze (10:35)
Calum Gibson

No stranger to the world of prog and metal, Finland unleashed Wheel back in 2017 (having formed in 2015). Since 2017, there has been three EPs and two full albums released, but here we have their 3rd album, Charismatic Leaders. With writing having started as far back as 2020, and recording stretching across the second half of 2023, it has been a long labour of love for the group which frontman James Lascelles describes as “our heavy album”. So let's dive in.

Starting off, Empire fires in with an almost Lamb of God style dose of riffs and drums which soon gives way to a gentler verse as it continues to flit between a modern prog, and a thrashy/groove metal feel. Porcelain however highlights the groups more mellow side with soft distortion creating waves of licks behind James Lascelles soothing vocals. Frantic picking brings us into Submission, which develops into a more ominous track as the guitars create a tense air of anxiety, while the drums constantly rumble in the back, showcasing the tightness of the trio. But it also flows into melodic areas, reminiscent of Caligula's Horse.

The heavy riffs don't stop there either. Saboteur opens with some seriously heavy palm muting as ethereal leads provide some atmosphere behind the main chunk of the music. The guitars jump and chug in a manner fitting of modern prog, interspersed by moodier sections to round out the sound. The second-shortest track is Disciple — a 4-minute slab of polyrhythms and soaring vocals that twist and turn through the fast-paced, down-tuned guitar riffs. Definitely a standout for me on the album and very similar to The Grudge by Tool.

Caught In the Afterglow is more of a short intermission however, that leads to the albums finale: The Freeze. A slow burner, it slowly grows over the course of the first half and evolves into some interesting panning from the guitars with some juicy chords. If you're a fan of the structure and sound of Anesthetize by Porcupine Tree, then this track is likely going to be your favorite. I would even rank it higher. Twists, turns, flowing between heavy riffs and mellow bridges and verses, this closer has it all.

So, in the end we have a well-crafted album, with a superb mix of lighter and heavier areas. I've seen them described as “Tool, but accessible and not pretentious” and I would be inclined to agree with that. The band perform well, with every instrument being produced exceptionally well so nothing is missed, and the vocals having a clear sound that doesn't detract from the music either. The only downside however, is it occasionally is just a bit too similar to Tool or Porcupine Tree.

If you're a fan of prog in the vein of Tool, Caligula's Horse, Soen or Haken then I wager this would be a good recommendation.

Andy Read

It is time for that difficult third album.

Moving Backwards, the debut effort from this Anglo-Finnish combo, was one of my Top Five Albums of 2019. Two years later and their follow-up, Resident Human scored a rare, perfect 10 in my review for DPRP. I am a big fan. I genuinely felt that with Resident Human Wheel had established themselves as one of the leading progressive metal bands of modern times.

It's a common situation. Many bands arrive on the scene with acclaim for their first album. It's been created with zero pressure from fans or labels. The second album generally follows using a very similar template but with the added experience of live gigs and studio time, plus the confidence of knowing that there are people out there happy to listen. It is an even bigger success.

Which leads us onto that difficult third album. The dilemma for the band is whether to use the same recipe, but risk fans saying they are becoming repetitive or have run out of ideas. Or do they try to evolve and grow. Here the risk is that existing fans don't like the changes.

Whichever path they decide to take, over the years the "difficult third album" has become a crossroads for many bands; one where some continue to grow in popularity, while others dip from the spotlight.

Wheel. Promo photo by Anastasya Korol

On Charismatic Leaders, Wheel have decided to keep the same basic formula. The sound and style here is immediately comparable to their first two albums. There is a mixture of longer and shorter songs. The lyrical content again revolves around the political and the social. The music favours complex, multi-layered guitar work and an ever-changing set of time signatures, dynamics and rhythms.

After two years on the road in support of Resident Human, the core trio of James Lascelles (vocals/guitar), Santeri Saksala (drums) and Jussi Turunen (lead guitar) are a tightly-knit combo. The playing is precise and calculated.

All the ingredients are there for another success ... but ... these seven new songs are missing something important; memorability.

I have been doing this reviewing thing for long enough to know when an album has something that simply requires a bit of patience. When repeat listens will allow the music's timbre and melodies to sink in.

After several spins, Charismatic Leaders leaves no such cause for optimism. It's impossible to pinpoint why. I enjoy the overall vibe and sound of the album but nothing stands out as demanding repeat listens.

The appeal of complex music like this often comes down to the unfathomable vagaries of personal taste. If you enjoyed their last two albums, then it is quite possible that this may work for you in a similar way. For me Charismatic Leaders is not in the same class as Wheel's first two albums.

I have bought my own copy of this album and will go to see Wheel on tour with the equally wonderful Mollybaron in the autumn. Sometimes hearing songs in a live setting changes your viewpoint. But my hopes are not high.

Album Reviews