"The Ghost Xperiment-Illumination"

By Colonel Angus

I was first introduced to VANDEN PLAS with their 2006 “Christ 0” disk and for some reason it didn’t really do anything for me.  That fact is odd because at the time I was really into prog metal and was listening to a lot of DREAM THEATER and the like.  Since that album didn’t really hit the spot, I let the band fall off my radar so when I was given this new release to review, I wasn’t very optimistic for a positive review.  Well, thank God for second chances because when I sat down to listen to “The Ghost Xperiment-Illumination” (and I mean really listen without any distractions) I was blown away.  It was one of those “where were these guys all this time?” moments because I immediately got into each note and lyric from the very start of “When the World is Falling Down” all the way through to bonus track “Krieg Kennt Keine Sieger” which, by the way, should be part of the whole experience and not relegated to bonus track status. 

There are so many good tunes on this release that it’s hard to pick out standout moments.  “Under the Horizon” has some awesomely catchy riffing, “Fatal Arcadia” contains some rapid fire riffing during the verses but as a whole contains a lot of light and shade, and “The Ouroboros” is a 13 minute epic that never gets boring and takes the listener on a prog metal journey.  While the latter shows off the softer side of prog metal, it is a great vehicle for the vocal talents of Andy Kuntz.  Speaking of softer side, “Black Waltz Death” and “Ghost Engineers” are able to be both softer and heavy at the same time; these are not power ballads.  There is a lot of variation to this album as a whole and quite frankly, it works best as a complete experience.  I have listened to the whole record completely at least 20 times and each time I try to start at a latter track, I wind up going to the beginning.  One of the things that really made “The Ghost Xperiment-Illumination” so good is that none of the material is repetitive and they don’t shift gears for no reason.  Many prog metal outfits like to switch tempos and riffs just because they think being prog means you have to change things quickly and often.  If there is a good riff, let it play out and VANDEN PLAS show that they can be both prog metal but also be melodic and catchy.  They realize the song is more important than showing off their talents (which they wind up showing by making the song come first).

In a band of five talented musicians, it must be difficult to stand out but each person manages to show off their skills without overshadowing the other guys.  Torsten Reichart and Andreas Lil not only lay down a solid foundation for the tunes, they manage to shine on their respective instruments.  Gunter Wemo is given plenty of room to give his keyboards center stage throughout many of the tune but make no mistake, Stephan Lil makes his presence felt with his catchy riffing and his emotional solos.  As mentioned earlier, Andy Kuntz puts in a great performance and is a vocal talent that has slipped my notice until now.  I can’t say exactly why “Christ 0” didn’t click with me (that was 14 years ago) but after “The Ghost Xperiment-Illumination” I think I will need to revisit that record to see if I missed something.  No matter what happens, I have to say that this album is a winner and I’m glad “The Ghost Xperiment-Illumination” made its way across my desktop.  If you are a fan of prog metal, then don’t overlook this record.  2020 has been a weird year but it has seen its share of great releases and this is definitely a highlight for this year.  Who knows, maybe “The Ghost Xperiment-Illumination” will have us look back and think 2020 wasn’t all bad.