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This is one of those albums I would have pretended to enjoy like 4 years ago just because I thought there was something to get, to understand about it. But really Vanden Plas are just plugging out the same kind of dry, unoriginal Dream Theater-aping prog metal that never seems to go away, like a swarm of gnats in summer. Seraphic Clockwork is their umpteenth release in this style, and I find it pretty damn boring and pointless.
I can’t give this a below-average score, because it is indeed well played and performed, but there’s just no enthusiasm about this. I just can’t enjoy this at all. I think one of the biggest problems is singer Andy Kuntz, who sounds like James LaBrie, Michael Erikson from Circus Maximus, Jacob Hanson from Anubis Gate, Klaus Dirks from Mob Rules and literally every other vanilla prog singer alive. He can hit every note required of him and he never misses a beat, but by GOD is he boring. I mean, you have no idea how dull this guy is. He’s blander than bland – he’s the uber-bland! That’s quite an accomplishment.
The rest of the band is pretty much the same, with competent, flashy playing, multiple parts to every song and lots and lots of pretension. If I have to hear another stop-and-go riff pattern I will kill someone. I have to give them credit for occasionally having parts that sound like old Queensryche, but that doesn’t happen enough, and soon enough they go back to the usual prog-jerking that isn’t interesting in any way; slow atmospheric parts, chug riffs, odd drum fills and long, elaborate leads galore. How can music with so many parts to it somehow be doing so little at the same time? It’s like the band’s idea of songwriting is molded around a treadmill – a lot of work, but in the end they’re still standing in the same place. Very frustrating.
I just don’t see any reason for most of the choices the band makes here. Take “The Final Murder,” for instance…slow, acoustic strumming, nasal warbling and a build up to more industrial-styled chug riffs. Rinse and repeat – prog by numbers. It isn’t really progressive if I can predict everything that’s going to happen. And it all just sounds so trite, so played-out. None of the music on Seraphic Clockwork is truly captivating, and that is because of the usual inherent need to try and sound ‘smart.’ Which means dialing down every excess, every over the top notion they might have had. Every song here pretty much sticks to the same notes and tempo, resulting in an incredibly flat, one-dimensional listen. There’s no emotional crest to ride. Every song is a flat-lining of feeling and passion, and while I imagine the people who created it were really into it (they wouldn’t have finished it if they weren’t), it just doesn’t show in the music.
Did I mention that every song is over 6 minutes long? Half of the album is over 8 minutes long! That’s enough to give me indigestion. These songs are just not good enough to be that long. This album somehow escapes the old prog stigma of having songs that are really just a bunch of disconnected parts, as the tracks here generally do flow like real songs. However, it still sounds like music from a processing plant, and that makes it incredibly draining to listen to. I shouldn’t ever feel this exhausted after listening to only half of an album, and it is indubitably annoying to look at the screen and see that I still have 3 9+ minute songs to slog through. Yergh. If you really want more of this kind of moribund, played-out early Dream Theater worship, well, this album might float your boat. But for those of you who want more interesting, insightful and meaningful music…look elsewhere. This band just isn’t that good.
Originally written for http://www.metalcrypt.com
First things first. If you're going to be turned off by songs that are in excess of 7 minutes long (the final standard track brushing 13), this album may not be for you. Vanden Plas has always released powerful albums with very few songs crossing into the 6-minute-plus territory. Well, I can safely say only one of those things has changed with The Seraphic Clockwork.
Continuing in the more orchestral direction that Beyond Daylight began for the group, The Seraphic Clockwork continues to turn the knobs up on every aspect of their past albums. The result is a bombastic, high-flying album full of powerful vocal performances from Andy Kuntz, while Stephan Lill provides us with some great riffs both aggressive and understated. Actually, you know what? Everyone sounds great. Even more so than usual. The sheer level of inspiration and enthusiasm is staggering, to say the least; it's almost as if they're playing like this will be the last album they will ever release (though, I dearly hope that is not the case).
The first thing you'll notice when you pop this baby in is the in-your-face riffage of "Frequency," which serves as a hard-pounding introduction to the looming beast you're about to face. "Holes in the Sky" takes it a little slower without backing down on the grit, and "Scar of an Angel" shows up as the first ballad on the album (we all know Vanden Plas, it's not gonna be the last, but I'll let you in on a little secret: this album is very much back-loaded, so you ain't heard nothing yet). "Sound of Blood" may be the weakest track on the album, but considering the fact it still chugs with menace and also dwells on some great, subtle melodies, it will fail to disappoint.
"The Final Murder" clocks in at almost 10 minutes long, makes up the second ballad on the album, and it shines brighter than anything so far with another high-flying, infectious chorus and some great soloing from Stephan. And yet, even this monster is toppled by my favorite track, "Quicksilver." Good and holy God, that is how you build up to an epic finish to your songs, ladies and gentlemen. Acting as the third ballad (I should probably mention I'm using the term lightly), what begins as a calm and melodic mix of piano and strings becomes a towering behemoth of symphony and metal, pausing only for a minute or two for a brief foray into some instrumental funkiness in the middle. Good stuff, right here.
It's almost not fair to force "Rush of Silence" to follow behind, but when you finally compose yourself and get over the previous track, it kicks in after a few seconds with some intricate solo-age, and right into another fantastic vocal performance from Kuntz, kicking our ass for the next 9 minutes until the album's juggernaut closer comes rolling in. And make no mistake, "On My Way to Jerusalem" is a colossal achievement. While I'm more partial to "Quicksilver," as mentioned earlier, this will undoubtedly be the track everyone talks about. It begins inconspicuously enough, builds up to a fury of, well, I've said it before. It's Vanden Plas. I just have to say "fury" and you know what I mean. Another catchy-as-hell chorus, another winding journey of composition through the album's central religious themes. For twelve minutes and fifty seconds, this track weaves through every dynamic imaginable, and will not disappoint whatsoever.
But...for those of us who got the special digipak version, we're subjected to a final, shorter bonus track called "Eleyson." This track is very different from the others: softer, slower, and sung entirely in Latin. However, it shares one very important thing in common with its brethren, and that is its undeniably superb quality. Sure, Kuntz may not be the best speaker of Latin the world has ever known, but he takes the awkward language to great heights, delivering, in my opinion, his most heart-felt performance the album has to offer. By any means necessary, pick up the digipak version so that you can own this treasure.
Hell, just get the album in any way, shape, or form you can. The Seraphic Clockwork may be back-loaded, but to say the earlier tracks are lackluster is a crime and an offense. The first few songs are perfectly spectacular, it's just that they're overshadowed by the phenomenal second half. If you're a fan of progressive metal, power metal, metal in general, or a great melody with stellar composition, you've got to grab this album. You just have to, okay? Just do it. I will sit here and gush over this album as long as it takes for you to take my words to heart and buy the damn thing. I can guarantee you will not be disappointed.