Register Forgot login?

© 2002-2021
Encyclopaedia Metallum

Best viewed
without Internet Explorer,
in 1280 x 960 resolution
or higher.

Privacy Policy

Another excellent piece by Withrow - 84%

Noktorn, September 17th, 2011

Much like Clay Withrow's solo work, I'm at a loss as to how I can reasonably describe why I appreciate Vangough in a way that totally eludes me in most prog metal. It's not as though it really contains more elements designed for my appreciation- "Manikin Parade" is devoid of slams, Ukrainian tremolo riffs, or gravity blasts, and even for prog metal it's on the softer side of the equation more often than not. Still, Withrow's songwriting talents are as intact on Vangough's debut as they were on his solo record, and it goes without saying that prog fans should snap this one up immediately. While I have some reservations about it (as I would nearly any prog release,) I can safely say that this is more satisfying than anything out of the Dream Theater catalog. I mean, if I like it of all people, there must be SOMETHING to this shit.

The general style of this music will be familiar to anyone who's heard "Dissonance Rising," albeit with a bit less of the dark, mystical atmosphere that bound that disc together. Vangough shows Withrow (and drummer Brandon Lopez) going in an even purer, Dream Theater-inspired prog metal direction, taking a lot of the overt heaviness of Withrow's solo work out of the equation, contenting itself with a more rock-based style. This isn't to say that "Manikin Parade" has taken the metal out; it's merely transformed into a more traditional variety. Tracks like opener "Estranger" are distinctly metallic, and the first third or so of the album is probably the heaviest material on the disc. Still, heaviness is not really the name of the game here- what is instead is Withrow's amazing ability to construct contrasting, interweaving melodic structures between guitars, bass, synths, and vocals. The vocal performance in particular is worthy of significant note- Withrow's voice moves seamlessly between soaring cleans, a gruffer shout, and occasionally electronically treated styles while always maintaining power, poise, and melody. It's one of the best elements of the album, dramatic without being cheesy and varied without seeming uneven.

Of course, the music hardly slouches either. While Dream Theater is by far the most substantial influence in this music, it's tempered with more than a hint of power metal ala Evergrey or later Kamelot, so even the most virtuosic and openly proggy moments still tend to have more room to breathe than anything off "Octavarium." Lopez' drumming is technical and musical but surprisingly uncluttered- there's a lot more emphasis on space between notes and dynamic, shifting rhythmic textures than in your usual prog drum performance, which when combined with the melodic style on display is a refreshing change of pace. While this is prog, it's not overtly virtuosic most of the time, and even the most intensely shredding solos on this disc tend to have a certain measure of restraint to them. The technical aspects of this release are completely subservient to the very linear, winding song structures on display, making this album much more satisfying and complete-feeling than it would otherwise if performed by other, more ostentatious musicians.

It's not entirely without flaws- there's a couple cringe-inducing lyrical lines (which I suppose is par for the course for prog, so I won't harp on it) and at seventy-five minutes the album can become something of an endurance test, but overall this is such a good prog release that I can hardly fault it for quibbles like these. Every element of this is in place to make a great album: deft technical performances, wonderful songwriting, and even fantastic production and mixing. Prog fans and even more trad/power-oriented types should check this out- Withrow is without a doubt one of the best prog musicians in the US, as he hasn't forgotten that he's making music in the process.

Vangough - Manikin Parade - 70%

ConorFynes, April 11th, 2011

The brainchild of American musician Clay Withrow, progressive metal band Vangough's debut album 'Manikin Parade' is certainly one that begs to be listened to by fans of the genre. As professional a recording as any other you're likely to find in progressive metal, the album was released independently by Withrow, and it is clear from the first track onwards that the creation of this album was made with blood and sweat. While by all means a very good progressive metal album however, each song makes it quite clear that Vangough is plagued by a lack of originality in their music that detracts from the enjoyment of the music. Had I never listened to Pain of Salvation before though, I have no doubt that I would love this album dearly.

Passing the seventy-five minute mark, 'Manikin Parade' is a very complex first album, filled with leitmotifs and themes that recur throughout the course of the album. It does feel as if some of the ideas drag on long past their prime, but the songwriting is generally very good on its own. Dark guitar lines, synthesized ambiance and powerful vocal melodies are the order of the day, although 'Manikin' is certain to throw a couple of less heavy tracks in for good measure. The album begins with what is possibly my favourite offering on the record; 'Estranger'. A non-conventional time signature leads a surprisingly melodic foray into the world of Vangough, led by the ever-powerful vocals of Withrow. Everything here is played with precision and a degree of emotional power to it, but Clay's vocals here are arguably the best part of the sound here. A singer who can effortlessly switch between a dark lower register to showcasing a falsetto wail is great to have in a progressive metal band's arsenal.

Where the issues in 'Manikin Parade' start arising is that while listening, I never feel as if I'm listening to a fresh new band. Instead (and perhaps to Vangough's credit), it feels as if I'm listening to an unreleased Pain of Salvation album, maybe circa their 'Remedy Lane' period. Everything from the vocals to the melodic guitars and even slight nu-metal rap moments gives me the impression from 'Estranger' onwards that Vangough seeks to be little more than a Pain of Salvation clone. While the band is certainly not alone in the genre infamous for having legions of groups trying to recreate the magic of a few giants, the Pain of Salvation tribute runs deep through everything the band does, to the point where I wonder if Withrow was consciously trying to do this.

Don't get the wrong impression; 'Manikin Parade' is a great album. Although a bit long for its own good, Vangough creates a very dynamic and engaging piece of material here, that may have been a contender for consideration as a masterpiece, were it not so derivative. Based on their artistic potential, I can only hope that Withrow takes the talent that he so evidently has, and crafts something more distinctive with the next album.