A year ago, the German progressive metal act Vanden Plas delivered ‘The Ghost Xperiment – Awakening’, the first half of a two part concept album. It ended on a cliffhanger whereby, during a séance, the main protagonist Gideon Grace at last encounters the ghosts that have haunted him since childhood. Ghosts? Exactly! The dramatic conclusion to the story can now be heard on the band’s brand new album ‘The Ghost Xperiment – Illumination’.
“For years, I have felt driven by the idea of writing a ghost story that casts a different light on the genre, and at the end leaves the audience with a plausible explanation,”explains author and Vanden Plas lead vocalist Andy Kuntz. His inspiration for the story came via the Philip Experiment, an authentic and credible investigation into necromancy…literally, conjuring dead spirits. “I knew immediately that I had found the basis for the story that I had been seeking for so long.”
Thus developed the story for ‘The Ghost Xperiment’, which reaches its startling conclusion here. But, of course, Kuntz’ intelligent, inventive storytelling lyrics also require a strong musical vehicle for their delivery and Vanden Plas astounds in this respect. While the orchestral arrangements on part one had been reduced in comparison to the two volumes in the band’s ‘Chronicles Of The Immortals’ series released in 2014 and 2015, this time around the progressive aspects of the Vanden Plas sound are even more pronounced.
Along with the stellar musicians in the band – Stephan Lill (guitar), Günter Werno (keyboards), Andreas Lill (drums), Torsten Reichert (bass) – several prestigious guests add to this incredible new offering. Alea from the leading German medieval rock band Saltatio Mortis joins Kuntz for a duet on the bonus track ‘Krieg kennt keine Sieger’, Snow White Blood singer Ulli Perhonen shines in ‘Black Waltz Death’ and ‘The Ghost Engineers’, while the backing vocalists include longtime musical colleagues Oliver Hartmann from Avantasia and Herbie Langhans from Firewind.
This highly concentrated musical power, paired with unexpected twists such as in ‘Black Waltz Death’ or the 13-minute long ‘The Ouroboros’, is ultimately what makes ‘The Ghost Xperiment – Illumination’ so gripping. Other album highlights include the unbelievably driving Steam hammer of an album opener in ‘World is Falling Down’ and the true prog anthem ‘Under the Horizon’. After hearing its hypnotic refrain just once, it will already be impossible to imagine the band’s unique musical universe without it.
The creativity of Vanden Plas has not been deterred by the current pandemic. Although theatre engagements have been temporarily suspended, in the months preceding initial lockdown the band had already showcased their own rock opera ‘Everyman’ in Pforzheim, ‘Der Herbst des Winterkönigs’ (The Autumn of the Winterking) in Amberg and ‘American Idiot’ in Munich (all southern Germany), as well as at the Tiroler Landestheater in Innsbruck (Austria). These productions were no small undertaking, but, despite pushing the limits, the band also performed ‘Concerto For Group and Orchestra’ by the late Deep Purple keyboardist Jon Lord in Kaiserslautern (southern Germany) while finalising the songs for this new album.
Even in a time of crisis, Vanden Plas have progressed, given their best and presented their army of fans with another glorious work that literally explodes with variety and vitality. ‘The Ghost Xperiment – Illumination’ is precisely the medicine that we all need right now.