Review Summary: A successful album that could’ve been excellent had it not been so damn long.
You’ve heard it. One of those albums you just found and love, but by its conclusion you’re ready to pack it away in storage and move on. Vanden Plas’ The Seraphic Clockwork is one such record. At a foundational level, it is Power-Prog with all amenities we’ve come to expect: sustaining power chords, solos galore, high-flying vocals, driving rhythms, and keep-you-guessing song structures. And while all of this great and dandy, The Seraphic Clockwork drags on far beyond what’s necessary (nearly 70 minutes) which deducts from the overall experience. Honestly, the probability of being scratched if not raped by the boredom bug by the end of the record is quite high. Had Vanden Plas chopped off about 15 minutes from its running time, the record would’ve been far more enjoyable in the grand scheme of things.
In terms of actual music quality, The Seraphic Clockwork gets solid marks in all categories and is pretty hard to criticize; the sound production is flawless, there are decent solos, and the songwriting is consistently above average. One small thing Vanden Plas do that goes a long way is their orchestral arranging & accenting that subtly increases the depth and atmosphere of their compositions. The Seraphic Clockwork is successful but falls short of the greatness it could have achieved had Vanden Plas focused on density rather than sheer size. I imagine the listener who keeps boredom at bay throughout this entire record is going be a rare breed. Never the less, these guys come across as true professionals of the arts and offer plenty of great ideas that are guaranteed to please yours ears if Power-Prog tickles your fancy.
Your criticisms are fair, even though I don't agree with them, but I would suggest more detail about the band's sound, influences, concept and/or musical/lyrical themes (important to this album), and overall impression. When you checklist the musical components like "sustaining power chords, solos galore, high-flying vocals, driving rhythms, and keep-you-guessing song structures," it sounds like just about every other review out there.
Perhaps I like more details as such for an album such as this one; it's a behemoth artistic work, and its length is compensated by towering dramaturgy, expert manipulation of tension, and a gripping storyline. What lifts The Seraphic Clockwork higher than Vanden Plas' earlier releases is the ingenious biblical sci-fi lyrical content and its execution; I (correctly) sensed from my first listen that the band members truly understood the meanings of the intense, apocalyptic religious imagery and how that would direct the storyline they crafted, and the sense of an ongoing fight between good and evil for control of the world and all souls pervades this recording. The Final Murder's outro, beginning at 8:50 and fading out, is spine-chilling, and I sense that's the product of this elevated conceptual dimension. It was an authenticity which couldn't be faked and makes this my favorite Vanden Plas recording, one which probably won't be topped.
If you don't have any complaints about the music per se, how does the runtime make this boring? There are albums that come close to 80 minutes long, but because of their consistency, are engaging the entire way through.
People were saying that Vanden Plas is similar to Threshold, but Vanden is a far superior band, and are more diverse and interesting with the choirs, orchestral elements, etc. Also their instrumental sections don't just constitute the solo's.
Vanden Plas and Threshold are indeed rather similar in a few aspects, and I have explored the question independently at length before seeing your comment, so here goes.
They both belong solidly to the melodic progressive metal subsector, with fairly typical verse-chorus structures, focus on memorable vocal melodies and consequently on meaty lyrical content, relatively restrained song lengths, time changes, and solo sections, usually root-oriented basslines, and often a relatively consistent sonic palette as compared to some extremely diverse prog bands like Haken. This, as well as the theoretical input that most songs by both bands are written in the same tonality, may mean a listener finds them rather homogeneous in large doses.
Since I'm partial to drummers, I carefully notice that the drumming in both bands is typically focused on precision above technicality; Threshold's drummer is faster, more "spastic" and more agile while Vanden Plas focuses on mood, space, and deliberate feel. Threshold often tends to press the hi-hat in rhythm, and I sometimes hear Vanden Plas do that as well.
Both groups tend to have either the guitarist or keyboardist writing music, and the guitarist's songs are heavier while the keyboard's are more atmospheric and textured (tracks 4, 6, and 7 on this album, to demonstrate).
However, the overall aesthetics definitely differ drastically enough to establish both bands as stylistically unique with respect to each other and the prog scene. Vanden Plas is drastically darker, possibly a touch heavier, and very enigmatic in mood and poetry, sometimes oriented in an overtly spiritual direction lyrically, with orchestral/classical the chief non-metal influence; Threshold leans towards hard rock more often than VP and tends to draw from British pop, synthpop, and rock music, slight classical elements, electronica (in the keyboard style), and old-school hard rock, while their also critically praised lyrical content is heavily socially oriented.
Phew. I'm sure both bands would appreciate this, at least. Maybe compare "Clone" from Threshold with the Vanden Plas albums "The God Thing" and "Far Off Grace" which strongly remind me of the Brits, in particular the former, to get the comparison better.