The bottom line for those who don't already know: Vanden Plas rocks. This German progressive metal band is disciplined, with excellent musicians who understand complexity and know how to employ it without it getting in the way of fine songwriting, emotional transference, and ultimately the kind of hair-raising excess that makes heavy metal such an enduring genre. Christ 0 is a concept album about a serial killer (the album is titled after him) and the man (Inspector X) who seeks to capture him. Should one find that concept to be clichéd, stop reading right now. These nine songs reflect a manner of composition, sublime taste, bone-crunching power, and breathtaking dynamics, along with an excellent use of texture and sonics not heard since Queensrÿche's classic Operation: Mindcrime. This is the story of a man betrayed, stripped of everything he loves, and convicted of a crime he did not commit -- and who ultimately loses his own humanity. The man who pursues him must confront the very things in himself that keep him obsessed with his prey. Musically, this is where the line between symphonic metal and the classic sounds of early (In Trance period) Scorpions, Dio, Queensrÿche, Judas Priest, and Peter Gabriel-era Genesis becomes blurred. Andy Kuntz is a singer who doesn't have to shriek or growl, because he is a trained vocalist. His songwriting partners, keyboardist Gunter Werno and guitarist Stephen Lill (whose brother Andreas is the band's drummer, and who joins with bassist Torsten Reichert to make a grand rhythm section), understand his mind and vision. They have the musical prowess to explore the margins of their genre, creating lyrical backdrops for Kuntz. The songs meld and blend with ease, an unholy grace, and a sense of good and evil fighting one another -- and the outcome does not become cut and dried or clear to the listener until the very end. Christ 0 is a journey into darkness through light and perhaps ending there, but reviewing single tracks would lessen it somehow, as it is a whole. It is the finest moment yet from a band that relentlessly ventures into new places with its material, expanding the genre and offering something other than the usual tropes associated with metal. The bonus track, "Gethsemane" from Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's Jesus Christ Superstar, is a moving, pulsing, barely restrained wild animal of a track. Perhaps they should take on the whole thing someday -- they could pull it off without effort. Vanden Plas are easily the finest progressive metal band out there. Hopefully Americanski audiences will connect with this one. Seek it out.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek