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Vangough - "Kingdom of Ruin" (CD)

Vangough - "Kingdom of Ruin" CD cover image

"Kingdom of Ruin" track listing:

1. Disloyal
2. Choke Faint Drown
3. Abandon Me
4. Drained
5. Kingdom Of Ruin
6. Frailty
7. The Transformation
8. The Rabbit Kingdom
9. Stay
10. Sounds Of Wonder
11. A Father's Love
12. Requiem For A Fallen King
13. An Empire Shattered
14. Alice
15. The Garden Time Forgot

Reviewed by on December 10, 2011

"The mark of a good prog album is the ability to maintain a balance of the comfortably familiar and the excitingly unexpected, and Vangough brings both to the table with 'Kingdom of Ruin.'"

"Reach inside my open chest. Feel around, there's nothing left." Sure, it's 2011 and similar sentiments have been echoed by many bands, but is this wording actually cliché or brilliant? These words are accompanied by the eerie plinking that you'd normally associate with a classic children's wind-up music box on the first track. This isn't the approach you're used to, which is where Vangough's intrigue lies: This is definitely prog metal, but its identifiable style doesn't smother its potential. Vangough's second full-length album of original music (and third, overall) couldn't have started in a more different way than the band’s first. In fact, the album is a wholly different beast altogether, with the first half of the album taking on a noticeably different feel than the second half.

Clay Withrow is the man behind the compositions, having written all of the songs before recording it as a band. The drumming of Brandon Lopez is a noteworthy improvement over the drumming on the last record and has more life to it this time around. The production is also noticeably better, with more punch and clarity, albeit at the expense of dynamics. There are times where the constantly-at-the-front mix interferes with the lighter feelings Withrow's vocals attempt to express. Withrow is a craftsman with his pipes, clearly elaborating on a kind of vocal style that was pioneered by Daniel Gildenlow. It might be approaching cliché, but it also might be brilliant.

The songs are lyrically linked, being sung by a protagonist who undergoes a complete character change over the course of the album, cued off by the brooding instrumental track, "The Transformation," and its accompanying nature sounds. "The Rabbit Kingdom," with its major-themed verses, denotes the drastic style change, shifting more into a happier and almost Rush-like progressive territory. The drums manage a constantly versatile style, but are markedly assisting the other instruments rather than showing off.

"Disloyal" and "Choke Faint Drown" feel cut from the same cloth as Evergrey, but are peppered with Withrow's emphatic vocal lines and Corey Mast's array of keyboard sounds. "Abandon Me" and "Drained" both have a similar focus and feel like they're at just the right length, heaviness, and relate-ability to unite crowds of different metal tastes. It's almost as if Vangough picked up right where Pain of Salvation left off, stylistically, after “Remedy Lane.”

"Sounds of Wonder" almost copies the beginning to The Flower Kings' "The Truth Will Set You Free" completely, but soon becomes a free-wheeling acoustic and piano driven piece to its own. "A Father's Love" paints an intimate portrait and shows the softer side of Vangough. There are moments towards the end of the album that are injected with what feels like youthful exuberance, as well as a good solid dose of classic vocal tricks, especially in "An Empire Shattered." "Alice" and "The Garden Time Forgot" really smack of Trans-Siberian Orchestra-type flair.

While an intent listener will understand and appreciate the album, it's very possible that "Kingdom of Ruin" has a good chance of drawing in casual listeners, given its transparent mission to avoid the pitfalls of common songwriting without being too weird. Again, that might also be approaching a cliché thing to say, but the music is also approaching brilliant. The mark of a good prog album is the ability to maintain a balance of the comfortably familiar and the excitingly unexpected, and Vangough brings both to the table with "Kingdom of Ruin."

Highs: "The Garden Time Forgot," "Abandon Me," "The Rabbit Kingdom"

Lows: Occasionally off-the-wall lyrics and the lyrical concept is not immediately obvious.

Bottom line: A fantastic American prog metal offering that's best for those with musical wanderlust.

Rated 4 out of 5 skulls
4 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)