Several critics were head-over-heels for Christ O, the 2006 release from German prog-metallers Vanden Plas, but it left little to no impression on me. Scratch that: it did leave me asking two questions, the first being that, even though this is a sci-fi metal retelling of The Count Of Monte Cristo (hence Christ O), did it have to be constantly dour, devoid of a hook beyond the necessity of the storytelling and such a bloody drag to listen to? Secondly, where were the big choruses the band, and lead singer Andy Kuntz, loved so dearly? I know he must, as both 2002’s Beyond Daylight and his offshoot project Abydos were nicely loaded with soaring emotional moments. Was Vanden Plas resigned to gloom and doom, perhaps in some attempt to be more “real?”

To answer that, 2010’s The Seraphic Clockwork not only returns the band to better form, it just might be their finest hour. Perhaps having too much exposure to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar affected Kuntz (he was featured in a stage production of it and included “Gethsemane” as a bonus track on Christ O). The album is a rock opera too, positing the notion of a time traveler going back to 33 A.D. Jerusalem and being mistaken for a messiah. If you were looking for some document of Biblical apologetic via metaphor, forget it. This is, at heart, a big old prog-metal album with the scriptural understanding of a narcoleptic in Sunday School.

Even so, it is a huge, fist-pumping and, sure, why not ?, epic recording. Key tracks “Quicksilver,” at near nine minutes, and “On My Way To Jerusalem,” inching toward thirteen, dance between moments of intimacy and largess, but both hang on the principles of big hooks, big guitars and big choruses. Even if you wind up appalled by liberties taken with scenarios of the Bible, you might find yourself singing along in spite of yourself. And you might yet be moved when the time traveler witnesses the Judas kiss, or the moment at the end where he departs and leaves another to the destiny he was poised to assume:

God’s time levitator – Found a way
To heal all kinds of things
To make you a saviour today
And take all souls on board
Me – The parallel Judas will burn
You die to save us all
I’m starting the engines Because I
Never will return

Like I said before; none of this will win you a prize at church, but it makes for an interesting series of songs and certainly finds Vanden Plas back in the swing of things. Welcome back to the fold.
The Seraphic Clockwork is available from Amazon.Com.