All My Shadows Releases Monster Debut
Members of German prog metal legends Vanden Plas explore their more melodic and accessible side.
Welcome to another issue of Michael’s Record Collection and thank you for spending part of your day with me. It’s always different when you interview a subject for the second time, especially for something like this newsletter. A good chunk of the early part of our discussion usually revolves around getting to know what shaped an artist’s musical tastes, but the second time around you already know that.
So, when we spoke for the second time, I already knew that German guitarist Stephan Lill from the progressive metal band Vanden Plas bought AC/DC’s High Voltage at a flea market when he was a boy, and that he had an affinity for some of the melodic hard rock of the 1980s, such as Whitesnake and Dokken. And that made Lill’s new endeavor, the brand new band All My Shadows, pretty self-explanatory.
The band released its debut album, Eerie Monsters, in mid-February. It’s a fantastic melodic rock album, full of hooks and riffs that call back to those 1980s bands, but with a modern production and a vintage Vanden Plas sound. The latter is due to Lill’s guitar tone being recognizable and this new band also features Vanden Plas vocalist Andy Kuntz and drummer Andreas Lill. Still, the familiar sounds are coming in a new package with All My Shadows.
Let’s get to that story.
Man cannot live by progressive rock alone. At least, not if that man is Stephan Lill, the excellent guitarist from the German prog metal band Vanden Plas.
When Lill isn’t playing edgy, technical prog with his Vanden Plas bandmates, he’s usually providing the soundtrack to some musical in Austria or Germany. However he’s got a new five-piece band, All My Shadows, which also includes his brother Andreas on drums and Vanden Plas vocalist Andy Kuntz.
Does having 60% of Vanden Plas in the lineup make All My Shadows sound like Vanden Plas? Well, yes and no. Lill’s guitar tone and Kuntz’ vocals are unmistakably Vanden Plas, and the band uses the same production, but the songs themselves are shorter, loaded with memorable choruses, and far less complex. So, while the sound of the All My Shadows songs might mimic Vanden Plas, the styles are more akin to the music Lill grew up with — bands like Dokken, Whitesnake, Ozzy Osbourne, and House of Lords.
The idea of All My Shadows simply grew out of Lill writing songs in a style that he felt didn’t fit into his other musical endeavors.
“I write a lot of songs for Vanden Plas, for theater, and then also, when I have some song ideas, I complete all songs which I have in my mind,” Lill explained. “So, if I have a song which is maybe an 80s hard rock song, even though I don’t have a band like that style, I complete it if I like the idea. Sometimes you have a song that doesn’t fit Vanden Plas and it doesn’t fit for the theater or rock operas, but it’s still a cool song, so why not finish the song?”
Lill had written some songs in the same style and felt he should do something with them so he sent them to Kuntz, who encouraged him to find an outlet for them. Lill asked Kuntz to write lyrics for the songs, so he could put a demo together for Frontiers Music. His original idea was to find a few different singers to perform on the album, but once he heard Kuntz’s vocals over these melodic rock songs, he knew his Vanden Plas bandmate was the right person for the job.
Frontiers liked the demo, so the duo set about putting together a lineup to play on the album. Markus Teske, a talented keyboard player, had been a sound engineer for Vanden Plas since 2002 and immediately came to mind.
“He’s a great keyboard player, great piano player, a cool guy,” Lill said. “So, my first idea was to ask him for the keyboards. He said, ‘Sure.’”
Franky R., who has played bass with the likes of Michael Schenker, was the next musician that Lill called.
“I had Franky in mind. He helped us out at the end of the 80s, beginning of the 90s when our former bass player years and years ago quit the band, like one week before a big show,” Lill said. “And we contacted him and said, ‘Please can you join us to play this one show?’ And he learned all the songs in one week and he played the show with us. He helped us out over the years sometimes when Torsten (Reichert) was not able to play some Vanden Plas shows. And he’s a great bass player. A real rock bass player.”
Of all the band decisions, the one that Lill said that he and Kuntz thought the longest about was who to ask to play drums. But the choice of Lill’s brother, Andreas, was obvious in the end.
“Honestly my brother is one of the best German rock drummers,” Lill said. “And somehow it would be stupid to ask somebody else if you have a great drummer in your band, and it’s my brother. It was like three calls and we had the lineup.”
Lill said there was never a discussion or a thought to simply have the five members of Vanden Plas record the songs and release the record as a more accessible offering from the band.
“Vanden Plas is much more complicated, much more progressive,” Lill said. “From the beginning, we wanted to have two playgrounds. If you’re writing the songs for Vanden Plas, there are no limits. I’m a huge fan of the bands of the 80s. With All My Shadows, when I had all the songs together, I never had a feeling that ‘OK this song is like four minutes, I have to add something.’ Maybe I would have this feeling if I was writing for Vanden Plas. So we wanted so separate from the beginning these two bands.”
Lill said that fellow Vanden Plas band members Reichert and Gunter Werno weren’t brought in for a couple of reasons. He didn’t think the All My Shadows material was their style, but also including them would essentially make it a Vanden Plas album as the same five musicians would be involved in both. That could be confusing to fans if the band used a different name and might also lead to stretching the songs out into something they weren’t meant to be, just to fit the band’s usual style.
In the end, Lill made the right call. All My Shadows might offer a melodic rock alternative for Vanden Plas bands who enjoy the sounds of Kuntz’s voice and Lill’s guitar. At the same time, rock fans who aren’t interested in the more intricate and longer compositions of Vanden Plas will find a lot to like.
“I didn’t want to change my playing or I didn’t want to change my setup for my sound because I’m used to that. What I changed was my way of composing the song,” Lill said. “And Andy’s voice we can’t change, but that’s good!”
The band released debut Eerie Monsters on Feb. 17. The album contains nine songs that have catchy chorus hooks, a powerful, modern production, and yet they still flat out rock. The album shows hints of Lill’s influences and likes throughout. Not only does Lill have an affinity for 1980s melodic rock, but his varied tastes include the likes of Pink and Slipknot. While you won’t find anything that sounds like Pink or Slipknot on Eerie Monsters, you will find plenty of melodies and some heavy guitar crunch.
“It’s not like I only listen to this 80s music, but it’s the base for me,” Lill said.
While Lill and Franky R. recorded their parts in their home studios, Teske recorded the keyboards, Kuntz’s vocals, and Andreas’ drums at Bazement Studio.
“Silent Waters” was the first pre-released track from Eerie Monsters, and it provides a strong start to the album. Kuntz’s vocal talent is on full display, and Lill plays the kind of guitar solo you can almost sing along with. Teske’s keyboards and the backing vocal mix elevates the song. Franky R. and Andreas provide a rock-solid bottom end to hold it all up.
Lill said he wasn’t sure if “Silent Waters” should be the first pre-released track and video, because it takes about 20 seconds for the song to fully kick in. But Frontiers suggested it, and that was all the encouragement the band needed.
“I think when the song starts with this riff, everybody who likes 80s music and 80s riffs, and this kind of Whitesnake-, Dokken-style riffs, they will like that song. I was convinced about that,” Lill said.
“A Boy Without a Name” builds on the album’s strong start and, just when you think Kuntz couldn’t sound any better, he just belts out the most fantastic chorus vocal on the second track. He’s able to sell his lyrics with his voice, because he spends so much time on writing the words to go with Lill’s music.
“Andy is a total artist,” Lill said. “When he’s writing lyrics, his mind is totally into this lyrics thing. It’s not like he writes the lyric in one hour. He’s thinking about it for weeks, months. He likes to create new stories and I think the music influences his thinking how the lyrics should sound.”
“Syrens” is one of my favorites from the album. It has an odd sort of piano opening from Teske but then a crunchy riff kicks in. The vocal cadence of the verses is a bit unusual, starting a bit typically but then finishing with a frantic flourish. The chorus is huge, with a layered backing vocal choir. Guest vocalist Charlotte Baumann lends her unique voice to it and that provides a little extra something to the vocals that takes the song to new heights.
“Andy especially knows Charlotte since many, many years,” Lill said. “Sometimes we have an idea in our mind where we say ‘This would be perfect for Charlotte.’ If we need a cool, clear, female voice, we always have Charlotte in our mind, because she sings really, really good.”
Kuntz begins “Lifeforms” with a vocal that’s a mixture of a hush and a growl — not the death metal-style growl, but more of a harsher, almost angrier (yet soft) style. It’s a mid-tempo track about aliens, and it’s got another big chorus. Although 1980s hard rock was filled with mid-tempo tracks, few of them received this much attention in the production. The slower pace of the song allows Lill the space to provide an emotional solo.
The longest track on the album is “Wolverinized” at seven minutes. That might be one of the shorter songs on a typical Vanden Plas album. It’s got a bit of a Whitesnake/Perfect Strangers-era Deep Purple vibe to it, but also channels some classic Dokken. It relies more on power chords than most of the album. The solo could have walked right in out of George Lynch’s amp. Lill really wears his love of his favorite 80s bands on his sleeve for this song.
The first song the band worked on for the album was “The Phantoms of the Dawn,” which was the second single. It has a stellar pre-chorus and one of the best chorus hooks on Eerie Monsters. Lill plays a chugging rhythm guitar riff with a strong melody line over top of it and there’s a wonderful darkness to it.
“‘The Phantoms of the Dawn’ was for me the song which represented my idea of All My Shadows the most,” he said. “Cool riff, a melody on it, and a big, big chorus with a big choir. And the song is not too long. It has a cool groove. It’s not a heavy metal song but it’s a hard rock song. I think it was All My Shadows. Because if you hear ‘The Phantoms of the Dawn,’ you can directly imagine how the band sounds on the complete CD. I hope so.”
“Farewell” is the album’s ballad and it’s an amazing one. There are five guest backing vocalists and their voices are layered and overdubbed many times to create the effect of an enormous gospel choir. It’s a gorgeous, goosebumps-raising song.
“When I wrote ‘Farewell’ I had this chorus in mind,” Lill said, adding that he and Kuntz both thought of the choir idea at the same time when listening back to the song. “We liked to get this feeling of a big, big choir. And we said ‘Yeah, if we are able to get this done, then the song will grow and grow and get very, very big at the end.’”
“Devil’s Ride” blasts the listener out of the ballad and into a much faster pace. Andreas’ drumming is heavy, and he combines with his brother’s guitar riff to form a machine-gun-like aural attack. The music strips away during the verses, giving Kuntz extra space for a quieter vocal, which climbs in the pre-chorus, leading him into the chorus. There’s something very Dream Theater-meets-Dokken about the song.
The lyric line Kuntz wrote for the de facto title track and album closer, “All My Eerie Monsters,” formed the basis of the feel, mood, and lyrical content of the whole record.
“The whole CD is about monsters, about vampires, about killer androids, about aliens — all these little things were coming together when we got the basic idea,” Lill said.
It’s an epic album closer — in feel but not in length at just 5:49, which would be a fairly short song by Vanden Plas standards. It’s got an Ozzy-esque riff and a killer chorus, making it one of the album’s best and most memorable songs.
While Eerie Monsters should appeal to fans of 1980s melodic rock fans, it doesn’t sound as if it’s from that era in the way that many bands pay tribute to their influences. These songs sound fresh. The influences are in there, but it sounds modern and has a big production, so some of the songs require a few listens just to identify the influence that inspired Lill. That production, along with the distinctive Kuntz vocals and Lill guitar tone, makes All My Shadows sound more like an easily accessible Vanden Plas album than a Dokken or Whitesnake record to my ears.
As a Vanden Plas fan, I find that to be a good thing.
For more information on All My Monsters, check out the band’s Facebook page. You can order Eerie Monsters digitally through all the usual channels and get the physical CD on the Frontiers web shop or the major online retailers.
A Boy Without a Name
The Phantoms of the Dawn
All My Eerie Monsters
Sorry, but there’s no video from the interview this week. The mp4 file unfortunately corrupted on me, and about half of the video is frozen, although you can still hear the audio during that part. That’s never happened to me before, and I didn’t even know it was possible! I had no indication on the Zoom call that it wasn’t working properly either. Regardless, you can listen to the interview and hear clips from the album on Episode 103 of the Michael’s Record Collection podcast.
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