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Star One: Victims of the Modern Age
After a short respite into a different side project called Guilt Machine, Arjen Lucassen returns to the familiar ground of Star One. This time out it's called Victims of the Modern Age. It has been seven years since the Live On Earth album was released. It was worth the wait, no surprise there. This is not predictable and quite unlike its previous lineup and sound.
Arjen is brilliant once again, isn't he always? Just when you think he is due for some kind of let down, a project that his longtime fans won't like so much, he puts it all to rest in a heartbeat. Arjen gives his listeners something to enjoy with a few new twists and turns but mainly it rocks and that is the most important factor.
Victims of the Modern Age is another multi-dimensional star studded affair that maintains a theme from start to finish complete with heavy metal guitars, driving spacey keyboards, all the great music you would expect from an Arjen Lucassen project. The theme or concept if you will is not too hard to figure out from the title. What transpires are the ravages of time and the ecological breakdown of mother earth and all its trappings that bring us to our eventual demise as a human race. Arjen has been professing the eventual takeover of our technology driven society and our inevitable demise for a long time ("It All Ends Here'), warning of our self destruction (note the ominous mushroom cloud on the colorful futuristic cover), and the fear of waiting for that one maniacal futuristic god that falls from the sky to push the button and end it all. He is like a modern day Jules Verne writing a script for the future that does not seem too farfetched at this point. Do note in his stories that he always leaves the door open for man to make things right ("24 Hours"), he always did. Let's hope in the present real world we will wake up before it's too late.
Besides the genius of Arjen Luccassen steering his troops into a space metal galaxy once again you have some familiar names that are part of the crew. The ever changing vocal parts and music that matches each unique voice and character, are handled by Damian Wilson (Original Star One crew member, Threshold, Headspace), Russell Allen (Symphony X), Floor Jansen (ex-After Forever, ReVamp), Dan Swanö (Nightingale, Second Sky, ex-Edge of Sanity) and some special guests on the bonus disc including Tony Martin on "Closer To The Stars" (formerly of Black Sabbath).
The first disc is full of energy and fat metal power chords. Tracks like the catchy yet divergent "Digital Rain", "24 Hours" and "Alive, She's Alive, We're Alive" will get inside your head and will refuse to leave. Then the "bonus" disc is just as good as the main CD and continues in the same fashion, in fact I enjoyed it even more. "Two Plus Two Equals Five" is an amazing track. The hypnotic drones of the guitar and deep undertow of the bass and drums pushes the unique "from the bowels of hell" vocals from guest vocalist Rodney Blaze to make it the most unique track on the entire set. You know, I can hear Ronnie James Dio (god rest his soul) singing some of these songs. Just imagine how glorious that would have been?
You have to love the way they wrap this set up with the ELP classic "Knife Edge" (courtesy of Damian, Arjen, Floor and Russell). Arjen and his band do an amazing workup of that song and it's a fitting way to close the curtain on yet another flight across the heavy metal prog universe. There is no getting around it; the more you listen to this music the more it digs its way into the fiber of your soul and cover tracks like "Knife Edge" is just the icing on the proverbial prog rock cake. Time to climb aboard the Star One flight again; it's the only way to fly!
1] Down the Rabbit Hole (01:20)
2] Digital Rain (06:23)
3] Earth that Was (06:08)
4] Victim of the Modern Age (06:27)
5] Human See, Human Do (05:14)
6] 24 Hours (07:20)
7] Cassandra Complex (05:24)
8] It's Alive, She's Alive, We're Alive (05:07)
9] It All Ends Here (09:46)
CD2 (Enhanced Multi-media CD with LIMITED EDITION 2-CD MEDIABOOK):
1] As the Crow Dies (04:42)
2] Two Plus Two Equals Five (05:04)
3] Lastday (04:46)
4] Closer to the Stars (05:11)
5] Knife Edge (ELP cover) (04:25)
1] The Making of "Victims of the Modern Age" (36:00)
Added: November 28th 2010
Reviewer: Keith Hannaleck
Related Link: Artist Website
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|Star One: Victims of the Modern Age
Posted by Jeff B, SoT Staff Writer on 2010-11-28 05:58:15
Human See, Human Do
Strangely enough, I jumped onto the Arjen Lucassen bandwagon pretty late. Having only discovered him through Ayreon's 01011001, I really only delved into his massive discography in the last two years or so. So after thoroughly enjoying the Ayreon classics and some other side-projects, I was pretty excited for the new Star One album, Victims of the Modern Age. Although I set a pretty high level of expectations for the album, I can confidently conclude that Arjen Lucassen & co. has exceeded almost every single one of them. Even though I can't consider Victims of the Modern Age to be one of the best albums released in Arjen's catalog, calling this anything less than a spectacular masterwork would be criminal. It seems as though it's impossible for Arjen Lucassen to create anything that isn't great, and this Star One album is just further proof of that. If you like progressive metal, power metal, or rock operas, Victims of the Modern Age should already be in your collection!
The music here is a typical Arjen creation, though a bit more metal-oriented and darker than we're used to. If Ayreon played a heavier and slightly more stripped-down style, this would be the result. The songs are also a bit more commercial-sounding than other things Lucassen has done in the past. There aren't a whole lot of progressive tendencies outside of the synth-laden sound and vocal harmonies. Victims of the Modern Age is first and foremost a power metal album, and a very good one at that. There is some expected cheese, mainly in the production, but when the music is this good, it's rarely a problem. Every song is irresistibly catchy, filled with bombastic arrangements, terrific vocal harmonies, and crushing riffs. After the brief synth intro, "Down the Rabbit Hole", the album rarely stops and catches its breath again. Victims of the Modern Age is filled to the brim with heavy and melodic riffs, sure to please fans of progressive power metal.
One of the best things about most of Arjen Lucassen's projects is the host of guest vocalists, and the same surely applies to Victims of the Modern Age. With a cast consisting of Dan Swanö (Edge of Sanity, Nightingale, Unicorn, Bloodbath, Demiurg, etc.), Russell Allen (Symphony X), Damian Wilson (Threshold, Headspace), and Floor Jansen (ReVamp,After Forever), you're bound to have a terrific vocal department. The instrumentalists are also some of the best in the prog and metal worlds. The drumming from Ed Warby is especially notable.
The production is a bit of an issue, in my opinion. Although the sound is powerful and heavy, it's far glossy and over-produced to be enjoyable. I really wish Arjen would take a bit of a step back in terms of production. This is way too synthetic and pompous for me. Some may enjoy the sound, but it just adds loads and loads of cheese to an otherwise incredible album, in my opinion.
Victims of the Modern Age is a great comeback album for Star One, and another terrific release in Arjen Lucassen's shining catalog. Although the album is over-produced and occasionally a bit pompous, there are so many great things that tremendously outweigh any detriments. If you like Arjen Lucassen's past projects, it'd be awfully hard for you not to enjoy this. Even though Victims of the Modern Age isn't quite a masterpiece, it's awfully close, and surely among one of the best albums in 2010. 4 shining stars are well-deserved here.
|Star One: Victims of the Modern Age
Posted by Steven Reid, SoT Staff Writer on 2010-10-11 18:40:46
With a strong work ethic and dislike of performing on stage, albums under various guises come thick and fast from Arjen Lucassen. The only surprising thing being that he somehow manages to maintain a ridiculously high standard throughout all of his music, last year's under rated Guilt Machine album being a case in point. Even with all this activity it has been eight years since Arjen last released a studio album under the Star One banner and with the critical acclaim and positive fan reaction 2002's Space Metal received, Victims Of The Modern Age has a lot to live up to.
Kicking off with the most restrained music on the whole album is the short keyboard intro "Down The Rabbit Hole", which is possibly the most seductive piece of keyboard work I've heard in years. The haunting yet instantly memorable motif raises the hairs on the back of your neck and from that first moment, you are already assured that you are about to begin a wonderfully involved journey. That swaying introduction makes the pounding drums and razor sharp riff of "Digital Rain" all the more impactful. The keyboards remain high in mix, making the song feel colossal, however it is the guitars that lead from the front here and Lucassen really must be congratulated on the ginormous six string sound he has achieved right across this album. Rejoining Arjen from the first Star One album are the four vocalists Damian Wilson (Threshold), Russell Allen (Symphony X), Dan Swano (Nightingale) and Floor Jansen (After Forever/ReVamp) and the decision to have all four sing on each and every song on this album is inspired, as between the four they cover the every piece of ground from growls and snarls, to angelic high notes.
Star One was always Lucassen's heaviest project and with the track "Earth That Was", the riffs are truly mighty, yet the keyboards in the verse have an air of Europe's "Superstitious" to them. The chorus however leans more heavily on the might and power of Dio. Keeping things fresh, the title track has a gloriously off-beat rhythm that married to some droning keys, thunderous tom work and some hugely authoritative vocals, especially from Swano and Allen, is a mid tempoed power house. The glorious harmony vocals that sing the line "Violence, makes violence, makes violence", before it builds in to brutal growl are possibly the best use of that gruff vocal style in heavy, yet melodic music I've heard. Although possibly the strongest examples of the group of four vocalists trading lines is "Human See, Human Do", where more growls (even for those put off by that vocal style should find the very short bursts of growls on this album hugely worthwhile), trading with Foolr's beautiful higher tones is simply stunning.
"24 Hours" combines the brutality of a Dio era Sabbath riff, with a more Rainbow styled song structure and feel and the result is a brooding, slow building song packed with intent and intensity, but in a way the is hugely engaging. That Sabbath style rifferama is combined to soaring keyboard work on "Cassandra Complex", where the outcome is threatening, yet melodious, and brutally seductive. Music this heavy, really shouldn't be so accessible, but boy does it work! As its title suggests "It's Alive, She's Alive, We're Alive" adds a spooky groove to proceedings, with the eerie keyboards sparring with spitting guitars for supremacy, but still leaving enough room for the vocals to win through in the end, before "It All Ends" brings the album to a stomping, riff laden conclusion.
With fantastic contributions from Ed Warby on drums, Peter Vink on bass, keyboard player Peter van den Broek, guitarist Gary Wehrkamp and Arjen himself, the music on this album is right out of the top drawer. Add to that, four immensely talented singers who work alongside each other perfectly and a marvellous set of guitar led, but keyboard infused songs and you are left with a serious contender for album of the year.
I haven't heard the bonus disc yet, but intend to put that right as soon as I can!
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