Issue 2009-047: Guilt Machine - On This Perfect Day - Round Table Review
Round Table Review
CD Tracklist: Twisted Coil (11:43), Leland Street (8:03), Green And Cream (10:32), Season Of Denial (10:22), Over (6:11), Perfection? (10:46)
DVD Tracklist: [Audio] The Stranger Song (4:53), Michelangelo (3:23), Fan Messages (9:37), Perfection? (10:22), Twisted Coil (4:17), Pull Me Out Of The Dark (3:36), Over (3:56); [Video] Trailer “On This Perfect Day” (4:33), Making Of The Trailer (3:44), Interview With Guilt Machine (40:03)
Geoff Feakes' Review
Look closely at the cover of this debut CD from Guilt Machine and above the name you will see the legend “Arjen Lucassen’s” giving an early indicator of what to expect when you hit the play button. Lucassen is a musician who’s consistently reinventing himself including previous incarnations as Star One, Stream of Passion and Ayreon. The Ayreon albums in particular were notable for Lucassen’s science-fantasy lyrics and the large cast of guest singers and musicians utilised to bring his space operas to fruition. For this latest project he has eschewed the usual excesses for a more introspective approach which includes the inwardly searching lyrics of partner Lori Linstruth and a line-up limited to just four people. They are Lucassen (guitars, keyboards, backing vocals), Linstruth (lead guitar), Jasper Steverlinck (lead vocals) and Chris Maitland (drums). Linstruth is no newcomer to Lucassen’s work whilst Steverlinck and Maitland were deliberately chosen to bring a fresh aspect to the recordings. Maitland needs no introduction as the ex-No Man, Porcupine Tree and Kino drummer whereas Steverlinck is a new name to the prog scene courtesy of mainstream Belgian band Arid.
Taking into consideration this change of name and fresh approach you would be forgiven for expecting On This Perfect Day to sound radically different to Lucassen’s previous work. To my ears however it’s not a million miles from Ayreon’s most recent 01011001 album. True, as a single CD clocking in at less than 60 minutes it’s by far his shortest release for sometime and gone is the multi-part vocal interplay, flashy soling and ethnic instrumental excursions. Still present and correct however are the monumental riffs, impeccable vocals and stirring melodies that have come to epitomize the music of Arjen Lucassen. And given that he is one of the best record producers on the planet it should come as no surprise that the sound quality is exceptional.
Twisted Coil exudes controlled power for its first half with hypnotic percussive effects (both natural and electronic) joined by restrained guitar and vocals that immediately bring Porcupine Tree to mind. A touch of The Beatles in psychedelic mode lulls the listener into a false sense of security before the aforementioned monumental riff (not unlike The Fifth Extinction from 01011001) kicks in. Leland Street is a more laidback affair with dreamy, ambient soundscapes offset with some genuinely spooky sections. Linstruth adds some delicate slide guitar lines. Maitland excels throughout Green And Cream propelling the song from its deceptively spacey beginnings into a kaleidoscope of fast and massed instrumentation with acoustic guitar and counterpoint harmonies cutting through the cacophony.
Steverlinck is a real asset with a voice to die for, sitting somewhere between Damian Wilson and James LaBrie with more than a hint of Freddie Mercury thrown in for good measure. Fans I’m sure will be equally interested to hear if their own dulcet tones made it onto the recording. This follows a request from Lucassen earlier this year for fans to each submit a spoken message for possible inclusion on the album. The end results are interpolated throughout, particularly during the opener Twisted Coil. At best they work in a similar fashion to the voice samples in Carptree’s Malfunction although in fairness the most positive thing I can really say is that they don’t get in the way of the music (too much).
Season Of Denial sees keyboards taking a more central role adding rich instrumental textures including strings, choral effects and violin. The blaze of weighty guitar chords during the chorus is in stark contrast to the folky acoustic interludes. Stattaco keys build to a dramatic finale with Steverlinck’s soaring vocal rising above it all. Over is almost like a potted summary of what’s gone before with its industrial rhythmic sounds, archetypical Lucassen guitar and a powerful chorus supported by crunching guitar. Linstruth’s wailing solo is suitably histrionic. Perfection? doesn’t quite live up to its name but it’s still an effective closer nonetheless. It’s a song of three parts with an acoustic led theme succumbing to bombastic guitar and keys at the midway point and finally an anthemic conclusion with superbly choreographed vocal exchanges from Lucassen and Steverlinck.
Arjen Lucassen is one of those artists that for me present a critical block in much the same way as say Neal Morse or Guy Manning. His creativity in my opinion borders on genius and is incapable of making a bad album even if he tried. That being the case, On This Perfect Day is a good, bordering on great, Lucassen album that takes the middle ground in comparison with previous releases. There is nothing here for instance that’s as dark or intense as Pain from The Human Equation and at the other end of the spectrum nothing that even remotely resembles a slow ballad. As I alluded to earlier each song follows a tried and trusted formula: atmospheric intro, heavy instrumental mid-section and strident vocal finale. That is not intended as a criticism, many respected bands I could mention do exactly the same. And even when Arjen Anthony Lucassen is taking what could be perceived as the safe route the end results are still head and shoulders above most of the competition.
Menno von Brucken Fock's Review
The DVD features some radio edits, the trailer as well as ‘the making of’ of On This Perfect Day and Jasper’s interpretation of The Stranger Song by Leonard Cohen. Also one can find an old pop tune by Jimmy Campbell from the sixties band the 23rd Turnoff, then titled Michael Angelo. It is now sung and interpreted by Arjen as Michelangelo. Most of the other fan messages can be heard over some beautiful electronic music from the Ambeon album and last but not least there’s a full version of Perfection? with Arjen’s guiding vocals.
The first track of the actual album opens with the sound of telephone-buttons being pressed and a Dutch voice asking “ben ik schuldig?” (am I guilty?). A low synthesizer and an echoing clean guitar, some effects and percussion bring a Floydian atmosphere, before Steverlinck begins to sing, which he does this with great ease and a lot of emotion. More instruments like the bass guitar and sometimes mellotron are added and at some point there’s a passage where Jasper’s voice is distorted. After another ‘fan message’ we hear the same melodies as the first part, but a little more powerfully. Smooth transitions between the Floydian sounds and more pop orientated style of singing by Jasper, sometimes for a few moments reminding of The Beatles (Strawberry Fields). One of the key melodies is sung with a distorted voice, a bit further that same melody with a clean voice and one octave higher. The end of the first part is as Floydian as it began. The music goes right through with a much more powerful part, again there’s bits with a distorted voice. Choruses and riffs remind of Star One's music and the obvious contributions of Linstruth’s distinctive guitars are leaving a good impression. Steverlinck proves his versatility and impresses with his vocal chords - capable of singing very gently, in a poppy style, but also with much more power as well as emotion. Sometimes I hear a bit of Muse’s Matt Bellamy.
Leland Street also has two faces. The verses are very atmospheric and almost a bit psychedelic. The slide guitars sounding a lot like Gilmour’s. The choruses however are more rock/metal orientated and again Steverlinck is delivering both power and emotion. Halfway dark synthesizers and subtle but sweeping guitars by Lori Linstruth, followed by clean solo’s accompanied by organ. Then a fairly heavy side step with heavy guitars and close harmony singing, via some more fan messages then back to the atmospheric, slightly psychedelic stuff. Nice ending with an acoustic guitar and a synthesizer playing the lead.
There are lots of keyboards at the beginning of Green And Cream but as soon as Jasper starts to sing the music goes more in the direction of a good pop song. The choruses, including their consecutive instrumental passages are far more heavy. In the middle there’s a section with distorted vocals, acoustic and clean guitars and a nice full-bodied sound of the bass (probably his new 5-string Dingwall bass-guitar!). Jasper subsequently is singing with his alter ego, repeating his own lead-lines. In the heavier part some stunning guitars by Linstruth. Maybe some folks don’t like this style of playing, but luckily for me, I do!
In track four, Seasons Of Denial has an almost electronic opening, followed by a slow piece with clean guitars, mellotron, some bass and laid back drumming. In some of the instrumental parts there’s some folk influences because of the mandolin and some classical influences due to the violin. The choruses feature multi-track vocals by Jasper and heavy guitars. Some great melodies, first heavy, than much more subtle with an acoustic guitar and keyboards and then again, building up to a climax, very bombastic and heavy: pure delight!! The last part of this track reminds of the Beatles again.
Next track Over is blending a lot of Arjen’s influences, Pink Floyd, Beatles, Tangerine Dream, Uriah Heep, modern day singer/songwriter and so on. A Floydian overture, then accompaniment in synthi-pop/EM style, vocals more in the vein of pop-music and the choruses are in remembrance of bands like Uriah Heep, with the Hammond in full swing.
For obvious reasons by the way, Arjen invited ex-Porcupine Tree drummer Chris Maitland to play on the album. Maitland uses his tremendous skills to the full extent. From sophisticated and subtle percussion or inventive jazzy drumming to the more powerful but still varied styles of drumming, Chris masters them all and even succeeded in putting in a different rhythm than Arjen had planned: in the last track Perfection? Maitland came up with a march-rhythm! In the other parts of this impressive apotheosis we can hear a mix of styles: almost a sort of summary of all influences on this album and still a lot of Ayreon. Once more Jasper’s voice, fluent English and a perfect pronunciation, a very good choice and I will not be the only one who’s going to check out Jasper’s band Arid from Belgium! The heavy instrumental theme used, is for me the climax of this album and is very much like Ayreon. This must have been one of Arjen finest brainwaves. The album ends with a fan message from a girl from probably eastern Europe, at the end saying in English: “thanks, have a good day”. She hangs up and the a phone is giving a “busy” tone.
Well, the times I’ve listened to this album I did have a good day: the ultimate fusion of progressive, heavy, pop, rock, electronic and space rock music is here and it’s called Guilt Machine!
Brendan Bowen's Review
Arjen Lucassen has given Ayreon a break for a side project called Guilt Machine. This line-up includes Jasper Steverlinck from Arid, Lori Linstruth (former Stream of Passion) and former Porcupine Tree drummer Chris Maitland. This group of musicians makes sense excepting Jasper for those familiar with the sound of Arid, which is a type of indie-pop. I was not familiar with Jasper’s work before I heard this new Guilt Machine project called On This Perfect Day but I became quite interested after hearing his amazing vocals. After a listen – and maybe it is just my musical tastes – it is quickly apparent Jasper’s voice is much more suited to Arjen’s style of music and I hope this combination continues no matter what the form may take.
The brains behind the effort is Lucassen. After a very interesting rise in popularity using the vehicle of “sci-fi space metal” Arjen’s most ambitious and latest Ayreon album 01011001 was a phenomenal musical zenith for him and apparently was a good place to put in a bookmark and begin something different.
On This Perfect Day is different but similar enough to Ayreon that the fan base will be pleased. There are many moments where it feels like a double dip into 01011001 with several visits to familiar riffs and transitions. I even hear some elements from The Human Equation as well. The sound is a flowing drama of mostly mild metal that maintains an expansive sound that is quite pleasing to the ear. The Guilt Machine expertly lay down lengthy tracks each mulling over various aspects of guilt and its subsequent damage. The lyrics are powerful and fit perfectly with the delivery through the microphone with a strong Freddie Mercury tilt.
The production quality is top notch; the vocal effects and overlays are haunting; the cello is real; the tasty sound effects that accompany the flowing song structure are a testament to the abilities of Arjen and the production crew. I grab more and more each time I listen to it. The action rises and falls in a dramatic way with plenty of changes in tension and anticipation to keep these long songs interesting. This is extremely well done all around.
You don’t have to be an Ayreon fan to get into this either. Despite the similarities, the differences are legion. Perhaps this album will create yet another sub-genre of metal called “Contemplative Metal”. I suggest you visit the Guilt Machine page in Wikipedia. It describes some of the process for putting this project together and explains the phone recordings put in various places in the work that asked for fans to leave their thoughts on an answering machine in their native language.
This project reminds me in a way of The Devin Townsend Project. Not so much in the sameness of the material, but the large sound and quality delivery. This is unique just as Townsend’s latest project is unique. I highly recommend it. This will be among my top albums of the past few years, and I suspect will have the staying power to remain among the greats for some time.
GEOFF FEAKES : 8.5 out of 10
MENNO VON BRUCKEN FOCK : 9 out of 10
BRENDAN BOWEN : 9 out of 10