Round Table Review
Arjen Anthony Lucassen's Star One — Revel In Time
CD 2: same tracks as on CD 1, but performed by different vocalists
Back in 2002 Arjen Anthony Lucassen stepped up from his successful Ayreon formula and introduced Star One. On the album Space Metal there were still multiple singers although not as much as on the Ayreon albums. This also made it easier to organise a small and successful tour which resulted in a live DVD/CD (Live On Earth). The second Star One album Victims Of The Modern Age came out in 2010.
For the previous Star One albums, all singers and musicians were flown in, and the interaction between the members created the albums. Due to the Covid pandemic, this has not been possible. So for this third instalment Arjen made the decision to use the Ayreon formula. Where the first two Star One albums had the same cast of four singers (Floor Jansen, Russell Allen, Damian Wilson, and Dan Swano), this time Arjen decided to have mainly one singer per track; and a different one for almost each track.
The official line up is: Arjen Lucassen, Ed Warby on drums, Marcela Bovio and Irene Jansen on backing vocals, and Erik van Ittersum on Solina strings. What has stayed the same is the more straightforward metal approach, thick layers of guitar riffs and heavy keyboard/organ.
Of course, as before, the lyrics have been influenced by sci-fi movies and TV series. After the alien-themed Space Metal and Victims Of The Modern Age on dystopian worlds, this time it's based on time-travelling stories.
The intro keyboard melody this time is not a standalone song but is incorporated in the opener Fate Of Man. The song is based on The Terminator and features Brittney Slays (Unleash The Archers) on vocals and the guitar solo is done by Michael Romeo (Symphony X). Just like the previous Star One albums, Fate Of Man is a heavy opener with its heavy guitar chords and many melodies with keyboard and guitar entwined.
The double CD edition comes with a disc with the same songs but different singers, I like the version on disc two with Marcelo Bovio on vocals a bit more.
The song 28 Days (Till The End Of Time) is not based on the horror movie 28 Days Later but on Donnie Darko. As before, the second song on a Star One album is a slow-pounding metal song. Lucassen sticks to a proven format. Sir Russel Allen (Symphony X) is present on many releases of Arjen Lucassen and as always he does a pretty fine job. What a voice. Timo Somers plays the guitar solo here. Timo is the son of Jan Somers with whom Lucassen played in the rock band Vengeance in the 1980s. Timo is now the guitar player for Vengeance, but it has to be said that the activity status of Vengeance is changing a lot all the time.
Ross Jennings (Haken) and for me the unfamiliar name of Michael Mills (Toehider) provide the vocals for Prescient, a song based on the movie Primer. One of the more complex songs on the album, the interaction between the two singers is very nice. Albums by Arjen Lucassen usually feature an artist I have never heard of, and it is always interesting to check out where they come from. I have had some nice finds in the past and hopefully Revel In Time will bring me some new ones. This time I also need to check out some movies, as I had never heard of the movie Primer.
The title Back From The Past almost gives away the movie title. It is based on Back To The Future and if I am not mistaken it is the first time the movie title is literally used in the lyrics. Usually Lucassen uses lyrics close to the title but never incorporates the title of the movie in the lyrics. Back From The Past is a heavy rocker during which it is impossible to keep your head still. On social media there is a challenge in which a metal-head listens to music and is not allowed to even slightly nod his head. Impossible not to do that on this track. The vocals are by Jeff Scott Soto, and Ron Bumblefoot Thal (Guns 'n' Roses) provides the guitar solo. This song is really back from the past because it reminds me a lot of Vengeance in the eighties.
The Vengeance influence continues on the song Revel In Time but more the late nineties Vengeance as on the album Back From Flight 19. Keeping things Dutch, the guitar solo is by the Dutch legend Adrian Vandenberg. I had never heard of the vocalist Brandon Yeagley or his band Crobot but I sure know the movie it is based on, as I can dream the movie Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. Bill & Ted also recently made a third release with Face The Music, which is also an excellent movie. Time for me to Face The Music of Crobot, as the vocals of Brandon Yeagley sure got me interested.
The Vengeance vibe continues on The year of '41. It is based on the movie (not the song) The Final Countdown and features many guest appearances. Joe Lynn Turner (Malmsteen, Rainbow, Deep Purple) on vocals, Joel Hoekstra (Whitesnake, Trans Siberian Orchestra) guitar solo, vocalization by Will Show (Heir Apparent) and a keyboard solo by Jens Johansson (Malmsteen, Stratovarius). I was hoping for a guitar duel like on Master Of Darkness but that is not the case. I guess it was impossible to do when recording at a pandemic distance from each other. The Year of '41 is a great rock song, and one of my favourites of the album.
Damian Wilson is, just like Russel Allen, present on many albums by Arjen Lucassen. Like always, he does a superb job on the vocals on Bridge Of Life, the song is based on the movie Frequency. Bridge Of Life is a heavy, slow-pounding rock song with great vocals. Damian together with the female backing vocals brings back the feeling of the Space Metal album.
Today Is Yesterday, based on Groundhog Day, also features Lisa Bella Donna on Moog and Marcel Singor for the guitar solo. The song is as confusing as the movie; mostly very heavy parts, disturbing vocals and it really sticks in your head.
Well known Star One members, on board with the live band in the early days, are Floor Jansen (Nightwish, After Forever) and Joost van den Broek (After Forever). A Hand On The Clock, based on Source Code, could have easily been in the first Star One album as it has a lot of familiar sounding tunes. The heavy keyboard sound at the end of the song I like very much. Fans of Deep Purple will enjoy that part.
And then again another new name and another one for me to check out is John JayCee Cuijpers (Praying Mantis). Beyond the Edge of it All is based on the also-unknown-to-me TV series Sapphire And Steel. This song has a lot of Ayreon influences, a lot of typical Ayreon twists and turns and familiar melodies.
Something special was saved for the last song of the album. Lost Children Of The Universe is an epic song of just under ten minutes and features the Hellscore Choir. This choir is on various metal/rock releases including the Ayreon album Transitius and gives this song a very bombastic sound. The lead vocals are done by Roy Khan (Kamelot, Conception) and Arjen Lucassen somehow managed to get hold of guitar virtuoso Steve Vai for a solo.
I remember when the first Star One album Space Metal was released. I was also among the lucky ones to see them live. There was a long wait until the second album, and the wait was long again. But it was worth it. You know what you are going to get and Arjen Lucassen delivers. I like the metal sound of the Star One albums, thick layers of guitar riffs and at times that heavy Deep Purple keyboard sound. Star One has a solid base line-up and add to that guest appearances by the best musicians on this planet and you get a killer album.
Many musicians participate on Revel In Time and still it is a coherent sounding album. I like the variety through some well known musicians and again some artists/bands and movies that I did not know before. Progressive rock lovers should like the treasure hunt for new music that a release like this triggers. But the treasure hunt has to wait, because first I will play Revel In Time many more times. Another great Star One album.
Arjen Lucassen is a man who needs little introduction; a multi-instrumentalist and prolific songwriter, he is responsible for the likes of Ayreon, Guilt Machine, Ambeon and The Gentle Storm (with Anneke Van Giersbergen) and appears on over 50 albums. Star One is one of his various projects, and are back this year with Revel In Time.
There is an extensive range of guest vocalists and musicians from a wide range of bands, such as Dan Swano (ex- BloodBath, ex-Edge of Sanity amongst many others), Brittney Slayes (Unleash The Archers) and John Cuijpers (Praying Mantis) to name a few. So there is an Ayreon feel to it with the fun of playing essentially “guest musician bingo”. But the music feels more straight up prog-metal than Ayreon, with a larger focus on the riffs and melodic metal, as opposed to being a story put to music (like Transistus).
A prime example being the likes of Revel In Time, which features Brandon Yeagley (Crobot) on vocals and additional guitar work from Adrian Vandenberg (Vandenberg, MoonKings, ex-Whitesnake). This one stands out as a catchy crowd-pleaser of a metal anthem. A fist-pumping pace with some blistering solos and soaring vocals over chugging guitars and drums. Today is Yesterday is another one, with some pretty heavy riffs throughout and good fun to sing along to.
The closing three tracks feature some of the heaviest riffs and most powerful vocals; with a special mention to Floor Jansen and her spectacular finishing note on A Hand On The Clock. Beyond The Edge Of It All brings in some Dio vibes with Cuijpers' performance over the hard rock style of the track.
And finally the final track, the nine-minute Lost Children Of The Universe featuring ex Kamelot singer Roy Khan and Steve Via popping in for some guitar work. This is a brooding and menacing power-metal epic that covers everything on the album and ties it all together nicely.
I'd highly recommend this album, and the rest of Star One's output if you're a fan of anything Arjen has done, or the likes of Blind Guardian, Symphony X and similar.
Space Metal fans need to wait no longer. After a 12-year interval, Arjen Anthony Lucassen is back with the third instalment in the Star One saga. And what an amazing album this has turned out to be. The version I received for review is the 2 CD variant which features the same songs on the second disc, but performed by difference artists (“Same Songs, Different Singers CD", as Arjen likes to call it). Whether you prefer the first or second is a moot point as both are exceptionally good and give an honest look at this project from different perspectives. I enjoy both equally.
The personnel in attendance on this album is really quite incredible. I think the lure of unlimited M&Ms must have been too hard to resist, as everyone turned up to party, and party hard they did.
Can you just imagine doing the roll call for all those whose attendance was needed for each song? A total of about 30 different musicians contributed to the new album.
If you have heard the two previous Star One albums, there are several important ingredients that need to be present to put you in the right frame of mind.
Excellent singing from a wide pool of talent - Check!
Pyrotechnical guitar from a slew of gurus - Check!
Volcanic drumming from the best - Check!
Snarls and screams from the keyboards - Check!
Brilliant and powerful song writing - Check!
As soon as the opening track begins, you realise why it has been worth the 12-year wait. And no, it hasn't been due to a lack of ideas or the motivation to write new songs. The material on this long player has been carefully crafted to ensure the record-buying public get to hear the very best of what Arjen was hoping to deliver.
Moving from sections that possess plenty of crunch from the guitar, to those that are punctuated by Ed Warby's pummelling drums, to those that opt for a more melodic interlude, your ears will appreciate the effort being made. Add some stratospheric singing and blistering keyboard passages and you'll need time on a defibrillator to bring you back to earth.
Song-by-song descriptors are really not needed here as each track is a minor masterpiece in its own right. Adding them all together to make a completely satisfying package is what I found to be the most compelling reason to keep this high on the rotation list. There are simply no weak songs on the album but the infectious and generally melodic choruses embedded within, will have you hitting the repeat button for some time to come.
You have to be enthralled and inspired by such a talented musician who, despite being in his 60s, can still rock as hard as anyone half his age. Add to that the huge variety of excellent vocalists who simply add so much quality to the overall sound of each song. I originally thought that the concept of having so many singers on board, might dilute the effectiveness of the project but I am glad to be set straight on this aspect. You simply can't tire of this album, as each singer raises the bar beyond what is humanly possible and reinforces just how imaginatively different each song is.
Whether you want bucket-loads of crunchy guitar, thunder-eating bass licks, keyboards that squeal like a demented banshee, explosive drumming, singers that pull out all stops, along with creative and imaginative songwriting, it's all here in spades. This must be one of the best releases that Arjen has produced, especially when you consider that it was all done during the lockdown.
A superb album to add to your collection. If you want any limited editions of this release, however, be warned that most have sold out well before the official release date.