ALBUM REVIEW: Revel In Time – Star One
Arjen Anthony Lucassen is unquestionably best known for his decades-spanning prog-metal-cum-rock opera project AYREON, a cosmic mix of elevated concepts and narrative albums that have managed to pull some of metal’s greatest singers and musicians into their orbit. However, Lucassen has always been extremely prolific, starting various side projects throughout his career that see him expand from AYREONmerging the musical genre into more sonically cohesive ventures. From these, STAR ONE is probably the most analogous to AYREON thanks to its enclave of singers and progressive tendencies. However, STAR ONE has always been a more streamlined beast, swapping the narrative-dense music for a much more singular focus of heavier, guitar-centric progressive metal. The group’s third album, Enjoy the time, builds on the relatively short legacy of the project by maintaining this approach. No epic multi-disc adventures here, but instead we have 11 standalone tracks on a single album. Well, sort of, but we’ll get to that.
If the title was not a clue, Enjoy the time is loosely thematic around time – well, more specifically, films inspired by time travel. Each issue is its own ode to a time-altered classic adventure, with sources of inspiration ranging from pure sci-fi (say, Interstellar) to comedy classics (Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure) and everything in between. On paper, a metallic tribute to groundhog day It sounds ridiculous, but in the execution… well, it’s still a bit ridiculous, but charmingly and masterfully executed.
Each song referencing an individual film, Lucassen took a bran sheet AYREON book and called a different guest vocalist per track. This contrasts sharply with the previous two STAR ONE albums, both of which saw a cast of singers from around the world sing side by side. While the original STAR ONE return of the actors, they are now accompanied by a number of additional guests. Given the range of cinematic influences covered, the one-singer-per-track approach works well, giving each number its own distinct character. Indeed, there is something unexpected in listening Jeff Scott Soto belt lyrics based on Back to the futureWhere RELEASE THE ARCHERS‘ Britney Slayes lyrical hair removal on The Terminator.
But all the guests in the world would be meaningless without the music and songwriting to back it up. Those who know LucassenThe work of in other groups will know that he is good at balancing melodic hooks with long instrumental passages, and in this regard STAR ONE is no different. However, what is most surprising Enjoy the time that’s how guitar-driven it is, bringing with it a metric ton of progressive heaviness. Not only do riffs and leads take on more prominence than before, but guitars are often tuned down, with their notes slightly bent or aggressively muted – a far cry from the more ornate sensibilities of AYREON. Again LucassenThe penchant for classic rock melodies and instrumental interludes remains, keeping the songs from being heavy just for fun.
Accompanied by some of the best vocalists in the genre, the result is a frankly stunning balance of heavy riffs and AOR. Take Back to the pastwho sees CHEAP TIP-esques verses balanced by dirty organs and the baritone reveries of Jeff Scott Soto before moving on to a groove metal middle eight accompanied by a discordant Bumblefoot solo; it’s as if Lucassen friends STARZ, YES and PANTHER in a blender. Despite opening with supple, molten leads and muffled, growling riffs, A hand on the clock somehow manages to shift up a gear to tricky ’70s progressive rock like it’s no big deal, before Sol Jansen ends it with a mind-blowing high. In the same way, The year ’41 is essentially a power pop banger channeled through chugging riffs to convincing effect.
There are even a few moments where the slavish devotion to melodic balance tilts slightly more in favor of the heavier; the Donnie Darko inspired 28 days (until the end of time) evokes the dark side of SYMPHONY X thanks to the deaf and disturbing cry of his riffs and, of course, the gritty voice of Russell Allen; while today is yesterday is the sound of STATIC-X covering Ratedwhile barking groundhog day (no seriously). Even in the darkest times, there is a palpable sense of pleasure about Enjoy the time thanks to Lucassenthe endless synth embellishments and subject matter of the songs. It’s genuinely excellent metal, but one can’t help but imagine that it comes with a slight smirk.
It is also a sumptuous version. If the 11 main tracks weren’t enough, dense and layered as they are, STAR ONE provides a second disc to Enjoy the time consisting of an alternate version of the entire album. The main difference on this second batch are the singers; wanting to highlight the singers who provided the original vocal guide, Lucassen left contributions from frequent collaborators like Marcela Bovio and Irene Jansen intact on this disc. Oddly enough, a few other random guests are also involved, such as BLACK SABBATH a singer Tony Martin. All of the performances are stellar, and it’s great to have these singers featured a bit more. However, something is lost in translation simply due to the distinct novelty of having an individual vocalist per track – this ‘bonus album’ is definitely more for the self-proclaimed Ayreonauts out there.
With Enjoy the time, STAR ONE advocate for their relevance in a context of AYREON and other Lucassen written projects. The surprisingly serene mix of heavy riffs, progressive interludes and power pop melodies coupled with the idiosyncratic subject matter sees Lucassen and co. really revel in the music they’ve created. It’s joyful, haunting, heavy and a bit ridiculous. It’s also another great addition to the discography of one of the true songwriters of melodic metal.
Revel In Time is set for release on February 18 via InsideOutMusic.
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