Review Summary: Arjen Lucassen's newest musical venture takes a dip into the feelings of guilt with a haunting, yet beautiful approach that truly provides a new view for the Ayreon mastermind.
Arjen Lucassen's latest musical masterpiece is one of a more reserved nature than his more famous Ayreon project. Guilt Machine features only one prominent vocalist, Jasper Steverlinck, in addition to backing vocals provided by Arjen himself and guitarist Lori Linstruth.
Guilt Machine takes Arjen's music in a much more mellow, ambient, and in many cases, more depressing direction, while still maintaining many of the synth grooves, spacey chorus phrases, and lyrical themes which have made Arjen's music iconic and instantly recognizable. There is a melancholic tone that pervades the album, particularly carried by the gloomy and sometimes haunting synth and keyboard lines. This tone is accented by the contrast of brighter guitar parts in healthy supply. There's a further augment to the sound provided by Jasper and Lori, who take the vocals to their peak and primary pitch, counter to Arjen (whose voice is utilized least), who provides his own deeper tone to amplify the dark belly of this beast. In all, the vocals lend a poppish and memorable quality to what would otherwise be an extremely dark and somber record.
The album draws both a strength and weakness in its long track sizes. A strength in that the tracks are long enough to pull you in and compel you to listen to the whole track, and from there, the whole album; a weakness in that many of the songs contain several sections which could, for all intents and purposes, be easily broken into separate, shorter songs for more casual listening.
As with all of Lucassen's albums, however, there is always something to be said about listening to the album in full. And again, as usual, many of the tracks make use of long breaks from one style only to return to it later in the track, lending some purpose to the longer structure of the tunes.
For the lack of vocalists on this album as compared to an Ayreon album, Guilt Machine certainly does not seem wanting. As a matter of fact, at times, it even makes past Ayreon CDs seem overbearing. The usual 1-3 vocalists on Guilt Machine seem natural, while albums such as Into the Electric Castle feel a bit cumbersome in comparison. However, Guilt Machine still leaves albums featuring only one voice per track, such as The Universal Migrator Part 2: Flight of the Migrator, feeling slightly hollow.
It seems as if with this album, Arjen has hit his stride musically, and while the formula may very well not be one applied to his Ayreon project (and, being an entirely different entity, it should not be), this lineup and arrangement certainly seem to come together to form an album worthy of the adage "form follows function" - in this case, providing the proper dense layer of melancholic synth, keys, and guitar contrasted with the brighter tones of Jasper and Lori's voices to create a richly textured sound that brings out inner regret and guilt. With this record, Arjen has hit things just so to create an album that does exactly what he wants it to do.
Green and Cream
Season of Denial