Review Summary: Dark, powerful, and entertaining. Star One's first release since Space Metal unites four of metal's finest vocalists for another strong release from the mind of Arjen Lucassen.
If you're listening to Star One, chances are you've listened to Ayreon. And if you've listened to Ayreon, you know what to expect out of a project like Star One - Arjen Anthony Lucassen's group that cuts down on the number of vocalists and reduces the sweeping concept album approach in pursuit of similar power metal goals. And if you weren't sure before what to expect, I'll give you the Campbell's condensed version of what to expect right now: cheese, a dynamic multi-vocalist approach to songwriting, cheese, an abundance of propelling and spacey synth leads, cheese, plenty of metal to back up the vocalists and synths, and cheese.
Interestingly enough, though, Victims of the Modern Age
, in a move akin to Arjen's previous project, Guilt Machine, tones down the cheese a bit from the likes of 01011001
by upping the crunch of guitars, reducing synth pervasiveness, and darkening the overall tone of the album. That's not to say that Arjen's iconic soaring synth lines aren't present on this album, but they've been restrained to give the low crunch of the guitars (matched and accented by an accompanying, but obviously lower bass) a little more breathing room. When paired with the utterly gutteral power and ferocity of Dan Swanö's occasional growls on tracks like "Victim of the Modern Age," the album becomes a much darker creature than its light and fluffy by-the-book predecessor, Space Metal
Of course, Swanö's isn't the only voice to make an impact on the album. Accompanied by Floor Jansen, Damian Wilson, and "Sir" Russell Allen, each vocalist lends their own tonal range to the project without every really overstepping into another's territory. It's almost like making an instrument out of an assemblage of voices with every octave or two changing the singer, with Swanö's lows leading to Allen's baritone. Allen's baritone then glides into Wilson's tenor, which guides into Jansen's alto. With moments like the overlapping round robin vocal performance in "Digital Rain," it's clear that the four were almost made to be heard together, with Allen perhaps fitting in the most, creating such a strong bridge between Swanö and Damian that his voice almost gets lost in the sound. A bit of a shame for one of the most prolific voices in progressive metal today, but a non-issue in the context of the music.
The negatives of Victims of the Modern Age
are pretty simple, to be perfectly honest. For a 52 minute album, the record feels long
, with plenty of room for pause at its midpoint. That's not to say that the second half of the album is bad - some of the best tracks ("24 Hours," "Cassandra Complex") are there. But the low crunch of the guitars, long track runtimes, and the dark overall tone of the album liken it to a very thick chocolate milkshake - good in small doses, overbearing when attacked for too long. Of course, the cheese can at times overcome the darker aspects of the record at times, too. While the dark mood surrounding the track later makes the remark a bit sinister, Allen's first cry of "I'm singing, singing in the rain" on the A Clockwork Orange-inspired "Victim of the Modern Age" is jarring and a bit out of place, as is most of "It's Alive, She's Alive, We're Alive."
But for any downfalls, Star One shows that Anthony Arjen Lucassen still knows how to make a genuinely interesting and entertaining album. For as different in direction as Victims of the Modern Age
is from Space Metal
, it will be interesting to see where Arjen goes with Allen and company on their next outing.