Lucassen's Star One, Arjen Anthony - Space Metal


Year of Release: 2002
Label: InsideOut
Catalog Number: IOMLTDCD 099
Format: CD
Total Time: 96:49:00

I'm going to sound like a "fan girl" here, but I really do like Space Metal. For some reason this is like a guilty pleasure. It's like when I, a diabetic, cheat and have a 3 Musketeers, or go for that chocolate shake. Like both of those items, Space Metal is rich and smooth, and quite tasty (though unlike the shake, is often warm). Arjen Anthony Lucassen, in his new Star One guise, has, as usual, gathered together an assortment of topnotch vocalists and instrumentalists. I mean, how can you not have a "sweet tooth" for the likes of vocalists Russell Allen (Symphony X), Damien Wilson and Floor Jansen (After Forever), for example. Or be impressed by Dan Swanö (Nightingale) and Robert Soeterboek? Or, of course, Ed Warby on drums, keyboardists Erik Norlander (Rocket Scientists/Lana Lane) and Jens Johansson (Stratovarius), and guitarist Gary Wehrkamp (Shadow Gallery)? And, of course, of course, Lucassen himself on guitars, bass, Hammond, Mellotron, synths and Solina strings! Whereas one might think that the various voices singing would make things chaotic, since there aren't "characters" as in Lucassen's Ayreon albums per se, everything hangs together very well. These dynamics work wonderfully, all the voices working together to form a flowing, seamless whole. What you get are 10 tracks of soaring vocal leads and guitars, driving drums, percussion and keyboards. "Set Your Controls" is a high-energy opening (well, after "Lift Off") to an album that keeps the energy level up. It is a big album, everything painted...erm, filmed is spread across an IMAX-sized screen.

As you know already, but will learn again here, Space Metal is Lucassen's homage to science-fiction movies (and one TV show) that he himself likes. References run from the widely known Star Wars saga to the, perhaps, less known Outland, the 1981 Sean Connery film that has been dubbed "High Noon in space." Dubbed such because of the story's similarity to (or adaptation of) High Noon, the western starring Gary Cooper; and thus why this album's homage is called "High Moon" (though not "High Noon"). My connection with Outland, besides having liked the film, is that the novelization was penned by one of my favourite SF authors, Alan Dean Foster -- but that's a story for another time.

Pretty much Lucassen's favourites are mine, so this album was already going to find some favour with me on that alone. The reference that many might not get is that in "Intergalactic Space Crusaders" - and honestly, if I hadn't been told, I might not have guessed Blake's 7 either, as I've only seen an episode or two many, many years ago. But, the song works on its own, so one needn't know the series to get the song. Part of the fun is figuring out which films that Lucassen is referencing, so I'm saying no more than I have already on that (though you can find that info on the Ayreon website and in our interview with him).

I'll admit that Space Metal isn't a challenging album. That is, Lucassen isn't trying to redefine progressive metal in anyway. There are no surprises, but it's beautifully done. The melodies are catchy, the chorus lingering long after the album ends. It is a labour of love and we really can't fault him for following his muse in this manner. Two of my favourite vocalists are featured here -- Allen and Wilson (the latter I don't get to hear too often) -- and Floor Jansen is easily falling into that group, though I've heard nothing of her work with After Forever (yet). The "ghost" of Lana Lane lurks about here, though, especially on "Songs Of The Ocean" (homage to Star Trek IV) which sounds as if it could have been one of hers stylistically, rhythmically, though its Allen and Wilson on lead. Lucassen has an innate ability to get these songs just right - I can't think of any time where you want to say "he should have..." (except on the bonus disk). I suppose in some ways that makes this a very calculated release, but given some of the sloppy releases out there, this isn't necessarily a bad thing, and certainly isn't here.

My favourite track, I think, is "Master Of Darkness," the homage to first Star Wars trilogy and to the confrontation between Darth Vader, The Emperor and Luke in Return Of The Jedi (as well as the "I am your father" scene in Empire). I am a devoted Star Wars fan... though not a fanatic (that is, no SW underwear, bedsheets, toothpaste, etc. -- comics, books and trading cards are my -- oh sorry, this is supposed be about Space Metal). Anyway, maybe I've watched the first trilogy too often (as if there were a "too often"), but I can see the exact scenes playing in my head during this song. I say "I think" it's my favourite, because "Star Child," "Songs Of The Ocean," "Set Your Controls" and "The Eye Of Ra" are close contenders. I like "Sandrider" much more than the novel the movie was based on, though the novel is considered a classic. It's not the author's writing -- oh, okay, the reference is to Dune. I thought Paul Atreides was a little too full of himself, so I didn't like his character. But, I do like Lucassen's take on it. "Star Child" is a track that doesn't really qualify as "metal," as it is mostly mellow (and partly acoustic), but the "space" part is certainly apt, as there are many spacey sections. It is Floyd-like when Lucassen lets loose a guitar solo. It becomes a bit metallic with soaring vocals (Wilson) and guitar. The "hook" for me is the "one by four by nine" line (or so it sounds like, the lyrics aren't included in the promo), beautifully delivered by Allen -- which just proves that he, and Wilson and Jansen, could sing the phone book and make it sound great (and sexy).

Mentioning "Set Your Controls," brings to mind something else about this album and Lucassen in particular. As many know, Lucassen is a fan of Pink Floyd. And while I'm not aware of any musical references, the title does nod at Floyd's "Set Your Controls to The Heart Of The Sun" from Ummagumma. Once past the metallic instrumental beginning, "Set Your Controls" reminds me a bit of "Karnevil 9," a bit, too, with some of lyrics and their delivery. Coincidence? And is there a few notes of "Have A Cigar" at the beginning of "Sandrider"? Or is just me? "Perfect Survivor" has a bit of a classic Queenryche feel about it at times, though I'm certain here it is just coincidence.

I was given the 2-disc digipack version to review (and now covet), so one needs to also mention that Hawkind's Dave Brock appears on the "Hawkwind Medley" that starts off disc two. Perhaps I shouldn't admit this, but other than by name, I'm not really familiar with Hawkwind. Oh, there is a track on some compilation I have, but that's it. This medley seems to work, as everything flows together well. There is the same sense of humour implied in "Spaced Out," which is based on the movie Dark Star (itself a take on 2001) (and, by the way, novelized by Foster). "Star Child" is reprised here, though only tech-heads will notice a difference, as this version was mixed in Dolby Pro-Logic. Well, there are some slight tweaks, that one will notice, but certainly not the reason this version was included. In either version, it sounds great. I'm going to have to listen to the two versions of "Spaced Out" together to see which works best for me, but at present, either one is an energetic rocker. I'm not sure why neither appear on the album proper, since there was still space available for it. Bobo is right about the hidden track being of a Monty Python quality... I'm not sure I really want to know exactly what's being sung here, but I don't half-wonder if someone isn't going to suggest an airing by Dr. Demento (if he's still around).

"Space Oddity"... um, well... let's just say Bowie has nothing to worry about. There is something very hollow about the production here, there is a tinny feel... which may deliberate ("here I am, floating in my tin can")... but there is a nice guitar solo from Lucassen. This all Lucassen on this track, instruments and vocals. I like his vocals, and when it gets to rock a bit (oh, for about 10 seconds, twice) it's interesting, but otherwise it seems like a rough sketch of a spacey version of the Bowie classic. Perhaps why it didn't make the actual release.

I'm going to talk a bit about the artwork because it is stunning. The cover itself is a painting by Vincent DiFate, a piece that Lucassen was attracted to and asked DiFate if he could use. All the other artwork and the layout is by Mattias Norén, who is just an amazing artist... a stunning artist. He even captures H R Giger in his illustration for the song "Perfect Survivor"... one can get wallpapers of two of Norén's illustrations here from the Ayreon website - that for "High Moon" and "The Eye Of Ra."

Space Metal may not be the "best album" released this year -- folks who find its very accessibility that I mention above a fault would probably agree -- but, it is an enjoyable album to listen to. It's easily one of my favourites of the year; the more I listen to this album the more I love it, and I keep on finding reasons to listen to it. Folks are already throwing out names for NEARfest 2003 -- I think with Ayreon, Ambeon and Star One (all keeping the verbal rhythm pattern going) Lucassen would be a cool choice. Or Progpower USA IV.

Chalk up another winner for Lucassen. Highly recommended.

Also was released as a single disc (disc 1) edition (IOMCD 099) and released in North America by the now defunct InsideOut Music America (IOMACD 2036)


Tracklisting:
Disc One: Lift-Off (1:13) / Set Your Controls (6:01) / High Moon (5:36) / Songs Of The Ocean (5:23) / Master Of Darkness (514) / The Eye Of Ra (7:34) / Sandrider (5:31) / Perfect Survivor (4:46) / Intergalactic Space Crusaders (5:22) / Starchild (9:04)

Disc Two: Hawkwind Medley (9:46) / Spaced Out (4:53) / Inseperable Enemies (4:15) / Space Oddity (4:59) / Starchild Mixed In Dolby Pro-Logic) (9:31) / Spaced Out (Alternative Version) (4:55)

Musicians:
Arjen Lucassen - guitars, keyboards, vocals, bass, mellotron, synths, Solina strings
Ed Warby - drums
Jens Johansson - keyboards
Erik Norlander - keyboards
Gary Wehrkamp - guitar solos

Russell Allen - vocals
Damian Wilson - vocals
Dan Swanö - vocals
Floor Jansen - vocals
Robert Soeterboek - backing vocals

Discography:
Ayreon - The Final Experiment (1995)
Ayreon - Actual Fantasy (1996)
Ayreon - Into The Electric Castle (1998)
Ayreon - The Univeral Migrator Part 1: The Dream Sequencer (2000)
Ayreon - The Universal Migrator Part 2: Flight Of The Migrator (2000)
Ayreon - Ayreonnauts Only
Ambeon - Fate Of A Dreamer (2001)
Arjen Anthony Lucassen's Star One - Space Metal (2002)
Arjen Anthony Lucassen's Star One - Live On Earth (2003)
Ayreon - The Human Equation (2004)
Ayreon - Actual Fantasy Revisited (2004)
Ayreon - The Final Experiment - Special Edition (2005)
Ayreon - 01011001 (2008)
Arjen Lucassen's Guilt Machine - Arjen Lucassen's Guilt Machine (2009)
Arjen Anthony Lucassen's Star One - Victims Of The Modern Age (2010)
Arjen Anthony Lucassen - Lost In The New Real (2012)

Genre: Progressive-Power Metal

Origin VA

Added: July 16th 2002
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Score:
Artist website: www.ayreon.com/starone/so_index.html
Hits: 404
Language: english

  

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