Arjen Lucassen’s Star One – Revel In Time (Album Review)

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Chances are significantly better than not, if you are reading this, you are some form of Ayreonaut, or a fan of the works of Dutch prog rock mastermind Arjen Anthony Lucassen, and his flagship Ayreon project. While self-professed tall skinny hippie Arjen has a hand in many works, such as Gentle Storm, Stream of Passion, and Guilt Machine, it is his Ayreon projects, almost always complex double-LP narrative-driven presentations, which remain his most noteworthy claim to fame.

Arguably, the runner-up after Ayreon would be the Star One project, a more streamlined presentation of the high-energy prog-metal side of Ayreon. To date, there have been two albums, both single disc: 2002’s “Space Metal” and 2010’s “Victims of the Modern Age.” A shameless cinephile, Arjen uses Star One as an outlet to express his thoughts and feelings on his favorite films, usually in some sci-fi or fantasy vein. Where “Space Metal” explored (where no man has gone before) films of the stars, ranging from Star Gates to Star Wars, “Victims” was a bit more terrestrial, delving into dystopian and futuristic themes such as Blade Runner and Gattaca. Perhaps feeling it’s been too much… time since the last Star One release, Arjen brings us a time-travel themed album, this one entitled “Revel In Time.”

Where previous albums seemed to utilize a core cluster (star cluster?) of talented individuals such as “Sir” Russell Allen and the inimitable Floor Jansen, often the same group taking turns and shared harmonies on all tracks, Arjen has opened up this particular bottle to let it breathe a little more. The cast is more diverse, and individual vocalists tend to have songs where they lead or stand alone. There are also plenty of guest musician spots, which is always welcome if they are utilized to their fullest.

The first track, “Fate of Man,” opens up fast and heavy, in truest distillation of the elements we loved on the second volume of the Universal Migrator saga. Brittney Slayes of Canadian metal act Unleash the Archers brings a fresh vocal sound to the Star One universe to set the stage for this song about the Terminator films. This required little guess-work, as the official YouTube music video is presented in T-800 murder-vision. The one and only Michael Romeo of solo and Symphony X blazes a trail with great guitar leads just like he did on the second Migrator album so long ago. As a whole, between the traditional Ayreon metal keyboards, the brutal Ed Warby drums, and the overall headbanging presentation, “Fate of Man” is a badass song. If it demands your clothes, your boots, and/or your motorcycle, choose your words carefully.

The next track, “28 Days,” does a convincing job using lyrics, delivered by fellow Symphony X alumnus Russell Allen, to tell the convoluted tale of 2001’s Donnie Darko. While the words do not delve into the confusion of jet engines, time tunnels, and bunny suits, the dark, sludgy bass and guitar in minor key quite adequately convey the last 28 days of the eponymous Donnie’s very strange life. Blessedly, Russell is in fully-expressive prog mode, and not Adrenaline Mode, because the song necessitates every ounce of his old school prog metal chops to convey the mood properly, and he carries it off with aplomb. The third track, “Prescient,” after opening with a semi-Celtic melody in the traditional Ayreon synth tone, becomes a telling of the film Primer, with the two main characters, Abe and Aaron, portrayed masterfully by Michael Mills (Toehider) and Ross Jennings (Haken). On a record where most tracks are led by a single vocalist (primarily for reasons of world travel logistics over the last year), the duet elements of this track are every bit the equal with anything we heard on “Human Equation.” There are so many layers of acapella parts by Mills and Ross that the song is a marvel by the time it is done.

Speaking of marvels, we are fortunate to be treated to Jeff Scott Soto leading vocals on the next track, along with fellow Son of Apollo Bumblefoot handling guitar leads. The song, “Back from the Past,” is going, you guessed it, back to the future. Well, to 1985 anyway. The track can get surprisingly heavy at times, warning young Master McFly in no uncertain terms that a certain DeLorean must cross the line at 10:04 PM. And not a second before. There is not much to say about this track, other than it’s a great arrangement, and the musicianship of Soto and Bumblefoot just speaks for itself. What you see is what you get.

There are most definitely some strange happenings afoot at the Circle K as Arjen takes Bill S. Preston, esq., and Ted “Theodore” Logan on excellent adventures in the title track, “Revel in Time.” The fun-filled lyrics of kidnapping through the ages are handled quite well by Crobot’s executive Ratfink himself, Brandon Yeagley. While it may be a wasted opportunity that Arjen has Steve Vai on speed-dial and actually did not utilize his talents on something related to Bill and Ted, the oversight can be forgiven since leads are handled by fellow Whitesnake alum Adrian Vandenberg. Like the prior BttF-themed track, this song is surprisingly heavy, in a drop tuning with wicked-sludgy parts reminiscent of a certain “Judgment Day” which Adrian and Vai may recall quite well. Bonus points must also be awarded for the amusing music video featuring everyone from Abe Lincoln to Mindmaze frontlady Sarah Teets. Thankfully travel logistics did not prevent Brandon, Arjen, and Adrian from also appearing in the video.

Just when it was starting to seem like the album could not be any more studded with stars, we have Joe Lynn Turner lending his legendary (and still quite strong) vocal talents to the song “41,” a reference to Final Countdown, a film where the crew of the U.S.S. Nimitz finds itself in 1941 with the slim chance of preventing the events at Pearl Harbor. Speaking of infamy, Turner is joined by fellow Yngwie survivor Jens Johannson, along with Joel Hoekstra of present Whitesnake greatness. One thing that must be appreciated about world-class musicians is how easily they can be combined in new combinations and just sound incredible, as is the case here. The overall sound of the track is as good as anything we have ever heard from the Ayreon Universe, and the musicianship is frankly exceptional. “41” is a real standout of the album.

Bridge of Life” changes the pace a bit, with a nice tribute to the film Frequency, a tale of a son receiving a miracle in the form of a radio allowing him to speak to his deceased father in the past, and perhaps change that fate, through the efforts of both across the years. Longtime fan-favorite Damian Wilson tells the tale in his unmistakable voice, and the guitar and keyboard harmonies make for a great arrangement, particularly when Marcela Bovio and Irene Jansen lend their supporting vocals. Not only are they also longtime favorites of the Ayreon universe, but they lend backing vocals to a number of tracks across the album with great effect.

If you thought it was impossible to make a heavy thrashing metal track about a groundhog, Arjen Lucassen has now set you straight. “Today is Yesterday,” as you may have already guessed, is an ode to Bill Murray’s “immortal” role in the cult hit Groundhog Day. While it may not feature Ned Ryerson (Phil? Phil Connors???), it does have Dan “The Man” Swanö providing some humorously evil lead vocals. The track makes such a mockery of Phil’s suffering, that we like to believe it would get a nod of approval from Harold Ramis.

Naturally, no Star One recording would be complete without the singular voice of Floor Jansen, and “A Hand on the Clock” utilizes her talents well. This retelling of 2011’s Source Code is a tale of counter-terrorism via time-travel loops, and the downward bends on both guitars and keyboards do an exceptional job making one feel the ups and the downs, the to and the fro, as if time is speeding up and slowing down, without ever once touching the tempo. Dutch keyboard wizard Joost van den Broek provides a blistering Hammond solo right out of the feels of Jon Lord.

John Jaycee Cuijpers (Praying Mantis) has worked with Arjen in the past, but now takes the lead vocal spot on “Beyond The Edge Of It All,” an interpretation of cult UK sci-fi serial “Sapphire and Steel.” Seeming to be a melted ham-and-cheese fusion of X-Files and Dr. Who elements, the plot elements make for good Star One lyrical content, and we are even treated to an Arjen Lucassen guitar solo, and we can never get enough of his distinctive tremolo style. The album closes with a tribute to the megahit film “Interstellar,” with the track “Lost Children of the Universe.” The single best thing of this track may be the performance by Kamelot and Conception vocalist Roy Khan. Ed Warby’s thundering toms make a great counterpoint with the Hammond-esque keys, and especially with the foreboding Latin vocals of the choir. Halfway through the track, there is sort of an eerie stillness to things, and into it steps Steve Vai himself, to deliver a beautiful guitar lead section, through key changes and even layered harmonized parts. While it does feature plenty of “stunt guitar” as Frank used to call it, the soulful gentle melodies are what really serve to deliver this track to greatness.

When all the Latin chanting, and all the “Passion and Warfare” are said and done, what is there to make of this whole album? In one word, it’s great. For not being an actual Ayreon album, this may be Arjen’s best Ayreon album since “Human Equation.” While albums like “01011001” and “Theory of Everything” certainly have songs which are every bit the compositional equal with tracks on this album, this single-disc album is great from beginning to end, without any rising or falling action. The reason we are drawing Ayreon comparisons and not Star One comparisons is simple; it would not be fair otherwise. This seems to be the best, most diverse, and best produced of the Star One albums, to the point where it becomes plausible to measure it against the ostensibly more-serious Ayreon offerings. Strange times indeed when the most recent Ayreon album was not only unconventional, but lackluster in several areas, and yet the most recent Star One album can safely be considered essential listening for every Ayreonaut.

Whatever our friends in the Netherlands have been forcing Arjen to eat, or drink (or smoke?), please keep doing it, because this is exactly the Arjen we have been missing. The songwriting is solid, the composition is big and loud, and absolutely bursting with energy. The utilization of talent is some of the best we have seen since “Electric Castle,” and quite frankly, we cannot wait for more. This album hits the streets on the 18th of February, and you should buy it. Whether you are a longtime fan or not. If you like rock and metal, especially the kind for the thinking listener, you cannot go wrong with “Revel In Time.”

Released By: Inside Out Music
Release Date: February 18th, 2022
Genre: Progressive Rock / Progressive Metal

Musicians:

  •  Arjen Lucassen / guitars, bass, keyboards

Guest Musicians: 

  • Brittney Slayes / vocals (1)
  • Joe Lynn Turner / vocals (6)
  • Floor Jansen / vocals (9)
  • Roy Khan / vocals (11)
  • Marcela Bovio / backing vocals, vocals (2-1)
  • Irene Jansen / backing vocals, vocals (2-9)
  • Tony Martin / vocals (2-11)
  • Mike Andersson / vocals
  • Joost van den Broek / Hammond
  • Lisa Bella Donna / Moog (8)
  •  Ed Warby / drums
  • Erik van Ittersum / Solina Strings
  • Steve Vai / guitar solo (11)
  • Timo Somers / guitar solo (2)
  • Michael Romeo / guitar solo (1)
  • Ron Bumblefoot Thal / guitar solo (4)
  • Hellscore Choir / vocals

“Revel In Time” track listing:

  1. Fate of Man
  2.  28 Days (Till the End of Time)
  3. Prescient
  4. Back from the Past
  5. Revel in Time
  6. The Year of ’41
  7. Bridge of Life
  8. Today is Yesterday
  9. A Hand on the Clock
  10. Beyond the Edge of it All
  11. Lost Children of the Universe

9.3 Excellent

Not only is Arjen Lucassen of Ayreon fame back, but he is already gunning for album of the year with his newest Star One release, Revel In Time. Big energy, lots of heavy parts throughout, and a huge cast of incredible talent. The latest release from Star One is, quite simply, one of the best releases we have seen from Arjen in years, and it packs a hell of a punch in a single-disc package.

  • Songwriting 9.5
  • Musicianship 9
  • Originality 9
  • Production 9.5
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