Star One – one of Arjen Lucassen’s projects – was a reaction to the ambient and softer project Ambeon that he had delivered a year earlier. The album Space Metal (2002) was released at the right moment: the Ayreon-albums were getting a bit softer and more complicated due to the – if I may say so – ‘overkill’ of a number of fantastic vocalists. So Star One brought Arjen Lucassen back to his heavy roots again: fewer vocalists, more straightforward songs and a sound that was a joy for my ears. After just one album, I didn’t think Arjen would come up with a successor, because he was already involved in other projects like Stream Of Passion and Guilt Machine and next to these bands, he kept on writing and recording for Ayreon. Too bad, I thought, because I really liked the more back-to-basic structures of songs telling their own stories and the heaviness of Star One. So, when I read in an interview somewhere at the end of 2009 that Arjen’s next project might be a new Star One-album, I was thrilled and anxious to hear what that album was going to sound like.
After the eight years that went by, Arjen managed to join forces again with the lead vocalists of the Space Metal-album: Damian Wilson (Threshold, Headspace, ex-Landmarq), Russell Allen (Symphony X), Floor Jansen (ReVamp, ex- After Forever) and Dan Swanö (Nightingale, ex- Edge Of Sanity). As far as the instrumentalists are concerned, you might say that Arjen’s ‘homies’ have returned to give some great performances. Ed Warby, band mate for a long time plays the drums again, while the bass guitar is in the reliable hands of Peter Vink, also a long time member. For the guitar and keyboards Arjen chose familiar names belonging to the ‘Ayreon-clan’ as well: Joost van den Broek provided the album with some fantastic keyboard solos and Gary Wehrkamp (Shadow Gallery) plays some of his most impressive guitar parts on this album. However, does the new Star One-album come up to my expectations? Well, the answer is unconditionally yes!
Compared to Space Metal the new album Victims Of The Modern Age is more guitar-oriented, darker, definitely heavier and less spacey. The album opens with the intro Down The Rabbit Hole, a short instrumental piece on keyboards, still spacey and building up to the first real song Digital Rain. Yes! The heavy guitars on top of the solid bass and drums, the soaring keyboards in the background combined with the fantastic voices are all exactly what I was hoping for. When Damian Wilson starts to sing in Earth That Was, it could have been a Threshold-song, but the other vocalists give this piece a twist in another direction. It’s heavy and recognizable as one of Arjen’s compositions. There’s great interaction between the keyboard and guitar solos here, a perfectly placed softer part that leads towards a nice and heavy end. The title track starts with a futuristic keyboard sound that continues in the background during the entire song. The combination of voices supported by Floor Jansen in the background, give this song a stunning sound. A thumping bass and soaring Hammond lead to Human See, Human Do, the next highlight of the album. Dan Swanö’s grunts, Floor’s angelic voice and the eastern sounding keyboards give you the feeling to end up in an episode of a science fiction series. 24 Hours contains tranquil guitar work and smooth vocals changing to a heavy part and then calm down towards the end. The mid-tempo cracker Cassandra Complex has emotional vocals, omnipresent keyboards over the heavy basis leading to a short guitar outburst by Gary Wehrkamp. The choruses even have a potential to release it as a single. First part of It’s Alive, She’s Alive, We’re Alive, almost sounds like Rammstein, but the varied vocals lead in another direction. Fine keyboards and a howling Hammond are the icing on the cake here. An almost ten-minute long epic closes this imposing album. It All Ends Here slowly builds on a heavy drum and bass foundation with outstanding guitar play. The diversity of the vocalists makes this the highlight of the album. Just listen to the emotional guitar solo…
On Star One’s second album not only Arjen Lucassen exceeded himself, but also the vocalists gave one of their best performances. The album surely sounds heavy but transparent. All instruments are separately audible. Victims Of The Modern Age is an exiting project of one of the greatest composers in the heavy progressive rock world nowadays.
****+ Pedro Bekkers (edited By Peter Willemsen)
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