With a career spanning more than three decades, composer and multi-instrumentalist Arjen Lucassen has firmly established himself worldwide as driving force in progressive rock. While best known for his rock opera project Ayreon, the multi-talented Dutchman also regularly embarks on musical side projects such as Ambeon, Guilt Machine and Star One.
Arjen’s side projects all explore different aspects of his musical personality, with each new release being a creative reaction to the style of its predecessor. Star One is no exception.
Space Metal (2002)
The first Star One album, Space Metal (2002) was Arjen’s reaction to his previous project, the relatively soft Ambeon.
After releasing the first few Ayreon albums, Arjen had noticed that many others were following in his footsteps and releasing their own rock operas. Upon listening to these, his impression was that “on some of these operas the singers sound the same, and so you need the CD booklet to tell them apart.” To ensure that didn’t happen on ‘Space Metal’, Arjen cast a line-up of singers with distinct voices, singers whom listeners could easily tell apart without the help of the CD booklet. Dan Swanö (ex-Edge of Sanity, Nightingale) was recruited for the the low parts, Russell Allen (Symphony X) took care of the powerful, gritty parts, Damian Wilson (ex-Threshold) sang the high clear parts, and to top it off, Floor Jansen (After Forever) belted out the really high choruses. Robert Soeterboek (Ayreon) took care of the backing vocals with his huge smoky voice.
So with all these singers, why not just call Space Metal an Ayreon album and be done with it? Ayreon is known for combining many different musical styles on one album. Star One highlights the heavy side of Arjen’s music, and the songs — while progressive — are still more straightforward and guitar-oriented than you would find on an Ayreon release. Thus, Arjen felt that a new project was warranted. The name Star One is based on an episode of Arjen’s favorite science fiction TV series called ‘Blakes 7’.
Space Metal doesn’t rely on a continuous story or rock opera format like the Ayreon albums, it’s more of a “concept album” where each song is based on a particular film (or TV series). As Arjen puts it: “I based the songs on films that take place entirely in space. It’s really hard to write a song based on a film and then not use names or make the references to the original too clear. I really wanted to write about my impressions of the films and not just tell the same story over again. ” Space Metal takes the listener on a journey through Arjen’s mind and memory in which they can relive the great science fiction space films that made such an impact on him.
Victims of the Modern age (2010)
The background for Arjen’s next Star One release, “Victims of the Modern Age,” (2010) is similar to the situation that led up to the Star One debut album, “Space Metal” (2002). In 2009 Arjen had launched a new side project, Guilt Machine. Like Ambeon, Guilt Machine’s debut release (On this Perfect Day) was relatively relaxed and subtle. So Arjen’s muses responded by urging him to record something loud, heavy and anything but subtle for his next release. Thus it was a perfect opportunity to revisit his Star One project.
Arjen strives to keep a consistent cast of vocalists for Star One rather than mixing it up with the ever-changing vocal line-up that characterizes Ayreon. For “Victims of the Modern Age” he reunited the stellar cast of lead vocalists from Space Metal: Russell Allen (Symphony X), Damian Wilson (Headspace, Threshold), Floor Jansen (ReVamp, ex-After Forever), and Dan Swanö (Nightingale, Second Sky, ex-Edge Of Sanity). Ranging from soaring power vocals to hauntingly melodic passages to brutal growls, the contrasting vocal styles of these magnificent vocalists provide each song with a stunning variety of vocal textures.
When it comes to instruments, the tall Dutchman played the rhythm guitars, Hammond organ, Mellotron, Solina strings and analog synths himself, and invited drummer Ed Warby (Ayreon, Hail of Bullets, Gorefest) and bassist Peter Vink to lay down the powerful rhythm tracks. He also enlisted the intimidating solo skills of former After Forever keyboardist Joost van den Broek and guitarist Gary Wehrkamp (Shadow Gallery), each of whom provide their trademark scorching solos.
On top of this formidable cast, Arjen recruited three other singers — Mike Andersson (Cloudscape, Full Force, Silent Memorial), Rodney Blaze, and former Black Sabbath front man Tony Martin — for some additional tracks to be featured on the album’s CD2 (Special Edition only). These tracks are by no means just leftover “bonus” tracks; they are, as Arjen puts it, “songs that didn’t fit in with the overall sound and concept of ‘Victims of the Modern Age,’ but were simply too good not to use. These songs also gave me the chance to work with other fantastic vocalists who aren’t part of the actual Star One line-up.”
While Star One is not technically a rock opera like Ayreon, it is still very much a concept album. Rather than following continuous storyline, each song is based on a different sci-fi film and tells its own story. Arjen describes the concept of “Victims Of The Modern Age” as follows: “I based the songs on dystopian and post-apocalyptic sci-fi movies that have made an impression on me throughout my life. Unlike the first Star One album ‘Space Metal,’ where all the songs were set in space, this time most of the songs take place right here on Earth. No, I’m not going to tell you which movies inspired the tracks — that would spoil all the fun! And I do hope that the dark subject matter won’t keep people from enjoying this journey through time to some of the more grim possible outcomes for humanity’s future.”
Compared to 2002’s “Space Metal,” the overall sound of “Victims Of The Modern Age” is darker, heavier, more guitar-oriented, and slightly less “spacey.” Arjen has also raised the bar significantly when it comes to the album’s sound: “I think it’s my best sounding album to date; it’s a huge difference compared to the first Star One. For the guitars I spent weeks experimenting with different amps and settings in every combination imaginable — and it was worth it. The drums sound fantastic, and the vocalists all outdid themselves, putting in even stronger performances than they did the first time around.”
“Victims of the Modern Age” is available in two editions:
Limited Edition first pressing 2-CD Mediabook: CD1 contains the 8 album tracks, CD2 contains 5 extra tracks plus a behind the scenes video documenting the making of the album.
Regular Edition 1-CD jewel case: 8 album tracks
Release dates: 25 October 2010 (USA), 29 October 2010 (G.A.S), 1 November 2010 (Europe)
Label/distribution: InsideOut Music/Century Media
Signed copies are available exclusively through the ArjenLucassen Webshop.
For further information about Star One releases, see Star One on Discogs.com