The modern hero of the progressive rock concept album (that’d be Arjen Lucassen for those not aware) is back with a new project called Guilt Machine and this time, it doesn’t take place in space! I think he’s making steps forward, frankly, because I’ve had some previous experience with Arjen Lucassen. I was never a fan of Star One or Ayreon, despite the fact that many fans of both seem to have objected to many of my critiques. I’m a fan of concept albums, but I’m also a fan of consistent vocals, good melodies and non-embarrassing lyrics: things that do not describe Mr. Lucassen’s past work, in my opinion. Fortunately for the progressive rock/metal world, he’s made up for this with the highly excellent Guilt Machine.
On This Perfect Day is an excellent experience from the first moments all the way to the end. It’s the perfect blending of pop rock, modern prog rock (think In Absentia era Porcupine Tree) with just enough metal to make you not feel like a total wuss while you’re listening to it (though I suspect it will not appeal to hardcore Ravage fans). The songs are very long, and despite repetition, they do not drag on too long (even going on for 10 to 11 minutes at a time sometimes). In fact, the tracks tend to build and build, layering excellent melodies and harmonies into complex puzzles which dig their way into your brain and leave you humming them for hours after the last note has played.
It is not, however, the song writing that really makes this album. As I’ve written hundreds of times before, it is the vocalist that really makes or breaks a progressive band and Guilt Machine is the perfect example. Jasper Steverlinck, a Belgian singer, performs vocals on this album that should be ranked among the finest vocal performances in the history of progressive rock in my book. His voice is crystal clear, he has beautiful range, excellent English pronunciation (those of you who listen to Eurometal should know why this matters) and an emotional range that is certainly lost on a lot of progressive vocalists. But the thing about him is that he goes between sounding like Steven Wilson and Freddie Mercury which is absolutely perfect for this album goes between sounding like progressive rock/metal and sounding like the sort of prog/post-rock sound of Porcupine Tree. In essence, Jasper’s vocals are the glue that hold together this well-crafted album and turn it from pretty good to excellent. His dynamic, beautiful voice shines into every crack of this album and polishes it to a gleam.
I think the only thing that I could possibly complain about this album is that sometimes it feel like it lacks a little bit of the progressive prowess that I’d like from the band. While the music is quite interesting and the guitar work and solos (like the leads in Twisted Coil) are precise, perfect and haunting–reminiscent of the style of Jar of Flies-era Cantrell–the band never gets into very weird progressive stuff that really makes you think. That said, it’s almost entirely not necessarily and it’s a small gripe. Guilt Machine is easily the finest release that I’ve heard from Arjen Lucassen and I really hope that he runs with this project and can keep all the pieces in place, because this amazing album deserves an even better follow-up.