Star One // Victims of the Modern Age
Rating: 4.0/5.0 —Less Jar-Jar, more Klingon
Label: Insideout Music
Websites: arjenlucassen.com | myspace.com/ayreonauts
Release Dates: EU: 01.11.2010 | US: 10.25.2010
Arjen Lucassen, I may have misjudged you. You see, Mr. Lucassen and his projects tend to invoke very different reactions depending on which segment of the Angry Metal demographic one asks. To some, his celebrity studded prog-rock and metal projects with Ayreon and Star One are overblown, self-indulgent, pretentious and worthy of scorn and ruthless mockery (I’ve heard “Gayreon” tossed around more than a little). Others will tell you the man is a musical genius and crafts some of the most adventurous progressive metal out there today. Yours truly was firmly rooted in the former camp (as is AMG, admit it!!) but I’ll concede that parts of Star One’s first album Space Metal ended up being a guilty pleasure despite the cheesy and lightweight “sci-fi metal” concept and sound [Whereas, I reviewed it back in the day on Unchain the Underground and thought it was self-indulgent shit. – AMG]. Well, I’m mighty shocked at the direction Mr. Lucassen has opted to take album number two, Victims of the Modern Age. This is a far FAR heavier, more metallic album, taking the basic foundation of Star One and toughening it up in every way. This is so metallic and straight forward that it sounds nothing like any of Mr. Lucassen’s other works.
After a short intro, “Digital Rain” sets the mood with heavy, crunching guitars alongside keyboards and dueling vocals by the amazing Russell Allen (Symphony X, Avantasia) and Damian Wilson (Threshold, Headspace). While the typical Ayreon keyboard fetish is firmly in place, the heavy guitars keep them from making things sound too cheesy and the result sounds a lot like Anubis Gate or the heavier Threshold material. The best part is, the song smokes and is a rare example of prog-metal that goes heavy enough on the metal to appeal to those outside of the Dream Theater fanboy circles.
Happily, all eight tracks maintain this heavy, guitar driven approach and the overall mood is very dark, somber and serious (no songs about whales in space this time).Â Mr. Lucassen has written some excellent songs and allowed vocal masters like Allen, Wilson and also Floor Jansen (ReVamp, After Forever) and Dan Swano (Edge of Sanity, Bloodbath) to ply their skills in a way that makes every song resonate with power and metallic grace. While all the above perform excellently, Allen steals the show time and time again with his epic, powerhouse pipes. This guy could sing a Dr. Seuss book and sound tough as nails and deadly serious. His presence regularly elevates this material to an even higher level. Even further removing Victims of the Modern Age from the standard Lucassen style, Dan Swano brings his excellent death metal gurgle to several tracks with great effect (title track and “Human See, Human Do”).
Everything works here from the musicianship to production and every song is a real success. Although there’s enough technical wankery to please prog fans, every song is direct, immediate and accessible. That’s quite a songwriting accomplishment. This is a relatively short album at eight songs and just over fifty minutes but there is a second CD included in the “special edition” release which contains five extra tracks. Sadly, the bonus CD was not available in time for review (apparently it features additional vocalists including Tony Martin).
In a time when even Metal God Rob Halford forgot to keep things metal, Victims is a very pleasant surprise and really made me reassess my opinion of Mr. Lucassen’s abilities. If you’ve written off Ayreon and Star One as indulgent and pompous fluff like I did, do yourself a favor and check this out anyway. This shouldn’t be missed and these guys are a guilty pleasure no more. Way to go Arjen. Now go metal up Ayreon too! [I concur. – AMG]