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Although he is surely best known for his epic prog operas under the penname Ayreon, Arjen Lucassen is a man of many, many, many projects. Apart from his flagship project, he has pursued atmospheric prog metal with Guilt Machine and Ambeon, heavy 'space' metal with Star One, and symphonic metal with Stream of Passion, and even then, that doesn't encompass all of the things he has led or been involved with. Although it might seem redundant for Arjen to make a 'solo' album when he already has total creative control over many of his projects, there is a certain liberty here that would not have lent itself to established works. Like Porcupine Tree's Steven Wilson did last year with "Grace for Drowning", calling "Lost in the New Real" a solo record alleviates many of the preconceptions folks would have had with another Ayreon record. For anyone who had their doubts about it, Arjen's latest creation is a celebration of his distinctive sound, and labels regardless, we have another vast progressive concept album to sink our ears into, courtesy of one of Holland's finest.
Being that Arjen penned this album under his own name, it's actually surprising to hear how closely "Lost in the New Real" resembles an Ayreon album. Compared to "01011001" or "The Human Equation", things are perhaps a little more melodic and accessible this time around, but Arjen retains that infectious sense of progressive sub-genre bending quirk that defines much of his work. Any existing Ayreon fans certainly won't be surprised to hear a sudden folk interlude propped up in the middle of an electronic metal fusion, or whimsical 60's psychedelia contrasted with crunchy metal riffs and the occasional death growl. This is simply (or not simply) Arjen's way of doing things. It's the fact that the styles are all fused together so effortlessly that makes the art brilliant, and it's really no different on "Lost in the New Real". The album's teaser trailer brought light to this fact as well; suffice to say, there's no sense of boredom on either of these discs, although it does help to be open to a wide variety of progressive styles. Metalheads should be prepared for gratuitous amounts of prog, and vice versa, although for any fan of Ayreon, this will be no surprise!
Like several of Arjen's past works, "Lost in the New Real" is a double album, although unlike the Ayreon operas, the discs may be seen as separate journeys in their own right. The first disc is a conceptual piece observing many of the same sci-fi themes and topics as his earlier work. The second disc also has original material, but it is interspersed with covers from some of the classic bands that influenced him. Obviously, the first disc is the one that will sway most of the listener's attention and appreciation, although the latter half of the album is more than mere bonus material. Even the covers carry many of the same themes of technology and isolation, so even though the album-proper may end with the progressive, ten minute monster that closes the first disc, the concept never ends.
"Lost in the New Real" does not tell a story so much as explore a number of topics through a scenario. In this case, a man (presumably Arjen himself) has been frozen in cryogenic stasis, and awoken in the future, to a world he can no longer identify with. Each of the songs that follow explore a different part of this dystopic future reality. Every limit of artistry has been exploited ("Pink Beatles in a Purple Zeppelin"), there is state-instituted population control ("Parental Procreation Permit"), people can live to gloriously old ages ("When I'm a Hundred Sixty-Four") but would prefer to die ("Dr. Slumber's Eternity Home"). It's this sort of irony that makes Arjen's vision of a future so interesting. It's a very familiar vision for science fiction, but it's made compelling by a sense of tongue-in-cheek playfulness. Even when he's singing about the submission of the human spirit to soulless technology, the lyrics are rarely somber and the music never depressing.
At long last, "Lost in the New Real" offers an album where we get to hear Lucassen's signature sound of epic metal fronted by his own voice. He has long been very modest about his voice in interviews, usually preferring to outsource vocal duties to some of the genre's finest- Bruce Dickinson, Hansi Kursch, and Devin Townsend have all sung on Arjen's records at one point. Though he has collaborated with some of the best singers the metal genre has ever seen, there was something undeniably sincere and warm about his scarce performances on the Ayreon records that always made me think he should put more of a confidence and focus on his vocals. Although backing vocalist Wilmer Waarbroek offers some operatic touches to the background, Arjen assumes all lead vocal responsibilities. His voice is very melodic, warm, and without any overt sense of technical wizardry to it. His voice befits the psychedelic style best; even when he's singing in a more metal-edged style, there's something about his voice that betrays a 1960's charm, and given that many of the tunes here are of a more melodic persuasion than Ayreon, it meshes very well.
The first disc is varied, yet wholesome and consistent. Rutger Hauer's (of Blade Runner fame) gravelly narration becomes dry after a couple of spins, but the album-proper is a progressive marvel. The first and last "New Real" tracks are some of the finest compositions Arjen has ever done, fusing dark, spacey ambient music with grandiose metal orchestration and a meticulous attention to the way different instruments are used. "Pink Beatles in a Purple Zeppelin" and "Where Pigs Fly" are also particular winners, each sporting some humorous and thought-provoking lyrical ideas. "Dr. Slumber's Eternity Home" and "Yellowstone Memorial Day" are a little less memorable than the rest, but there is never a sense of the album's flow getting hurt or broken as a result. "Lost in the New Real" is slightly less bombastic than the over-the-top Ayreon approach, and it certainly translates well here. It's the most interesting conceptual idea Arjen has had for an album since 2003's "The Human Equation", and it's clever enough to spark topics for debate, without ever offering a clear solution to the problems.
The second disc- as you may expect- is less impressive than the first. Although there are originals tunes here as well, the latter half of the album is defined by the covers. In terms of the originals, they are generally less spectacular than the tracks off the first disc, still enjoying the same degree of meticulous sound production, but in want for the same cleverness. I never thought I would say it, but the covers are far superior to any of the originals on the second disc. I say this not necessarily because Arjen has chosen tunes from some of progressive rock's greatest icons, but because he often manages to achieve the impossible- taking a classic song, rearranging it to his own style, and sometimes making it even better than the source material. Case and point, Pink Floyd's "Welcome to the Machine" is bastardized into a spacey prog metal rancor beast. There are still the same vocal melodies, but Arjen has fused it with his own riffs. The other covers here are a little more true-to-form, but just as impressive. Blue Oyster Cult's "Veteran of the Psychic Wars" and The Alan Parsons Project's "Some Other Time" are given new life here, given the same care and attention Arjen would give his own songs, to the point where I might possibly enjoy Arjen's version more. Of course, Led Zeppelin's version of "The Battle of Evermore" remains unconquered, but Arjen can't be held to fault for that! The second disc wraps up with Zappa's "I'm the Slime", and for better or worse, it sounds almost identical to the original. I may have preferred to have heard Arjen take Zappa's vision in a new and exciting way, but there's no harm done in the straightforward way Lucassen and co. have paid tribute.
It's an hour and a half journey, and it's one I think most fans of Ayreon will be thrilled by. Although the covers are a great way to hear Arjen playing something that's not directed by his own, familiar vision, it would have been interesting to hear him go someplace with this solo project that was different than what he's already done with Ayreon and Star One. For better or worse, this is another dose of Arjen Anthony Lucassen doing what he does. It's great, emotional and progressive music, and it enjoys some of the finest production you're bound to hear this side of the Alpha Quadrant. With the announcement of a new Ayreon album slated for a possible 2013 release, we may have to wait a while before we hear from Arjen's solo project again. In any case, "Lost in the New Real" may not revolutionize Arjen's style, but it's excellent, excellent stuff. For thought provoking, memorable progressive metal, you need look no further.
Arjen Lucassen is best known for his work in the metal band Ayreon, quite arguably some of the best progressive metal out there today. Using his name as a solo project, Arjen has only released one other full length album back in 1994 that I’ve never even had the opportunity to hear. This release, “Lost in the New Real” was something completely out of left field that I was not expecting. Arjen seems to have gotten rid of most metal elements in his music and is heading towards a more progressive rock sound. Picture Pink Floyd with slightly more distortion and prominent keyboards and you will have a slight idea of what this record is about.
It was a bit of a shock at first as I was expecting a little bit more of the heavier side of prog-rock, but alas, I was deceived. Now don’t get me wrong here, this isn’t completely a bad thing, I just feel like his fan base will either become much smaller, or he may have fared to become more radio friendly on local classic rock stations. The music is very catchy and moving, and as a lot of prog-rock is, written into a concept album. A decent story, plus a few cover songs mixed in here and there make this is a decent release. However this seems to be more like two CDs of background music in contrast to his attention demanding work in Ayreon.
Arjen Lucassen has an amazingly beautiful voice, and if you’re reading this without the slightest clue of who he is, I recommend you listen to this album. Even if, at the very least, it is just to hear such a life changing sound that is this Mr. L’s pipes. But be fare warned Ayreon fans, this is probably nothing like you’re expecting. “Pink Beatles in a Purple Zeppelin” seems like a slight tribute song to inspirational bands The Beatles and Led Zeppelin, since even without the lyrics or song title it sounds like an interesting blend of both bands with an Arjen Lucassen twist. “The Social Recluse” has some great lyrics and a catchy chorus I think many people will be able to relate with and enjoy. Then of course, you have the cover songs - Pink Floyd, Blue Oyster Cult, Led Zeppelin, Frank Zappa, and the Alan Parsons Project – that are so well-done and very fun to listen to.
Of all songs I wish weren’t recorded on this set is “When I’m A Hundred Sixty-Four”. It just seems a little stale and lazy, as there isn’t much to it and the lyrics are kind of boring. I love the music involved in the song, though it sounds like something that should be on the newest Rascall Flatts CD, it’s got a great hook and tone into it. The song is about the main character of the story, Mr. L, thinking about the future and if he will be alive, remembered, or at all relevant. But ultimately, it bores me and I wish there would have been more done with the guitar or violin work.
The album is a little too slow for my enjoyment. I do love myself a bit of prog-rock but this just isn’t all that I’d hoped for from this man. I wish the whole album sounded like the track “Yellowstone Memorial Day” because then this review would be a 9/10. Unfortunately, it does not and I can’t see myself rating this album any higher than a 6/10, and only that high because the title track “Lost in the New Real” is 10 solid minutes of fantastic writing. So all in all, metal heads with a more narrow-minded taste, you may want to avoid this release. However, if you’re a fan of prog-rock or 60’s era rock n roll, you may thoroughly enjoy this album and if so more power to you!
[Originally written for Metalholic.com]
So Arjen is back with another massive double CD release. I was always a fan of his Ayreon work and Star One was excellent as well. This time around on his latest solo release Lost in the New Real we see Arjen taking more of a Progressive Rock route, and the Metal elements are definitely taking a back seat.
Right off the bat I can say that the market might be a little limited. Arjen’s style has always been a bit of an acquired taste, and listeners new to his work would be better suited to checking through the Ayreon back-catalogue. Arjen has a very unique style of song writing, which has always been worthy of praise, his work is the kind of work instantly identifiable as his own.
Lost in the New Real is another concept album, this time focusing on the character Mr L who Arjen takes the role of. The general plot is basically Mr L being awoken very far into the future and coming to terms with a new world. The theme rings somewhat as bittersweet, and comparisons can very easily be drawn to modern day. A disdain for modern music rings out particularly in “Pink Beatles in a Purple Zeppelin” and whilst it conforms to the storyline, I can’t help feel he does mean what he’s saying with the whole “every song has been done before” message. Obviously I can see that it’s trying to apply to the story canon, as it wouldn’t be too hard to imagine a future where every note has been played, however I must level a degree of criticism on a personal level, as I feel no matter what’s been done, with changes in technology new sounds will always arise; for better or for worse.
As I mentioned earlier, the album takes a Progressive Rock approach, and elements of 60’s rock such as The Beatles can be heard throughout the album. The hooks are well placed, and this is one of the catchier releases Arjen has created. The inclusion of Rutger Hauer narrating the album is an awesome touch, and really adds to the experience on the whole. As far as my personal palette goes, I definitely prefer Arjen’s more Progressive Metal oriented releases, hence tracks such as “Parental Procreation Permit” and “Yellowstone Memorial Day” are the ones I’ve found most enjoyable.
At two discs you definitely get a good wedge of bang for your buck on Lost in the New Real. The album is undoubtedly solid, but those who preferred the likes of 01011001 and Flight of the Migrator might not find as much to enjoy. Progressive Rock nuts would do well to pick this up though, with the second disc housing some ace covers, and the first disc featuring Arjen’s signature prog mastery. The bottom line here with “Lost in the New Real” is: A good album that previously established fans should buy without hesitation, but one those unfamiliar should explore after having acquainted themselves with some of the Ayreon work and ultimately not as strong as the last Star One release.
Originally written for
Years after his excellent yet criminally underrated solo album Pools of Sorrow, Waves of Joy and his most awesome cover album Strange Hobby, Dutch prog/metal superhero Arjen Lucassen delivers unto us a far more refined, contemplative, world-weary solo concept album. Heavily reminiscent of his renowned Ayreon project, but peppered with ideas and style from all his past works, and (almost) completely written and performed by the man himself.
Deviating from all his previous projects, LitNR is a whole new rock opera story, involving a cancer patient known only as Mr. L, cryogenically frozen and awakened in the far future, cured of his illness, but forced to deal with the 'new real' that the human race has adopted. Contemporary concerns, from music originality and piracy, overpopulation, the environment, and the line between reality and digital facade, are all touched on and contemplated as the oh-so subtly named Dr. Voigt-Kampff acts as his counselor and guide. Everything about this album's aesthetic is suffused with Arjen's sci-fi and music obsessed psyche, paying tribute to all the genres he's floated between in his music career, from metal to prog to folk to rock opera to space rock and back around again fifty times over, until finally closing on its 10-minute epic finale/reprise, bringing Mr. L's harrowing, haunting journey to a bittersweet close. This will sound ironic if you know Mr. L's ultimate fate, but this is probably the most heartfelt, emotional, human-feeling ending to any album he's done. The second disc is chock full of cool extra glimpses of this strange 'new real' future depicted in the album, along with one or two random originals and...god bless him...more of Arjen's awesome covers. Seriously, go look for Strange Hobby to see how well he remains faithful to the original songs he covers, yet still makes them all his own. (makes them all heavier too, which is a plus in my book)
If there is a criticism I could levy against LitNR, it's that the first disc, the rock opera, feels pretty short. compared to the 100-minute opuses within the Ayreon discography, the whole A side comes in at a lean 47 minutes. It's not a huge detriment, but hardcore Ayreonauts might be a little disappointed. The B side more than compensates though, delivering a total of 90 brand-spankin' new minutes of Mr. L's gold.
Arming himself with only a small group of backup players including longtime Ayreon drummer Ed Warby and freaking RUTGER HAUER as Dr. voigt-Kampff, Mr. L has created a truly original, personal, stripped-down (well, as stripped down as layer-upon-layer prog can get) album, showing the framework of musicality he brings to all his projects. Normally, said frame is gussied up with the best of the best in singers and instrumentalists, but with said few exceptions, this album is Arjen all the way, and it rocks.
In a world where almost everybody needs to constantly prove himself, there are a few who don’t. Arjen Lucassen is one of them. Yet he still does. Whether it was Vengeance or Ayreon, even under his own name he does it again.
Here we have a new concept album, how surprising. But it hasn’t got Ayreon written all over it. Nor is it an eccentric masterpiece like Genesis’ ‘Lamb Lies Down on Broadway’ despite the apparent sixties and seventies feel of the whole. This time we have a collection of sweet short pop orientated songs, often with a highly catchy radio friendly chorus. Only closing tune ‘Lost in the New Real’ exceeds the 10 minute mark.
But this is not a bad thing per say.
Compared to the eclectic and pretty dark last Ayreon album ‘01011001’ this new release, under his own name, is a rather happy one. In terms of music that is. Lyrically however it’s got technofear written all over it. Or for that matter fear in general. Lucassen’s releases are all filed with fear of the world, digital stress, fear of change and Lost In The New real is no exception.
There are only winners here. ‘The New Real’ and ‘Lost in the New Real’ are both rather gloomy tunes that still have the atmosphere of ‘01011001’ surrounding them however this time with mister Lucassen himself on lead vocals. And his lead vocals are what makes this album one cohesive entity no matter what direction the music takes us.
It’s the happy melodies on ‘Pink Beatles in a Purple Zeppelin’ and ‘Where Pigs Fly’ that show us how happy Lucassen can make his most depressing thoughts sound. In a way it’s always wondrous and admirable to see and hear how people can turn negativity into a feel-good composition. Also the creepy lyrics of ‘E - Police’ might get unnoticed it you only pay attention to the music and video. Arjen likes it cheesy and tongue-in-cheeck yet always delivers his personal messages of fear and social claustrophobia with finesse.
The whole point is that had other lyrics been added to the songs presented here, it could’ve been just another pretty cheesy poprock album that might go by unnoticed. Unjustly however, since his compositional skills are exceptional and so is Arjen’s ability to shape Pink Floyd, Beatles and Blue Oyster Cult influences into a modern sounding hip new album with a broad sound and choruses that are catchy in whatever era you grew up. Without the lyrics, this would just be a damn good pop rock album.
With the lyrics, the album surpasses most other contemporary pop rock artist and makes this a more personal album and gives us plenty to think about (‘Parental Procreation Permit’ is brilliant), fantasize (‘Don't Switch Me Off ’), laugh (‘Where Pigs Fly’) or fear (‘E - Police’)
Simply put: if you already like Arjen releases so far, this will be a refreshing addition to your collection since it shows yet another, more poppy, side of mr. Lucassen. For those not taking a liking to excessive long albums with elaborate structures, this’ll certainly entertain you with it’s quality through simplicity.
Here it is: Arjen's first solo album since 1993. Now that Mr. Lucassen has made quite a name for himself in the musical community, there's no way that this could be a "flop" like Pools of Sorrow, Waves of Joy (although I personally loved that album).
And Arjen sure doesn't disappoint. From the moment you hear Voight Kampff (the great Rutger Hauer) as he opens up the album, you know something's not right in this "New Real". His voice is smooth and comforting, yet at the same time very discomforting, very much like Peter Daltrey from his role as Forever. Rutger Hauer plays his part beautifully, and is possibly the best choice possible for said role.
But now to the meat of the album - that is, to say, the album. I've always honestly been a fan of Arjen's voice. It's definitely no Nathan Explosion or, for that matter, Nathan Firecracker, but he works with his voice as well as if it were any other instrument, which is marvelous. The songwriting is top notch, as is the production. Everything flows quite seamlessly together making for a very enjoyable listening experience. This is nothing that we haven't learned to expect from the great Mr. Lucassen.
So now I'm sure some of you are wondering, "arr, captain, whysoever be ye singin' the praises 'til the rum be gone, and yet still be a-givin' it aught but yon perfect rating?" Why, I shall tell you, random pirate inquirer; I feel while as the music is definitely easy for the ears, it's not particularly easy for the brain. Through the entire album there's a definite difficulty in trying to decide whether or not to take the album seriously, but that's something that we were all promised in pre-release; it's serious, yet simultaneously comical. I can dig that, but sometimes I feel it getting a little over the top as he describes this New Real. It makes it hard to be completely absorbed in the dystopia that Arjen explains.
But don't let that deter you! The album is amazing and I would recommend every one to give it a listen, or ten (thousand) as I feel inclined to. Be warned - if you come in expecting Ayreon, you might not get what you expect. But what you end up getting is just as brilliant. Thanks for another great album, Arjen!