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With the Ayreon storyline seemingly on hold at the time of this writing, composer/instrumentalist Arjen Lucassen has set some time aside to work on a few side projects. In addition to working on another Star One album, Lucassen also released this 2009 effort under the Guilt Machine name. The result is an interesting one and possibly one of his first band efforts since leaving Stream of Passion in 2007.
Musically, this album is a more mellow affair and may not be metal in the traditional sense. Instead it takes on an alternative prog direction that sounds a lot like a combination of bands such as Pink Floyd, Porcupine Tree, Opeth's "Damnation," and Muse. The song lengths are long, the pacing is slow to md-tempo, and the instrumentation seems to rely more on atmosphere than overt technicality. Of course, there are few places such as the middle of "Twisted Coil" and the climax of "Perfection?" where symphonic flourishes and louder bombardments keep things interesting.
While the project tends to lack a flashy rhythm section, the musicians put on some good performances. Having allegedly never heard of the progressive genre before singing here, Arid vocalist Jasper Steverlinck has a smooth voice that seems to be a combination of Freddie Mercury, David Glimour, and Muse's Matt Bellamy. Lucassen himself also provides some great backing vocals though he generally sticks out by means of his typical keyboard fixations. Also worth noting is the performance of guitarist Lori Linstruth, who provides some cool melodies and contrasts.
The lyrics are also fairly interesting and depart from Ayreon's standard sci-fi fodder. Inspired by Lucassen's bouts of depression and perhaps taking a cue from "The Human Equation," the lyrics on here deal with psychological themes and mental well-being. Fortunately they're nowhere near as cheesy as on that effort. Also worth noting are the numerous samples of people speaking that are placed throughout the album. While they instantly bring to mind the second half of Dream Theater's "Repentance," they are nicely placed and add to the album's personal atmosphere.
All in all, I find this to be a very strong project and perhaps one of the best things associated with Ayreon since "Into The Electric Castle." Of course, I really don't consider this to be a blatant metal album and may get some criticism for being too mellow and downtrodden. For what it's worth, this is definitely one of those albums that's good to play on a rainy day such as this...
My Current Favorites:
"Twisted Coil," "LeLand Street," "Season Of Denial," and "Over"
Arjen Anthony Lucassen started another project in 2009, stating that the Ayreon project has been somehow overdone and if he were to start it all over again with Ayreon, he would do it in a complete different way. This new project mentioned above is entitled “Guilt Machine” and, on the first listen, it may be labeled as a slightly departed entity from what Ayreon used to be, even if, there are a few passages in this album that remind very much of Ayreon brilliance, and namely in the 3rd and 4th track.
These passages are none other than the more melodic and not dragged parts and the 3rd track, “Green and Cream” stands out very well in this respect. The fourth track is, as well, bombarded with melodic parts, but, due to its length, “Season of Denial” tends to bore. Another track that may be taken into account is the opener, “Twisted Coil”, which actually sets the mood for the entire record. From the beginning you are warned that this is no longer an Ayreon duplicate, it’s different, more atmospheric, more depressing…"more original"?
That may be. Or not. The vocalist sounds like David Gilmour from Pink Floyd and the aura of the whole album tends to be like the Pink Floyd’s 70’s classics, with a tinge of metal attached to it. What else could be added? Well, on almost all the tracks, certain voices in different languages can be heard. I have recently found out that Arjen asked his fans to contribute several spoken lines regarding the theme guilt to his album. So he has chosen, as far as I know, only 19 samples from the tens that he had received prior to the recording of the album. I have noticed German, Italian (I guess) and some other non-Indo-European languages as well.
All in all, this is not an easy record, as it must be understood thorugh patience. If you’re more into speed/power/thrash and progressive like Dream Theater or Fates Warning, digging up this record could be a difficult task. If you like Pink Floyd and psychedelic rock in general, you may actually find it very interesting and promising. There are lots of layers of atmospheric keyboards, acoustic parts and the vocalist sounds pretty much depressing. Still, he is skillful enough since Arjen has chosen him to sing on his music. As far as the guitar solos are concerned, you may find one on the last song, which is, in my opinion the highlight of this album (Perfection?), as it comprises well enough the characteristics of the whole album, without being plodding and boring. It’s melodic, atmospheric and succeeds in capturing your attention without you thinking about the lunch you had yesterday.
You might give this record a chance or two…or three.