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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"