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The album may be titled Space Metal, but I doubt one will go as far as calling it stellar. It isn’t really special either. And once again when dealing with this sort of supergroups, one feels a bit disappointed when comparing the impressive guests list on the paper and the final result. However, Arjen Lucassen, who’s the man behind the project, almost seems to succeed better than most of his counterparts, though there undoubtedly still is room for improvement.
After all, the cleverest finding of Mr Lucassen may well be the concept. Giving up headache-inducing intricate stories no one ever cares for, he chose to focus his work around famous sci-fi movies, each song being an independent entity rather than a part of a continuous story. So for instance the fifth track deals with Star Wars, the tenth with 2001: A Space Odyssey and so on, the first song which isn’t linked to any particular film working as a general presentation. Now looking at the different singers involved, one will first notice Sir Russel Allen as well as the omnipresent Dan Swanö – the man with one hundred different projects. The presence of Floor Jansen is more anecdotic as she almost exclusively sings in the choirs.
But now it’s always the same good old problem, this gathering of uncommon names is backed by, after all, rather common music. While the name Space Metal could have brought to mind a progressive, or why not avant-garde, touch, the listener is left with what isn’t really more than generic melodic metal. Granted, from the beginning to the end a strong emphasis is put on keyboards, with an occasional slice of so-called futuristic sounds and even some virtuosity solos where one will recognize the special style of Jens Johansson, brought here as a guest. The fifth track Master of Darkness may be the best representative of it. But in spite of this I can’t prevent myself from thinking the CORE of the songs is very standard.
Because there may be extended solos, which might indeed count as a “progressive” element, and the aforementioned ever-present keyboards, but nonetheless Arjen Lucassen hasn’t taken any risk with thought-provoking song structures. The vast majority relies on a verse-chorus pattern, while a good half or them is stylistically closer to hard-rock than anything else. Listen to Songs of the Ocean or Intergalactic Space Crusaders, doesn’t it evoke more Deep Purple than Arcturus? I haven’t anything against Deep Purple of course, but taking the concept into account one would rather have expected Arcturus.
Eventually, coming to the overall pace most of the tracks are mid-tempo to moderately fast, with the exception of the (semi-)ballad The Eye of Ra and its majestic ending, as well as Perfect Survivor and the long closing track Starchild which are a tad slower. Curiously, these slow songs are far from being the best, the choirs having an annoying tendency to lean towards over-the-top pomp. And, coming to Starchild, it is likely to deserve the infamous tag of “cheesy ballad”, even if the end is eventually better than what the beginning let to expect.
All things well considered the singers are all equally good, Russel Allen especially is at the top of his form, and Space Metal is still a very pleasant album – far better than for instance The Battle, this Allen/Lande project – even if it lacks a bit of genuine substance. Oh, let’s just call it... a space opera.
Highlights: none especially. Starchild is indeed the weakest track, but the other ones sound all equally good – though not exceptional.