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I've never heard Arjen's mothership project Aryeon up until now. Told recently by a friend that Aryeon's albums play like some unholy matrimony of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Dream Theater at their most tumescent, I'm becoming more intrigued to check them out despite the befuddled reaction from my acquaintance since his description was apparently a warning as opposed to an encouragement. The Aryeon 'sound' as described to me doesn't quite replicate itself in Arjen's gothic exploration venture Stream Of Passion, but there is definitely a level of theatrical posturing and symphonic grandiloquence that sets this album apart from many of the female fronted gothic metal acts flooding the scene by 2005. Combining these excesses with a genuine flair for writing memorable melodies and no shortage of technical skill results in an artistic triumph, if the challenge was to create an album that balanced early Lacuna Coil with Edenbridge at their most incandescent. Considering that albums like In A Reverie and Shine appeal to me, Embrace The Storm was instant ear candy, although some songs resonated stronger than others at first.
First of all, those hoping for a full fledged progressive metal outing will be disappointed, but that doesn't mean there aren't 'proggish' elements to some of these tunes, particularly in circumventing standard goth metal trappings with occasional striking choruses that vibrate with positive energy, numerous shifting of tempo and heaviness, and short but almost over-the-top shredding guitar solos. Songs vary in tone from the jarring progressive number "Calliopeia" to a piano ballad sung entirely in Spanish ("Nostalgia") with forays into classical arrangements or folkish acoustic strumming. It's adventurous for sure, and a case in which the main composer has little interest in adhering to any genre principles. Adding to this is a sharp production in which the drums and guitars have muscle yet never overpower the other instruments, coalescing with the orchestral arrangements to form compositions that retain metal style heaviness but are not anchored by it.
Highlights are frequent and individually distinct in construction, with the pinnacle arguably being "Haunted", which brilliantly evokes an eerie atmosphere during the verses aided by Marcela's sultry spoken word vocals, alternating between her native language and English with an accent that reminds me of the comely hostess at a nearby Mexican restaurant I frequent. The chorus is aural Grand Guignol, punctuated with militaristic rhythms and a ferocious guitar sound. Completely different in approach, yet equally engaging is "Out in the Real World", a more straightforward number that's enshrined with one hell of a glorious and catchy chorus. Again, it doesn't fall into any specific blueprint, whether metal, goth or symphonic, but possesses aspects of each while rocking out with an irresistibly addictive aplomb. Other winners include the aforementioned "Calliopeia", "Wherever You Are" which boasts doomy riffs complemented by a hopeful chorus to create a unique and enigmatic aura, and "Passion", a heavier number steeped with gothic embellishments and at times really does come across as Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Phantom Of The Opera" jacked up by distorted guitars while somehow deflecting complete pomposity.
There are numerous mellower tracks and full-fledged ballads nestled between the more intense cuts that provide a bit of morose serenity yet also offer diversity in presentation while varying in quality. The stronger numbers include opening piece "Spellbound", a fitting intro with tribal percussion that builds in tension before giving way to "Passion", and the eloquent "Open Your Eyes" which tempers the lushness with some folkish passages and exhibits vibrant vocal melodies during the chorus.
Not every song within is stellar, but even the lesser tunes have points of merit. I'm not a particular fan of the Elven hoedown title track, but a middle section consisting of marching band snare drumming precursing guitar melodies redeems it enough for myself not to skip it. Lyrically though, the album occasionally falters, especially on tracks such as "I'll Keep On Dreaming", where Marcela churns out the ubiquitous proclamations of being lost, lonely, frightened, depressed and would greatly appreciate it if Liquid_Braino could soothe the pain by gently kneading her buttocks. Her singing skills are certainly vast in range, emotion and technioque, but almost seem a bit too dreamlike and even a bit 'dainty' at times to augment the heavier sections of these pieces with an extra layer of power. Musically the competence of each cherry picked individual is acutely professional, with the drummer showing flair during the proggier numbers (especially concerning the final track), and while the guitar solos tend to be a bit grandstanding at times they never overstay their welcome by being to the point.
Embrace The Storm, awkward title aside, rests comfortably among the upper echelons of the female fronted goth metal outputs by offering divergences from existing facets, and hence, limitations preordained to a relatively new but already saturated category of music. If 'goth metal' doesn't instantly repel you upon the mere mention of those two words put together, this collection is practically a 'must have' work.
How is it possible that the Ayreon albums are so well executed and balanced and most of the other projects fronting Arjen Anthony Lucassen lack any of these characteristics? Stream of Passion consists of members that Arjen struggled to gather round from Mexico and Europe, but as interesting as this band formation may seem like, the outcome of their creativity does not meet the higher expectations I had before getting into this project. It is a project all right that, interestingly enough, became a self-supporting band, after Arjen left it. Proof for that, Stream of Passion released another album in 2009, without Arjen.
“Embracing the storm” starts promising, as the first three songs really succeed to deliver. “Spellbound” and “Passion” are those songs which embrace atmosphere (through synths, pianos, and the extremely talented vocalist) and metal (which, pretty much is buried under the layer of synths and pianos, but there are guitar solos that can be spotted). I don’t know why people called it progressive metal, as there is no actual progression here. Somewhere in the middle of the record, “Haunted” and “Wherever you are” section, the album drastically falls down. The vocalist is indeed talented, but must she complain about her depression all the time? “Haunted” stands as a good example for that. “Wherever you are” is boring, but at least we have a guitar solo somewhere in the middle of the track and a touching piano section in the end.
Other song that comes to mind is “Nostalgia” which is a ballad sung entirely in Spanish. Pretty touching, but I’ve heard much better than this one. There’s nothing new to it, that’s the point. Another highlight is “Out in the real world”, which is extremely consistent, the most consistent track on the album, the only track that does not lack anything. It’s short, catchy and atmospheric and the vocalist doesn’t whine.
All in all, there are some decent tracks around here, but most of them pretty much inconsistent, in the way that you are tended to hit the skip button too many times during one song till you get to the core of it. My advice is that you should download “Spellbound”, “Passion”, “Nostalgia” and “Out in the real world” if you want to have an easy listening. And by the way, this is not progressive metal by any means. It’s symphonic gothic metal with progressive metal tinges at best.
Arjen Anthony Lucassen...the name itself evokes imagery of progressive music mastery the likes of which not seen since the genre's 1970s heydays. The (un)holy mixture of BEATLES artistry, PINK FLOYD sophistication, and LLOYD WEBBER dialogue-based movements that sweep you away into worlds unknown, dimensional chaos, and melted B-grade cheese. Torrents of synthesizers, massive Hammond organ abuse, metal guitar fretwork, and a better mix of aggressive and operatic singing than most "prog" and "Beauty and the Beast" doon/death groups could ever hope to accomplish. Yes, ladies and germs, the ol' Dutch hippie can certainly spin a musical yarn unmatched by any, if not all.
So imagine my surprise at this project/band.
I'm not saying it's bad; quite the contrary. It's just a bit of a culture shock, as I'm quite addicted to his progressive rock opera genre-bending. I wasn't really going in expecting a "same ol' same ol'" kinda thing...obviously Arjen's talent is as amorphous as the intergalactic cluster of stars that dance around in his head. No, instead we get a more stripped-down, traditional-song oriented album of piano, strings, more gothic-style imagery and harmonies, and the bare essentials of a modern rock band. The biggest surprise came to the inclusion of a singuler singer, Miss Marcela Bovio, who threw me for a loop in "The Human Equation". And upon first listen, I'll sadly admit that I wasn't too thrilled. Instead, it took me a few more years and more successive listens to really get into it and appreciate it more for what it is; different, but in a good way.
Like other Arjen projects, musical tastiness is in full quantities, moreso with specific songs. While tracks like "Spellbound" and "I'll Keep on Dreaming" are decent offerings, attention is instead focused more on epic songs, like the haunting "Haunted" (sorry, I couldn't help it...), the dual-natured "Wherever You Are" and the dark, emotional ballad "Open Your Eyes" (easily the best the album has to offer). All the instruments are treated as equals, held as specific colors in the tapestry of music, though the majority of the melodies are given by Marcela's rather gifted voice. Simply put, her voice fits the style nicely, though at times it almost sounds like her singing is intruding upon the over-all song (the beginning of "Embrace the Storm" being the best example).
At the end of the day, "Embrace the Storm" is an album that will grow on yoru rather than latch itself upon first listen. Patience is indeed a virtue, as this is truly a gem to be savored, given ample time.
Trying to describe the ‘’uniqueness’’ of this recording is certainly a tough task to accomplish. Thus, first and foremost I am going to say that I agree with Phow on his review about this so I will try to point out some aspects of this album not been reviewed yet.
Let me start by saying that this is not metal, it is not rock, it is not progressive, and it is not pop and neither is an opera… Then, what is it? The greatness of this recording lies in exactly that: It can not be labeled to neither of those genres but it contains brushes of everything, even jazz and ambient. Yes my friends, this is one of those Arjen babies which beauty can only be appreciated by understanding every detail about it. Otherwise you will find it quite weird.
On the vocal department I can only say this: I just felt in love with Marcela Bovio’s voice from the very first moment (oh, and wait to see her in the DVD! You will think of her every day of your life). Her skills are beyond words whereas she has a beautiful soft and sweet tone which will appeal to fans of Sharon den Adel but Marcela is even ‘’sexier’’. Trust me on this, I have to worship her because this is a voice you can hardly compare to or find in the metal scene. Diana Bovio (her little sister) is in the background vocals and her voice is very much alike Marcela’s but a little higher. The rest of the musicians are average except of course Arjen who is a great guitar player. Lori Linstruth is the kind of guitar player I can compare to Emppu Vuorinen from Nightwish: bad as hell and the only skills are making effects and noises. Other than that they are not good riffing guitar or players or good as Mustaine, Vai, Hetfield, Slash, Wolf, etc.
The songs fall almost in the slow tempo category with fast passages and mid tempo songs. Examples of completely boring songs are: ‘Spellbound’, ‘Nostalgia’, ‘I’ll keep on dreaming’. Highlights: ‘Passion’ (with that crescendo form till we get the fast and aggressive part with exquisite drumming changes), ‘Out in the real world’ (an outstanding vocal melody and crunchy guitar tone. This one is my favorite so far), ‘Wherever you are’ again has a super cool melody. There are Spanish parts, violin solos, lots of piano so you can imagine this, in many ways you will notice is Ayreon’ alike-sound but if sounds completely different.
The haunting atmosphere will capture you from the very first spin. However, it will take, I believe, some listening to truly appreciate this release due to their weird sounds, strange songs pace and alternating tempos among the songs. But, we can be sure that once it gets into you there is no way that cd can accumulate dust in your collection. Specially, due to Marcela which puts a spell on you from the first single verse. Ergo, go and get it, the live album and of course, for increased pleasure, the DVD which will embrace you with a storm of absolutely beautiful music.
Before listening to a song of the band Stream of Passion, almost everyone would think that this is another philosophic project of Arjen Anthony Lucassen: many synthesizers, keyboards, thematic albums, and all the elements of the projects like Ayreon. But Arjen surprises again, with a new and interesting band.
For start, Arjen decided to change his role: He give up of the keyboards and solo guitars, and dedicates just to the base guitar. To complete the band, all other members were chosen by Arjen through Internet contests: Marcela Bovio, for vocals (from the Mexican band Elfonia, who had already worked with Arjen on the album “The Human Equation” of the project Ayreon), Alejandro Millán for piano (partner of Marcela at band Elfonia), Davy Mickers for drums, Johan van Stratum for bass and Lori Linstruth for solo guitar.
The result is pretty interesting - an album extremely well produced, with elements that match perfectly: atmospheric ambient produced by keyboard, well conducted rhythm lead by Arjen’s guitar, violins and guitar solos put on the appropriate times. And all of this conducted masterly by the beautiful Marcela’s voice.
As outstanding songs, I cite “Spellbound”, “Wherever you are” and “"Out In The Real World" (captivating rhythm, with good parts based on piano and violin). As a negative point, I cite some “boring” songs (in my opinion), like the ballads "I'll Keep on Dreaming" and "Nostalgia". But the overall result is good, what make this album one that worth checking, mainly for the fans of the progressive metal genre.