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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.