A new Arjen Lucassen release is always something to look out for. The Dutch composer and multi-musician always delivers good quality, oftentimes even great. The man who singlehandedly put the modern rock opera back on the map with his Ayreon project is back with a follow-up to one of his other enterprises, Star One. Did its first release, Space Metal (2002), concern itself with “spacy” science fiction films and television series, this time around the material is centered around post-apocalyptic, dystopian world views: Victims Of The Modern Age.
As opposed to Ayreon, Lucassen felt he didn’t need to change the project’s line-up for this new outing. So Victims Of The Modern Age brings back the phenomenal vocal cast of sir Russell Allen (Symphony X), Floor Jansen (ReVamp, ex-After Forever), Dan Swanö (Nightingale, Edge Of Insanity) and Damian Wilson (Threshold). With Ed Warby (Gorefest) on drums and Peter Vink on bass yet again delivering a rhythmic base solid as fortified concrete and some scorching solo work by keboardist Joost van den Broek (ex-After Forever) and guitar player Gary Wehrkamp (Shadow Gallery). All other instruments are courtesy of Mr Lucassen himself, who for example has adorned himself with a 7-string guitar this time around.
Needless to say, the basic quality is all there. But does Victims Of The Modern Age offer something more than its predecessor? Unfortunately the answer isn’t a wholehearted “yes”. The album slowly kicks in with a signature Lucassen style synth-intro, and the first two songs Digital Rain and Earth That Was are quite reminiscent of the tall one’s first trip to Star One. The riffing, the choruses, the overall feel have Space Metal written all over them. It’s only when we come to the title track Victims Of The Modern Age when things are spiced up and the album really starts to deliver.
The song shares a lot with the best parts of Ayreon’s The Human Equation (2004). The sheer ferocity, the compulsory rhythm, the often raw vocal delivery can easily match up to Day Three: Pain for instance. And the good times continue with Human See, Human Do and 24 Hours, the best songs on the album by a fair margin. The first because it so accurately portrays its source material (the 1968 version of Planet Of The Apes) with its feral guitar and synth work among others. The second because of Damian Wilson, who lets his background in musical singing really shine through with the emotional range he puts in his vocal delivery.
Unfortunately after that the album doesn’t offer any more real surprises. We’ve heard it before from Lucassen. Which isn’t to say it isn’t worth listening to – quite the contrary! – but one cannot escape the thought of wanting something even better. Victims Of The Modern Age is again a very good effort, certainly well worth your time, but with only two real gems among eight full-length songs, it’s also slightly disappointing. The production is a bit too neat and could certainly have done with some rough edges. Let’s just say Lucassen is a victim of his own high standards.
written by Wouter De Boer