Today, I am writing about a musician whose works are never anything other than very high quality and whose touch turns everything into gold. If I had to choose a single favourite musician, that would be him.
Arjen Lucassen, the creative mastermind behind brilliant projects such as Ayreon, Star One, Ambeon and Guilt Machine, brings us another gem. Of course, I wouldn’t expect anything less than perfection since he surely knows what he is very good at and does just that to brilliance.
As you already know, he puts together many rich instruments and vocals, one on top of the other, and the emerging polyphony merges into a story so smoothly it is never a simple music but another world with him.
Of course, Arjen has always been acclaimed for his mastery of creating atmosphere and depth of soundscapes – I can’t lie to you, it feels strange praising him; feels like I’m stating the obvious! His is the name that pops into the minds of millions when it is about atmospheric prog masterpieces after all.
One of the most prominent features of the album is its eclecticism – he’s employing a wide variety of musical styles, seemingly experimenting with different genres from metal to symphonic rock, to pop and folk. But once you listen through the album realization that it is so organic regardless of the styles involved is fascinating. The whole is so well crafted that you hear nothing but one single coherent piece flowing nicely and smoothly which I find very powerful. The production is living up to Arjen’s name as well!
The album also does an excellent job of showcasing maturity and intelligence in music! Each song, without exception, has multiple layers to explore and is a journey to absolute satisfaction. Another proof that Arjen has a special knack for writings masterful songs… and putting some new elements of excellence to reach to a new level in every new album… He certainly welcomes us to a new dimension with each one and this one is no exception being another masterpiece not only musically but also lyrically and emotionally.
And all of these define the Arjen Lucassen way in my book…
There is one thing where he departs from his trademark approach – this time, instead of including a whole bunch of outstanding singers, he is singing all songs, with Wilmer Waarbroek on backing vocals…
I love this collaboration… It works particularly brilliant in some songs and I will elaborate shortly… If I wanted to define his vocal style I would say ‘characteristic and laid back with a very mature and professional delivery’ which is perfect for the psychedelic feel.
Each song begins with a disclosure of what is to come in the form of narrations. One of the best I have seen so far. Rutger Hauer (we know from Blade Runner and Sin City) is the perfect choice with his impressive speaking voice.
Arjen touches upon some important problems of our day in the geekiest way possible. It’s got everything you’d expect from a good, high budget Hollywood production. Fun, sadness, entertainment and a beautiful, moving flow…
References to dystopic future tradition are very obvious in the lyrics and narrations. There isn’t a clear line of events but more like cutscenes from the endeavours of Mr L, a 21st Century man awoken into a familiar, depressing future well used as a theme in literature and cinema alike.
Name of the narrator, the advisor and sort of mentor for Mr L to make it possible for him to understand this “New Real” is Voight-Kampff – seems like Arjen is giving a nod to the Blade Runner, the very famous film based on Philip K. Dick’s “Do Android Dream of Electric Sheep?”
The album goes and touches a number of “controversial” concepts traditionally associated with dark future science fiction – even though most of them actually are very current issues. You know, reminds you of things like 1984’s totalitarianism, Dr Futurity’s and Logan Run’s very strange population control methods, and so on…
Basically, Arjen goes with concepts that has an arsenal of literature behind them, namely fear of a changing world and technology and how these would affect us, our values – or in this case, Mr L. He also mixes this up with a story of “musical” dystopia which is brilliant!
To give you a taste of what the story is like and how the awesomeness of the geeky plot meld with the brilliant musicianship, on to the songs!
“I can’t write enough about this song… it is basically brilliant and awesome and yes, these are technical terms.”
Right after Hauer’s compelling narration where we are introduced to the story, we are welcomed with an absolute awesomeness… The first track New Reality starts and we immediately see that Arjen is on his game – we find ourselves being engulfed in layers and layers of beautiful and rich sounds. Song blends slow-paced, dark, distorted guitars riffs with the occasional synthesized, rich instrumentation and infectious melody slowly stewed in a very rich atmospheric feel. The perfect backing vocals just add the perfect blend of spices.
The idea that everything is done solely by this genius adds so much to my fangirlish experience, leaves me breathless and wanting more. I can’t write enough about this song… it is basically brilliant and awesome and yes, these are technical terms.
Parental Procreation Permit quickly became one of my favourite tracks with its dark, heavy and psychedelic feel… The riffs behind the chorus, powerful drumming and dark vocals, along with the Arabic-oriental melodies at the 1:25 minute mark, all work brilliantly with all the subtle effects adding a great deal to the complex sound and form into a fantastic whole.
From a lyrical standpoint, the song is also one of strongest in the album. Here, Arjen touches one of those concepts that can spew two camps of science fiction authors – those who see procreation as a basic right and those who think this will be the part of the dystopia equation for the human race. So powerful a track, so powerful…
The geekiest song, Where Pigs Fly stole my heart instantly too with its witty lyrics and amusing delivery … The unison of vocals with the guitars, each phoneme falling squarely on top of a note the guitarist plays, is astounding. ‘Dylan never got stoned’ , ‘And Bowie was just Jones’, ‘Arnold never came back…’ You have no choice but to sing along these lines!
I don’t want to give away too much as I really want you to have the same experience that I had at my first spin and realise the smile on your face while you are listening to the tune!
Backbone of the song, the strings and a medieval feel thrown into the mix, the flute where it is supposed to be (you’ll see what I mean once you get the album), and the tasty guitar solo all come together and make a great memorable piece.
Finally the titular track Lost In the New Real catches your attention instantly. Circa 10 minutes of awesomeness… The words ‘I do remember, like it was yesterday’ will etch themselves onto your very soul… Fantastic vocal melody and a perfect delivery…
The calm instrumental section starting at the 6 minute mark with some acoustic guitars followed by comforting violin and keys and a guitar solo are followed by a build up again at 7:51 to a very heavy summit at 8. TL;DR for this bit is, the tune takes you all over the place!
Vocals in this section add to the charm of this closing track. I absolutely love it to bits. Son closes the first CD in fashion and leaves you with no choice but to spin the second CD!
All in all, my words are not adequate to recommend this Magnum Opus strongly enough.
It is pure brilliance.