1. Who is the band? What is their history? What motivates them?
The latest project from Arjen Lucassen, famous for his Ayreon series of prog – metal, science fiction operas. He also launched the band Stream of Passion and has created both the Star One and Ambeon projects in the past.
“As Ayreon fans have come to expect from Arjen, the music of Guilt Machine ranges from dark and heavy to atmospheric and melancholic. But Guilt Machine introduces some new twists as well, particularly when it comes to the vocals. Rather than putting together an ensemble cast of vocalists from the prog, rock and metal scene, Arjen has enlisted the talents of a single alternative rock vocalist, Jasper Steverlinck…” (http://www.myspace.com/guiltmachine, 2009).
2. Why did they make this album? What was the passion or message that forced them to produce what they have? Or, simply what was their motivation for the themes they chose for this album?
Arjen discusses the genesis of the project in the DVD included in the digi pack. It is well worth it to buy the digi pack when it comes to Arjen’s projects. There are always some great insights on each project included and the videos and interview included with this one make it worth the extra couple of dollars.
This was Arjen’s attempt to start another project, different than the others he has created so far. The Ayreon science fiction project was completed last year and the box set was released to close the chapter on the story…for now. Lori and Arjen both went through some difficult life changes which they discuss in the DVD. The Guilt Machine project seemed to evolve from their need to share it with their fans.
Arjen has always wished to create a ‘quiet’ album, similar to one of his favorite albums, Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here. Listen to Wish before you listen to this and you can hear the inspiration for the sound of this project.
He also needed a new vocalist who could hit the high notes. He enlisted the help of his good friend and collaborator on other projects, Lori Linstruth, to write lyrics for the melodies he had created. Arjen also brought one of his favorite drummers, Chris Maitland into the project.
Then, the search for a singer. They almost gave up and made it into an Arjen solo album, before following the suggestion of a fan on My Space who recommended Jasper Steverlinck. Jasper was an alternative singer/guitarist for the Belgian band Arid.
3. What message are they delivering through their lyrics and music?
1. Twisted Coil – The dial of the phone, one of Arjen’s favorite sounds, opens this one, with synths and the sound of real machines supporting. Incredible creativity. Fan inserts, then those soft patted drums and that grinding synth with supporting guitar. One of the best openings I’ve heard this year!
“Slide down into the silence…” Perfect so far. “Move closer to a memory, feel it slip away.” “Life shivers in the distance, whisper it away.” Incredible lyrics. The incredible lead up to “We come undone.” The music on this one is otherworldly. This first section of the song really captures the feeling Arjen hoped to accomplish with this album. You can feel this music as well as hear it. Jasper taking center stage with Lori’s intense lyrics. “Drown the ocean, drain the sky, wash the color from the sun.” The feeling we have all felt in tough times.
One of the most intense songs on the album. Then the instrumental part begins as Jasper’s voice echoes off into the distance. Grinding synths, electrifying guitars and everything breaks free as Jasper’s singing takes it to another level. The echo effect in his voice, the power and frustration with which he delivers the feeling of the music with some of the best vocals I have heard this year.
No faking here. No going through the motions, he’s into the feeling and you are probably there with it!
Not done yet…oh no. Passionate delivery of the refrain again. The power guitars and drums really take the song to the edge. Then the blasting finale.
2. Leland Street – After that one you need a break. And this song is just the remedy. The constant pound and thud of machinery before the soft drums and cymbals along with keys sets a slow Wish You Were Here mood so perfectly. A great blending of Pink’s Wish and the Dark Side opens this one. Real machines instead of coins and rocks in a jar from out back by the garden.
Lori’s signature guitar and the passionate delivery of the powerful lyrics. Arjen jumping in with support of vocals. “Sail away to points unknown.”
As Arjen states in the interview, quiet, yet so very powerful. Making you think about all you have and may lose in the grip of tough times. The power building again with all guns firing and all instruments unleashed. Then another pause for fan inserts. The keys and acoustic guitar at the end really finish this song off perfectly.
3. Green and Cream – Fan insert and the machines begin their grind. The lifting cymbals and keys begin the next excursion into the story. This one even darker than the last. “Fade out and away.” “Break down in the absence of extremes.” The power guitar is just lightning speed and all over the room, when listened to at high volume. Drums, guitars and keys adding drama to the passion delivered in the vocals.
The running acoustic guitar as some of the darker lyrics unfold. Those incredible keys and synths that just add more drama and effect. Real music played by artists not machines. Arjen’s supporting vocals echoing in the background, the lead vocal lyrics. All control lost and you are on a powerful inner flight…or on train who has lost its breaks!
Lori’s winged flight of a guitar solo is just incredible!
4. Season of Denial – Synth and machine sounds with fan narrative inserts. Then that haunting, building guitar and drum rhythm. The acoustic comes in to calm the air. Then the building drama of soft drums and suddenly Jasper almost whispering the vocals. Facing the darker side of ourselves in order to recognize the guilt.
The guitar solos from Lori are just incredible. Different. Not the usual Hackett sounding launch. Stamping her own signature, like the craftspeople of ole, back when they were proud of the work they created. Jasper’s vocals are just riveting. I could listen to those power guitars and that roaring synth all day.
Another fine acoustic mid - section with flute support. “A weight of years…before the storm begins.” The machine like keys and effects of the twisting coil around the entire project. “I will remember you…”
5. Over – Machine sounds of hollow and then grinding power as the soft drums kick in and then the guitar for support. Then Jasper is almost talking the next lines. The passion is incredible here. Arjen did a fine job finding this guy and giving him the perfect project to showcase his talents.
6. Perfection? - Machines again, grinding after firing up for the first time. Then the classic acoustic guitar before the keys and synths kick in. “You look distant in this light. “ “Troubled in the morning air.”
Incredibly powerful lyrics delivered with incredible passion. Those powerful lead guitar sounds. Not the usual stuff you hear on every other prog album these days. Different. Original.
That blasting off of guitars, crushing drums, and those angry syths, just an incredible climactic effect, but we’re not done yet.
Then they reach the finale. “What’s one more year?” “A trip around the sun?” The album took over a year to produce. “Can we heal the past?” “Do we dare to stand our ground?” “Can we take it back?” “Make a new life on our own.”
That incredible ‘all instruments unleashed’ at the final assault and then it’s over….
A fan insert closes the piece with, “…thanks, have a good day…” then the haunting phone busy signal echoes off into the distance.
7. Does this music improve, change, or add to the genre? What does the listener receive from listening to the music?
Such a complete album. Every player adds to the chemistry of this album. Arjen’s ideas, guitar, and backing vocals. Lori’s passionate lyrics and signature guitar. Chris’ drum is perfect for this concept and album. Calm, quiet when needed, then powerful and commanding at its peak. Jasper, a star is reborn in another genre. Few have delivered the power and passion of his vocals this year.
So different than the Ayreon projects that preceded it. There are some similarities in the power guitars, but these are even different with Lori creating new signatures and effects along with Arjen’s usual inventiveness.
Arjen is always trying to better his last performance. I didn’t think it was possible, since I really enjoyed both Stream of Passion and 01011001, but this shares the same level of intensity.
Despite its subdued content it is lightning in the inner space of the mind without the trip beyond the atmosphere!
The power and the atmosphere of this piece delivers the feelings and effects of guilt. The life experience of some of the band members really came through in this work.
8. Does it have longevity? Is it something a fan will like to play again and again?
Absolutely. Can’t take it out of rotation. Despite its concept and deep lyrics the music and instrumental performance raises the level of the entire project. Can’t wait to see what they will do on part II.
Rating: 10/10 – Perfect effects and music dealing with a difficult subject in a way that is both exploratory and liberating. If there is a missing element it is only that there are not two discs, but sometimes less is more….
Reviewed by Prof on October 31st, 2009