– Victims of the Modern AgeVictims Of The Modern Age
is the second studio album by Arjen Anthony Lucassen
’s Star One
project, and it marks the first time that Lucassen has done a second album with any of his personal projects that wasn’t his Ayreon
project, which he put on ice after the release of the retrospective collection Timeline
, in order to focus on other projects, of which Victims of the Modern Age is also the second, following last year’s On This Perfect Day
by Lucassen’s latest project, Guilt Machine
Victims of the Modern Age’s predecessor, Space Metal
, was released in 2002, and the prospect of a new album by Star One has been a hot topic for debate amongst Lucassen’s fans. Among the most popular questions asked, other than the main ‘will it happen?’ question, were ‘will the singers be the same?’, ‘what movies will the album be based on?’ and ‘what will it be called?’ Obviously the latter is ‘Star One – Victims of the Modern Age’ and not Star Two and/or Space Metal II.
To clear up the first question then, yes the singers are the same, at least on the main album, the bonus disc features some additional singers. Just for those reading this who are new to the Star One project, Star One has four main singers, those being Russell Allen (Symphony X
), Damian Wilson (Threshold
), Floor Jansen (ex-After Forever
), and Dan Swanö
, Edge of Sanity
et all). The Bonus disc features vocals from Tony Martin
), Mike Andersson (Cloudscape
), Rodney Blaze (who has sang on the Ayreon project) and Arjen himself.
So what about the movies? Well this time Arjen has focused on post-apocalyptic and dystopia science-fiction movies and TV shows over those set in space. They are as follows:
Down the Rabbit Hole (Intro song, though clearly Alice in Wonderland)
Digital Rain - The Matrix
Earth That Was - Firefly
Victim of the Modern Age - A Clockwork Orange
Human See, Human Do - Planet of the Apes
24 Hours - Escape from New York
Cassandra Complex - 12 Monkeys
It's Alive, She's Alive, We're Alive - Children of Men
It All Ends Here - Blade Runner
As the Crow Dies – The Road
Two Plus Two Equals Five – Nineteen Eighty-Four
Lastday – Logan’s Run
Closer to the Stars - Gattaca
And so onto the music itself. Victims of the Modern Age is a very different album to Space Metal. It’s heavier in its delivery. Where Space metal had some songs which were more commercially orientated like Songs of the Ocean, that aspect of Star One is gone on Victims of the Modern Age. After the intro track, Down the Rabbit Hole, it’s almost always a full throttle metal album. While it still has its lighter moments it’s very clear what Lucassen set out to do here, and the results are nothing short of amazing.
That said, I personally found some of the songs of the album needed a few listens to properly appreciate. Maybe that was because I’ve owned Space Metal for years and as full songs started getting release by Lucassen prior to the album’s release, I was expecting something with the same feel as that album, and what we have here is something with its own identity rather than being Space Metal Part II – a good thing, but nevertheless, it threw me. Sure, when you get into the sound of Victims of the Modern Age it is very much Star One (it was a good choice by Lucassen to use the same four singers), but Lucassen hasn’t made the same album twice.
I previously stated that Victims of the Modern Age is very much a metal album, so much that one of its biggest surprises was that Dan Swanö performs some death growls on the tracks Victim of the Modern Age and Human See, Human Do. Space Metal featured no such vocals, although Lucassen had previously utilised them on several Ayreon albums. The growls are featured sparingly, Swanö performs his clean vocals much more often, but I have to bring attention to them as I think that when used they fit the theme of the songs, whereas on Space Metal they would not have done. I haven’t actually seen the films that these two songs are based on, but being familiar with other post-apocalyptic and dystopian science-fiction films and literature, it’s a lot darker in tone than much of sources for Space Metal were. Characters in such stories have good reason to really scream with rage so why not use the death growls? They set the mood perfectly.
That’s not to say that the clean vocals don’t fit, they do, and every singer on the album provides an excellent performance. Everyone is at the top of their game and that’s just one of the reasons why Victims of the Modern Age is so good. One complaint I had about Space Metal was that Floor Jansen seemed to be underused, something that has now been rectified, although she isn’t so prominent in early songs Digital Rain and Earth That Was. Russell Allen as always can be relied upon to be nothing short of amazing, but it’s Damian Wilson that really shines on Victims of the Modern Age.
The compositions themselves are among the best pieces that Lucassen has ever written. Despite being more riff based than Ayreon, Victims of the Modern Age comes across as quite atmospheric, with notable moments being some really frantic synth sounds to back Dan’s tortured sounding growls in Human See, Human Do (the synths contribute a lot to the overall atmosphere) and some all round epic chorus sections in every song going. In the final track on the main album, titled It All Ends Here, Lucassen throws one of the albums few light and melodic sections with something that can only be described as being very Pink Floydian. There’s some moments within the albums instrumentation in 24 Hours that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Ayreon’s debut album, The Final Experiment
With not a duff moment on the album, its fifty-three minute duration seems to pass in the blink of an eye. That makes it difficult to separate favourite tracks from the album for me, they are all insanely good in their own way. If I had to pick a top three it mostly likely have to be Human Se, Human Do, Earth That Was and It All Ends Here, although I’m kind of bias towards that last one since Blade Runner is one of my favourite films. Cassandra Complex comes very close to that top three.
If I have to be negative in any way about Victims of the Modern Age, it would have to be an identical complaint to one I had for Space Metal, and many other albums by a wide variety of artists, and that is the presence of an intro track. Down the Rabbit Hole may flow into Digital Rain very well (in the way which Lift-off went into Set Your Controls on Space Metal), but in general this piece of music is somewhat unnecessary. I’ll say what I usually do in these cases, just make the intro music the actual intro to the first song as one track. This isn’t really a criticism to affect the score I’m going to give this album though, in fact I’m being very boring by bringing it up every time such things happen on an album, but with albums like this one, it’s the one thing I can find to be critical about.
I once said, in my own review for Space Metal actually, that Star One paled when put up next to Ayreon. I’m beginning to regret those words. I still prefer Ayreon, admittedly it’s much easier to prefer the project that has many more albums to enjoy, but with Victims of the Modern Age Arjen Lucassen has given the world an album to rival much of his Ayreon material. I expected a solid album when this was first announced, Arjen rarely disappoints with his albums, but I wasn’t expecting what Victims of the Modern Age turned out to be, which is, in a word: Masterpiece.
There also exists a 2CD version of Victims of the Modern Age, containing an additional five songs, four originals and one cover of an Emerson, Lake & Palmer song called Knife Edge. It is quite different from the main album since only the cover song features the usual vocalists, the four additional originals all feature a single singer with the exception of Two Plus Two Equals Five, where Dan Swanö is present.
First up here is As the Crow Dies, which features an opening that isn’t too dissimilar to the sounds used on Ayreon’s 01011001
. Vocals here are handled by Cloudscapes Mike Andersson. He’s a pretty god singer and can certainly hold his own here, though it is a little unusual to be listening to a Star One song with just a single vocalist and if I’m honest there’s moments in this one that I imagine would have suited Russell or Damian better. Following track Two Plus Two Equals Five is something entirely different, the synths in the intro here wouldn’t really sound out of place in an electronic group. Again there is a just vocalist, this one falling to Rodney Blaze. He’s a relative unknown here, though fans of Ayreon should recognise him from the 2005 bonus disc from The Final Experiment special edition, where he sang a version of The Accusation section of The Banishment. Dan Swanö is also on this track however, doing some very deep and instantly recognisable vocals. It’s a very strong track, and works well for Rodney Blaze even on his own (he’s definitely the lead vocalist here over Dan), which is why I prefer it to As the Crow Dies, though don’t let that make you think that As the Crow Dies isn’t a good song, it is, it just would have been better with the main vocal cast.
Lastday features some hippy on vocals...but it’s another strong track. Joking aside, Arjen really needs to stop underrating himself as a vocalist. While it may be true that he’s no Russell Allen or Bruce Dickinson in terms of power, he has a very pleasant voice, which works very well in this song’s generally slower, sometimes almost doom influenced style. The main thing with this one is that it doesn’t really feel like Star One, more like Ayreon, even though lyrically it’s definitely Star One style.
Closer to the Stars is one of the biggest highlights of the bonus disc. Tony Martin, the singer who fronted Black Sabbath for many years takes the vocalist position here and while I’m not personally very familiar with his era in Sabbath (those albums being typically hard to get and all), he really knocks out a belter of a performance here and he also helped to write the track. While it may be true that Russell Allen in particular could have done this song just as well, I don’t actually miss the absence of the normal vocalists on this one so much, though again, with just one vocalist it doesn’t feel Star One style so much, though neither does this one feel particularly Ayreon either, it’s something different and it’s something very good.
Final bonus track is the cover. The four main vocalists are back with this one but as a cover it’s naturally different to Arjen’s originals. It’s good, but pales in comparison to all the other material on offer on Victims of the Modern Age.
10/10This review was originally written for Heavy Metal Haven and is reproduced on Last.fm by the original author.
Copyright Heavy Metal Haven 2010.