Gildan's Guide to Good Music
The world of music is a vast ocean of crap - join me on a voyage to the tiny isolated islands of excellence.
Salutations once again fellow denizens of the interwebs! The response to my initial article was remarkably positive, and since...
A) I like positive feedback as much as the next person typically tends to do (provided of course they aren't a masochist)
...I was understandably quite psyched to release another. For those of you joining me for the first time, these reviews/exposes presume you haven't listened to the album I'm covering, as I'm focusing on obscure, overlooked and/or criminally under-appreciated music that just so happens to be bloody fantastic (as opposed to all the obscure music that deserves to stay unnoticed because it's crap, which is most of it).
B) I love being a musical evangelist with pretty much every fiber in my being and the very first post was somebody telling me I'd convinced them to get the album I reviewed
Originally I had been planning on shining my patented Spotlight of ExcellenceTM onto a group most people have never heard of because they don't strictly exist anymore and only released one album anyways (a really good one of course, this isn't a guide to mediocrity), but a recent chain of events wherein I accidentally stumbled across an album I'm still chastising myself for overlooking until now (bad Gildan, bad!) caused me to rethink that a bit. Consider the following review part of my penance for that tragic oversight.
On This Perfect Day
Musical Genre: Progressive Metal
Running Time: 57 minutes
# of Tracks: 6
Particularly noteworthy songs: EVERY. SINGLE. ONE.
There's a decent chance some of my readers glanced at the album artwork, did a double take, and promptly scarpered off because they're out buying this album right now (yes, that does say Arjen Lucassen above Guilt Machine). If you're scratching your head wondering why they'd do that, continue reading...
It's no great secret that I love the music of Arjen Lucassen - a Dutch multi-instrumentalist whose long-running Ayreon project (consisting of him and a revolving door cast of guest vocalists/instrumentalists comprising a virtual "who's who" list of metal/prog) is all kinds of wonderful. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Ayreon, he makes elaborate progressive metal rock operas with extensive casts, telling an overarching science fiction storyline that has so far extended across 6 albums (although two of those were later re-released as a double album since they were originally released simultaneously).
I will happily name The Human Equation (a 20-track double album journey through a man's consciousness as he lies in a mysterious coma) as one of the all-time best albums I've ever heard, if not the best album (plus it had a didgeridoo!), so it's understating things a lot to say I like Ayreon.
His other side projects are also very good - I haven't been an Arjen fan long enough to remember when Ambeon was first released (and since it was a commercial flop, it's hard to track down copies of the one and only album under that name), but I can readily attest that Star One is a progressive metal take on the classic Space Rock sub-genre that is equal parts brilliant and hilarious, putting his usual ensemble-style cast to good work performing songs based on iconic sci-fi franchises (they even went on tour!), and Stream Of Passion was/is wonderful progressive Symphonic Metal , so you can understand why I was eagerly looking forward to the release of his latest side project, Guilt Machine. Except I, and possibly quite a bunch of Arjen fans, somehow failed to notice that it was released and has been available since last August. Whoops!
As far as Arjen projects go, Guilt Machine has a surprisingly spartan lineup - besides Lucassen himself (providing almost all the instrumentals (as usual) and backing vocals), there are only 3 other people involved:
Jasper Steverlinck (Belgian alternative rock band Arid) - Lead vocalsTrust me when I say that On This Perfect Day does not really need a huge ensemble cast and is easily his best non-Ayreon project - it's quite frankly right up there with the very best of the Ayreon albums.
Lori Linstruth (ex-Stream of Passion) - Lead guitar, lyrics
Chris Maitland (ex-Porcupine Tree) - Drums
In contrast to his usual science fiction/fantasy themes about aliens, dream exploration, and sending messages back through time, Guilt Machine explores "the destructive psychology of guilt, regret and the darkest form of secret -- the secrets we hide from ourselves", to quote the man himself, with a sound ranging "from dark and heavy to atmospheric and melancholic" while still retaining the elements of Ayreon (dynamic contrasts, complex rhythms, soaring melodies, intricate harmonies) that his fans have come to expect - or so the pre-release hype went. Well, after listening to this album (many many times over the last few days) I can certainly attest that it lives up to the hype! This is a prog-metal masterpiece, hauntingly emotional and powerful, a dark journey through the human psyche that offers a shining ray of hope in the end.
Putting Jasper Steverlinck on lead vocals was really an inspired choice - people have compared his vocal range to that of Freddie Mercury and I can't say I disagree with them - he has an amazing range and his voice fits the mood of these songs perfectly. I've heard it took some convincing to get him to sing on the album originally - unlike the other participants, Jasper doesn't have a background in prog - in fact he didn't even know what prog was prior to his involvement with Guilt Machine. I for one am glad that Lucassen was able to bring him around!
Guilt Machine's lyrics distinguish themselves from the usual Arjen fare because he didn't actually write any of them this time - Lori Linstruth, who also plays all the guitar solos on the album, penned them all after Arjen was impressed with the scratch lyrics she came up with while they were recording guide vocals. As Lucassen will readily admit, the sort of darkly enigmatic, open-ended lyrics that he wanted these songs to have aren't really his forte anyways (lyrics about sinister aliens are really more his thing).
Likewise, the choice of Chris Maitland on drums is another departure from the norm - Ed Warby has been the drummer on every Ayreon album since Into The Electric Castle back in 1996, as well as the Star One side-project. Arjen however felt that Maitland "was the ideal choice this time, having both the power for the heavy sections and the subtle touch needed in the more atmospheric parts". After hearing Maitland's performance for myself, I find myself in perfect agreement with that reasoning - I'm not the biggest fan of drumming under normal circumstances, so if I notice the drums on an album at all it's either because they're rather annoying (read: repetitive and uninspired) or exceptionally good. I definitely noticed the drumming in On This Perfect Day.
The rest of the instrumentals are provided by the ever impressive Mr. Lucassen - at times they remind me of the more emotional passages from The Human Equation, and since I consider that album practically flawless this is a VERY good thing. The keyboards soar, the guitars roar, and the strings sing their siren songs (yay alliteration!).
The last noteworthy thing I'm going to ramble about before finally giving you links to some of the songs so you can hear this for yourself... is that Arjen's fans around the world had a hand in this album's creation: he asked them to record a brief message in their native tongues and submit them for possible inclusion on the album. He ended up using 19 of them (out of the more than 200 he received), with the languages ranging from Chinese to Tagalog, French, and Russian. Each of the 6 tracks begins with at least one of those recordings, and the rest are worked into instrumental passages. As the beginning and ending of the album mimics dialing/hanging up a phone, interspersing those messages throughout the music works surprisingly well, and never comes across as something weird they're doing because hey, it's prog, where inserting clips of animals having orgasms is not only perfectly fine but somewhat expected (but then Lucassen's albums never feel like they're being weird for weirdness sake, even when he gets a didgeridoo player to perform on them, heh).
Gildan Editorial Note: Thanks to Sony Music Group being bloody jackasses, the videos I originally embedded when this was first posted are, for all I know, effectively gone forever, as it refuses to allow me to watch them now (the old "not available in your country" bullcrap). So I've tracked down an alternate version of "Leland Street" (ignore the anime slideshow) and substituted the first track "Twisted Coil" for "Season of Denial", which is unfortunately broken into two pieces (excellent sound quality though, surprised Sony didn't crack down on this one too) - screw you Sony, my music evangelism will go on!
You might have noticed I said there were only 6 tracks on this album but that it's still 57 minutes long - well that's because 4 of those 6 tracks run well over 10 minutes each, and the shortest track on the album is a measly (ha!) 6 minutes long. Fortunately for you, the ones I selected are very good indicators of whether or not you'll love this album as much as I do - all I ask is 19 minutes of your time, ha ha!
That about wraps up another episode of Gildan's Guide to Good Music - happy listening all and sundry, I hope you've enjoyed this as much as I enjoyed creating it!
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