It is strange to think that not only is this the first album from Lucassen’s Star One project in 12 years, it is actually only the third one ever. I can still remember when I heard the first back in 2001 and just how amazed I was at the time. Since then, Lucassen has been concentrating mostly on Ayreon, but now he has found time to get back to the more metallic side of his music and of course he has brought in loads of top musicians to help him out. The core of the band are Arjen Lucassen (guitars, bass, keyboards), Ed Warby (drums), Erik van Ittersum (Solina strings), Joost van den Broek (Hammond organ), Marcela Bovio (backing vocals) and Irene Jansen (backing vocals), and then we get a host of lead singers and guitarists providing solos on different songs as well as additional keyboard players.
Lucassen has long worked with many musicians, preferring that to restricting himself to a set band when it comes to this style of music, and part of the fun when playing this for the first time is to try and pick out the singers without reading the notes. Jeff Scott Soto is instantly recognizable of course with his bluesy take on melodic metal, while Joe Lynn Turner is as powerful now as he was when I saw him fronting Rainbow more than 40 years ago. There was one male singer in particular I was looking for, and when we came to “Bridge of Life” there he was, the instantly recognizable sound of Damian Wilson. Mind you, it is not all male singers, and while I have named just a few of those involved it is no surprise to find Floor Jansen involved yet again, as she has been in the past.
But while Arjen has provided an amazing platform for a host of wonderful singers to show what they can do, this is far more than that with a wonderful balance between catchy metal and dynamic prog, full of passion and power. He has an ability to write music which is uncompromising and in your face while also extremely melodic and exciting. All the guests only have one song in which to make their presence felt, although if you are wise enough to get the double disc then you can hear the same songs with different singers. This is the same for all involved, whatever part they play, so the likes of the incredible Adrian Vandenberg only appears once, as does the mighty Steve Vai on album closer “Lost Children of the Universe”, which is the longest number at nearly ten minutes, and the most dramatic.
Arjen Lucassen has a skill in bringing together different musicians and singers to create something which is always clearly identifiable as Star One, yet allowing them to leave their own mark on the album. It may have only been three albums in 20+ years, but this is a prog metal masterpiece and let us hope that he really does not leave it too long until the next one.