STAR ONE — Revel In Time (review)

STAR ONE — Revel In Time album cover Album · 2022 · Progressive Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
4.5/5 ·
Stareon One

While Dutch musician Arjen Anthony Lucassen is always working on something (usually his flagship project Ayreon), it has been a long time since the world last saw an album released under his Star One banner. Revel in Time (2022), marks the third studio album under this moniker, following up Victims of the Modern Age (2010). A defining feature of Lucassen's work in the progressive metal field has been his extensive use of multiple vocalists, changing with every album, but the Star One project was notable for both studio albums featuring the same four core singers, only shaking this up for bonus tracks.

This time around, Lucassen has opted to change the formula. Instead of the four singers of the first two Star One albums, Russell Allen (Symphony X), Damian Wilson (Headspace), Floor Jansen (Nightwish) and Dan Swanö (Nightingale, Witherscape) appearing on all songs, Lucassen has chosen an approach that usually restricts each song to just one singer, with some exceptions, with many other vocalists in addition to the original four appearing on the album. We therefore have guest appearances on the album from a range of talent including Brittney Slayes (Unleash the Archers), Ross Jennings (Haken) and Roy Khan (ex-Kamelot). Another notable appearance from an older generation is Joe Lynn Turner, known for stints with Rainbow and Deep Purple, among many others in a long career.

One thing though remains consistent with the earlier Star One albums: Revel in Time is once again based on science fiction movies and TV shows (mainly movies in this instance). Where Space Metal (2002) tackled space themes and Victims of the Modern Age turned toward dystopian/post-apocalyptic Earth based scenarios, Revel in Time, quite appropriately, deals with the theme of time, though not necessarily time travel. During the course of eleven tracks, Revel in Time will take the listener across a journey through classics true and cult as well as modern gems, including Back to the Future, Groundhog Day and Interstellar.

The music on Revel in Time is heavily focussed on the metal side of Arjen Lucassen's influences, as was the intention of the alternate project all along. A notable exception is Prescient, which is also the only song from the main version of the album to feature two vocalists, Ross Jennings and Michael Mills (Toehider and Ayreon regular). This is a generally lighter, more heavily progressive track. Subtle variation in ideas is also heard with the immediate following Back from the Past, which is a distinctly hard rock infused track brought to life by vocals from Jeff Scott Soto. Opener Fate of Man is clearly influenced by power metal. The overall level of variation is not as high as Ayreon at its most creative, but for Star One there are different ideas on display.

The problem, if we can even call it that, is that having established Star One to have a certain sound across two studio albums already, Revel in Time, however strong an album it is in its own right (which it absolutely is), suffers from something of a disconnection with the first two albums. This is mainly due to the vocalist situation. In many ways it has more in common with the Ayreon albums that don't assign a character role to each featured vocalist such as Flight of the Migrator (2000), an album that Revel in Time has the most in common with out of all of Arjen Lucassen's back catalogue, especially in the way the vocalists are used. It's an impression only aided by the fact that the album's cover art is painted by artist Jef Bertels, who did most of the most notable Ayreon albums artwork, although this is the first time Lucassen has worked with him in a while. The result is a cover that looks like an Ayreon cover, not a Star One cover. It looks more like an Ayreon album than Ayreon's own last album Transitus (2020) does. And it certainly sounds more like an Ayreon album.

This doesn't make Revel in Time a bad album. Far from it Revel in Time is a very good album, an objectively stronger one, albeit very differently executed one, than Lucassen's last Ayreon offering was in fact. It just doesn't feel like a Star One album to me. When I think of a Star One album, I think about a band that has four lead singers, appearing on all songs. That feel of a Star One album has been lost on Revel in Time. That said, it does sound like an Arjen Lucassen album, which whatever name is on the cover, is the main thing. I like the album a lot, with the caveat that it seems to exist between two of this projects without the complete identity of either. Stareon One if you like.

Normally this would be the end of the review, but as an appendix it is worth noting that there are actually two versions of Revel in Time included in the release. The version I have talked about is what I can only considered to be the main one, the first disc. The entire album repeats on the second disc with singer changes. For the most part I believe the second disc versions are inferior, but there are some nice alternates well worth listening to, including Today is Yesterday, which has Arjen himself on vocals for the first time on one of his albums since his solo album Lost in the New Real a whole decade prior. The alternate Lost Children of the Universe has ex-Black Sabbath singer Tony Martin on it, while Cloudscape's Mike Anderson does the alternate Beyond the Edge of It All, both in their second Star One appearances following the bonus tracks on Victims of the Modern Age.

The alternate songs mostly play the same as the main album except that Prescient only has one singer on this version, but A Hand on the Clock has two, with Floor Jansen being swapped for her sister Irene along with Marcela Bovia (both of whom handled backing duties across the whole release). Personally I wish just Irene Jansen had sang this one as I think that the idea of having each sister on each version is pretty cool, plus Marcela already got to do the alternate version of Fate of Man. Better yet it feels like a trick is being missed for years to put both Floor and Irene Jansen in the same song together as co-leads.

Disc 2 also features less vocalists changes with no less than three songs being sung by John "Jaycee" Cuijpers (Praying Mantis), who also appeared on the main album, giving him a total of four songs to himself between the two discs. That I don't get. It seems to go against the always changing vocalist idea of the album. It creates a feel like the project reached a deadline and Lucassen was like 'okay John, you better sing the rest of these now'. There is nothing wrong with Cuijpers' voice or performance, of course, but it is one reason I consider that the second version of the album is weaker than the first. The first goes all in with the singer changes. These others feel like versions that didn't make the cut. I would actually have preferred a Victims of the Modern Age situation where perhaps we got less tracks on the second disc, but they were at least different tracks. Aside from initial curiosity, I'm left feeling very little need to listen to the second disc of this album.
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