If nothing else, Star One’s Revel in Time – like many, if not all of Arjen Lucassen’s artistic endeavors – is an event. That someone who commits himself only to music that appears to reflect his singular vision can come off so grounded and humble is perhaps a testament more to his character than to his art, because his track record shows that he’s quite comfortable with the grandiose. And we, the listener, are all the better for it.
My first real taste of prog metal was Star One’s 2002 debut, Space Metal. The cover intrigued me. A perfect descriptor of the band’s sound, Space Metal seemed a world of its own, and its narrators – Floor Jansen, Russell Allen, Damian Wilson, and Dan Swano – the perfectly colorful cast to tell its story. InsideOut Music was then, as it is perhaps now, the prog label with the most widely available releases, so after Space Metal came infatuations with Symphony X’s The Odyssey, OSI’s Office of Strategic Influence, Evergrey’s Recreation Day, Transatlantic’s Bridge Across Forever, and Vanden Plas’s Beyond Daylight. Yet twenty years and what seems like many lives later, here I am, reviewing another opus from the band that started it all for me. And, wouldn’t you know it, Jansen, Allen, Wilson, and Swano are all here, too.
Ever the eye for talent, Lucassen assembles an objectively amazing roster of younger and more experienced singers and guitarists on Revel in Time. Hearing Unleash the Archers’ Brittney Hayes over Michael Romeo (Symphony X) riffs on album opener “Fate of Man” is almost worth the price of admission alone. The same could be said of hearing Tony Martin (ex-Black Sabbath) and Steve Vai on the same song (“Lost Children of the Universe”). As always, Star One is an embarrassment of riches.
Unsurprisingly but no less appreciated, Revel in Time continues the Star One legacy of grandiosity. Spectacles – especially those with substance – are a rarity. For whatever reason, they feel rarer now than they did in 2002. Managing so many moving parts (and personalities) requires a deft touch and Lucassen, having worked exclusively on projects of a similar scale, is more prepared for the task than perhaps anyone else. For example, the way he builds tension in “Bridge of Life,” not just through the lush instrumentals but through Wilson’s distinctive voice, is subtly done given the general richness of the song. And the multilayered “28 Days (Till the End of Time),” featuring Allen and Timo Somers (Carthagods, ex-Delain) on lead guitar, is similarly constructed. There’s a smoothness with which these songs are built that must come in part from Lucassen’s experience. And his history with many of these singers and artists can’t hurt.
Not everything on Revel in Time is a home run. Featuring Joe Lynn Turner on vocals and Joel Hoekstra on guitar, “The Year of ’41,” with its mostly plodding place and general repetitiveness, feels a bit like a wasted opportunity. And the campiness of “Today is Yesterday” falls a little flat after “Bridge of Life.” But these minor missteps seem inevitable given the theatrical prog aesthetic.
Risk-averse art must seem particularly attractive to the artist in uncertain times like these. Yet unbridled ambition is Arjen Lucassen’s calling card and listeners board Star One expecting the unexpected. Satisfying that expectation must be a daunting task. I can’t imagine Lucassen decides to record a Star One album without some seriously careful thought. The fact that Revel in Time includes an entire disc of alternate vocals speaks not just to Lucassen’s ambition but also to the enthusiasm other artists have for this project. From the outside in, that level of participation seems like a good problem to have if one were to try to meet the aforementioned expectation. As easy as Lucassen makes it seem, though, I imagine it’s quite different from the artist’s perspective.
Where Revel in Time sits in the Star One discography is to be determined. The more somber tone of Victims of the Modern Age made Star One’s sophomore effort a surprising and, at times, challenging listen. But the heavier riffs also made it more rewarding for listeners like me who weren’t strictly prog fans. Revel in Time feels more varied, with higher highs but also lower lows than Victims of the Modern Age, though I think those higher highs give Revel in Time the slight edge. Regardless, they’re all essential for Lucassen fans, and I know I’ll be discovering new things to appreciate about Revel in Time in the coming months.