Gildan's Guide to Good Music: Guilt Machine - On This Perfect Day

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)

    and

    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

...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).

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[1] part of my penance for that tragic oversight.



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Guilt Machine

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 [2], 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![3]

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 vocals
    Lori Linstruth (ex-Stream of Passion) - Lead guitar, lyrics
    Chris Maitland (ex-Porcupine Tree) - Drums
Trust 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.

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[4] 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!

Other entries in Gildan's Guide to Good Music

Orphaned Land - The Never Ending Way Of ORwarriOR
Ride The Sky - New Protection
Karmakanic - Who's The Boss In The Factory?
The Romanovs - ...And The Moon Was Hungry...
Within Temptation - The Heart Of Everything
Penumbra - Seclusion
Octavia Sperati - Grace Submerged
Virgin Black - Requiem - Mezzo Forte
Allen/Lande - The Battle
Devin Townsend Project - Addicted
Todesbonden - Sleep Now, Quiet Forest
Beyond Twilight - Section X
Katatonia - Night Is The New Day
After Forever - After Forever
The 69 Eyes - Back In Blood
Red Circuit - Homeland
Hurt - Vol. 1
Myrath - Desert Call
Ayreon - The Human Equation
Nocturnal Rites - The 8th Sin
Witchbreed - Heretic Rapture
Arjen A. Lucassen's Star One - Victims Of The Modern Age
Agua de Annique - Pure Air
Joe Bonamassa - The Ballad of John Henry
Taal - Skymind

Want to be notified whenever I post a new Guide to Good Music article? Well now you can join the Guide to Good Music notification service group, and receive a notification whenever I post a new Guide to Good Music article! Huzzah.

[1] Though "review" implies I'm actually capable of being critical, heh.
[2] I say "was" because Arjen bowed out of the group after the first album, but Stream Of Passion kept on being wonderful even without him.
[3] In my defense Amazon does just have it listed under Guilt Machine, not "Arjen Lucassen's Guilt Machine" or what have you.
[4] Which lead to Amazon pricing it at just under $6 (for the mp3 album at least) instead of a typical full-length album price point, even though it is a full length album. Huzzah for discounts!

I'm rather disappointed that this doesn't have any comments at all, so I am fixing that situation now. Despite the fact that I am about three months late on this. I still feel it deserves a bit more time in the spotlight having listening to a few songs.

Arjen Lucassen is a genius when it comes to music. I'm rather surprised that I didn't grab this album, given that I have known about it for some time. I guess I was rather dismayed at the fact that there wasn't going to be a broad cast of talent from other bands as there have been, especially after you pull people like Jorn Lande, Russell Allen, Mike Baker, and James LaBrie into your projects, but I'll be taking your word on that it doesn't really hinder it. I'll be picking this album up as soon as I can.

I've pretty much every album by Ayreon, The Human Equation also being my favorite. I look forward to his future projects. He is currently working at another Star One album, he has pulled some fans to hear just musical excerpts that aren't even done with any actual instruments yet and gotten a lot of praise for it, so I'm hoping it'll be as awesome as I imagine it in my mind. It is Arjen Lucassen though, so it should be nothing less than fantastic.

This one must have slipped by me. Oh well better late than never.

This album definitely sounds interesting, I'll get it since I might as well start exploring progressive metal after my tentative steps with The Odyssey. This sounds even better than that though.

I quite like this actually. It's interesting.

Myrddin Emrys:
-snippety-

I think I heard about that, actually kind of surprised he changed his mind, as he's always said he'd like to do another Star One album but that he wasn't going to because he didn't think it would live up to the first.

Oh, and thanks for bumping this thread - I refuse to ever do that myself unless somebody's posted between responses so I'd pretty much resigned this one to languish comment free forever and now it doesn't have to! Whee!

Stranger of Sorts:
This one must have slipped by me. Oh well better late than never.

This album definitely sounds interesting, I'll get it since I might as well start exploring progressive metal after my tentative steps with The Odyssey. This sounds even better than that though.

I thought you had read this one Stranger, or I would have pointed it out to you as it's definitely the sort of music I think you'd really like - I figured you'd at least enjoy Symphony X, but Guilt Machine has a lot more in common with music I already know you love, heh.

Gildan Bladeborn:
-Snip.-

I felt it was a service to The Escapist to bring this album to light for another chance, given that I love anything that Arjen has made.

Stranger of Sorts:
-Snip.-

I'm going to agree with Gildan on this. Based on how you said you liked the softer sections from Symphony X's stuff, this album has a nice calm feel to it that I have enjoyed thus far.
Beyond that, I recommend pretty much anything from Ayreon; especially if you like over the top sci-fi stories.

 

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