It’s been over a decade since Dutch sci-fi songsmith Arjen Anthony Lucassen gifted us with a Star One collection (2010’s Victims of the Modern Age). Granted, he’s kept busy with several other releases (including a few Ayron records, The Gentle Storm‘s 2015 debut LP, The Diaryand his own 2012 solo effort, Lost in the New Real). Although they were certainly wonderful in their own ways and shared some similarities with his most overtly metal project, none fully took the place of a genuine Star One journey. Luckily, proper follow-up Revel In Time proves that the wait was well worth it. Bursting with all of the addictively multilayered aggression, sundry vocal styles, and imaginative lyricism you’d desire, Revel In Time is a consummate effort that only Lucassen could’ve achieved.
Once again, he serves as the master of ceremonies for a wide array of guest singers and instrumentalists. From returning mainstays such as Marcela Bovio, Michael Romeo, Russell Allen, Michael Mills, Jens Johansson, Damian Wilson, Floor Jansenand of course, Ed Warby to newcomers like Ross Jennings, Steve Vai, Ron “Bumblefoot” Thaland Jeff Scott Sotothe main sequence (and its alternate second disc) is full of typically faultless performances.
In keeping with Star One tradition—and in contrast to the interconnected storylines of his Ayron universe—Revel In Time is inspired by movies. (In fact, the title is a reference to 1982’s Blade Runner.) In particular, Lucassen offers nods to The Terminator, Donnie Darko, Back to the Future, Interstellar, Frequency, and many more. Obviously, then, one of the biggest treats of the record is finding all of the lyrical allusions to those films, as some of them are quite transparent (whereas others are subtler).
The LP kicks off with Lucassen‘s requisite mixture of weighty cosmic tones and colorfully speedy and dense instrumentation, allowing “Fate of Man” to welcome listeners back to his beloved Star One template. Naturally, Romeo brings the same kind of lightning-fast theatrics to it that he does to Symphony Xand vocalist Brittney Slayes (Unleash the Archers) gives one of the most fetchingly operational and emotional recitals on any Lucassen album in recent memory. Expectedly, its in-your-face aura will be very familiar to fans of prior Star One outings—as well as Ayron‘s Universal Migrator Part 2: Flight of the Migrator—but it’s done so well that it’s nearly impossible not to love it.
The same can be said for numerous other tunes, including the whimsical yet panicked “28 Days (Till The End Of Time),” the infectiously sleek and dramatic “Back From The Past,” and the deceptively direct but hooky “Revel In Time” and “Bridge Of Life.” Despite essentially sticking to the same overarching formula, each one houses enough diversity and novelty to appeal in fresh ways. Later, “A Hand on the Clock” finds Jansen evoking the touching stagecraft that Cristina Scabbia brought to Ayron‘s The Theory of Everything—with help from revered keyboardist Joost van den Broek—while closer “Lost Children of the Universe” captures Lucassen‘s trademark sense of grand cinematic finality.
Although all of these pieces are great once you come to grasp their nuances, they do collectively exhibit some repetitious tropes that longtime fans of Lucassen will immediately recognize. That’s true not only musically and vocally, but also lyrically, with mentions of “the future,” “the stars,” “a million souls,” and “our race will now survive” (all from the same song) channeling several prior works . Elsewhere, mentions of “the past” and “machines of destruction”—however relevant to the movies that they’re referencing—are equally well-worn. None of this is necessarily bad, though, as it’s par for the course and still implemented quite effectively (so consider this a caring observation rather than an outright objection).
Even so, those platitudes make the LP’s biggest deviations that much more appreciated. Specifically, its superlative composition is easily “Prescient,” an inventive slice of progressive/folk metal whose plentiful shake-ups are highlighted by dynamic duality from Jennings and Mills. Their harmonies and counterpoints are irresistibly irregular yet tuneful, immediately getting stuck in your head while demonstrating the sort of resourceful songwriting and arrangements that have always made Lucassen shine. Afterward, “The Year Of ’41” excels because of its welcoming melodies and warm acoustic guitarwork, whereas “Today is Yesterday” sees death metal virtuoso Dan Swanö bringing undeniably bizarre yet compelling flair to the table. It’s an awesome, if initially off-putting, approach that definitely makes the track stand out.
Because of its place as a Star One record, Revel In Time is inherently less stylistically exploratory than an Ayron record, focusing more consistently and closely on Lucassen‘s tried and true grungy metal preset. That said, he and his troupe continue to do remarkably enticing and creative things with it, so it’s equally difficult and unjustified to complain. Sure, it may take half a dozen deep listens for a few songs to reveal their specialties and set themselves apart from the pack, but once they do, they become indispensable parts of Lucassen‘s overarching catalog. Thus, Revel in Time is a superb return from progressive metal’s greatest composer, as well as one of the finest genre albums you’ll hear this year.