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Music Review: Armin Van Buuren – Universal Religion 2008

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The newly-crowned #1 DJ in the world delivers the latest in his trance empire's conquest of the globe. Universal Religion 2008 is the third installment in a single-disc live mix series that mines the best of current euphoric trance offerings. It also could have been titled Ibiza For When You Can't Be There.

The set opens up with the appropriately breezy "Another Day on the Terrace" by Sunlounger, which starts things off with a delicately pretty intro, before easing you into full-club fervor. Things progress predictably from there into Dash Berlin's "Till the Sky Falls Down." It's a nice track, but also helps to reinforce a current thinking of trance music as a genre that is not progressing.

And this introduces the double-edged blessing and curse of the set. This track could have been produced either yesterday or six years ago. It's non-forward looking, but high-energy quality, which will probably be a minor criticism by some of the set as a whole. What Gabriel & Dresdeb are doing for progressive house seems to be missing a counterpart in trance. Exceptions to the rule include the back-to-back pairing of Dubfire's "Roadkill" and David West's "Welsh Morphology."

But like I said, it's not necessarily a bad thing, just an observation, and for many this could even be a welcome homage to the glory days of trance. Because while tracks such as "Summer Blush" by Mungo and Forerunner's "Lifecycle" fall into the same category of obvious pastiche, they're sufficiently catchy enough that you soon don't care if things ever change too much.

The set is also fairly equally split between vocal and instrumental numbers, with some vocal standouts including "How Long" by Aly & Fila, as well as John O' Callaghan's finale-sounding "Big Sky."

The live mix experience is handled a little more judiciously than some have been in the past. The crowd participation becomes slightly more than just faint background for most of the disc. And although it does start with the one guy who is always whistling (do they fly this same guy to all live mix recordings, he's everywhere?!), the live element does generally serve to add to the energy of the event instead of detract from it. Jose Amnesia's "Invincible" is one example where, with the proper sound system, you could close your eyes and for a moment and imagine yourself lost in a sea of sweaty bodies.

The only negative for the album (which might also be a positive for many) is the fact that overall this is just another Armin Van Buuren mix. It doesn't really feel very unique as an installment or as a series, but more a quality stop-gab in between A State of Trance releases. The only thing that makes this ok is the fact that Armin has consistently produced top-notch mixes. "Just another mix" from him is still damn good, chock full of quality tunes, and quite a few shades better than most everyone else's releases. Just don't expect this to deviate from the formula. I guess if it ain't broke…

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