I stumbled across Arjen Anthony Lucassen one day during my ongoing pursuit of new and worthy progressive-rock to add to my expanding collection. There has been a proliferation of prog-rock/metal bands who have emerged during the 90’s, since Dream Theater reignited the scene with their debut album Images And Words in 1992, but being able to separate the great ones from the mediocre ones can be a daunting task. For every Spock’s Beard that emerges, there are twenty others who are downright painful on the ears. Lucassen and his many side projects are frequently played on all the prog-rock radio sites, and his albums are mostly praised by the prog-rock critics on the web, which is what initially attracted my attention to his music. I ‘m not ready to say that he is one of the best, but he is certainly one of the most fascinating prog-rock/metal artists in the business, as this DVD amply demonstrates.
Star One is Lucassen‘s most recent new project, which so far consists of the 2002 album Space Metal and 2003’s Live On Earth, from which this bonus DVD is included. He has already released over twenty albums under his other projects Vengeance, Bodine, Ayreon, and Ambeon. They must have quite the work ethic over there in Holland. I can picture an elderly Lucassen scolding his grandson one day, "what do you mean you’re in "A" band? When I was your age I had FOUR of my own bands!".
There is nothing at all understated about Lucessen, and these projects of his. Aryeon, probably his most successful one of the bunch, and the one whose songs make up the majority of this concert, deals with themes of time travel, mythology, medieval times, intergalactic space travel, and many other science fiction topics. Every album is either a grand concept, or a rock-opera – nothing remotely subtle. The first Star One album, Space Metal is Lucassen‘s heaviest offering to date and each song is based on one of his favorite space films including Star Wars, Dune, Alien, Stargate, and Outland. For this album Lucassen obtained the services of some of prog-rock’s finest vocalists including Russell Allen (Symphony X), Damian Wilson (ex-Threshold), and Floor Jansen (After Forever).
Live On Earth was recorded in September 2002 in Rijssen, Holland during a short European tour where Lucassen managed to reunite all of the vocalists who sang on the Space Metal album. Star One‘s stage show looked as if a giant spaceship, bathed in dry ice, blue lights and lasers, had just landed in the arena and opened itself up to the awestruck crowd. Inside are long-haired, humanoids, armed with musical instruments, and dressed in silver space suits – that just so happen to make them look like characters from the Lost In Space TV show. I swear I saw a concert or two just like this on Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert back in the 70’s. There are multiple levels to the stage with stands for the various vocalists to sing from, and a giant video screen centering the stage, which constantly shows images of galaxies, black holes, and other cool space phenomena. Hell, they even have a "stargate" up there. Think of 80’s Pink Floyd concerts, ELO‘s Out Of The Blue tour, or Boston‘s last few tours, but on a much smaller scale. I would describe the music as a blend of Deep Purple, ELP, and modern progressive-metal.
Some might find Lucassen‘s rock-opera concepts a bit on the hokey side, but if you can allow yourself to get lost in the performance and take the ride on his Star One spaceship, you will no doubt be able to appreciate the fine musicianship behind the show. The concert blasts off with the first three songs from Space Metal, and then mixes it up with songs from all of the Ayreon albums. Each song was introduced with the song title displayed along the bottom of the screen for about five seconds. This would normally be a distraction to the flow of the concert, but it worked here, especially since I am not intimately familiar with Lucassen‘s entire catalog.
This first half of the concert was enjoyable, as they stuck mostly with the Star One songs and a couple from the very first Ayreon album, The Final Experiment, but the songs were much better during the second half of the show. Early on you get introduced to all of the lead vocalists, as most of the songs have them trading off quite frequently. During "The Dream Sequencer" Lucassen takes his extended guitar solo, proving that he can certainly hold his own, but was not impressive enough to make me want to run out and buy the albums just for his guitar playing. His overall showmanship and bandleader skills are what impressed me more. He does also dabble on the keyboards and he accompanied the band’s resident keyboard wizard, Joost Van Den Broek, during his solo where he straps on a hand-held synthesizer and struts around the stage laying down some extraordinary sounds.
After a short acoustic break that featured the delightful flute playing of Ewa Albering, and the operatic vocals of Floor Jansen on the songs "Actual Fantasy" and "Valley Of The Queens", things really begin to heat up with an amazing performance of "Isis And Osiris", which shows off the vocal talents of all four lead singers. "Amazing Flight In Space" followed and changed the mood significantly with its killer blues-metal guitar riffs and Hammond organ. It’s safe to bet that Lucassen has spent a little time worshipping Ritchie Blackmore and Deep Purple. His guitar skills impressed me more and more as the concert progressed.
The show’s final two numbers, "Starchild", and "The Two Gates", almost made this DVD worth the price alone. Russell Allen’s vocals were astonishing. I had never noticed this with his Symphony X work, because I have never been a huge fan of the band, but I am definitely going to have a second look after his brilliant performance throughout this show. Other highlights of the show were when all six vocalists, including Lucassen, dramatically showcased their brilliant vocal harmonies during the end of "Songs of the Ocean" and "The Eye of Ra", as the music is gradually hushed to reveal nothing but their soaring harmonies for the final few verses.
The only audio option provided with this DVD was Dolby Stereo, but it was an excellent mix. The vocals were mixed superbly and every instrument could be heard clearly. The bottom end sounded powerful as the bass guitar and bass drum thundered through my subwoofer. The pictured looked about average for a DVD concert, but was often marred by the numerous, pulsating, white spotlights that were positioned at the lower-rear of the stage, and shined directly into the cameras. The camera work included plenty of long, lingering shots of the entire stage, just how I like it. Very nicely shot.
Extras include a photo gallery, behind-the-scenes footage, highlighted by Lucassen and Allen performing a charming version of Simon & Garfunkel‘s "The Boxer" during soundcheck. Also included is the encore from the Rijssen show which was a very fitting performance of Deep Purple‘s "Space Truckin’", as well as the Tilburg performance of "Dreamtime", with original vocalist Edward Reekers, and encore from that same show, "Intergalactic Laxative".
Star One Live On Earth is one hell of an impressive package that includes two CDs along with this DVD, all contained in a deluxe case with a 16-page, color booklet. The CD setlist is identical to what is on this DVD, and the live audio mix is fantastic. If you are even a mild fan of melodic, progressive-metal, then do not hesitate to check this one out.
Set Your Controls
Songs Of The Ocean
Dawn Of A Million Souls
Into The Black Hole
Valley Of The Queens
Isis And Osiris
Amazing Flight In Space
Intergalactic Space Crusaders
The Eye Of Ra
The Two Gates
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