Thursday, May 27, 2010

Review - Guilt Machine - On This Perfect Day

This one is way overdue! I submitted it the end of January and it got misplaced, which took two months to discover. Then it got placed back at the bottom of the stack and just now, four months later, is seeing the light of day. I'm still very grateful, though, to have the opportunity to get paid for reviewing music. Thanks, Doug! By the way, I'm still enjoying this amazing album, another one of those that God placed in my life at just the right time. Thanks, God!

Under the name of Ayreon Dutch musician Arjen Lucassen’s multi-album sci-fi series which spanned over a decade earned my appreciation but not my enthusiasm. It’s not like I don’t care for science fiction or symphonic rock, it’s just the way he put these two together didn’t quite butter my bread, ring my bell, wind my clock, feed my llama, scoot my boot, or any other worn cliché.

Fortunately when he isn’t thinking about DNA grafting aliens the man can write some incredibly moving music. In 2005 he released the first of his Stream of Passion albums, a melodic excursion into symphonic goth rock whereupon he enlisted the help of Lori Linstruth, the best “new” lead guitarist I’ve heard since my hair began to grey. Since 2005 Lori and Arjen have shacked up, plumbed the dark depths of their collective pasts and come up with mutual forgiveness. These topics (or in their own words “the destructive psychology of guilt, regret and the darkest form of secret- the secrets we hide from ourselves”) permeate Guilt Machine, their latest project which goes by the moniker On This Perfect Day.

Each of the six lengthy songs are edgy, atmospheric, orchestral, dynamic, and just gosh-durned pleasing to the ears. The opening track, “Twisted Coil” is full of eerie and apprehensive melodies captured by lush keyboard sounds, punchy drums (compliments of Chris Maitland, previously of Porcupine Tree), and dream-like vocals (some guy named Jasper Steverlinck, a name I wish I made up). Halfway through the twelve minute song the dream fades away and heavy guitars kick in the jam, ratcheting up the tension and the tempo. Where the first half of the song prompted you to “Shut down the guilt machine / And wash your conscience clean of yesterday” the gritty vocals now ask “Did you think you’d find the answer/ Behind the lie?” while thick synth tones throb around Lori’s always tasteful guitar fills. “Leland Street” begins quietly with a silky lead guitar line and morosely delivered lyrics of “This is not how you planned it / Not the life you had in mind / Winding days have spiraled into years / And the past is long resigned.” Turn that frown upside down, Arjen! Fortunately if you like shady metal this song WILL make you smile as it soon kicks up with a roiling rumble of keyboards and a lead guitar line that floats out of the dark skies like an eagle on the hunt- majestic but deadly. A faster tempo, industrial sounds and an 80s British sound immediately give “Green and Cream” a different sound and it’s also the most traditional song on the album with easily discernable verses and choruses, reminding me quite a bit of those Reagan-era bands whose keyboard sounds were as big as their hair. “Season of Denial” is the first song which really grabbed my ear and twisted it like an angry grandmother. Cinematic with sci-fi overtones, a mellotron flute leads to a nostalgic melody plays by lonely strings and clean fingerpicked guitar. The forlorn vocals intone “Turn around and face the darker side of you / Turn around and face the damage that you do” while a gypsy violin dances like a sprite in contrast to the dour melody, gearing up for the astounding solo it gets halfway through before the entire song goes symphonic with stuttering strings set against a vast space of squishy stereophonic synth sounds. ALLITERATION SCORE! The Cars meet Queen on “Over” where a big and bouncy synth bass matches wits with soaring and zealous vocals lamenting that “It’s over” while a wall of guitars and organs body slam you to the floor. “Perfection” is yet another song from this album that likes to hit auto-play in my head, opening with sober OSI clean arpeggio guitars and serene vocals, hypnotizing you with lines of “You look distant in this light” and “Is perfection what you really want?” With almost eleven minutes at its disposal the song takes it time bringing up a simmer but what a deliciously tantalizing journey! A martial snare drum helps crank up the intensity as the song waxes to a crescendo, backing off to the yet another mouth watering melodic guitar solo and ends on a lighter note, fittingly offering the hope while guitars, bass, keys, and strings all play an invigorating figure in unison, forming a symphonic finale worthy of Beethoven. Well, not Beethoven but definitely up to Edvard Grieg standards.

Guilt Machine explores the human condition using sweeping symphonic passages undercut with dark streams of melancholy, at times layering brutal distorted guitars over solid drumming and other times allowing the clouds to part for rays of shimmering synthesizer gothy goodness. I suppose you could say that I’m kinda partial to On This Perfect Day – it floats my boat!

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