Flight of the migrator - 2000
For this second part of the "Universal Migrator" project Arjen has surrounded himself with the best crop in the classic heavy metal of the past few years. The participants in this work, as in the first part, represent the different tendencies of heavy metal; from the most classic metal as Bruce Dickinson (Iron Maiden), Andi Deris (Helloween), Ralf Scheepers (Gamma Ray, Primal Fear), Ian Parry, to the new European metal as Fabio Lione (Rhapsody), Timo Kotipelto (Stratovarius), and the progressive hard as Gary Wehrkamp (Shadow Gallery), even with some representatives of the classic progressive genre as Clive Nolan (Arena, Pendragon) that repeats, or Keiko Kumagai (of the impressive Ars Nova). The core of the band consists of Erik Norlander (Rocket Scientists) at analogue synthesizers, piano, voice in vocoder, hammond and additional keyboards, and, of course Arjen Anthony Lucassen that takes charge of acoustic and electric guitars, basses, analogue synthesizers, mellotron, hammond and additional keyboards. In this disk the drums are played by Ed Warby (Gorefest, Elegy) in detriment of Rob Snijders.
Before thoroughly entering in the review, I consider that to classify this album as "heavy prog" would be a great error. Although this album will be a masterpiece for all fans of the previous mentioned bands, the "progressive metal" label is not enough. Only listening to the first two minutes of the album, a fast technical instrumental piece called "Chaos" (5:10), we can notice that this is not another more technical and speedy metal album full with vertiginous and unconscious solos. It is heavy, it is fast, it is technical. But, where does the secret reside for this work to fulminate any heavy progressive European album released in the last ten years?. In its originality, in the arrangements (no, here there are no scales a la Malmsteen nor supposedly Baroque keyboards) and in the blinks to traditional progressive. The speed is used when it has to be used, the rhythms are cut when they have to be cut, etc. Not for being speedier or heavier an album is harder. And for this reason, the songs in "Flight of the migrator" are superior to the average of most European bands (I don't say any names, but some members of them appears as guests in this album and should learn from it for their bands). If I had to put adjectives to the CD, I would say that it is mature heavy. It is noticed that Arjen is no longer 20 years old and his musical wisdom knows how to adapt it to the music that he composes, be of whatever style.
Well, as I said, the album opens up with "Chaos" (5:10), a semiinstrumental -Lana Lane makes the introduction - that has an impressive intervention from Erik Norlander to the synths and of Arjen to the guitar, demonstrating that it is not necessary to look around to find stellar guitarists. Maybe some can find similarities with the instrumental pieces of Stratovarius, but that person won't have listened to too much music in his life. The hammond interventions and synthesizers, the intermediate sections and the sound effects make this instrumental stand above most other similar ones. An excellent start. "Dawn of a million souls" (7:45) is a mysterious song that reminds of Deep Purple in "Perfect Strangers" and that maintains a Purple nerve during all its length. Russel Allen's voice (Symphony X)-is very Coverdale - it is perfect and wraps up marvellously well in the majestic chorus with the help of Damian Wilson (Landmarq, Threshold). The soft and semi-orchestrated middle section adapts perfectly and melts in a great solo of Michael Romeo (Symphony X), a la "Comfortably numb" in a heavy mood that returns to the chorus. Excellent continuation. "Journey on the waves of time" (5:47) is a less original piece but with good strings arrangements and the contribution of Scheepers to the voice, a guarantee of power. The touch of originality is the central section with a crazy bass and drums and an amazing hammond solo of Norlander. We move into "To the quasar" (8:42), a sing whose sound connects directly with Into the electric castle, with a first part ("The taurus pulsar") that is very psychedelic and with acoustic-arabesque touches that support the voices. Power returns in the second part ("Quasar 3C273") that reminds of Dream Theater in space. Andi Deris's voice is more reserved and less affected that in Helloween. After this good piece the longest song in the whole album, "Into the black hole" (10:25), divided in four parts. It begins with a tense instrumental tempo full with space synths and over which Bruce Dickinson's voice emerges, singing like in his best times. The guitars move over the synths and Bruce gets moved and shows in his voice the best registrations since "Fear of the dark". The calm moments are complemented with tremendous epic poetry explosions that seem to come from a Roman movie. For the lovers of classic sounds, Clive Nolan displays an explosive neo-proggy solo. Another "spacey" introduction with Purple elements is the preamble to "Through the wormhole" (6:05), a song with a very epic rhythm that comes to be too standard -Rainbow in Difficult to cure - but!, the support of keyboards (hammonds again?) contribute a very peculiar touch to the piece, as well as the tremendous guitar and keyboards solos of Gary Wehrkamp. The problem, in my view, is Fabio Lione's voice, too much heard already. The same happens with Timo Kotipelto in the following piece "Out of the white hole" (7:11), a grandiose composition of epic dimensions, bombastic refrains and impressive instrumental shows (what a work of Norlander in keyboards and of Arjen in the guitars!), but Timo lowers the level with his voice, not bad, but not any original. The end of the song, in an unrestleness crescendo makes me shiver. The penultimate piece "To the solar system" (6:11) has no special guests, except for Robert Soeterboek's voice, and begins in a very industrial and oppressive way to become kind of a speed-metal-prog piece (a nice label I have just invented) not too original in its structure, but quite a lot in the arrangements (analogue keyboards, hammond, etc). Robot voices come back in the last topic "The new migrator" (8:15), a composition that, in the beginning, sounds to me as an epic Saviour Machine with airs of legend and epic poems. After two minutes the heavy instrumental discharge starts. In this case it is Ian Parry (Elegy, Vengeance) in charge of the voices and he does it very well, a la Ronnie James Dio. The song picks up a very fast tempo but something surprises. What is it? The arrangements once again, with Keiko Kumagai showing that a keyboard player of classic inspiration can surpass the walls of guitars of Arjen (impressive solo again). The hammond solo of Keiko reaches legendary dimensions.
I don't cheat anyone if I admit that the heavy-progressive tag makes me sick. I despise this term when what is sought is to make a bastard mixture between "lifelong heavy" and the cliches of progressive rock (long suites, keyboards, epic poetry themes). I believe that what Arjen Lucassen has made with this work is to adapt the classic heavy to the current time. And that is really progressive. Really, if you are musically open or you have entered the progressive world thanks to bands like Iron Maiden, Deep Purple or classic hard-heavy-rock (not a shame to recognize it) this album is made for you in the same way as "The dream sequencer". An album that marks a past and a future for heavy metal and that makes us hopeful for this genre. Arjen Lucassen has destroyed all the heavy metal albums of the last 10 years. Since the times of Heading for tomorrow I had not had such a good time with a metal album