May 15, 2023

Anyone with even half a foot in the prog-metal world will be aware of Dutch master of the concept album Arjen Anthony Lucassen. Best known as the creator of the sprawling Ayreon story arc, which so far stretches over 10 albums, he has also produced three sci-fi-themed Star One albums, four collaboration Stream Of Passion albums with Mexican songwriter Marcela Bovio, plus other projects such as Bodine, Ambeon, Guilt Machine, etc. etc. The promotional literature surrounding his latest project, Arjen Lucassen’s Supersonic Revolution, pronounces it as something of a departure from his usual powerfully ambitious metal projects though. “So you think you know Arjen Lucassen, huh?” is the challenge. “Records that take as long to conceive as they do to record? That Arjen Lucassen? Well, think again…” Fans might wonder what on earth this project could be. A bit of gentle swing perhaps? Twanging bluegrass or tootling folk? Well, put all those ideas to bed, there is nothing to worry about, Lucassen is on his overblown, best bombastic behaviour on this new album, The Golden Age Of Music. It’s just as much prog power metal as anything else he’s done, and it’s even a concept album of sorts. The only difference is in the execution – instead of his usual practice of gathering a Who’s Who of the great and good, the whole set is limited to just five musicians, who play every number. Yes, it’s an actual band! Well, kind of anyway – Lucassen’s perfectionist nature precludes the idea of getting together in a room, hitting ‘Record’ and blasting out the numbers; instead the guys record their parts individually and Lucassen pulls them together. But this time he says, “Each time one of the guys would send me their recorded parts, I loved it and it was better than I could have imagined myself. It was all so easy.”

It apparently started when he was invited at extremely short notice to provide a version of a classic rock track for a German Magazine, which was putting together a CD of cover versions. Lucassen settled on ZZ Top’s I Heard It On The X from their 1975 album Fandango, and had a band on board by text message within half an hour. They recorded the song, but then it seems they just couldn’t stop, and before you know it, an album was born. The theme is a bit of a timewarp, centering on the 1970s, when rock music was taking off in a big way, and massive sideburns, flared trousers and huge lapels were considered cool. For every nay-sayer who sneers at the whole era, with its half-hour guitar solos and rock’n’roll excess, there is another ageing hippy who longs for a return to the days of glam and dinosaur rock – and Lucassen is firmly in the latter camp.

Left to right: Koen Herfst, Arjen Anthony Lucassen, John ‘Jaycee’ Cuijpers, Joost van den Broek, Timo Somers

It’s not a retro album though, by any means. The songs, all fronted by frequent Lucassen collaborator John ‘JayCee’ Cuijpers, are about events that happened in the seventies, but the metal is as up-front and modern as it can be, with screaming, shredding guitar work from Timo Somers, and overdriven organ solos from the fleet fingers of Joost van den Broek.  Lucassen himself plays the bass, with Koen Herfst behind the kit. The opening number builds from an ominous low note, via a minute and a half of dramatic overture, to power into blisteringly fast guitar for the first song, titled The Glamattack, about “Leaving the ’60s behind in style.” It really is as prog metal as it gets – check it out at the foot of this page. The next song, which sets out the whole concept of the Golden Age Of Music, name-checks iconic pirate station Radio Caroline, and formative recordings including Rainbow Rising, Dark Side Of The Moon, The Boys Are Back In Town and Jesus Christ Superstar amongst others. Bell-bottomed jeans and tie-dye fashions get a fond mention, as do Daisy Duke denim shorts, as well they might.

Burn It Down starts with a crunching keyboard riff straight from the Jon Lord songbook, and it sounds eerily familiar – could it be a more flowery rendition of Deep Purple’s Space Truckin’ riff? Or maybe a rocked-up version of Smoke On The Water, the story of a disastrous Purple gig in Montreux in Switzerland, when “some stupid with a flare gun burned the place to the ground”? Then Jaycee sings the first line: “I saw you last night down in Lake Geneva…”, and you know it’s gotta be related to Smoke On The Water. Indeed, it tells the story of the aforementioned stupid, why he was there, why he was so ticked off, and why he torched the theatre.

…the whole family huddled round the TV set to watch the world’s top two heavyweights slug it out…

A lot of the album is like this – no direct line is drawn to an existing song; the listener is left to join the dots. Odyssey, for instance, could well be the back-story of Bowie’s Major Tom, but it actually seems to be based on Apollo 13 – the song ends before the story does though, so it’s almost like an episode pulled from the middle of a series. They Took Us By Storm features another grinding Jon Lord-style intro, and I’m listening for clues as to who took us by storm – can’t quite work it out though; I don’t think it’s about a specific band, more the whole ambience of the birth of hard rock. Holy Ground describes the devastating end of an era with the line, “And so it ends after ten stormy years.” I hear the breakup of the Beatles, although it doesn’t say so specifically.

Other songs are a bit easier – Fight Of The Century clearly describes the excitement of the legendary Ali-Frazier bout in 1971, with the whole family huddled round the TV set to watch the world’s top two heavyweights slug it out. The final song of the main album starts with a teenage voice urging, “Come on Dad…”, and then it’s presumably the Dad who sings the words of Came To Mock, Stayed To Rock, with its bluesy acoustic intro, and main content of hard-rocking classic Van Halen – it even boasts a wholly awesome guitar/keyboard answerback section.

Lucassen, born in 1960, says, “The guys are all younger than me – around 30 – so they weren’t even alive yet in the ‘70s. So, it was a great way for me to make ‘70s music with lots of Hammond and blistering guitars, but to update it to this time.” I can testify that if you’re already a fan of Lucassen’s intense, powerful metal style, you won’t be disappointed by this set. If you belong to the age group concerned, it will take on an extra piquancy. The whole collection is rounded off with three bonus cover versions: Children Of The Revolution by T.Rex, the aforementioned Heard It On The X by ZZ Top, and – hold on to your hats here – Fantasy by Earth, Wind & Fire. Yes, you read that correctly – and yes, they are all hard metal versions, while faithfully retaining the original melodies. They say you can’t hit a coconut every time, but so far, Lucassen is yet to miss. This is tremendous stuff.

Golden Age Of Music by Arjen Lucasssen’s Supersonic Revolution will be available on various formats from 19 May 2023 via Music Theories Recordings / Mascot Label Group: 2 LP Transparent Blue, 2 LP Pink Marble, 2 LP Purple Marble, 2 LP Yellow Marble, CD, Digitally and Artbook