June 8, 2024

Flashback to the early 1990s – Arjen Lucassen, guitarist from the recently defunct Dutch heavy rock band Vengeance, was casting around, looking for a new gig. Going through a hard time, having relationship issues, his band had just broken up, and he had recorded and released his first solo album, which struggled to make any headway. At the same time, he went to a gig by his previous band Bodine, and was absolutely blown away by the new guy they had singing for them, by the name of Robert Soeterboek.

Arjen Anthony Lucassen (photo by Lori Linstruth)

As it happened, he and Soeterberk got on like a house on fire, and were soon writing songs together and jamming. They drafted in a full band and started recording demos, but once again, the gods were against them. Traditional hard rock was losing commercial ground to the grunge scene coming out of Seattle, and the fledgling band just couldn’t land a record deal.

Soeterboerk joined another band, and Lucassen then embarked on a last-ditch effort to make something of his music career, starting on his Final Experiment as it were, a full-on sci-fi fantasy concept album. Talk about a waste of time; if hard rock was dead in the water, prog concept albums had sunk to the bottom in concrete overshoes. Nevertheless, that experiment was released as the first Ayreon album in 1995, it was a work of pure genius, and suddenly Lucassen was a big, big noise. He and Soeterboek kept in touch; in fact Soeterboek invariably appears as a guest vocalist on all the Ayreon albums.

Now flash forward again; Soeterboek was planning his own solo album, and invited Lucassen to collaborate. The old fire was rekindled, the two buddies dredged out all their old demoes, and started working on the songs again. But now, with 30 years of experience behind them and the industry clout to pull in some of the best musicians on the planet, there was no chance of anyone with any smarts turning them down.

Robert Soeterboek (photo by Lori Linstruth)

The result is a 47-minute album of 11 songs, all originally written decades ago, and pulled into the present in a glorious combination of nostalgia and state-of-the-art production. The band has been christened Lucassen & Soeterboek’s Plan Nine, and the album is appropriately named The Long-Lost Songs. And it is sooooo good.

Just to make sure nothing is wasted, it is released as a 2 CD set – the second disc basically has everything they ever recorded thrown at it. Home demos, early and alternative takes, short extracts, some full songs that didn’t make the album for some reason, and even a couple of early ideas that never got off the ground; over an hour’s worth in all.

Disc 1 bullies off with the upbeat and up-tempo Doctor Robert’s Medicine Show. OK, it’s more straight-ahead hard rock than prog metal, but there is still complexity there; and may I just say that Soeterboek has a glorious voice – rich and thick, with great presence. Spot-on background vocals are contributed by another Ayreon collaborator, Irene Jansen, younger sister of Nightwish’s Floor Jansen.

Second track The Preacher starts in a restrained 7/8 time, with a dolorous, sepulchral bell clanging in the background, à la Hells Bells from AC/DC. The track includes a great, shredding solo early on, and a bluesier, subtler one later. Marcel Singor from Kayak is credited with the virtuoso guitar content, but it’s not stated whether he plays all the guitars; of course Lucassen is more than able to handle that himself. Whatever the case, I have no argument with any of the musicians on board. The band is completed by Rob van der Loo from Epica on bass, and Lucassen’s go-to drummer Koen Herfst behind the kit.

There is a slightly different line-up for the next track, the amusingly title Annie Moore, (‘Don’t want to hear you name Annie Moore’ – get it?) This was the track from their earlier collaboration that Soeterboek particularly wanted to record, was the first one they re-recorded, and is arguably the reason for the pair getting back together in the first place. It features members of the original 1990s band: Peter Vink on bass and Cleem Determeijer on keyboards, as well as Vink’s wife, the brilliantly-named Mirjam van Doom, on backing vocals. It starts as a kind of acoustic cowboy rock, with maracas and subtle drums, and a distinct bluesy feel. After a minute, it launches into an anvil-heavy beat, then unexpectedly morphs into a great, heavy metal shuffle near the end.

Plan Nine (photo by Lori Linstruth)

The nostalgia comes through with a distinct flavour of Dave Lee Roth-era Van Halen on a couple of tracks, notably the rock’n’roll shuffle Let It Ride, and the jolly Ice On Fire, which was also released as a single – see the video at the foot of this page. Drunker Than Whiskey is another full-on, traditional hard rock number in the style of Graham Bonnet-era Rainbow or some of the heavier Whitesnake, whereas the darkly ominous Die With Your Shades On could almost be a David Coverdale tribute.

As for the bonus disc, well it’s not altogether clear why some of these songs were not included in the main set. Stand Tall is a fully-formed, chunky rocker, although the lead vocals are a little repressed at the start, I guess. Gimme The Nighttime is a mid-tempo, pop-metal number slightly reminiscent of Led Zep’s Good Times, Bad Times – again, perfectly acceptable content.

As for the remainder, well from the vantage point of 2024, they just sound like half-finished versions of the final songs. But these are the mid-80s seeds from which this album sprang, so they represent a degree of real, personal documentation. There are a couple of versions of a song named Magic Moments that didn’t make it to the finish line, but which had a definite promise of Ayreon about it. We have a song named Night On Fire, which turns out to be an early version of the aforementioned Ice On Fire. There are versions of some of the album songs, but lacking the vocals; feel free to pick up your hairbrush microphone, pose in front of the mirror and use these as karaoke mixes. And then of course, a couple of two-minute instrumental extracts are included at the end, named simply Unnamed 1 and Unnamed 2, which were never used at all. Lucassen is massively prolific, and releases a constant stream of material under any number of different band names. Yes, it’s a shame that this particular brand never got off the starting blocks in the ‘90s, but then, if it had, it probably wouldn’t have sounded as good as this, and maybe we wouldn’t have had Ayreon, Star One, Stream Of Passion, or any of his other, later projects. Who knows? In any case, if you really get into Plan Nine, you can also order the Élan López-illustrated comic book to accompany the record.

The Long-Lost Songs by Lucassen & Soeterboek’s Plan Nine is out now on Mascot’s Music Theories Recordings