Saturday, January 07, 2006

Stream of Passion: Embrace the Storm

Embrace the Storm
By: Stream of Passion
Year: 2005

If there is one incontrovertible thing you can say about Arjen Lucassen's Ayreon project, it is this: he does not hold back. He gives every Ayreon album everything he has, and often seems to have to take a break and indulge his musical mastermind in other ways to help clear it out a bit. After the 2004 masterpiece "The Human Equation", Arjen decided to take that Ayreon break in yet another musical direction. This time he would form his first band in 10 years, centered on the vocal talents of Marcela Bovio (who sang the part of 'Wife' on "The Human Equation"). The result is "Embrace the Storm", the first CD from yet another female fronted rock/metal band. With the current glut of such female fronted metal bands (eg. Nightwish, After Forever, Tristania, Lacuna Coil, Flowing Tears), how does this newest project from Arjen stand up?

In one word: brilliantly. But a one word review would be boring, so I will go on. Stream of Passion is a band that took full advantage of the internet. Buzz and advertising was created quite simply by internet word of mouth. Many of the members submitted their work via the internet, and electronic communication led to the discovery of many of the members of the band. Yet, while technology played such a large part in the creation of the record, and even the band, the music is surprisingly down to earth. No sci-fi stories, other than guitars, no electronic instrumentation (in fact the book states there are no synthesizers whatsoever on the album). The writing is very evenly split, demonstrating the balance of the members. Arjen wrote the bulk of the music, Marcela the lyrics and vocal melodies. Yet each player also contributed their part, Lori writing her lead guitar lines, Johan contributing to the bass work, Davy with the drums and Alejandro with the piano. This balance of the writing helps to lend the music a distinctively fresh sound, and sets it apart from Ayreon.

All the members work wonderfully together. Marcela's voice is one of the best in pop, rock or metal. Period. Clear, with just a hint of her accent leaking through, soaring and haunting all in turns. The rhythm section is solid, with a rich, full base sound and great, driving, crisp drums. Alejandro's piano blends in perfectly, bold when it should be, subtle at the right times. Lori's lead guitar work is fantastic. She was quite the find. While she can certainly 'shred' with the best of them, what really sets her apart is the crystal clear, soaring and almost vocal quality to many of her solos. Finally, Arjen Lucassen has, in this writer's opinion, the single best electric guitar sound in rock or metal. It is powerful, full, thunderous. His chords simply rock.

Note: The special edition comes with a region free DVD that has a 30 minute 'making of', the video for "Passion", a trailer for the album, as well as the rough, acoustic demo tracks for each song. Also included is a video of the one take in with drummer Davy Mickers recorded the final track "Calliopeia". It is fun to watch him record the entire song in one take. The DVD is certainly worth looking for, and I highly recommend it to anyone with more than just a casual interest in the band.

Tracks to catch:The opener "Spellbound" begins with distorted, muffled tribal drumming. Piano and strings enter, followed by Marcela's amazing vocals. But the real kicker is the explosion of guitars about 1:30 into the song. Wow. I was speechless, and this was the first track. "Passion" is the most powerful, focused rocker on the album, with carefully balanced moments of calm. "Haunted" is a chilling track, living up to its title. "Embrace the Storm" encapsulates so well all that the band is about. And the final track "Calliopeia" is yet another example of musical brilliance. Honestly though, there is not a single bad track on the album.

Objective Rating: 9 out of 10
Overall, this is an unquestionably excellent album. The songs are catchy, yet still complex enough to keep the listener interested. The playing is impeccable, the writing equally excellent. The balance of Arjen's prog influence, along withe Marcela's prog/jazz/pop sensibilities really set this apart from the many other 'Gothic' metal bands with female vocalists. This really is one of the best albums of 2005.

Biased Rating: 10 out of 10
I admit fully to being an Arjen junkie. In my opinion, he has done no wrong ever since the very first Ayreon disc. Obviously that bias leads me to love just about everything he has a hand in. Nevertheless, it doesn't take much for me to love this album. I have been listening to regularly since I picked it up, and it doesn't show any signs of leaving my player soon.

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