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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Stream of Passion

Embrace the Storm

Review by Josh Turner

Arjen Lucassen is a pioneer of the progressive as he can always be found engineering new and innovative projects. He finds talent in all the right places and involves many gifted artists in all aspects of his music. In addition to his obvious skills crafting compositions, he's also a solid singer and has expertise on several instruments. He'll do an album that's symphonic then one that's metal. He'll play some parts then farm out the others. He's unpredictable and you'll never know what he'll construct next. Just when it seems like he's run out of concepts, along comes another. He could have stopped with the success of Into the Electric Castle. He could have also continued to rehash the same old formula. Instead, he finds new discoveries to keep him perpetually busy.

In this project, he involves the talents of Marcela Bovia and does something rare in the world of the progressive. Like Paatos and Mostly Autumn, this band is formed around the female voice and as always, his results are fantastic. For those who don't already know, Marcela can be found as a guest on The Human Equation. On that album she provides striking submissions, but she was merely part of the supporting cast. On this one, however, she is the primary focus. To give you a little bit of back-history, Arjen found Marcela through an online contest that he both hosted and judged. The winner got a chance to participate in one of his albums. He was so pleased to find this earth angel and vision of loveliness (refer to The Platter's song for my choice of verbiage) that it wasn't long before she was the feature presentation. He wastes no commodity and doubles up on this wise investment. As a result of this intelligent allocation of assets, both their stocks go way up. Marcela and Arjen's talents together produce a wonderfully wistful windfall. While there are more than enough sopranos to go around these days, Marcela's voice is extremely special. Her kind and caring qualities comes to life when she sings. Her voice is clean and compassionate and couldn't be any closer a match to her true identity.

Rounding out the band is a rag-tag bunch from around the globe. Each sent their submissions "streaming" through the Internet, which is the best explanation for the album's imaginative name. Mexican pianist Alejandro Millán plays the ivory keys. Adding her own female persuasion is guitarist Lori Linstruth on guitars who actually resides in Sweden these days. Dutchmen Davey Mickers on drums and Johan van Stratum on bass are the ones who are the most easily accessible since they live within the borders of Arjen's homeland. On a different note (always a pun in these reviews), there is something offbeat I feel compelled to comment on. On the cover, Arjen is seen wearing a coat that widens at the bottom like a dress. I must ask, what is up with this silly outfit? I recall seeing the bassist from RPWL wearing a similar wardrobe on stage. It's funny-looking, but after awhile, this fashion statement hits home with the heavy metal riffs. It helps lighten the laborious tone and backbreaking beat.

Track by Track Review
Spellbound
The music is immediately enchanting. It starts with a drum roll redolent of Dead Soul Tribe and Riverside. The piano penetrates the landscape and soon after, Marcela's voice crawls out and perches upon the pillars. Once the guitars begin, it's like a gang of gargoyles bashing through brick and mortar. It won't be long before you're no longer barricaded within the safe haven established in the start. As Charlie says in the TV serial Lost, there is a gargantuan quality about it. The drums do more damage and pound like rock-hard fists. It doesn't take much pummeling for this band of brutes to dole out a heap of destruction. This song is short, but not much more is really needed to get your attention.

Passion
The pendulum swings as we encounter a dramatic shift in temperature. We then enter into this extremely tepid piece. These are the first building blocks in the foundation of the album's consistent, but less than intuitive theme. The interesting aspect of this song is the orchestration of the instrumentals intertwined with Marcela's vocals. Her voice dances independently while the others kick together in a manner similar to a synchronized chorus line. This is a good indicator of the chemistry between Arjen and Marcela. Her voice is dynamic and it's spectacular how brilliantly the overdubs are done. The guitar solo, on the other hand, slices through the center like the sword of Voltron on some overconfident and oversized baddie (Remember that popular, but preposterous robot from the eighties?).

Deceiver
Subsequently, we get another abrupt change as the wind blows back in the opposite direction. It's a different season and the forecast is outright unpredictable. This one reminds me of Dream Theater's "Burning My Soul" minus the monks and plastered with a woman's charm. The reoccurring tune in this number reminds me of the main theme from Nightmare on Elm Street. There are many unexpected elements cropping up in the bleak blackness of this wickedly deep cut. Marcela's voice provides some solace in this place of nightmarish hell. Again, we get another strong performance where she surgically stitches the most sophisticated notes. She closes up the gash in this song's tender flesh. The guitar solo is a skillfully-wrapped dressing, which also helps to stop the bleeding. This might be the cleverest bridge on the album as it comes together in a viaduct of violins. Marcela adds to the list of her talents by playing these impressive parts of the sweet strings.

I'll Keep on Dreaming
The tempo is slow and brooding and in several sections, you'll swear it was Jewel you were hearing. Here, the guitars have their say. Rather than shred, they take a melodic route reminiscent of the ingenious Roine Stolt. In this scene, Marcela is more or less just one of the extras. She shares equally in the tasks, but by no means would you think she's second fiddle. Somehow, she still finds a way to stand out.
The Haunting
This is easily my favorite song on the album. Freddy Krueger is at it again with a creepy, but whimsical piano wreaking horror stylishly in the background. There are countless instrumental fine-points to add detail to something that's already highlighting Marcela's heavenly voice. She floats like a ghostly specter in this song. Don't bother calling Ghostbusters as they won't be taking this trap home. Instead, they will be frozen in awe at the sight of this angelic apparition. She faces the demons on her own and you'll feel guilty at your hesitation to make them stop.

Wherever You Are
Wherever this song roams, you'll lay your head and call it home. It's a ballad with some restless sequences, but for the most part, you'll lie peaceful on a soft and comfy pillow. The heartfelt harmonies will tuck you in, keeping you warm and toasty, as you drool through this serene slumber..

Open Your Eyes
In this song, Marcela shows an uncanny likeness to the versatile Josh Groban. The instrumental arrangements are cunningly crafted, but without her voice, it would take a paranormal event to make this piece work. You might be quick to give kudos to the backup singers, but alas, it is her voice too in each of those many luscious layers.
Embrace the Storm
It must have been difficult for them to pick the title track, because all the songs are exceptional. While this may not be the best, it's still a high spot as well as the culmination of several cool fronts.

Breathing Again
The elaborate and brawny instrumentals found elsewhere on the disc are absent. This is more like a recital and Marcela's voice is all that's needed to captivate the listener. It is joined by subtle strings arrangements and a few strikes of the piano. With nothing more than a nudge from the others, Marcela gives us the gift of song.

Out in the Real World
The guitar riffs are similar to those found in Star One or Erik Norlander's Music Man. These aggressive acts are a counterweight to the more passive expressions articulated by the acoustics, strings, and Marcela's benevolent voice. No matter how hard we try, we must not hide. Between the darker shades of gray and the paler sets of pastels, we wind up with a palette of purplish hues.

Nostalgia
For something that references reminiscence, it's very moist and modern. Marcela sings in her native language and many words roll off her tongue. With several verses slurred, she smothers the song in Spanish seduction. Like "Breathing Again," this one carries a lighter load. Marcela backpacks across the terrain without a guide or a crew, but she's not alone. Her inviting voice draws unwelcome attention. Evil eyes peek out and unwittingly follow her along. Eventually her team catches up and cause the vile creatures to scurry away.

Calliopeia
Just when the album dies down, new life is breathed into it again by a heaving chest and hefty lungs. It's a bit like Evanescence with a gagging reflex and a chocking pressure. Every now and then, the noose is loosened. This is Marcela's favorite song and I can see why it carries her mark of approval. It gives her a chance to stretch and play. It's really a showcase of her talents and a fun way to end the album. Altogether, this album is a maelstrom of musical wonderment. Hot off the successes of Star One's Space Metal and Ayreon's Human Equation, Arjen is on a hot streak. With this order fresh from the ovens, there are more than enough warm buttery biscuits to go around. Fans will be more than pleased with Arjen's latest Dutch treat.

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