The album On This Perfect Day from Arjen Lucassen‘s Progressive Metal project Guilt Machine feels vaguely familiar. It constantly plays stuff we may have heard somewhere. Bits of sound that waft over here from the past, ideas that float by like long gone echoes of things that are not quite tangible. Yet, they never really manifest themselves and show their colors.
So, could it be that it is the concept and this retro coloring of technologies long out of fashion that gets us this impression?
Because this record is much more complex than just simple tunes strung together. In fact, it bears the hallmarks of some modern Pink Floyd style production or something in this direction. Or at least, this resembles what we consumed back in time when they were all high on substances. In other words, a piece of Psychedelic Progressive Rock at its best.
At first, I was about to throw On This Perfect Day out the window. But then after a few more listens, it dawned on me that I almost disposed of a gem. Because this debut and currently only full-length studio album is a massively heavy and complex stew that Guilt Machine serves you. With some onions and hot peppers on the side. And a load of tasty hot rock to go.
And all of that wraps itself nicely into a concept album of sorts. One that aims at creating an atmosphere of melancholy, depression, and – yes – (some delicate) doom. Dealing with the darker human emotions, On This Perfect Day succeeds very well. Lucassen achieved that by collecting solicited phone messages from all over the world. Said messages were then assembled to form a storyline and integrated into the arrangement. So, the spoken intros and interludes – sent in by fans, about twenty of them as I am told – are frankly disturbing in a dark and foreboding sense. And they fit the narrative often head-on.
So, true to the theme, On This Perfect Day exudes a sense of unease. A hidden (or not quite visible) malevolence that usually forms part of other genres’ geekery. Early Moonspell comes to mind, for instance. You can feel this straight from the beginning of the album.
The record positively shines with a very complex song structure. Guilt Machine really executed all of them tracks extremely well, almost flawlessly for some. Yet, with no track shorter than 6 minutes, you need a lot of patience to listen to this album. And sometimes it feels like beef jerky of the leathery kind – hard to chew and swallow, but still spicy and you wanting more.
On This Perfect Day followed me around for a while in a deep, dark kind of sense. Feeding off my subconscious like a bunch of little vampires swarming about me. This is how much brainpower you need to actually digest that. It is – by the way – a hallmark of Arjen Lucassen‘s work that his tunes get into your system, wiggle themselves under your skin, and won’t let you go for a while. And that’s not the first time this happened, but never in that way.
On this Perfect Day features a skeleton crew of four members in the bosom of the mighty Guilt Machine. Jasper Steverlinck (Arid) performing the crystal clear lead vocals – a stellar choice by the way. He actually makes the record happen in this eerie, yet precise and structured fashion. Lori Linstruth wrote the lyrics and plays the lead guitar with some thunderous riffs and solos thrown in along the tracks. Arjen Lucassen got himself the musical part and backup vocals. With Chris Maitland (ex Porcupine Tree) on drums. Plus two guest musicians to boot. That’s it.
And it is this somewhat frugal approach that produces this austere, bare-bones atmospheric version of Progressive Rock that feeds you unease with a very big spoon. Like an ethereal presence of an astral being that sucks off your life energy. there you go. The RMR deck crew on another ethereal plane.
The lyrics – by the way – complement the music perfectly. They eerily march you down this road of sorrow to depression. Down to that stormy abyss, like the lemmings that used to follow the terrible Pied Piper to their doom. And this is really skillfully done.
The mixing and mastering are again almost without fault, all elements well present and compression within acceptable limits. The production is a little too complex – even to the trained ear. Kind of all over the place, letting you wonder at times where we are going with this. This being the case, Guilt Machine might lose fans along the line for this.
Furthermore, the tracks are definitely of considerable length. With some parts on the repetitive side, but not too obnoxiously so to be dangerous to the overall quality of this record. And this intermittent use of ’70s style keyboard settings just makes me grind my teeth. Yet again, this is a minor headache compared to the overall product.
So, let’s wrap this up.
On This Perfect Day very artfully messes with your mind. Skillfully arranged to project human feelings and passions (of the negative kind) to the poor unsuspecting listener, you cannot but accept fate and give in. The record really is heavy to listen to, and you will need several rounds to really get into it and digest all that.
Once you have overcome all of this, you will really enjoy this album for what it is. A stellar and juicy slice of Progressive and Alternative Rock. But if you are already feeling depressed, this may not be the right moment for you to have a go at it.
Otherwise, enjoy – I can only recommend it.
Ed’s note: The editions replaces the initial review of September 2015.
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