It does seem that we’ve now reached the era where anyone with great musical ideas and conceptions can produce masterful works and even get some of the best talent out there to work on their projects. And with the reach of humble zines like this one and many others, the word can definitely get out about ’em! Obviously the great modern example of this is The Netherlands’ Arjen Lucassen’s Ayreon project (whose new live DVD The Theater Equation is coming out on June 17, btw) with his large scale space opera projects featuring a seemingly endless cast of musical luminaries. Now into the mix we’ve got a another Dutch progressive music impresario, Bas Willemsen’s Alarion and his debut album Waves Of Destruction set to come out on the indie prog rock and metal label Freia Music on June 3rd. And let me tell you, this is an extremely masterful work of passionate, hard-driving and at times crushingly heavy progressive metal!
Outside of a few demos that Willemsen supposedly did in the last decade, he’s pulled out all the stops on this debut, most notably getting two of the best vocalists on the planet to flesh out his vision, Ayreon and Star One’s Irene Jansen and Threshold and Headspace main man Damian Wilson! Bas is obviously the leader here as he composed the whole album and plays keys, guitar and bass as well as doing all of the orchestration along with a few excellent guest musicians that I’ve never heard of before but are more than capable here. Before getting into the album specifics, the overall sonic balance is what really strikes me – from beautiful ballads, to hook-heavy prog, nothing feels superfluous and there’s a great emphasis on emotionally engaging songs. Waves Of Destruction is also one of those albums that I enjoyed from the first listen but really grew in enjoyment the more I listen to it and get to know the songs. I get the feeling that Bas has been working on this for years and, since it’s really his BIG musical intro to the world, definitely wanted to put out something special and memorable and he’s certainly done that here.
For starters, Waves Of Destruction begins with a rousing opener Chains Of The Collective, a short five-minute heavy symphonic progressive song that has great riffs, searing guitars (what a great sound Willemsen gets from his guitar!) and a powerful vocal from Wilson. That and the subtle use of dramatic electronics really makes for a great opener. The title track comes next and, after a soft, melancholy intro featuring narration by Wilson amidst ocean sounds to underscore the coming horror of a nuclear accident and the fight to stop the devastation. It’s not a horrific or even dark song though – perhaps Willemsen sees hope admist the chaos. It’s a quite intensely beautiful song though, again featuring Wilson on lead vocals as he takes the role of the one leading the fight to save us and I especially liked the softer, pensive chorus that leads to a wonderfully powerful riff to end the song.
As I said earlier, this is one of those albums that bears a lot of close listens and, as you get to know the songs well, you’ll love them more each time. One great case for this is the next song, Turn Of Fate, which is not only the first feature for Irene Jansen (damn what a voice she has – she can belt it out for sure, but has so many timbres to her vocals, from light to heavy) and this time the drama is led by the piano along with Jansen’s lead vocal. It’s a slower tempo song but never lags and the wordless vocal halfway through is just spectacular. (Note – there is a great acoustic version of this song to close out the album and not only does this allow Jansen to shine more fully, the acoustic guitar and violin show how powerful the Alarion sound can be without any electrical ampilfication.) Keeping you on your toes, the next song Colourblind is rousing hard-rocking prog metal at its best that would actually work well on a Threshold album before the most beautiful song on the album comes at us, Clash of Eternity featuring the soaring soprano Tineke Roseboom and more of Bas’ soaring guitar leads.
Finallly after another high-intensity prog metal workout of a song A Life Less Ordinary, featuring more fantastic riffage from Bas and a wonderful melodically intriguing prog rock finish we get the epic 12-minute The Whistleblower. Throwing out all the stops, the song, based on the story of a UN Police Officer who attempted to blow the whistle on sex trafficking in Bosnia and was the subject of the 2010 film of the same name, is a real homage to prog rock ambition with constant tension building throughout and wonderful vocal interplay among Roseboom and another male singer Paul Glandorf. I swear you’ll be gasping for breath after this ambitious piece! The aforementioned acoustic version of Turn Of Fate finishes the album and is a nice come-down from the intensity of what came before.
As I’ve mentioned earlier, this is a very polished and incredibly professional debut and the sound is just excellent, deep and resonant, which makes sense given the professional mixing by Hiddo Frericks and mastering by the Peter van ‘t Riet (Epica, Pain of Salvation, Steve Howe (Yes). In an era where just a few bands in this genre seem to garner most of the attention, it’s great to hear such excellence coming from the mind and skill of one very talented artist along with his stellar group of guest musicians. You can check out a lyric video of Chains Of The Collective below and we also have a purchase link for an album that’s sure to be on many top album lists for this year!
(If you happen to be in the Netherlands next week you can also check out the release party for the album on June third, in Boerderij, Zoetermeer. On this occasion, for one time only, the entire album will be performed live! Moreover, Alarion will play with a double vocal front of Irene Jansen (Ayreon / The Theater Equation) and Paul Glandorf (Arjen Lucassen (live)). Erik Laan of progrockers Silhouette will be special guest on keyboard. Besides Alarion, Dutch topnotch bands End of the Dream and La-Ventura will perform. Both bands are on European tour and feature female vocals and symphonic elements. More info available at the official Alarion webste – http://www.alarion.eu/)
review by Jeff Stevens