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Image © Transmission Records 2001
ambient progressive music featuring
Arjen Anthony Lucassen and
The latest album from Arjen Lucassen is a ten-track collaboration with 14-year old singer Astrid van der Veen whose debut album Beautiful Red drew his attention during 2000. This led to their acoustic recording of "Temple of the Cat" and sneak preview of "Cold Metal" on for Ayreonauts Only. Originally conceived as an ambient remix of Ayreon instrumentals, Ambeon's Fate Of A Dreamer (Transmission Records (The Netherlands) TM-030, 2001), blends electronic patterns, chords and melodies derived from existing songs with Astrid's crystalline vocal arrangements. Our review of Fate of a Dreamer is accompanied by an extensive interview with Astrid van der Veen with further comments provided by Arjen Anthony Lucassen. A review of Beautiful Red will be published by Musical Discoveries during June 2001.
Ayreon's last three albums have been met with critical worldwide acclaim. The two-CD Universal Migrator set is comprised of The Dream Sequencer (review) CD containing subdued, atmospheric progressive songs with female vocal contributions by a broad variety of artists familiar to Musical Discoveries' readers. The second, Flight of the Migrator (review) is filled with pulverizing metal songs. The third and limited edition album, Ayreonauts Only (Transmission Records TM-027, 2000) is comprised primarily of various remixes of previously released Ayreon material from the past several albums and introduced Astrid van der Veen to Ayreon's fans.
While each track on Fate of a Dreamer stands alone perfectly, the album works equally well as a cohesive whole with lyrics and sounds on the ten selections that comprise Fate of a Dreamer flowing wonderfully from one to the next. Ambeon's music builds on Ayreon's sound with the material blending atmospheric, celtic, electronic, gothic, metal and progressive styles. Arjen plays guitars and keyboards; he wrote the music, produced and mixed the album. Astrid sings lead and backing vocals and wrote the storyline and concept, melodies and lyrics. John and Pat McManus from Celtus add to the folky atmosphere by playing flute, pipes and fiddle. The project also includes contributions of Stephen van Haestregt (drums) and Walter Laupeirissa (bass and fretless bass).
We asked Astrid to tell us about her background prior to her debut CD Beautiful Red. She told us, "I've been writing my own songs for quite a long time now. My mother is singer and she taught me how to sing when I was just a little kid. I also play the piano which I mostly learned myself. On Beautiful Red I sing and play the piano and it could be described as soft-alternative-piano-and-vocal-music. I wrote and produced all the songs myself. It was not recorded in a real studio and today people can only buy it from me."
Interested readers should note that Astrid's sister Linda is also a singer. Her debut album Always the right way Always the wrong with the band Railway will be published by Musical Discoveries during June 2001. The album is available from the band's website.
Astrid told us about how she and Arjen met, "A guy that helped me with the recording of Beautiful Red sent Arjen my CD. When he heard my voice, he immediately called me up. He asked me if I would like to sing "Temple of the Cat" in his studio and maybe even sing on his new project. I was kind of surprised and I didn't know who he was or what he did; I never even heard about Ayreon. He sent me some of his CDs and I really liked them, so I told him I would like to sing on the new project."
We asked Arjen to tell us how he found Astrid and about his collaboration with her. He told us, "I was looking for a female singer and at that time I got an MP3 of her singing." He remarked, "Now I get a lot of material from musicians who want to be on Ayreon, but never that amazing! So I immediately called her up and sent her some Ayreon albums. She really liked them, and came to my place—with her whole family—to sing a few songs just as a try-out." He continued, "I was so amazed—I felt I had to have her make all her own lyrics and melody lines. I mean what would have happened if someone —like Gilmour—would have told Kate Bush what to sing, hey? Amazingly, despite the age difference we think alike a lot and have the same musical taste." Talking further about her talent, he said, "She is one of the best singers I ever recorded. Whether she is 14, 24 or 34, she is a great singer. I'm sure we will hear a lot from her in the future and I'm so proud being a part of her history and having made her first official album with her!"
Astrid told us about her collaboration with Arjen Lucassen on the Ambeon project, "Working with Arjen was very nice. We had really close cooperation and I enjoyed working together with him! I think we really helped each other and we gave each other new ideas." She told us about her favourite artists, "I like a lot of bands in many different styles—metal, gothic, celtic, atmospheric, rock, etc. Here is a short list: Alice in Chains, 16 Horsepower, Dream Theatre, Pearl Jam, After Forever, The Gathering, Appocalyptica, An Pierl, The Cure, Nirvana and Seplutura."
The contrast between Celtic ("Estranged," "High," "Lost Message") and progressive metal ("Ashes," "Sick Ceremony," "Sweet Little Brother") styles are cohesively bound by evocative female vocals and symphonic instrumental arrangements. Instrumentals "Fate" and "Dreamer" are equally enjoyable while the epic "Cold Metal" and standout "Surreal" individually span the album's range.
We asked Astrid how she developed her vocal style and to elaborate on her musical training and education. She told us, "When I was about ten years old I took singing lessons. I had two years of classical and three years of lichte muziek (popmusic, softmusic). Many people compare my voice to Alanis Morisette, Kate Bush, Tori Amos and others. Funny thing is that I didn't know any them until people told me this. Well, maybe I'm a little influenced after all. But not on purpose. I hate it when people imitate other artists. So, I think they only help me to develop my own style."
We asked Astrid what artists influenced her style and song writing. She responded, "I am unaware how other artists have influenced me. I find that I'm busy with music all day. When I'm not making music, I'm listening to it. And I think hearing so many different things gives rise to my own ideas and my own sytle. Of course sometimes I get new ideas from hearing other music—I'm not sure—I don't intentionally try to copy other artists."
Astrid told us about her song writing and explained the key differences between working on Beautiful Red and Fate of a Dreamer. "I worked on Beautiful Red all alone. The music is totally mine and it was totally me—it sort of expressed me. Now Ambeon is a combination of Arjen and me. That way I am only half of it all. And that's the difference I think. But the other half (Arjen) is great, it is so great to share your music with someone like him—to build on each others' ideas and inspire each other." Each of the tracks on the album is anecdotal drawing on emotionally charged topics including love, despair, lonliness and even death.
Fate of a Dreamer opens with a short atmospheric piece entitled "Estranged" whose arrangement blends Celtic-style flute and progressive textures with Astrid's far ranging vocal lead. Instrumental power is equalled by Astrid's sensually sung lead in the "Ashes," whose lyrics actually contain the album's title. Progressive instrumental arrangements with atmospheric keyboard sequences and metal edged guitar blend perfectly with the soaring vocal excursions. Celtic instrumentals—flute and pipes—blend with guitar and a sensually soaring bluesy vocal lead in the track "High." Erik Norlander and Lana Lane contribute synthesizer and backing vocals respectively.
The track "Cold Metal" first appeared on Ayreonauts Only as a sampler of the Ambeon album yet to come. A standout track on Fate of a Dreamer, the track dramatically blends Astrid's layers of emotionally delivered vocal layers with progressive and metal-edged atmospheric instrumentaly arrangements. The thickly arranged metal-edged guitar is significantly contrasted by gently sung verse and layered chorus spanning Astrid's range in the track "Sick Ceremony."
Sequenced keyboards blend with celtic-flavoured arrangements of whistle and pipes to support Astrid's evocatively soaring vocals in the upbeat track "A Lost Message." Another highlight of the album is "Surreal," in which Arjen's electric and acoustic guitar passages lead the extended introduction of this lovely metal-edged ballad. Sensually sung with emotion hanging on every note, Astrid's lead and backing vocals are delightful. Astrid sings the dark story of "Sweet Little Brother" beautifully in a bluesy style backed by Ayreon-style symphonic—yet metal-edged—arrangements. Backing vocals and additional synthesizer passages, contributed by Lana Lane and Erik Norlander respectively, add to the dark texture of the track.
"Fate" is the first of two ambient flavoured instrumentals included on the album. With a running time of well over seven minutes and several distinct movements, it features atmospheric yet lushly produced Ayreon-style sequenced keyboard passages and melodic layers of Arjen's dynamic guitar work. The instrumental "Dreamer" clearly embraces the range of sounds on the album with orchestral keyboards being perfectly complimented by electric guitar melodies. In addition to her lovely vocalise part, a final round of ...'fate of a dreamer'... from Astrid concludes the track.
We asked Astrid what she's doing besides music. She told us, "I'm going to high school. I still have two more heavy years to go. I am very lazy and I hate studying things I don't even want to know! But after this I want to go to "de Rockacademie" in Tilburg. That's a school for people that want to become professional musicians."
Astrid told us about her live performances, "I enjoy playing live. It's kind of a magical experience. For most of the performances I'm not nervous, but I am a little tense. During a performance of my own music from Beautiful Red, I find myself in a sort of a fog. It's just great! It's different than singing for myself on my own because I know then there is no one to hear it. When I'm in front of an audience, I'm expressing something that I've made. That's great!"
Astrid has also performed with After Forever (review) on stage. She told us about it, "I sang the part of Sharon den Adel "Beyond Me." Originally, she sang those lines on their CD. I'm going to sing with them again on "Bospop" and "Eurorock" in Belgium." She continued, "Singing with After Forever is different again. It's like a dream. There is only a little I can remember after the show. But the audience is always very enthusiastic! I got a lot of compliments and I like the fact they appreciate it. Sometimes people are really impressed, and that gives me a good feeling. It's good that they felt that the music touched them."
Unfortunately, Astrid and Arjen have no plans to perform the Ambeon material on stage.
We asked Astrid how the internet influenced your musical career and the promotion of her. She told us, "I'm getting lots of e-mails every day. So many people are very enthusiastic. It's great to hear what people think—even critics are welcome. I like to hear everyone's honest opinions."
The compact disc is accompanied by an extremely well-produced booklet
loaded with additional photographs of the artists, full lyrics and Astrid's
introductions to each of the tracks. Soundbites of "Estranged," "Cold Metal"
and "Temple of the Cat" are presently available at Astrid's
track listings and soundbites were not available at the website when this
review was written, Fate of a Dreamer can be ordered from amazon.com
here. With Astrid's vocals inspired by Tori Amos and Kate
Bush, Fate of a Dreamer is already delighting Ayreon's fans and drawing
a wider audience to Arjen Lucassen's work. Certainly worth the wait, this album
is one of the best we've heard in 2001. Easily worth a trans-Atlantic journey,
the debut from Ambeon is a must listen!
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