Friday, 17 February 2012

"I've... heard things you people wouldn't believe."

If you're a fan of prog rock at its most pompous, bombastic and head-spinningly creative, chances are that Arjen Lucassen is a name you're already familiar with. His project Ayreon was one of the premier institutions of prog for over a decade for two good reasons; firstly, the gargantuan, trippy meta-narrative that linked all of its recordings (most of them double-albums) together into one of the most expansive conceptual tapestries in all of music, and secondly, that in spite of the fact that Ayreon was essentially Lucassen's personal vehicle, over the years it played host to literally dozens of guest vocalists, each given their respective characters to play in Lucassen's stories. Ayreon's guest have included some pretty illustrious names in the past, among them Devin Townsend, James LaBrie, Mikael Åkerfeldt, Daniel Gildenlöw, Russell Allen and Bruce Goddamn Dickinson.

Sadly, Ayreon was put on ice after 2008's (kinda underwhelming) effort 01011001, but then again, Arjen Lucassen is one of those slightly unhinged overachievers who seem to be drawn to prog - for every one of his projects that ends, another five seem to spring up in their wake. He has one underway now, in fact, and in its making he seems to have topped himself with regards to awesome and esoteric guest spots:

Yup. Rutger Hauer, he of Blade Runner and Hobo With A Shotgun fame. He's not the first name that would've jumped to my mind for an actor to do a guest spot on a rock or metal album, but when I think about it it makes more and more sense, considering the penchant for monologues he demonstrated in his two most famous roles. Yeah, he's usually more quietly intense than hammy or bellicose, but that may well be more in keeping with Lucassen's typically atmospheric, introspective kind of music. I love me some grandiose concept albums, and this has got me excited now to hear what sort of soap-opera DMT trip Lucassen has planned this time. That, and I'm just happy that an actor I like is being paired with a musician whose work I enjoy and respect, considering Orson Welles and Christopher Lee were taken decades ago by vacuous cheesemongers Manowar and Rhapsody of Fire respectively.

No, really. Orson Welles narrates on Manowar's debut album. It was 30 years ago, and I still can't quite get my head around that.

Happy birthday Quorthon.

Tomas Börje Forsberg, founder and frontman of Bathory and better known by his stage alias of Quorthon, was found in his apartment having died of heart failure on June 3rd 2004. Had he lived, he would've been 46 years old today. Bathory were one of the greatest and most influential metal bands of all time (their 1988 LP Blood, Fire, Death holds the distinction of being my personal favourite metal album ever), having not only provided the blueprint for the genres of black metal and viking metal in the 80s and early 90s, but having also set benchmarks for a primal, passionate, lo-fi sound that remains practically unsurpassed anywhere in the genre. Although his work may not have been as widely known or renowned as that of artists like Cliff Burton, Dimebag Darrell or Ronnie James Dio, his premature passing is felt every bit as accutely among those who loved and admired what he accomplished. Happy birthday Quorthon; I hope you're getting shitfaced up there in Valhalla right now.