How to follow up a mammoth sci-fi rock opera sung by 17 different vocalists? This was the dilemma that faced Arjen Lucassen at the beginning of 2009.
The album in question, the previous year’s 01011001, had been the culmination of over a decade’s toil under the banner of Ayreon, a project that attempted to fuse prog and metal through complex, multi-character narratives and lavish arrangements. Exhausted by the sheer flamboyance of 01011001, Lucassen elected to go back to basics. He duly formed a new, infinitely more concise outfit, Guilt Machine, for which he recruited ex-Porcupine Tree drummer Chris Maitland, singer Jasper Steverlinck (frontman of Belgian alt rockers Arid) and, crucially, his partner and manager Lori Linstruth. The latter, guitarist on just one song from the previous album, was now tasked with all solos and lyrics. The resulting On This Perfect Day was light years from the excessive bombast of 01011001. This was a deeply personal construct that used the experiences of Lucassen and Linstruth, both of whom had suffered from depression, as raw material. Such intense themes (guilt, turmoil, regret) demanded intense settings. The songs are uniformly epic, building purposefully before undergoing a variety of mood swings, rising and falling like tempests. Twisted Coil is all slow menace until the sudden crash of heavy guitar which comes in halfway through its 12 minutes. Linstruth’s lyrics describe a world in which all colour is drained from sun and sky, while multi-instrumentalist Lucassen sets the tone and Steverlinck gets to unveil an impressive range across the whole quiet/loud spectrum. There are portentous echoes of Muse and Radiohead here, albeit more prosaic and more indebted to metal. And while it’s fair to say that it can sometimes get a little too earnestly po-faced for its own good, On This Perfect Day remains a dynamic, masterful study in broody atmosphere.