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'The Diary'
(Inside Out)
Release Date: 23rd March 2015

Ian Sutherland

ian sutherland

the gentle storm

Dutch progressive Metal legend Arjen Lucassen doesn't do things by halves.

His musical history is littered with science fiction concept albums and double album projects with a cast of thousands(or so it seems). His most famous musical creations have come out under the Ayreon banner and one of those albums 'The Human Equation' is even being made into a theatre show.

When Lucassen was looking around for his next project he ended up getting in touch with another Dutch legend, ex-singer of The Gathering Anneke van Giersbergen. They have worked together before, on two of the best Ayreon albums 'Into The Electric Castle' and '0101101' but this time decided to create a new entity called The Gentle Storm.

This is more of a band project although with only two full time members. The giant Dutchman (he's around 6 foot 7" in UK terms) has a track record of this kind of thing too with Star One and Stream Of Passion, both of which produced terrific albums (and in the case of Stream Of Passion a band that survived and prospered when he left).

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Expectations abound then when you get two such talented and high profile individuals together and having mentioned not doing things by halves what they have come up with is 'The Diary', a concept album based on letters between two fictional lovers from the 17th century separated when one is on a long ocean voyage. Added to that not only is there a story to make it a concept album but they have decided to tell it twice and 'The Diary' features eleven songs done in both folky 'Gentle' and epic 'Storm' styles.

Starting with the 'Gentle' versions the first thing that strikes you is how well produced this album is. Lush can be an overused term in progressive rock circles but this album has a rich full sound which is all the more remarkable when you realise that the only keyboards anywhere on here is piano. All the musicians get room to breathe and shine.

Lucassen is a talented recluse, happy to spend his time creating music in his studio at home and he is a master of many instruments. Here he extends that mastery and plays not just standard instruments like guitar but exotic things like the hammered dulcimer. In addition he roped in some excellent musicians to add their expertise where required.

the gentle storm

Ben Mathot is they guy every Dutch act seems to turn to when they need to add a violin, Maaike Peterse of Kingfisher Sky displays her atmospheric cello playing and the rhythm section of Stream Of Passion's Johan van Stratum and Ayreon regular Ed Warby is both solid and hugely imaginative. These are only some of them as there are around forty different instruments used!

On top of all this beautiful, atmospheric playing you have the unmistakably luscious, smooth and velvety voice of the mercurial Ms van Giersbergen. I will admit right now that I am definitely one of those people who will happily listen to her singing anything. You get lots of opportunities as she is one of the hardest working people in the business and I think it shows her belief in this project that she has taken so much time from her work with the likes of The Sirens and Devin Townsend Project as well as her burgeoning solo career to work on The Gentle Storm.

The vocals and the musicianship then do not disappoint which leaves the songs. I was worried that a whole album's worth of gentle folk would be too much of a good thing and that it would be easy to lose interest but I am happy to say that is not the case. I have lived with this album for a few days now and repeated listens are very rewarding. There is so much detail in each song that there is always something new to notice plus there are great, memorable melodies and songs you can sing along with.

While the theme may be gentle and folky there are lively, jaunty tunes like 'Heart Of Amsterdam', the almost jazzy atmospherics of 'Brightest Light' and the eastern infused grooves of 'Shores Of India' to keep things varied and interesting.

the gentle storm

The gentle in The Gentle Storm is well represented then so how about the storm? This time the flavour is of a full rock band and an orchestra and choir, all there to whip up a storm of epic proportions. Once again the production allows the sound to be top notch and of course the songs sound bigger and louder. There are many hook lines and sounds which are typical of Ayreon material and despite this being the first album where the talented Dutchman has gone for the full orchestral sound this is totally recognisable as his work.

The sound here is huge and epic but the one instrument that seems to suffer in the mix is the guitar. I was expecting some meaty riffs to swell the sound into the promised storm but the truth is much of this half of the album isn't that stormy. Apart from a deafening blast at the end of 'Epilogue:The Final Entry' it's the tremendous rhythm section which provide the power of the storm.

This isn't really a criticism as such as I love the sound that's been created. What I mean is that there is so much light and shade, so much focus on those beautiful, heart stopping vocals and no dominating guitar riffs so the effect is uplifting and majestic rather than brutal and overpowering.

The choir here(another first for Lucassen to work with a full choir) provides much of the drama, especially in 'Endless Sea' and 'The Storm'. On this version of 'Cape Of Storms' these is beautiful juxtaposition between the stuttering power of the band and the soaring melodies of the vocals which is typical of the storm section of proceedings here. It's the contrasts that make it work and there are many softer moments which accentuate that.

An example is 'New Horizons' which features some sweet and understated vocal moments from Anneke alternating with full on moments from band and orchestra with the her melodic vocal power soaring above it all. Cumulatively the effect is more epic prog rock than prog Metal but while the storm may come and go its' effects are never any less than mesmerising.

There is huge anticipation in some quarters about this album. You could tell just by the fact that a live band has been assembled and an extensive European tour booked before any music had even been released to promote the album. Much is expected from this collaboration between two well known and respected musical forces and 'The Diary' doesn't disappoint. It is a supremely well crafted, beautifully executed labour of love with so many musical highlights they can't all be listed here.

There is a lot of depth too so I think it will get better with repeated listenings and once I get my hands on a lyric sheet I can have fun working out the full details of the story. Essential stuff for anyone even slightly into epic progressive related music, I have marked the score down to 4 1/2 out of 5 simply because they used the same songs twice. Next time (please let there be a next time) I'd like to see two discs worth of new material!

Line up:
Arjen Anthony Lucassen
Anneke van Giersbergen




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