Arjen Lucassen is an artist who always likes to think outside the box. Whenever he releases an Ayreon disc, he often has to dive into another project where he can clear his mind and use some of his other creative ideas in different musical areas. Stream of Passion is one of these projects. However, it's not just a one-off project. This is the first band Arjen has put together in the last 10 years, and yes, he does plan on going on a tour at the end of the year. Arjen's amazing vocal discovery Marcela Bovio from Mexico already impressed a lot of Ayreon fans with her exceptional performance on The Human Equation album. After the success of the album, Arjen decided to work with her in a different capacity, where he could utilise her talents and concentrate on a whole album with Marcela doing the vocals.
So plans were put into action and a totally new band was formed. With Arjen playing just rhythm guitars and Marcela doing the vocals and playing violin, Johan van Stratum on bass, Marcela's band mate from Elfonia Alejandro Millan on piano, Davy Mickers on drums, and Lori Linstruth on lead guitars also joined the band, equally contributing to the songwriting process and broadening the musical spectrum of Embrace the Storm. Like Marcela, female lead guitarist Lori Linstruth was also found through the internet. Linstruth plays a wide range of guitar solos on the disc with a distinct metal style focusing on melodious flow. Drummer Mickers is an interesting find indeed. Quite different from Arjen's usual skinsman Ed Warby, Mickers renders the album a bit more modern with exceptional timing and rhythmic drive. Finally, Alejandro Millan gives the album an organic edge with his sparse piano melodies often reminding me of Elfonia's new disc This Sonic Landscape. Though I was expecting something more in the lines of Arjen's Ambeon project, Stream of Passion has turned out to be a more band effort with real metal instrumentation rather than various electronic and sampled soundscapes. That said, the album does share a few common ideas with Ambeon, in that it features a single female vocalist lending it her voice and Arjen experimenting with rather non-Ayreon elements.
However, since Arjen wrote most of the album on acoustic guitar only to send the demos to Marcela lest she could come up with her own lyrics and vocal melodies, together with Alejandro Millan on piano, the music has resulted in subtle similarities to their own band Elfonia, except that Elfonia is a lot jazzier and perhaps more Latin-inspired. Marcela has not only composed similar harmonies, but she also sings in Spanish on three songs. "Haunted" opens up with a lush orchestral run and marching drum and bass rhythms where Marcela uses both Spanish and English lyrics in order to diversify the piece. From silently spoken gloomy Spanish sections to English-sung bits over acoustic guitars, the song does a great job of portraying the subject matter on hand, which addresses the loss of innocence. On "Out of the Real World", she uses more of her angelic opera vocals (changing from English to Spanish, and vice versa) with truly majestic string arrangements juxtaposed with a rather modern, trip-hop beat. "Nostalgia", on the other hand, is a completely Spanish-sung track with Millan's pretty piano and Marcela's crytalline voice which eventually morphs into a sweeping soprano delivery. Marcela's lyrics are dark and deeply moving, especially when matched by her emotive tone. This album has also allowed her to explore different singing styles, as her voice on the first track "Spellbound" has an evident Anneke van Giersbergen influence. This is a cold track, with a very structured drum pattern and ambient piano, along with subtle violin and an ethnic percussion break. Images of more vivid The Gathering touches are heard with the arrival of thick guitar and bass chords forming a lucid texture around the vocals.
Much more is on display on the album. From the dark bass figure, electric piano, and intense rhythm guitars that fill the alluring passages of "Deceiver" where Marcela's dual leads are mixed cleverly, to the soaring guitar solo on the piano ballad "I'll Keep on Dreaming", to the ever-changing dynamics on "Wherever You Are", Arjen opts for the perfect marriage of polarized rhythmic qualities that never fail to contrast the very slow and moody sections with a thunderous guitar and bass tandem. Marcela once again shows her Anneke van Giersbergen-like style on the other piano ballad "Breathing Again", while on "Calliopeia" the band creates their most progressive moment with cohesive instrumental breaks and smooth shifts in time signatures. Needless to say, all of these soundscapes are fantastically arranged by Arjen Lucassen in his unique and immediately noticeable style. The special edition of the album comes with a DVD that shows the making of the album, a video clip of "Passion" underpinned by the amalgamation of operatic vocals, pianos, textural guitar riffs, some industrial elements, and lush string works and piano, and demo versions of some of the songs. Recommended to fans of Ayreon, Ambeon, Star One, and Elfonia, as well as fans of prog rock, gothic, experimental and dark music.