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  • Powerful Passion Podcast

    Third episode: Peter von Hess' Die Schlacht bei Wjasma am 3. November 1812 (1842)

    Download it right here: Powerful Passion Podcast III

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  • The Universal Migrator I: The Dream Sequencer

    Ayreon - The Universal Migrator Part I: The Dream Sequencer (2000)

    Floating in Space

    When I bought Ayreon's double-album The Universal Migrator Part I: The Dream Sequencer and The Universal Migrator Part II: Flight of the Migrator as a teenager one and a half decades ago, I expected an epic heavy and power metal firework with guest singers from renowned bands such as After Forever, Helloween, Iron Maiden, Primal Fear, Rhapsody and the likes. Initially, I was slightly disappointed when I got an intellectual progressive rock opera instead but the two records started to grow on me as time went by.

    The first part of the duology can't be categorized as progressive metal at all. What we get here is atmospheric progressive rock inspired by the genre's most legendary outputs in the seventies. This album is recommended to fans of Camel, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Jethro Tull, Kansas and Pink Floyd. The album has a cohesive alien, dragging and smooth flow from start to finish. The warm production blends in perfectly. Highlights are the eerie, floating and numbing ''My House on Mars'' with gloomy vocals by Tiamat's Johan Edlund and haunting backing vocals by After Forever's Floor Jansen, the atmospheric, electronic and sluggish ''The Shooting Company of Captain Frans B. Cocq''  featuring rather unknown vocalists Maurice ''Mouse'' Bom and Lana Lane and the dreamy, fragile and mysterious ''And the Druids Turn to Stone'' featuring a versatile Damian Wilson.

    The record however also has numerous lengths. The conceptual overture alone cracks the five-minute mark and overstays its welcome. The fact that there isn't one single energetic, fast and surprising song makes the different tracks sound interchangeable, predictable and repetitive. With lengths close to seven minutes on average, the material presented here is hard to digest at first contact and takes some concentration, dedication and focus to open up after some spins.

    In the end, you will appreciate Ayreon's The Universal Migrator Part I: The Dream Sequencer if you are longing for smooth progressive rock inspired by genre classics of the seventies. If you expect contemporary, innovative and powerful music, you will probably prefer the much heavier successor The Universal Migrator Part II: Flight of the Migrator. After initial disappointment, this atmospheric, creative and intellectual record has grown on me and if imaginative space opera concepts sound intriguing to you, then you should give this release a few spins as well.

    Final rating: 75%

    The Universal Migrator II: Flight of the Migrator

    Ayreon - The Universal Migrator Part II: Flight of the Migrator (2000)

    Journey to the Dark Side

    Ayreon's The Universal Migrator Part II: Flight of the Migrator is quite different from its immediate predecessor The Universal Migrator Part I: The Dream Sequencer even though both records were released at the exact same time. This second part is much darker than the predecessor, the keyboards provide dystopian sounds, the guitar work is heavy, the rhythm section is both powerful and playful and the guest singers perform with much energy. While the predecessor qualified as progressive rock album rooted in the seventies' genre stylistics, this output here is a contemporary progressive metal output that pushes the boundaries as it can't be compared to anything released before. 

    Some people might argue that both records complement one another perfectly but the truth is that they represent two extremes and don't sound cohesive at all despite the lyrical concept that ties them. As a matter of fact, it's entirely possible that someone who loved the predecessor's airy, dreamy and smooth sound could despise this album's dramatic, oppressive and vivid tone or the other way around. In my case, I liked this second output right from the start while the first part needed some attention, patience and time to grow on me.

    The album includes multiple highlights and my favourite song is ''Dawn of a Million Souls'' featuring Symphony X's Russell Allen. The song comes around with cinematic, dramatic and epic keyboard fanfares, sinister backing vocals, heavy riffs, pumping rhythm section and passionate vocals culminating in a memorable chorus you won't get out of your head. Russell Allen has participated in numerous projects and released many great records with his main band but as far as I'm concerned, this song is the best performance of his career as we speak. 

    The playful, meandering and creative ''Journey on the Waves of Time'' is perhaps the most progressive song on this release. The dynamic keyboard sounds stand out yet again and Ralf Scheepers delivers one of the most versatile performances of his career. He continues to be one of the most underrated metal singers who is given the chance to underline all his talent in this tune.

    The heart piece of this album is the ten-minute epic ''Into the Black Hole'', sitting right in the middle of the album and being subdivided into three parts. It's a gloomy, haunting and mysterious tune with eerie sound effects and futuristic keyboard layers that give Iron Maiden's Bruce Dickinson the occasion to unfold his talent like few songs of his main band manage to do. 

    The remarkable thing about Ayreon's mastermind Arjen Anthony Lucassen is that he is able to craft songs that manage to fit his project yet sound perfectly tailored for the individual singers. This is something similar artists like Avantasia's Tobias Sammet aren't always able to achieve. You might find Ayreon's music too complex, intellectual and lengthy but nobody can deny the artist's dedication, precision and talent.

    In the end, Ayreon's The Universal Migrator Part II: Flight of the Migrator is quite different from its predecessor. While still being progressive and conceptually related, this album is gloomy, heavy and vivid from start to finish. Not every song works perfectly but the album's highlights are unforgettable. Anyone who likes heavy and power metal singers, progressive music and dystopian science-fiction concepts should try out this ambitious album that has aged very well.

    Final rating: 90%

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  • Nine Inch Nails - Ghosts I-IV (2008)

    Ghosts I: A Disturbing Journey

    It's rather surprising that a band as unconventional, experimental and courageous as Nine Inch Nails was ever able to achieve mainstream success but the unique band around controversial art director, performer and producer Trent Reznor somehow managed to make the improbable possible. The band from Cleveland, Ohio that has been around for more than three decades now has released two brand new records today to motivate people throughout the terrible Coronavirus Pandemic. These records are entitled Ghosts V and Ghosts VI and it only makes sense to listen to the first four parts as well to grasp the bigger picture.

    The first part was released twelve years ago and recorded thirteen years ago. It consists of nine nameless songs revolving around the three-minute mark. The songs are entirely instrumental except for some incomprehensible vocal fragments in the eighth track. The material is vaguely described as dark ambient. Some songs focus on fragile, melancholic and slow piano sounds as the opening and closing tracks that come full circle. Other tracks are much uneasier such as the fourth tune with its heavily distorted guitar sounds and the even less accessible eight tune that flirts with the noise genre as the instrumental sounds blur into one another. There are obviously quite a few experimental tunes such as the third one that works with tribal drums, simple electronic beats and domineering bass lines and might surprisingly still be the most accessible tune despite its unusual style because it has at least a hint of conventional concept, rhythm and structure.

    To conclude, the first part of Nine Inch Nails' Ghost series isn't easy to digest. It's very diversified, experimental and unconventional. Distorted noise sounds meet industrial rock patterns and uneasy ambient tones. In its radical execution, the album makes me think of releases by Lou Reed throughout the seventies. If you have an open mind for radical electronic and rock music, put your headphones on, close all the lights in your room and go on a most disturbing journey. Despite being overtly complicated, meandering and radical, this release has unique atmosphere, fascinating entertaining values and is obviously absolutely unique and unlike anything you have ever heard before.

    Final rating: 65% 

    Ghosts II: Mysterious Ghost Riders in Electric Funeral Fog

    Nine Inch Nails' second Ghosts record, released simultaneously with the first, third and fourth parts, looks quite similar to its predecessor on paper. Once again, we get to listen to nine tracks. The track lengths vary between one minute and a half and five minutes and a half. And yet, this is a quite different beast if compared to the first series of songs.

    There are a few similarities however. The songs are yet again entirely instrumental. The genre could be defined as dark ambient. It provides a quite creepy, gloomy and uneasy atmosphere. Discordant guitar sounds meet melancholic keyboard patterns.

    However, this album has a much clearer guiding line than the diversified, meandering and unpredictable predecessor. The songs here venture gothic ambient territory. They are calm, introspective and melodic. The haunting piano melodies are inspired and provide a wonderful soundtrack for long rides through rainy territories. The gentle guitar work is simple technically speaking yet efficiently atmospheric.

    ''10 Ghost II'' sets the melancholic atmosphere right from the start as highly efficient opener. ''12 Ghost II'' adds some elements to the rhythm section. ''13 Ghosts II'' employs some smooth electronic background vibes instead. The closing ''18 Ghost II'' entertains through five and a half atmospheric minutes with danceable psychedelic keyboard patterns and guitar riffs inspired by dark country music. This creative tune summarizes the preceding tracks very well but manages to add new elements as well. This is easily the best song on this second part of the release.

    To keep it short, Ghosts II is superior to Ghosts I thanks to a more coherent guide line in form of calm, gloomy and mysterious atmospheric vibes transmitted by electronic sounds inspired by pioneer bands such as Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream and occasional dark country sounds that could be inspired by the most sinister records of Johnny Cash and George Jones. If you feel like embarking on a sinister but inspired journey, Nine Inch Nails' Ghosts II would be your ideal soundtrack.

    Final rating: 75%

    Ghosts III: Riding through Dark Waves in the Sanatorium's Basement

    Nine Inch Nails' third Ghosts record consisting yet again of nine tracks varying between one minute and a half and four minutes in length is different from the first two parts in this unusual series. The first part was unconventionally experimental while the second part was almost appeasing and calm. This third part can be situated somewhere in between these extremes. Uneasy distorted guitar sounds meet dynamic darkwave passages and atmospheric piano parts in the different songs.

    If you take the songs one by one, they sound quite coherent. ''22 Ghosts III'' for instance would be the perfect song for the soundtrack of a gloomy horror movie as you can picture a figure clad in shadows wandering through the dark hallways of an abandoned asylum. ''24 Ghosts III'' focuses entirely on danceable electronic music with a few vocal samples and one would rather picture an ecstatic crowd celebrating an Electronic Body Music band on the stage of a gothic festival. ''27 Ghosts III'' seems to offer an uneasy ride through a tormented mind with heavily distorted guitar sounds and menacing rhythm patterns.

    While the tracks sound interesting one by one, the only element that connects them is the fact that you have to expect the unexpected. This third part of the Ghosts series offers some gems but the song writing isn't as coherent as in the two preceding parts. It's all over the place and hard to digest even by Nine Inch Nails' experimental standards. 

    My suggestion is to listen to this part of the series a couple of times, choose your favourite tunes for a diversified playlist and listen to the more coherent predecessors instead.

    Final rating: 70% 

    Ghosts IV: A Drug-Addicted Country Musician Having a Near-Death Experience

    This fourth part of Nine Inch Nails' dark ambient series was the final part released twelve years ago. Once again, it consists of nine separate tracks with running times between two minutes and six minutes. The songs are overall more coherent, detailed and vivid than tracks from the three predecessors. This fourth part is easily the most diversified, dynamic and entertaining. It's still experimental at all costs but more accessible than its predecessors.

    ''28 Ghosts IV'' is probably the most imaginative and memorable song of the bunch. The song features acoustic guitars evoking American country music, gloomy electric guitar riffs and only few electronic background samples. This song would fit perfectly on the soundtrack of an experimental western.

    Another great tune follows immediately after with ''29 Ghosts IV'' that focuses on vivid electronic music with eerie sound effects that combines the band's accessible and experimental sides in one single tune.

    ''31 Ghosts IV'' is heavy and noisy with domineering electric guitar sounds and uneasy electronic effects that make for a nightmarish alternative rock vibe. You shouldn't listen to this song when being in an anxious, negative or nervous mood.

    ''32 Ghosts IV'' blends in fluidly and includes samples that remind of a patient on a respirator in a hospital that sound quite creepy.

    After a much diversified fourth part of the series, the final ''36 Ghosts IV'' completes the tetralogy on piano sounds that are fittingly both appeasing and uneasy. This approach goes back to the very first song of the first part of the series and appropriately comes full circle. It shows that despite numerous changes, the concept combining these two extremes is the guiding line of these four initial releases.

    As mentioned earlier, this fourth part of the series is dynamic, entertaining and imaginative. It ultimately qualifies as the most accessible, coherent and recommendable part of the unusual series. If you don't have time to listen to all four parts with a total running of one hundred and ten minutes, you can simply check out this fourth and final part to verify whether this uncompromising project could be of any interest for you at all.

    On a closing side note, there are two bonus tracks that are particularly hard to find. ''37 Ghosts'' has an epic, mysterious and spiritual vibe that clashes with chaotic, fast and noisy electronic samples. ''38 Ghosts'' combines numerous interesting electronic samples but lacks coherence, flow and structure.

    Please note that this unusual series would only continue twelve years later with the calm and soothing ''Ghosts V: Together'' and the dark and unsettling ''Ghosts VI: Locusts''. 

    Final rating: 80%

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