One DJ whose career I have continued to follow is Holland’s Armin van Buuren. Over the years, his various compilations have been a staple in my CD collection and played many times over on varying occasions. I still regard his “Boundaries of Imagination” a personal classic and play it whenever possible with the volume of my stereo turned up to a ridiculous level as I dance around my apartment pretending I’m once again a fearless twenty something year old. In 2003, Armin released the first in a new series entitled “Universal Religion”. To say that I was disappointed with that release is an understatement. If diplomacy must rule, I found it somewhat dull. Earlier this year, his “A State of Trance 2004” was released with much acclaim and fanfare but for me, it was another disappointment. So, when “Universal Religion 2004 – Live from Armada at Ibiza” reached my desk, I honestly wasn’t expecting anything that I would like.
I was wrong.
“Universal Religion 2004” opens with the enticing beats of Synergy’s “Hello Strings”. The melody of this track establishes the overall feel of this compilation, which is ultimately a trance aspect but with lush progressive overtones. This feel is beautifully followed up with one of my favourite tracks from this year when the opening chords of Tilt’s “The World Doesn’t Know” comes into the mix. It’s all about that chugging bass and the overlying melodic chords. Definitely one of the best crossover tracks that works extremely well in either a progressive or trance mix. A somewhat progressive tone is continued with Lolo’s “Why?” which I swear pays homage to Sasha’s “Xpander” in the best possible way.
Andy Moor’s presence has already been felt with the inclusion of Tilt’s wonderful tune but Ridgewalkers’ “Find” smacks of his remixing talents which is up next. Once again, it’s that signature galloping bass that grabs your attention. The breezy vocals only add to the intoxicating sound of this tune. With Audioholics’ “External Key”, the mix starts to take on a more uplifting trance feel with its infectious, hands in the air beat and then moves onto the guitar inspired riffs of Perry O’Neil’s “Waveforce”. I’ve heard many great things about this talented Dutch DJ and producer but nothing that prepared me for what I was about to hear. This particular tune begins on a darker tip but completely changes once those guitar riffs take hold. This track encompasses the majestic qualities of trance that I always love so much. I adore this tune and it’s, without question, my favourite on this compilation.
A much loved label of mine is Deep Dish’s well respected Yoshitoshi and up next is one of my favourite tracks this year is their release of Deepsky’s “Talk Like A Stranger”. I’ve only ever heard this in its original form but Markus Schulz has remixed it into brooding scorcher with its hypnotic padded bass. The next track that comes into the mix is Probspot’s “Foreplay”. This is almost like a sneak attack of beats because the melody hits you at a time when you think Deepsky’s track has exploded onto a different level. It hadn’t. In reality Armin’s introduced “Foreplay” perfectly into the mix. And what a track! It’s the driving feel of the melody that grabs you and doesn’t let go. You could have kicked me senseless but I’d still have a smile on my face whenever I hear this track. Simply awesome!
Just over the halfway point of the compilation, we’re now moving into proper trance territory with Tranquility Base’s “Surrender”. For me, this is respect to the old skool style of trance and perfectly encompasses what I always regarded as the Balearic influences of the genre. The bass is energetic but without being ridiculous. Up next is the Super 8 Remix of Mirco De Govia’s “Voller Sterne” which is a tune that continues with that Balearic feel. As always, it’s all about the breakdown, the uplifting melody and hands in the air action. A slight key change can be heard when the opening strains of EnMass’s “CQ (Seek You)” are introduced but that euphoric feel is once again continued even though the tone is now beginning to wind down as we near the end of Armin’s mix. The down play continues with Active Sight’s “Out Of Our Lives” which has a deeper, more languid feel within its beat. The rising melody and breakdown is only a teaser but still effective. You can’t help but smile.
With Signum’s “The Timelord”, it’s now obvious that the mix is coming to a close. The atmospheric tones have now taken on a much darker and final feel. If we were in a club, this would be the hope before the final storm because harmonious structure only manages to tease you into staying even though you sense the end is near. And with that, the murky beats of Armin vs M.I.K.E.’s “Intruder” ends “Universal Religion 2004”. This is almost an evil way to end a mix. Dark but inviting, urgent yet calming at the same time. The high-toned acidic synths solicit screams for more but its probably the best way to end a night.
I really was quite skeptical when I received this CD but after having heard it not once but a number of times over, I honestly think this is one of the best trance compilations I’ve heard this year. For me, it has all the qualities that I look for in a trance compilation because regardless of people’s cynicism, I know when the genre of trance is mixed properly, it too has the capability of presenting a musical journey. It began on calmly melodic yet progressive tip with Synergy’s “Hello Strings” and then moved onto a more euphoric trance sound with Perry O’Neil’s “Waveform”. From Tranquility Base’s “Surrendered”, the mix captured a driving, almost pulsating momentum and then took on a darker, deeper quality from Active Sight’s “Out Of Our Lives” until the mix drew to a close.
So, was I surprised? Was I impressed? Was I pleased with what I heard? A resounding YES to all counts. My belief in Armin van Buuren’s talents as trance DJ have never wavered and this release is the reason why. My tastes have veered away from the general sound of trance over the last few years and as a result I’ve become a quiet pessimist. While I will never bitch and moan about the obvious letdowns of the genre these days, what I will do is holler loud and clear when something truly impresses me. And this mix did. “Universal Religion 2004” is programmed beautifully. All the tracks on this are superb. Armin’s mixing is spot on, as I would have expected. It’s that simple! Will this compilation sound dated in a few months time? Well, all things eventually sound dated however I’m only concerned with the here and now and this has captured the current state of trance quite effectively. The usual suspects will scoff at my enthusiasm but I don’t care. I have no shame in saying that as a reviewer that primarily listens to progressive, I adore this compilation and am a huge Armin fan. Listening to this mix reminded me of my trance roots and how much fun I had back then. It was all so easy. It was all about the music.
Armin van Buuren’s latest compilation may very well capture the sound of Ibiza… but I’m moving to Holland!
1. Synergy – Hello Strings
2. Tilt – The World Doesn’t Know
3. Lolo – Why?
4. Ridgewalkers – Find (Andy Moor Mix)
5. Audioholics – External Key
6. Perry O’Neil – Waveforce
7. Deepsky – Talk Like A Stranger (Markus Schulz Mix)
8. Probspot – Foreplay
9. Tranquility Base – Surrender
10. Mirco De Govia – Voller Sterne (Super 8 Remix)
11. EnMass – CQ (Seek You)
12. Active Sight – Out Of Our Lives
13. Signum – The Timelord
14. Armin vs M.I.K.E. – Intruder