CD review: Armin van Buuren – Intense

May 3, 2013


Fans around the world have been anticipating the release of Armin van Buuren’s new album for a long time, with many hoping for a record that brings trance music back with a vengeance. That, after all, is the intention behind his recent push as DJ to play more pumping tunes with higher tempos. His Who’s Afraid Of 138 mixes, to many in the trance scene, represent a turning point.

Intense, to the dismay of many, is no return to older sounds. Nor is it, for that matter, an experimentation in new sounds.

If there is any sort of cohesion in the album, it is in the way it starts off decently but quickly devolves into yet another marketing ploy produced by a trance artist, an album that takes the safe route towards commercial success. Intense to Armin van Buuren is what Kaleidoscope is to Tiësto and Scream is to Markus Schulz.

The album kicks off with the title track, featuring Miri Ben-Ari on violin, giving the listeners hope that maybe this is Armin—the man voted five times as best DJ in the world—doing what he does best: constantly pushing the boundaries. But the violin soon gives way to an uninspired and directionless melody that represents the path the producer has taken throughout the album.

Next comes “This Is What It Feels Like,” a vocal pop tune with repetitive synth arpeggios that sounds more like David Guetta than Armin van Buuren—a tune that the producer himself recognizes its lack of appeal to his fans, always playing Giuseppe Ottaviani’s more uplifting remix in his own sets.

And the imitation does not end there. Fast forward a few tracks, and the listener is confronted with “Alone,” a song that sounds eerily similar to Swedish House Mafia’s hit single “Don’t You Worry Child.” Fast forward some more, and “Love Never Came” plays on, featuring the vocals of Richard Bedford, that, along with the track’s melancholic melody and focus on the rhythmic elements, makes it more apt for Above & Beyond’s Group Therapy.

Preceding those tracks are generic club bangers, the likes of which have come to dominate the electronic dance music scene, and concepts with some potential but that are poorly developed.

Only towards the end does the album show any sign of life, with “Who’s Afraid Of 138,” a tune featuring chopped, echoing choral sounds and a hauntingly serene melody that takes trance addicts around the world on the uplifting trip they always crave.

The iTunes version also includes “Humming the Lights,” a dark and progressive tune released under the artist’s Gaia pseudonym that he has been using to promote his more creative work, as if consciously allowing his real name to be eaten by the dogs of commercialism.