Armin van Buuren – Universal Religion Chapter Five

The latest installment of Armin van Buuren’s not-quite-annual Universal Religion series is fleshed out to a two-disc package this time. Given that, at least to me, the appeal of the previous chapters was partly to be found in their one-disc succinctness and brevity, I approached this with a little suspicion and the thought that perhaps, quality had been sacrificed in favour of quantity. Also, given the sheer excellence of Chapter Four (as captured in my perhaps-a-bit-OTT-in-retrospect review), I had to scale down my expectations – surely there’s no chance of van Buuren ever surpassing that mix?

As with previous chapters, both discs were recorded live – in this case at van Buuren’s Space residency in Ibiza during summer 2011. Although for all I know, the thing could have been mixed in his bathroom, with a bit of crowd noise overdubbed later on. Saying that, there’s definitely an energy emanating from both discs that you wouldn’t typically get from studio-based mixes, and I guess it’s that energy that helps to distinguish Universal Religion from the State of Trance releases.

Armin wastes no time getting down to business on disc one, powering out of the blocks with a trio of awesome tracks: Ashley Wallbridge’s classical-guitar-infused and cinematic Vision, BT’s perfectly balanced Tomahawk, and Gofman & Tsukerman’s operatic Darko. The epic breakdown and subsequent build of Shogun’s Space Odyssey, with its spaceman radio countdown sample, lends the mix its first moment of euphoria. A few vocal cuts keep things floating along nicely, the highlight of which has to be Dennis Sheperd’s Fallen Angel, with its delicate vocal courtesy of Ana Criado.

The mix veers into some fairly nondescript territory with Markus Schulz’s I Feel Love-aping Terrace 5 A.M., and van Buuren drops the ball under his Gaia alias with the uninspired Stellar. Fortunately, things pick up again, with Susana Boomhouwer’s gorgeous vocal cut Home, Mike Koglin’s widescreen Helion, and the Ferry Corsten and van Buuren collaboration Brute, all driving the mix home in suitably epic fashion.

The second disc commences with the celestial vibes of Andrew Bayer’s exquisite Counting the Points and Kid Alien’s fragile The Atmosphere. The relatively chilled mood continues through the wide open textures of Space Rockerz’s sensuous vocal track Puzzle Piece, and it’s not until Armin drops his remix of trance vocalist extraordinaire Emma Hewitt’s Colours that the pace picks up.

Tracks from Gareth Emery, John O Callaghan and Daniel Kandi take the mix into epic, big-room, big-sound territory, although I’d say the latter half of the mix fails to make any kind of lasting impression. The exception to that is the welcome surprise of Paul Oakenfold’s Full Moon Party, which already sounds like something of a classic. I thought the guy had dropped off the radar, but clearly he’s still got it, working up a slice of surging melodic trance that recalls some of the best Perfecto moments.

This certainly isn’t the finest release in the van Buuren catalogue, but then to expect him to pump out classic mix after classic mix isn’t really fair, and it needs to be assessed with a consideration of the live context in which it was recorded. Both discs seem to lack some of the subtleties and more delicate moments that characterise his best mixes. That’s not to say this isn’t worth checking out, and also that’s not to say I don’t like it. Indeed, there’s much to enjoy on here, and you’ll go back for repeated spins. It just seems like the little sprinkling of van Buuren fairy dust is missing on this occasion.

Universal Religion Chapter Five is out now on Armada / 405 Recordings.