AYREON
Progressive Metal / Metal Related • Netherlands

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Ayreon is the flagship musical project of Arjen Anthony Lucassen, a Dutch multi-instrumentalist, composer, and vocalist. Ayreon releases are usually rock-operas with an ongoing science fiction storyline, although there have been exceptions in the form of Actual Fantasy (not a rock opera) and The Human Equation (not science fiction, but still containing ties to the main storyline).

A common misconception is that the name "Ayreon" is derived from Arjen's own name, but this is purely coincidental: originally the minstrel from the first album The Final Experiment was called Aries, but when this didn't fit the meters for the songs (Arjen himself mispronounced it A-ri-es (Note: This is how the Dutch do pronounce it), it was changed to Ayreon to sound both old-fashioned (Ay) and futuristic (Eon).

The Ayreon project is currently on hold while Arjen Lucassen works on other projects.
Thanks to graphix, m@x, adg211288 for the updates

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Into the Electric CastleInto the Electric Castle
Import
Import [Generic] 2001
Audio CD$5.46
$9.99 (used)
Theory of EverythingTheory of Everything
Inside Out U.S. 2013
Audio CD$12.47
$10.99 (used)
0101100101011001
Inside Out Music 2008
Audio CD$12.97
$9.98 (used)
Dream SequencerDream Sequencer
Import
NEMS 2000
Audio CD$4.00
$3.00 (used)
Timeline (3CD/DVD)Timeline (3CD/DVD)
Box set
Inside Out / SPV 2009
Audio CD$16.53
$15.14 (used)
The Human Equation [Regular Edition]The Human Equation [Regular Edition]
Inside Out U.S. 2004
Audio CD$7.36
$6.99 (used)
Final ExperimentFinal Experiment
Special Edition
Inside Out U.S. 2005
Audio CD$12.86
$16.64 (used)
Universal Migrator Pt 1 & 2Universal Migrator Pt 1 & 2
Limited Edition
Inside Out U.S. 2004
Audio CD$10.68
$7.99 (used)
Actual Fantasy RevisitedActual Fantasy Revisited
Special Edition
Inside Out U.S. 2004
Audio CD$12.86
$7.98 (used)
Actual FantasyActual Fantasy
Single · Extra tracks · Import
Transmission 1997
Audio CD$49.99
$13.79 (used)
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AYREON Discography

AYREON albums / top albums

.. Album Cover 3.24 | 27 ratings
The Final Experiment
Progressive Metal 1995
.. Album Cover 3.23 | 22 ratings
Actual Fantasy
Progressive Metal 1996
.. Album Cover 3.78 | 45 ratings
Into the Electric Castle
Progressive Metal 1998
.. Album Cover 3.32 | 33 ratings
Universal Migrator, Part 1: The Dream Sequencer
Metal Related 2000
.. Album Cover 3.51 | 34 ratings
Universal Migrator, Part 2: Flight of the Migrator
Progressive Metal 2000
.. Album Cover 4.12 | 68 ratings
The Human Equation
Progressive Metal 2004
.. Album Cover 4.22 | 50 ratings
01011001
Progressive Metal 2008
.. Album Cover 4.65 | 19 ratings
The Theory of Everything
Progressive Metal 2013

AYREON EPs & splits

.. Album Cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
Temple of the Cat
Progressive Metal 2000
.. Album Cover 2.90 | 9 ratings
Elected
Progressive Metal 2008

AYREON live albums

AYREON demos, promos, fans club and other releases (no bootlegs)

AYREON boxset & compilations

.. Album Cover 2.97 | 7 ratings
Ayreonauts Only
Progressive Metal 2000
.. Album Cover 4.26 | 9 ratings
Timeline
Progressive Metal 2008

AYREON singles (7)

.. Album Cover
0.00 | 0 ratings
Sail Away to Avalon
Progressive Metal 1995
.. Album Cover
0.00 | 0 ratings
The Stranger From Within
Progressive Metal 1996
.. Album Cover
0.00 | 0 ratings
Temple of the Cat
Metal Related 2000
.. Album Cover
0.00 | 0 ratings
Temple of the Cat (2)
Metal Related 2000
.. Album Cover
0.00 | 0 ratings
Day Eleven: Love
Progressive Metal 2004
.. Album Cover
0.00 | 0 ratings
Loser
Progressive Metal 2004
.. Album Cover
0.00 | 0 ratings
Come Back to Me
Progressive Metal 2005

AYREON movies (DVD, Blu-Ray or VHS)

AYREON Reviews

AYREON The Theory of Everything

Album · 2013 · Progressive Metal
Cover art Buy this album from MMA partners
AtomicCrimsonRush
Ayreon's "The Theory of Everything" is the eighth studio album Dutch songwriter, producer, singer, and multi-instrumentalist Arjen Anthony Lucassen. This concept album features as always a cast of many prog legends portraying enigmatic characters that tell a captivating story. This Ayreon project begins a new saga that disregards the science fiction theme of previous albums to embrace a new concept based on a realistic world. According to Lucassen "The Theory of Everything" is "four long tracks divided into various segments", culminating in just under an hour and a half or prog opera theatrics. The segments add up to 42 in total, with Lucassen paying obvious tribute to Douglas Adams' 'Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything' in "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" saga.

There are many guest artists to revel in on this album; the vocalists include JB from Grand Magus as The Teacher, Sara Squadrani from Ancient Bards as The Girl, Michael Mills from Toehider as The Father, Cristina Scabbia from Lacuna Coil as The Mother, Tommy Karevik from Kamelot, and Seventh Wonder as The Prodigy, Marco Hietala from Nightwish, and Tarot as The Rival, John Wetton from Asia, UK, King Crimson, Family, and Roxy Music as The Psychiatrist, and Wilmer Waarbroek on backing vocals. The musicians are incredible on this project consisting of the incomparable keyboardists Rick Wakeman and Keith Emerson in a powerhouse performance with Jordan Rudess. Genesis guitarist extraordinaire guitarist Steve Hackett makes an appearance. Also on show are Arjen Anthony Lucassen on electric and acoustic guitars, bass guitar, mandolin, analog synthesizers, Hammond, Solina Strings. He is joined by talented masters Ed Warby on percussion, Troy Donockley from Nightwish on uilleann pipes, whistles, Ben Mathot on violin, Maaike Peterse on cello, Jeroen Goossens on flutes, piccolo, bamboo flute, contrabass flute, Siddharta Barnhoorn on orchestrations and Michael Mills on Irish bouzouki.

Now for the actual contents. It opens with 'Singularity' beginning with soft, minimalist flute and acoustics. A pulsating bassline pumps ominously and then the voices begin. The gorgeous vocals of Cristina Scabbia resonates like an angel; as the Mother she infuses her performance with passion and fire. The Prodigy is the main protagonist, an amazing vocal from Karavik, and Michael Mills is superb as The Father. After a huge conversation about the genius becoming manipulated into a world changing, mind altering mathematical experiment of scientific significance, the music builds into a tense metal riff and soaring synths. At 8:35 there is a violin concerto waltz and this builds to a fantastic guitar solo with delay reverb. There is an atmospheric grinding organ sound and some mechanised effects. The Father sings "down here on my knees, feeling the weight of shame, how could I have done this to you my son, why should I forgive you after all you've done." The Prodigy answers "I was driven and blind, we can still work together if you allow me". The Father retorts "why should I give you a chance why should I trust you now?" The Prodigy replies "if we join our minds then together we can do this, we both want to be the first, we both want to change the world, we can work all night, we can solve this mystery be a part of history".

The chemistry is signified by chemical synth effects. The experiment begins with scientific gobbledygook spouting out like some bad chemistry effect "isolate the gravity, symmetry". 'Progressive Waves' has to be given special mention as it is a huge keyboard solo between Emerson and Rudess; a simply gobsmacking moment of the album. Emerson is brilliant of course and I love to hear his unmistakeable trademark staccato Hammond sound. Rudess on the Continuum is a master in his own right and gets some amazing sounds out of that weird contraption of his. There is a mood change then as the Teacher sings emotionally, "dear friend, my work as done, science had to survive, thank you for your faith." A nice little segment of keyboard The Psychiatrist sings "His mind took flight and his eyes have lost their light, all we have to go on is a note, he changed the world last night working together side by side, his father is the only one who knows". The Mother sings passionately and then an emotive lead guitar break signifies the gravity of the situation as the experiment has gone wrong, entering the eleventh dimension. Some sad violin strains echo the dramatis and then very strong guitar and keyboard melodies join the soundscape. The Girl and The Mother have a duet as they wail over the plight of the Prodigy. A heartbeat bass draws the track to a close and the words "will we ever understand how two different hands styles came to grace this blackboard."

The second epic is 'Symmetry' opening with grand guitar and ethereal pipes until a throbbing synth locks in and some wonderful phased lead guitar motifs. This one has the foreign sound of 'Loser' from "The Human Equation". The deep resonating lyrics tell the tale, "I don't mean to interfere but I see quite a change in you". The tale unfolds where the Teacher implores "We can play a part changing history, our time is near" This is followed by the observations of The Psychiatrist "I have to say it's unusual, such a transformation overnight, I wouldn't have thought it was possible, I don't want to scare you but it can't be right" and the Son replies "A world of endless wonder lies ahead." The synth solo to follow is wonderful sounding very retro and 80s, then an ascending riff of distorted power crunches along till it moves to a fast tempo chugging metal riff. I love this section at 5:10 and the Hammond underneath is nicely placed. A lead guitar solo and Rick Wakeman's keyboard workout follows with grinding organ a constant presence. The aggressive vocals that trade off are so well executed "if you are such a genius it didn't get you very far".

Then the track segues to a droning buzz synth and a slow measured cadence at 7:50. This has a cool spacey sound and then moves into a melodic synth phrase and deep piano tones. The story continues with the regret of the characters shining through "I'm afraid we've got a problem, the side effects have been confirmed, psychosis and delusions, we have to stop the trial today, It's too dangerous, the boy deserves to know what's going on, what have we done?" This section reminds me of another Ayreon project in melody. The lead guitar break is brilliant, followed by more storyline from the Father, an incredible performance by Michael Mills, "I've been giving you a drug, I was convinced that it would help you, can you forgive me what I've done?" There is a nice synth section here that is captivating. Later, the metal riffs thrash along and kick the song up another gear. The Uilleann pipes enter and have a beautiful sound as the Prodigy and The Girl converse about him being able to stay with her. The Mother tries to warn her son with the Father and trade off a segment of arguing about the Prodigy; "He will deceive you, you're being used, don't let him play you, all he wants to do, he wants to be with you". I like the Irish sounding pipes throughout lending a very Celtic vibe and the song transcends into tranquil ambience. At about 17 minutes the music changes gears and the Teacher offers to make a deal, "I am a brilliant chemist, I can replicate your drug but my offer has a price you have to help me," sings Wetton. The Prodigy says count me in, "what do you need from me?" The Teacher explains what he wants. The Hammond grows in intensity as the Mother sings of her pain, pleading for her son to be cautious. An orchestrated passage signifies that the tale is getting darker, and there is a heavy rock guitar-driven section to follow, and the Girl sings "I won't be part of this nightmare, you're out on your own." The Prodigy is left to ponder "what have I done? Now she's gone."

The third multi-movement suite is 'Entanglement', opening with spacey synths, and a deep baritone voice; "do you struggle to adapt, do you feel detached?" The Prodigy answers he feels "like some alien machine, knowing what to feel or what is real". The Girl answers with her beautiful heartfelt tones and the conversation continues with the Psychiatrist; "let's talk about your dreams, can you describe what you feel, do you feel anything at all?" The Prodigy says "I see things that don't belong, there is so much more beyond." A lot of storyline is conveyed by the next sequence; the Mother screams, "I won't let you endanger my child". A cool retro synth workout takes over as a heavy riff cranks along. Michael Mills reaches some incredible high register octaves and then a gorgeous flute solo drifts in. The song becomes very melancholy as the Father whispers hoarsely, "ever since I was a child it all came so easy I never had to try." The violin adds a tone of sadness as the Prodigy pleads to continue with the experiment despite the warnings from his loved ones. The time signature changes to a funky bass and some techno keys that cascade up and down the scale. The lead guitar break is excellent at about 10 minutes and then a heavy rock beat with fast drums and a galloping metal guitar blasts through. Mills screams out as high as he can and then a violin solos over a synth pulse; one of the ambient moments on the album. The poignant lyrics are searching for answers; "Where am I going? How did this happen? My life is unfolding, depressingly average."

I like the time sig and choppy fractured riff as the gorgeous voice of Sara Squadrani chimes in. Some oddly placed violins over a very heavy riff enter and then another techno synth mix like a sequencer is heard, followed by distorted chopped riff and a grand crystal clear synth melody. At 15:30 there is an acoustic sound and this is broken by ultra heavy guitar riffing, an excellent sound, and soon staccato keyboards join. The story continues with "I know why you're here, you're a fellow man of science, our point of view is very much alive." The Prodigy asks to keep it between themselves, as "no one needs to know". The plot thickens and so does the music with layers of guitars and a pulsating synth locks in at 18 minutes. Some wonderful vocals sing "I am so close to the answer but I need your brilliant mind". The track builds to a crescendo as we near the end with grandiose keys, powerful melodies and shimmering Hammond then a final guitar motif. This is a fantastic song full of vibrant energy and incredible vocal performances with accomplished guitar and synth workouts.

The 4th phase opens with waves crashing on a beach and then the deep vocal sings "will we ever get this close again uniting the forces of our universe?" He is answered by Cristina's crystalline tones "it's been too long, I think he's gone." At this point the Hammond enters with a powerful fanfare, and then some delightful electric organ and a grand piano segment. The tale continues as the Prodigy is being immersed in the grand experiment; "Unification of the great and small". The Prodigy says "I just need some more time as the answer is blindingly near." The Girl is worried for his safety and pleads for him to stop. The Son is now confused and is losing touch with reality. An Egyptian sounding melody enters, with some wonderful flourishes on keyboard and Steve Hackett's guitar. Acoustics chime in and the Father's lyrics "is this your work, be honest now, how did you do it, I'm not angry boy, but I really need to know." The Prodigy is sorry but his Rival says he has always been the genius and "he just wants to be like me." This storyline reminds me of the rivalry between those who steal ideas and claim it for themselves seen in many movies.

I like the next section and how the Girl sings "what have you got against him, what did he ever do to you?" The Rival retorts with "I can't believe you're falling for this loser". He says that they should be together and is obviously jealous. At 18 minutes the song culminates in a fiery argument between the main protagonists. The music has reached a crescendo and is nearing the end. A dreamy flute solo and violin serrations are joined by piccolo; some of the most sublime music you are likely to hear. At the end of this I am left just shaking my head in absolute awe at the majesty and beauty of such music; it captures the soul and lifts the spirits.

Overall, this new Ayreon project is a stunning achievement with some unbelievably transcendent musicianship. The vocals are flawless throughout especially Mills, Scabbia and Wetton. It is hard to pick a favourite song as they complete the whole and are inseparable, though CD 2 absolutely shines through as some of the best Ayreon I have heard. To listen to this album in one sitting is one of the more pleasurable musical experiences over recent years. I have loved so much of Ayreon's work over Arjen's long career, and string of masterpieces, and this album is no exception; a masterful musical triumph without a doubt. It grows on my ears on subsequent listens, and especially noticeable are the flute, Uilleann pipes and the keyboard flourishes. The melodies are infectious and begin to grow familiar over a few listens. The storyline is perfect for this project and not as complex as other Ayreon tales. I thoroughly recommend this for all prog addicts; not too heavy, not too light, but perfectly balanced virtuoso musicianship and outstanding vocal performances.

AYREON The Theory of Everything

Album · 2013 · Progressive Metal
Cover art Buy this album from MMA partners
Conor Fynes
'The Theory of Everything' - Ayreon (8/10)

Back in 2008 when Ayreon released “01011001”, I was taken aback by some of the criticism it received. Although there were those that still applauded Arjen Lucassen’s bombast and ambitious scope, many more seemed to discredit the album for what interpreted as an overly familiar approach. Though my opinion doesn’t appear to be shared by many others, I thought (and still think) that “01011001” was a masterpiece, a natural culmination to the composer’s metal opera cycle. Even so, Arjen’s decision to start fresh with a new saga only fuelled my anticipation for “The Theory of Everything”. Arjen’s familiar eclecticism remains, but this latest double-disc opus makes it abundantly clear that we’ve set foot in a new era for Ayreon. Though this artistic rejuvenation is welcome (and some might say necessary), this latest installment in Ayreon’s proud catalogue feels scaled back when compared to the last two masterpieces. Though it doesn’t compare favourably to Arjen’s best work, “The Theory of Everything” is a strong foundation for a new progressive metal saga, and I’m interested in see where he’ll take it next.

Outside of the atrociously disappointing Dream Theater and the latest instant classic from Haken, “The Theory of Everything” sparked my anticipation moreso than any prog record released in the past year. Admittedly upon first sitting down to listen to the album in its entirety, I met Ayreon’s latest opus with disappointment. Not only did it feature the least impressive cast of vocalists since “Actual Fantasy”, it had also exchanged satisfying song structures for an onslaught of bite-sized segments, tied together with some semblance of an epic. Though my biggest gripes with “The Theory of Everything” have remained in part, appreciation grew with the dawning realization that Arjen had taken the risk of making a fresh start. Experienced on its own, “The Theory of Everything” reveals itself as a treasure trove of compelling musical ideas and passages, even if Arjen’s pieced them all together a little awkwardly.

I’ve seen many people liken “The Theory of Everything” structurally to Yes’ infamous (and equally brilliant) “Tales from Topographic Oceans”; a double album that consisted of four twenty-odd minute compositions. Although Arjen has broken this 42-track spectacle into four ‘phases’ (or sides), the tracks often feel like self-contained miniature ideas rather than pieces of an ‘epic’ whole. In bold rock operatic fashion, “The Theory of Everything” moves away from regular song structures in exchange for a more spontaneous theatrical flow. There is some clever use of recurring motifs sprinkled throughout the album, but for the most part, the musical ideas feel structured episodically. Although the ‘phases’ begin and end with important plot points relating to the album’s concept, “The Theory of Everything” can feel pretty incoherent if listened to as a collection of four epics. Although I would have easily preferred more concise and focused compositions in the vein of “01011001” or “Into the Electric Castle”, repeated listens to the album do give the impression that the sheer quality of the ideas individually more than makes up for the perceived lack of conventional structure.

As for these ideas themselves, Arjen has once again outdone himself. Where other aspects of the album may suffer, the segments themselves sound as excellent and as epic as anything in the band’s catalogue. There is a greater instrumental emphasis here than on albums past, and each of the four sides are home to epic segments. Ayreon’s traditional fusion of traditional progressive metal, electronic, folk and classical music really shines here, and though “The Theory of Everything” is almost twice the length of your average album, the eclectic approach to instrumentation and style feels consistently fresh and engaging. When compared to past Ayreon albums, “The Theory of Everything” sounds a little more vintage, more reserved and indeed, less ‘metal’. A few rhythmic eruptions like “Quantum Chaos” still earn the album a metal label, but I get the strong impression here that the second saga of Ayreon will see the project cater even more to its prog-based fans.

Hearing about the new cast of vocalists has always been the most exciting part of a new Ayreon album for me. In the past, Arjen Lucassen has had a fantastic taste in the voices he chooses for the characters, “01011001” had two of my favourite vocalists (Daniel Gildenlow of Pain of Salvation and Hansi Kursch of Blind Guardian) on it, and “The Human Equation” featured contributions from Devin Townsend... bloody Devin Townsend! By contrast, “The Theory of Everything’s” offering of vocalists from Lacuna Coil, Ancient Bards, Asia and Nightwish feels unforgivably weak in comparison. While it’s still puzzling to see such a lack of prog and metal star power working with Ayreon this time around, the vocal performances are very good, if not excellent. Tommy Karevik (the latest singer of Kamelot) is chosen perfectly for the role of the opera’s protagonist, and Grand Magus frontman Janne Christoffersson gives an excellence performance here as well, offering his voice for the role of the ‘Teacher’. Otherwise, the vocals here aren’t quite as dazzling as I thought they’d be, and I think I’ll always bit a little disappointed that “The Theory of Everything” doesn’t feature a more distinguished cast of guests.

Although the vocalists may not have been as dazzling as expected, Arjen makes up for it with an incredible cast of guest instrumentalists from across the prog spectrum. Dream Theater keyboardist Jordan Rudess and prog wizard Keith Emerson both stand out for their respective solos on “Progressive Waves”. Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman and classic Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett are also featured. This emphasis on classic prog icons for guest appearances, paired with the more reserved musical style are both redolent of Arjen’s intention on reinventing Ayreon with this album. Although some things have certainly changed, expert musicianship and stellar production standards remain Ayreon’s signature. Although Arjen is prone to use disparate elements like folk and electronica in the same musical phrase, it’s blended together brilliantly, and never feels forced, as often seems to be the case with many genre-bending proggers.

“The Theory of Everything” marks the first time since “Actual Fantasy” (in 1996) where an Ayreon album hasn’t contributed to the overarching Ayreon concept mythology in some way. As “01011001” and the “Timeline” compilation released shortly thereafter made for a satisfying conclusion to Arjen’s sci-fi epic, it’s exciting to see the man moving onto a new saga. This time around, Arjen has chosen to step away from the overt science-fiction and fantasy tropes, instead choosing to build the story around psychologically believable characters and interpersonal drama. This approach has worked wonders for Ayreon in the past; his magnum opus “The Human Equation” made for compelling psychodrama in the purest sense, involving a protagonist interacting with personified manifestations of his emotions. In addition to its fascinating high concept, Arjen imbued the plot and characters with a surprising amount of depth for a rock opera. Although “The Theory of Everything” isn’t as interesting a concept as “The Human Equation”, its story- pertaining to the struggles and moral dilemmas surrounding a mathematical genius- offers plenty of room for Arjen to explore much of the same psychology and relationships. Many tropes on “The Human Equation” are found again here: the neglectful father, the morally tainted protagonist, the concerned romantic interest. Although “The Theory of Everything” doesn’t offer nearly as engaging of a plot, the psychological depth is once again striking. Each character is fuelled with their own distinct opinions and motivations, and no action within the story is without conflicting moral viewpoints for and against it. With that being said, it’s not as compelling of a story as I would have hoped to hear on an Ayreon album. Although the story’s potentially paranormal epilogue leaves me excited for where Arjen might take this saga next, the story seems to plod along at times, defaulting on praise or criticism of its hesitant protagonist. To those detractors that have long condemned Arjen’s often complex sci-fi creations however, “The Theory of Everything’s” more human approach might come as a welcome change of pace.

It’s certainly not a perfect album, and not the masterpiece I was hoping to hear from Ayreon, but “The Theory of Everything” sounds rich and multilayered in spite of its weaknesses. Although a less impressive set of vocalists and convoluted album structure make for glaring issues, there are so many brilliant moments here that deserve to be heard by any self-respecting fan of modern prog. In spite of Arjen Lucassen’s apparent intent to renovate his style, I don’t imagine existing detractors of his work will be converted to the man’s legion of rabid followers. Likewise, if you’ve enjoyed Ayreon in the past, the weaknesses here won’t otherwise impede enjoyment of the experience. Ayreon has delivered a complex, bombastic, no-holds-barred progressive rock epic with “The Theory of Everything”, but then again, we wouldn’t have expected any less of him anyways.

AYREON The Theory of Everything

Album · 2013 · Progressive Metal
Cover art Buy this album from MMA partners
arcane-beautiful
Having loved Ayreon's last album, I was so excited to hear that Arjen had decided to get this project off the ground again. Not sure whether this was due to his failed projects Guilt Machine and his first solo album, but whatever...I am so glad to see him get this project off the ground again.

Now Arjen's reason for stopping the project was due to the criticism on Ayreon's last album “01011001.” Now personally, this album is one of my all time favourites, but some harsh words from critics who claimed the album to be “the same old thing”. Hurt by these comments, Arjen decided to put the Ayreon project to bed...but now he's decided to wake it up, and it's ready, awake and an album is here for us to listen to.

Now, Ayreon's biggest quality is the ability to take some of the greatest talent in music. And I have to admit, I was rather surprised at who he got. With big names like John Wetton (King Crimson, Asia) Cristina Scabbia (Lacuna Coil), Tommy Karevik (Kamelot, Seventh Wonder) and Marco Hietala (Nightwish, Tarot), the vocals really shine, with each vocalist surprising me and impressing me multiple times throughout. The biggest shock was seeing Michael Mills name on the credits. Being from a rather unknown band called Toehider, who I've just recently gotten into these past years. I knew this dude was a good singer...but...wow...people need to check the talent this guy has. JB from Grand Magus also has one hell of a role in this album too. One of the slight criticisms I had with this album (same I had with “The Human Equation”) was the lack of attention focused on the main character. The Prodigy (as played by Tommy Karevik) is really one of the top vocalists for this album, but sadly he really doesn't get a big enough part, which is a shame. I do think allowing the other vocalists time was a good idea, but a bit more focus on him really would have fleshed this album a lot more.

The musical line up is also a lot bigger than it has ever been. Bringing in some help from Jordan Rudess, Rick Wakeman, Keith Emerson, Steve Hackett, Troy Donockley and some other famous faces. I have to admit, with this help, musically this project hasn't been stronger. In fact, this also may be Ayreon's heaviest album to date.

Story wise, it's a rather odd one. Based around the trials and tribulations of a child prodigy, the album does have a pretty strong and encapsulating narrative throughout. I have to admit, some of the lyrics aren't the best in the world, but as you listen and enjoy, you get hooked. Also, no spoilers, but a rather surprising twist can be seen at the end...which in all fairness, I really liked.

Whenever I saw the track listing for the album, I was surprised slightly. 4 big suites! My first impression was...'is this going to be some sort of “Tales Of A Topographic Ocean.” Luckily it wasn't. Unlike Yes, this album doesn't seem too over indulgent...in fact, it's pretty to point, which is one of the reasons I actually liked the suites being split into separate tracks. Now, I wouldn't have minded 4 long tracks, but I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the separate tracks.

In conclusion, I am rather mixed with this album. By far this isn't the best or worst effort from Ayreon...but at least it's something different. While the music and vocals in this album are absolutely stellar, the songwriting isn't as strong, due to the lack of hooks and songs that where in the previous albums. Still a great album from Arjen, and proves that what he thought was getting old is still sought after, and whatever he decides to do next, there will always be an audience for Ayreon.

AYREON The Theory of Everything

Album · 2013 · Progressive Metal
Cover art Buy this album from MMA partners
J-Man
Like most of Arjen Lucassen's bombastic metal operas released under the Ayreon monicker, The Theory of Everything had quite a few heads turning before it even hit shelves in late 2013. A list of guest musicians that includes seventies' prog legends like Steve Hackett, John Wetton, Keith Emerson, and Rick Wakeman is sure to grab enough attention, but when one also considers the presence of musicians from Nightwish, Dream Theater, Kamelot, Lacuna Coil, Grand Magus, and many others, it's crystal-clear why so many folks had high hopes for The Theory of Everything. Fortunately, Ayreon's eighth observation lives up to, and even exceeds, these expectations. A breathtaking conceptual masterpiece that easily ranks up there with Lucassen's finest, The Theory of Everything is sure to top plenty of "best-of" lists as the year comes to a close.

For those familiar with Ayreon's previous outings, this one doesn't change things up too much - like most of the other releases, The Theory of Everything is a double concept album that tells a detailed story through the lens of progressive metal music, although there are still a few notable changes. This album feels much more like a single piece of continuous music than other Ayreon albums, largely due to the fact that it is split into four large "phases" rather than individual songs. There are also a number of repeated themes and motifs throughout The Theory of Everything, and although other Ayreon albums featured recurring ideas, this one feels even more unified than Lucassen's previous masterworks.

The Theory of Everything is the sort of record that has grabbed me in a way that very few releases manage to - in addition to feeling memorable after only a couple spins, the music here is detailed enough to make every subsequent listen feel even more rewarding. Lucassen's bombastic approach to songwriting and arrangement has always sounded genuine to my ears, and although some folks will still find Ayreon to be too overblown for its own good, this album is a captivating delight for all fans of epic progressive metal operas. As far as I'm concerned, it doesn't get much better than The Theory of Everything!

AYREON The Theory of Everything

Album · 2013 · Progressive Metal
Cover art Buy this album from MMA partners
adg211288
The Theory of Everything (2013) is the eighth studio album by Dutch progressive rock/metal project Ayreon. The return of Ayreon has been several years coming since the release of 01011001 (2008) as mastermind Arjen Anthony Lucassen has spent the last few years making albums with other projects, the most recent being the solo album Lost in the New Real (2012). The album brings some changes to the project as the original sci-fi story of the minstrel Ayreon and the race of aliens called the Forever is over. The lyrics are now more grounded in reality, although are still pretty complex at times. Comparisons to The Human Equation (2004) would be justified, although this time we’re dealing with a cast that are strictly portraying human characters rather than different emotions of a single man. It somehow comes across as rather geekier than Arjen's sci-fi stuff though.

The vocal cast is also much smaller this time around, featuring just seven vocalists. It’s not the smallest group of singers Arjen has ever had for an Ayreon album, Actual Fantasy (1996) had just three main vocalists, but compared to the eighteen strong 01011001 the amount has more than halved. That said unlike on 01011001 we're dealing with more of an ensemble cast where some singers don't just show up for a single song. Arjen himself did not take a vocal role on The Theory of Everything, making this the second Ayreon album where he didn’t at least have a small vocal part, the other being Flight of the Migrator (2000). I kind of miss his voice because I’ve always thought Arjen sells himself short as a vocalist, but we did get him taking the lead full time on Lost in the New Real, so perhaps this was to be expected.

He’s got some quite well known and talented names this time though with Tommy Karevik (Kamelot, Seventh Wonder) taking the role of The Prodigy, the protagonist of the story who appears to be out to solve the titular theory of everything. Michael Mills (Toehider) and Cristina Scabbia (Lacuna Coil) play The Father and The Mother of The Prodigy respectively. Scabbia is very well known but Mills is one of the lesser known vocalists to appear on the album. The other relatively unknown vocalist here is Sara Squadrani (Ancient Bards), who portrays The Girl, the love interest that any good story has. Marco Hietala (Nightwish, Tarot) is The Rival of The Prodigy, while John Wetton (Asia) plays The Psychiatrist. The cast is completed by Janne "JB" Christoffersson (Grand Magus) who plays The Teacher. He additionally has Wilmer Waarbroek on backing vocals, who also appeared on Lost in the New Real. I've actually heard one of Wilmer's own songs and am actually a bit disappointed that he didn't get a lead role on this album. I'm not sure I'd call it my favourite cast Arjen's ever put together for an Ayreon album but it's a very strong group that really bring out the melodic aspects of Arjen's music.

For The Theory of Everything Arjen structured the music differently than usual. The album is double disc as per his normal standard but made up of just four twenty plus minute songs (or phases, as they are known here) of multiple short segments, for a total of 42 tracks across about an hour and a half’s worth of music. I typically prefer my long tracks to generally be one track, not broken up like this, unless it's something really long like Transatlantic's The Whirlwind, a near seventy-eight minute track. But in most cases such as this it isn't really noticeable when listening to the album.

The usual sounds of an Ayreon album such as folk and symphonic elements are all present and correct on The Theory of Everything, although the album is much more noticeably lighter on the metal elements than most other releases in the Ayreon discography although it's still got enough metal in it to be considered at least as much progressive metal as it is progressive rock, a marked difference to a release such as The Dream Sequencer which was intentionally devoid of metal elements. The music has a high focus on instrumental breaks between the vocal parts, and as always there's some pretty creative and captivating stuff in this department.

Arjen plays most of the instruments on the album but has regular collaborators with him including drummer Ed Warby and violinist Ben Mathot. As is quite typical of his music there are also several guest solo spots, mostly for keyboardists and this time around he has none other than Rick Wakeman, Keith Emerson and Jordan Rudess (so quite the prog all-star trio here) as well as Steve Hackett on guest guitar. The overall sound, like the concept, puts me in mind of The Human Equation so fans of that album are sure to lap The Theory of Everything up. Not that it’s unsatisfying to other listens whose favourites may lie with heavier albums like 0101101, in fact it’s a nice change of pace between the two, sitting somewhere between the sounds of those heavier Ayreon releases as well as the Star One albums, and lighter releases such as Lost in the New Real or Guilt Machine's On This Perfect Day (2009).

Arjen Lucassen is such a versatile musician and you never know what direction he’ll take an album in, especially an Ayreon album. His versatile nature means that new albums from him always have a high level of excitement attached to them that other more predictable artists, even with the progressive genre, can never hope to match. Although The Theory of Everything doesn’t quite displace releases like Into the Electric Castle (1998), 01011001 or Star One's Victims of the Modern Age (2010) as Arjen's best efforts for me, it’s undeniable for me that this is, once again, a top tier work from the man and it's pretty damn close to being in his top three albums. There's no doubt in my mind that Arjen is the best in this business, and albums like The Theory of Everything are just another piece of evidence to prove it.

97/100

(Originally written for Heavy Metal Haven: http://metaltube.freeforums.org/ayreon-the-theory-of-everything-t3253.html)

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