AYREON
Progressive Metal / Non-Metal • 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).
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The SourceThe Source
Music Theories 2017
Audio CD$10.69
$12.98 (used)
The Human EquationThe Human Equation
Music Theories 2017
Audio CD$11.94
$11.93 (used)
The Theater EquationThe Theater Equation
Inside Out Music 2016
Audio CD$15.20
$11.69 (used)
Into The Electric CastleInto The Electric Castle
Music Theories 2017
Audio CD$11.97
$11.75 (used)
Universal MigratorUniversal Migrator
Limited Edition
Century Media 2012
Audio CD$13.97
$9.99 (used)
Theory of EverythingTheory of Everything
Import
Imports 2013
Audio CD$13.09
$18.79 (used)
Ayreonauts OnlyAyreonauts Only
Import
Import [Generic] 2001
Audio CD$247.96
The Theater Equation [Blu-ray]The Theater Equation [Blu-ray]
Widescreen
Sony Music Canada Inc. 2016
Blu-ray$18.84
$12.99 (used)
10110011011001
Music Theories 2017
Audio CD$11.84
$11.83 (used)
The Final ExperimentThe Final Experiment
Music Theories 2017
Audio CD$11.92
$11.91 (used)
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Ayreon - Into The Electric Castle (Arjen Anthony Lucassen) 2 CD 2004 GERMANY Ayreon - Into The Electric Castle (Arjen Anthony Lucassen) 2 CD 2004 GERMANY USD $14.39 Buy It Now 1h 34m
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METAL HAMMER MAGAZINE 1/2008 ARCH ENEMY AYREON ROB HALFORD SAXON THE OCEAN METAL HAMMER MAGAZINE 1/2008 ARCH ENEMY AYREON ROB HALFORD SAXON THE OCEAN USD $12.99 Buy It Now 1 day
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AYREON Into The Electric Castle (A Space Oper VICP-60478~9 CD JAPAN 1998 OBI AYREON Into The Electric Castle (A Space Oper VICP-60478~9 CD JAPAN 1998 OBI USD $74.02 Buy It Now 1 day
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01011001 Press Release - Ayreon (CD Used Very Good) 01011001 Press Release - Ayreon (CD Used Very Good) USD $16.06 Buy It Now 7 days
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AYREON Discography

AYREON albums / top albums

.. Album Cover 3.51 | 32 ratings
The Final Experiment
Progressive Metal 1995
.. Album Cover 3.40 | 27 ratings
Actual Fantasy
Progressive Metal 1996
.. Album Cover 4.07 | 55 ratings
Into the Electric Castle
Progressive Metal 1998
.. Album Cover 3.51 | 39 ratings
Universal Migrator, Part 1: The Dream Sequencer
Non-Metal 2000
.. Album Cover 3.69 | 40 ratings
Universal Migrator, Part 2: Flight of the Migrator
Progressive Metal 2000
.. Album Cover 4.14 | 85 ratings
The Human Equation
Progressive Metal 2004
.. Album Cover 4.19 | 64 ratings
01011001
Progressive Metal 2008
.. Album Cover 4.06 | 37 ratings
The Theory of Everything
Progressive Metal 2013
.. Album Cover 4.74 | 12 ratings
The Source
Progressive Metal 2017

AYREON EPs & splits

.. Album Cover 3.16 | 11 ratings
Elected
Progressive Metal 2008

AYREON live albums

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

.. Album Cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
Actual Fantasy - Revisited
Progressive Metal 2004

AYREON re-issues & compilations

.. Album Cover 3.24 | 8 ratings
Ayreonauts Only
Progressive Metal 2000
.. Album Cover 4.47 | 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 (Acoustic Version)
Non-Metal 2000
.. Album Cover
0.00 | 0 ratings
Temple of the Cat
Non-Metal 2000
.. Album Cover
4.00 | 1 ratings
Day Eleven: Love
Progressive Metal 2004
.. Album Cover
4.00 | 1 ratings
Loser
Progressive Metal 2004
.. Album Cover
3.00 | 1 ratings
Come Back to Me
Progressive Metal 2005

AYREON movies (DVD, Blu-Ray or VHS)

.. Album Cover
4.98 | 3 ratings
The Theater Equation
Progressive Metal 2016

AYREON Reviews

AYREON The Source

Album · 2017 · Progressive Metal
Cover art Buy this album from MMA partners
siLLy puPPy
Metal’s artisan of ambitiousness Arjen Anthony Lucassen returns with his project AYREON taking time off from his other musical projects Star One, Guilt Machine and The Gentle Storm to embark on yet another sonic journey into the world of science fiction, where he unleashes yet another concept album that is a prequel to 2008’s “01011001” laid out in his usual monstrosity of a double album with an army of guest vocalists and musicians to play the proper roles in his larger than life metal operas. As a prequel, THE SOURCE tells the origins of the Forever which is an alien race that is a key force in the overall storyline. The two discs are separated into four Chronicles with each telling different timelines in the story. The are broken down into - Chronicle 1: The Frame, Chronicle 2: The Aligning Of The Ten, Chronicle 3: The Transmigration and Chronicle 4: The Rebirth and the album is graced with beautiful artwork, extensive liner notes and an overall packaging that goes above and beyond the call of duty for any dedicated artist. Lucassen has really been upping the bar with each and every release and shows no signs of releasing his feet from the gas pedal. His passions are ablaze and THE SOURCE displays it all in full regalia.

While AYREON is accustomed to mostly new cast members changing things up on any given album, THE SOURCE makes use of plenty of returning performers which include James LaBrie (Dream Theater), Simone Simons (Epica), Floor Jansen (Nightwish), Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian), Tobias Sammet (Edguy, Avantasia), Tommy Karevik (Kamelot, Seventh Wonder), and Russell Allen (Symphony X), together with newcomers such as Tommy Rogers (Between the Buried and Me), which makes a whopping total of eleven main vocalists. Add to that the extraordinary musicians involved which include Joost van den Broek (ex-After Forever) – grand piano and electric piano Mark Kelly (Marillion) – synthesizer solo on "The Dream Dissolves"Maaike Peterse (Kingfisher Sky) – cello, Paul Gilbert (Mr. Big, Racer X) – guitar solo on "Star of Sirrah,” Guthrie Govan (The Aristocrats, ex-Asia) – guitar solo on "Planet Y Is Alive!,”Marcel Coenen (Sun Caged) – guitar solo on "The Dream Dissolves,” Ed Warby – drums, Ben Mathot – violin, Jeroen Goossens (ex-Pater Moeskroen) – flute, wind instruments, and of course, Arjen Anthony Lucassen himself on electric and acoustic guitars, mandolin, synthesizers, Hammond, Solina Strings, all other instruments. I just had to list all these performers to let it sink in, the monstrosity that this beautiful album is!

THE SOURCE incorporates more aspects of the metal world than the usual AYREON project. While most indulge in heavy doses of folk rotation with the same recurring female vocalist, an aspect that has left me a little cold in the past, this album on the other hand keeps the musical jukebox flowing and never lets one style dominate for too long. While the folk influences are ever present, the retrospective styles of the performers are in full effect with much emphasis on progressive, power and classic metal with even some excellent to Queen harmonies and some extreme metal touches as well in the excellent “Everybody Dies” that is straight out of the progressive rock playbook with classic 70s Wakeman-esque keyboards, Freddie Mercury spots and time signature breakouts run amok (amongst tons of other styles and influences). It really seems like every little detail was cogitated upon before the final release was allowed to see the light of day. The only complaint i have about this fine album is that some of the tracks on the second track outstay their welcome a however it’s a minor quibble indeed. THE SOURCE is one to be experienced as words cannot convey the sheer magnitude of its accomplishments. The works are not only a rock and metal encyclopedia in scope and style but a testament to how to write, arrange and produce an album.

It seems that Lucassen’s talents caught up to his grandiose ambitions starting with “01011001” and progressively have been becoming more refined ever since. THE SOURCE not only displays the AYREON project having tightened up all the loose ends that have always bugged me but shows a maturing and steps away from the more progressive rock world and ups the energy level by keeping the album more in heavy rock mode. THE SOURCE is the first AYREON album on the Mascot Label Group and the digital release of the albums will follow. THE SOURCE is yet another modern day AYREON album that clearly demonstrates what made the early albums so weak in comparison as one track is crafted into the next and all cast members roles are cleverly placed in the perfect sequence of things. It’s no wonder the such staunch fans are as excited for a new AYREON release as are fans foaming at the mouth for a new season of Game Of Thrones! THE SOURCE is truly a brilliantly complex yet completely accessible metal opera that eschews the long drawn out filler pieces of the band’s earlier moments. At this stage i have been indoctrinated into the AYREON fan club and look forward to the next chapter of metal sci-fi digest - AYREON style!

AYREON The Source

Album · 2017 · Progressive Metal
Cover art Buy this album from MMA partners
adg211288
There are many metal bands out there for whom a new release is widely considered a 'big deal'. They come from your Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Metallica and Black Sabbath types: the pillars of the metal community in other words. One not so household name that has the same effect (and perhaps even more so) for me though is Dutch musician Arjen Anthony Lucassen. The man has several projects to his name such as Star One, Guilt Machine and most recent offering The Gentle Storm, but the most important of these projects is his flagship, Ayreon. The Source (2017) is the ninth full-length album to be released under this moniker. Like most of the project's work, it is a science fiction conceptual metal opera spread across a two disc release.

As is usual for an Ayreon album, there is a whole cast of vocalists, each playing a different character in the story. There are been some very impressive casts of vocal talent on previous Ayreon releases, but, especially for the direction of the music has gone on The Source, we may have been served the strongest cast to date. It's basically like an all-stars session for the progressive, power and symphonic metal genres.

Lucassen has worked with a few of these singers before, including two returnees from the previous Ayreon album The Theory of Everything (2013), Tommy Karevik (Kamelot/Seventh Wonder) and Michael Mills (Toehider). Russell Allen (Symphony X) and Floor Jansen (Nightwish), who both have sang on Ayreon releases before as well as being two of the four core lead singers of Lucassen's Star One project, are also present, as is James LaBrie (Dream Theater), who playing the lead character on The Human Equation (2004) and returns here for another key role in the Ayreon saga, effectively serving as a narrator due to the album's liner notes being credited to his character, The Historian. Big draws for power metal fans will of course be Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian) and Tobias Sammet (Edguy/Avantasia). Simone Simons (Epica) gets a more substantial role following a one song appearance on 01011001 (2008).

As always though, there are a few new collaborators making their Ayreon debut on The Source: Michael Eriksen (Circus Maximus), Nils K. Rue (Pagan's Mind), Tommy Rogers (Between the Buried and Me) and for just one song, Zaher Zorgati (Myrath). Arjen Lucassen himself does not sing on the album, for the second Ayreon album in a row. I actually expected (before having heard the album) him to take a role here after sitting The Theory of Everything out, but I can hear why. Lucassen (who is nowhere near as bad a singer as he makes himself out to be, as his solo album Lost in the New Real (2012) shows), has a voice more suited for the softer songs in his repertoire and The Source is, generally speaking, one of the heaviest and most dominantly metal based Ayreon albums, and the vocalists he's chosen are all basically singing powerhouses.

Conceptually The Source adds a new chapter to the Ayreon Saga, also being the earliest point in its timeline. It has strong ties to 01011001, acting as a direct prequel. Previously I thought it had been stated that 01011001 marked the end of the Ayreon Saga, which was supported by The Theory of Everything being its own thing entirely, but it seems that meant the door was always open for albums placed earlier in the timeline like The Source. I don't actually want to go into the album's concept too much to avoid spoilers for fans who want to experience and discover it for themselves, so I'll settle for saying that it's ties to 01011001 are very strong, both musically and lyrically. The two are very good companion albums.

Unlike 01011001 though, The Source flows through it's plot consecutively, with no side story songs not featuring the main vocal cast. It's broken down into four parts, referred to as Chronicles. The first of these is The 'Frame, comprising of three songs starting with The Day That the World Breaks Down, which was also the first full song revealed. It's the longest song on the album and introduces all eleven of the main characters. As an opener it not only sets the scene for the album's storyline, which heavily builds upon what has come before in other Ayreon albums, but also the musical journey that will unfold over the next 88:33 minutes. The Historian (LaBrie), opens the song and handles the introduction before things get under way proper, which is when the album's heavy, guitar driven nature is revealed. Like a true progressive metal epic though it moves around with it's moods a lot, including a quite bluesy sounding section sung by The President (Allen), which brings mind to the first part of Amazing Flight from Into the Electric Castle (1998), another Ayreon album with key conceptual ties to this one. A more obvious reference to another album though is the binary code lines from TH-1 (Mills), an android character, which reference the We Are Forever section of 01011001's opener, Age of Shadows.

The next two songs of the first Chronicle are Sea of Machines and Everybody Dies, which then move onto the usual format of an Ayreon album where not every singer is featured in the same track, which is a system that continues throughout the rest of the release, with the close exception of The Human Compulsion, the penultimate track, which features all the main characters aside from TH-1. Sea of Machines is rife with lyrical reference to other Ayreon albums/songs in The Prophet's (Rue) lines, while Everybody Dies is notable for being the only extreme edged song on the album, with The Chemist (Rogers) providing a few growls along with clean vocals. It's Mills' TH-1 that shines on that song though, being the ones he's most dominant on aside from the very last track of the album, March of the Machines, where he's the sole vocalist, making up for his absence on the prior The Human Compulsion.

As the album moves into its second Chronicle, The Aligning of the Ten, the lyrics take time for some emotional, reflective work dealing with dark themes such as the end of the world and leaving loved ones behind to die, and the survivor's guilt that results from that. While it's impossible not to mention Star of Sirrah as an album highlight from this part of the album, it's the following track All That Was that really adds some new dimensions to The Source, since it's quite a folk dominant piece of music and one where the albums two female characters The Counselor (Simons) and The Biologist (Jansen) get a chance to shine together, though LaBrie's Historian and The Diplomat (Eriksen) also make an appearance in the track. At the opposite end of the Ayreon spectrum is Run! Apocalypse! Run! Fast, heavy and somewhat frantic, it's one that's going to really appeal to the power metal fans with both the music and the vocals from The Astronomer (Kürsch), The Captain (Sammet) and The Opposition Leader (Karevik) among others.

Disc two and Chronicle three, The Transmigration and the story starts to tie up with the established lore of the Ayreon universe a lot more. The Preacher (Zorgati), puts in his sole appearance during Deathcry of a Race, laying down Arabic lines. I'm not entirely sure how this character is supposed to fit into the story presented by The Source, whether he is with the main characters and silent up until this point or in a flashback to events the main characters escaped from. I'd have liked to heard more from Zorgati on the album than this and hope that like with Simone Simons Arjen Lucassen will work with him again in greater depth on a future release. Speaking of Simons, it's in this song that she delivers some of her best lines, with both her and Floor Jansen making use of their full operatic vocal ranges in harmony. That combined with Zorgati's lines makes for a pretty epic section of music.

Final Chronicle The Rebirth contains the most individual tracks, with six, but the last three are more connected together than any of the others and are more like a mini-suite where Journey to Forever fills the role of the main song, The Human Compulsion the epic build up to the conclusion as has been done on other Ayreon albums such as The Human Equation, and March of the Machines as a final epilogue. Before all this though is one of my personal favourites from the album, Planet Y is Alive! Fans will of course know of Planet Y from previous Ayreon albums. The song is, like Run! Apocalypse! Run! earlier in the album, a quite fast, power metal influenced track so it shouldn't be any surprise to hear voices like those of Kürsch, Allen, and Jansen singing on it.

And as March of the Machines closes, we hear a final lyric: The Age of Shadows will begin, along with the sound of machines, prompting listeners to go back and immediately give 01011001 a spin as well (as if we needed an excuse).

In summary, The Source is one of the Ayreon albums really geared towards the metalheads in the audience like 01011001 and Flight of the Migrator (2000) before it and it may just be the one that does it the best thanks to its stellar cast of vocalists who all really complement each other. As previously stated I would have liked to have heard Zaher Zorgati in more than just the one song, but it's a small issue in the greater scheme of things when you have a progressive metal album that flows from track to track as well as The Source does, with some great vocal interplay between the other vocalists. It results in a very easy album to listen to, one that seems to fly by much faster than it's 88:33 duration would suggest, making repeat listens very tempting. I'd definitely also recommend a listen where you go straight onto 01011001 as the album's final moments prompt, as that makes for a doubly epic journey.

Albums like this are the reason why Arjen Anthony Lucassen is one of my 'big deal' artists when it comes to new releases. He rarely disappoints. Between multiple projects and diverse influences you're almost guaranteed that his next album will be a different beast from the last and The Source is no exception to that as both a follow-up to the more progressive rock based The Theory of Everything and The Gentle Storm's The Diary (2015) where Lucassen recorded the same album in two very different styles. Superb work, once again.

AYREON The Source

Album · 2017 · Progressive Metal
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All music fans have certain bands or certain musicians, who whenever they announce a new release, they’re instantly excited and immediately consider hearing it as soon as it’s available their top priority. For me, that musician is Arjen Lucassen, and especially his Ayreon project, which first blew me away with the 2004 release The Human Equation, my all time favorite album, and has yet to let me down ever since. I’ll admit, after the rather lengthy break and several side projects Arjen made in between 01011001 and The Theory of Everything, I was actually a bit surprised when he announced the eighth Ayreon album, The Source, less than three years after the release of its predecessor, with the release coming roughly three and a half years after that one, only doing one side project in between. I can’t complain, though, because while I have enjoyed all of Arjen’s other works in the past, I find I prefer him when he’s at his most dynamic and using the widest range of sounds he can, which is exactly what he does with Ayreon. After The Theory of Everything ended up being one of my all time favorite releases, I was excited to see if The Source would be yet another masterpiece, and suffice to say, it is!

As always with Ayreon, I’ll talk a bit about the concept of this release first, before going into the music. I find lately Arjen has fallen into a bit of a pattern, where one release will be focused on the overarching Sci-Fi concept he has going on, while the next album will be more of a side story. For example, The Human Equation was totally it’s own thing, then 01011001 ended up feeling like the end of the main Forever/Planet Y arc, which led me to think all future Ayreon releases would have to either side stories or a whole new story, and indeed The Theory of Everything was another side story, but to my surprise he has actually gone back to the main story this time around, with The Source being a prequel to 01011001.

As always, there’s a lot going on here, but the basic gist of the plot is that a planet called Alpha has been overtaken by machines, with the main beings of the planet, ancestors to humanity, losing control to the point where a group of them (the main characters of the album) make the decision to leave on a spaceship, to seek out life on another planet. This, of course, leads to the beginnings of Planet Y, which longtime Ayreon fans should be very familiar with by now. While the album still has its fun moments, including several references to various prior Ayreon releases, I find the tone to be a bit darker than usual, as many tracks talk about the guilt the characters feel over having to leave the rest of their people behind on a dying planet while they survive somewhere else. It’s a compelling tale as always, and of course there’s some great back and forth exchanges, most notably between Russell Allen’s “The President”, who made a mistake which led to the machines taking control, and Tommy Karevik’s “The Opposition Leader”, who claims to have been against the machines from the start. Though overall, I find the characters don’t conflict with each other as much as on previous releases, probably because there’s a common goal for all of them this time around.

Speaking of which, while previous Ayreon albums have had some impressive casts, this has to be the best one yet! There’s some great returning singers here, such as James Labrie (Dream Theater), Tommy Karevik (Kamelot), Simone Simons (Epica), Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian), Michael Mills (Toehider), Russell Allen (Symphony X) and Floor Jansen (Nightwish), with all of the above having prominent roles and being given a ton of room to work with. Simone Simons, in particular, has a much larger role than she had on 01011001, which is great as I had thought she was underused there, where on this album she gets to showcase her voice a ton more, including some operatic vocals on “Deathcry of a Race”. The real show stealer may be Michael Mills, though, as he plays the machine “TH-1”, which allows him to show off his crazy vocal range in some impressive ways, and he’s often used for some background effects which is also pretty cool. Moving on to newcomers, we have Tommy Rogers (Between the Buried and Me”), which at first glance may not be a choice some folks would expect, but he actually has a very clear, soft singing voice which works great for an Ayreon album and he sounds great here, especially on “The Source Will Flow”. Less shocking choices include Nils K. Rue (Pagan’s Mind), who has a very deep and powerful voice that fits his part well, especially shining during the chorus of “Sea of Machines”, where he really gets to show off his power, Michael Eriksen (Circus Maximus), who has a very emotional delivery that fits his character perfectly, and has his shining moments on the opening track and “Into the Ocean” and Zaher Zorgati (Myrath), who only has a very brief part on “Deathcry of a Race”, though he does a very good job on that part.

Perhaps the most shocking of all, though, has to be Tobias Sammet, and there’s an actually a bit of a story there as in the past some people assumed there was some kind of rivalry between the two because they were both doing rock opera projects, but it turns out they actually enjoyed each other’s music a lot and even did a cover of Alice Cooper’s “Elected” together in 2008, then Arjen contributed some guitar work to the 2013 Avantasia release “The Mystery of Time” and now Tobias has been given a fairly prominent role on this album. I was excited when heard about this as I’ve long been a fan of both men and their projects, so seeing them work together feels very satisfying, and the result is as great as I would have hoped for.

Musically, The Source is a diverse album as fans would expect, though I find in comparison to The Theory of Everything it’s definitely a much more metal oriented album, with a lot of more guitar-driven sections and some of the heavier sections remind me of the Star One album Victims of the Modern Age, with some of the chunky, groovier guitar sections. There’s also some a couple surprisingly speedy tracks, with small traces of power metal on one track in particular. Obviously, though, this is still an Ayreon release, and so fans can still expect tons of synth effects, as well as unusual metal instruments like violin, cello, and various wind instruments, and there are certainly some nice softer sections and some more prog rock moments as always. Where the last Ayreon release was a departure in terms of structure, this one feels more traditional, in that while it can still be divided into four different phases, there’s a much greater focus on individual tracks here, and the songwriting is more fun and catchy, while still giving room for the plot to develop. If anything, I’d say the release feels like a more focused version of 01011001 and is basically what that album would have been if it didn’t take any weird detours, seemingly to fit in as many side roles as possible, but instead focused entirely on the main plot. Basically, it has a slightly smaller cast, but I find everyone has an important role and no one feels underused, aside from the one exception I noticed, and Arjen has stated he’d like to give that person a larger role sometime in the future, which would be great.

Moving onto songwriting, and that’s an area where Arjen has never been anything short of brilliant, with The Source being especially impressive even by his standards. First up, man is “The Day That the World Breaks Down” ever an impressive opener! Like, you could pretty much consider that track its own EP or mini album, it has that much going on! The track opens up with some calm but somber sounding synth effects before James Labrie introduces us to the concept of the album, and from there the violin, cello, and flute all kick in, before the guitars eventually take over we get some pretty killer riffs early on. From there, the track feels like highlight after highlight, with both Tommy’s and Simone Simons getting into a great vocal section early on, then Nils K. Rue appears to steal the show for a bit, and after that we get one of the best parts of the track, where heavy guitars collide head on with a hammond for an incredibly epic sound!

After this, we get a bass-heavy section where Tobias Sammet makes his first appearance and does a great job, then Michael Mills adds in some vocal effects, in his first appearance before he reappears a bit later on and sings the binary code for “trust TH1”, but he uses his own creative vocal melodies, adding in an epic deep voice at the end, and he shows some incredible vocal abilities on just this one section. In between that, Hansi Kürsch shows up for a bit, sounding awesome as always. Early on in the track is a beautiful violin solo, which Arjen later recreates on his guitar, to amazing effect. Moving along, past the epic Michael Mills section, we get a bluesy section, where Russell Allen makes his first appearance, Fans of later Symphony X may be in for a shock, as on this album Russell mostly uses a more soulful, kind of bluesy hard rock approach to his vocals, which is actually refreshing as he sounds more like he did on older albums and does a great job. This section is mixed in with a softer section where Michael Eriksen sings beautifully, and then after that, we get one of the most gorgeous sounding guitar solos I’ve ever heard, performed by Arjen himself, and then finally a return to a heavier section where Floor Jansen appears and knocks it out of the park. She’s another singer who seems to be given more to work with every time she works with Arjen, and on this album, she really gets to showcase her power on some tracks and does an incredible job.

After that track, “Sea of Machines” starts off quietly, before picking up once the chorus kicks in, and it’s a pretty awesome one, then, later on, we get a section that starts off calmly before building up intensity, and turns into one of the better vocal sections, as well as the foundation for a later track. The next big standout track is “Everybody Dies”, where Michael Mills shows his insane range for the first minute, with everything from the usual effects, to epic high notes and some incredibly menacing deep vocals, then both Tommy’s show up and we get to the foundation of the track, which is to say some verses that are seriously catchier than most choruses on some albums, though the actual chorus is also amazing, performed first by Russell, then Hansi and then finally Floor right near the end. An epic, incredibly catchy track that alternates between fun and cheesy with the keyboards, to some pretty heavy riffs. An instant prog classic, for sure. We have a couple slower tracks after that, with “Star of Sirrah” starting off quiet before picking up the intensity after a bit and getting pretty heavy later on, reminding me of a Star One track, then later on it has an impressive guitar solo by Paul Gilbert. Meanwhile, “All That Was” is a calmer track with some slight folk elements. It has some impressive instrumental sections in the second half, while early on Simone Simons is given a chance to show off her always beautiful voice.

We then get into another big standout in “Run! Apocalypse! Run!”, probably the speediest track on the album and one that has some clear power metal elements, though the way the synths are used still give it a prog feel, and it certainly has the same addictive quality as the rest of the album. Tobias provides some great vocals during the chorus, and it’s a really fun track overall. Closing out disc 1, we have “Condemned to Live”, a darker track filled plenty of epic vocal sections, most notably from Tommy Rogers and James Labrie, though Tommy Karevik and Floor Jansen also get some great moments right near the end, and the instrumental part at the end is epic. Disc 2 gets off to a theatrical start, with some epic vocals from Michael Mills out of the gate on “Aquatic Race”, and then the track gets heavier and darker, again bringing Star One to mind. It’s actually a fairly calm track overall, though, and Michael Eriksen and Russell Allen have some great vocals in the middle, then Tommy Rogers takes over later on. Next we have a couple more ballad type tracks, first with “The Dream Dissolves”, where the beginning parts give us a nice duet between Simone Simons and Floor Jansen, as well as nice folk music, then later one we get two great solos, first a nice synth solo from Mark Kelly and a great guitar solo from Marcel Coenen. I already mentioned the two big moments on the next track, so after that, we have “Into the Ocean”, more of a hard rocking track where Michael Eriksen gets some big moments and Hansi Kürsch delivers big time on the chorus. Later in the track, Tobias Sammet and Nils K. Rue both get big moments and the instruments pick up big time, turning into a pretty epic prog track, with some huge vocal melodies. Next is “Bay of Dreams”, another ballad with some great synth sounds and great vocals from Tommy Rogers and James Labrie, before the track eventually gets heavier later on and Nils K, Rue delivers some epic vocals.

Following that, we get to perhaps my favorite sequence of the album, which brings us to the end. First up, “Planet Y is Alive” is another speedier track, which features a great exchange between Russell Allen and Tommy Karevik early on, as well as an epic chorus, though I prefer the later version of it when Floor Jansen takes over. In the middle, we get a calmer section with the last big guitar solo of the album, performed by Guthrie Govan. After that, “The Source Will Flow” is another ballad, starting with great vocals from Tommy Rogers and James Labrie before it picks up a bit of steam later on and Simone Simons gives us some of her best vocals on the album. The last full song on the album is “Journey to Forever”, an upbeat track which alternates between softer parts and a fast paced, epic chorus, starting off performed by Michael Mills, then later on performed by a group of singers. It’s definitely refreshing to hear such an upbeat and happy track on an album that can be very bleak at times, and it’s a very fun track that certainly stands out as a favorite. After that, we get “The Human Compulsion”, which takes a section from “Sea of Machines” and using it as the building block for the kind of section Arjen always loves to include, where all the main singers get one last chance to shine with some epic vocal moments. The song starts off calm before gradually picking up the intensity with each vocal line, and Floor Jansen’s final line is simply stunning. After that brief but awesome track, the album ends with “March of the Machines”, an outro track which uses some heavy synth effects and robot sounding voiceovers, as well as some more binary code in the background, before Michael Mills takes delivers some epic vocals near the end and closes the album with a big reference, sure to excite fans of a certain Ayreon album, and it makes this album’s place in the story all the more obvious.

I’ve said a lot already, so I’ll cut make this conclusion short: The Source is yet another outstanding rock opera that once again proves Arjen Lucassen’s ability to tell a compelling story, while still giving his fans memorable songs and some excellent instrumental work, to go along with a truly impressive cast of singers. It falls on the heavier side of Ayreon, while lining itself up well with past albums in the story, and is certainly up there with some of Arjen’s best work to date. Easily my 2017 album of the year so far, and highly recommended for all Ayreon fans and prog fans in general.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: http://myglobalmind.com/2017/04/11/ayreon-source-review/

AYREON Into the Electric Castle

Album · 1998 · Progressive Metal
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Into the Electric Castle (1998) is the third full-length album by Dutch progressive rock/metal act Ayreon. Ayreon is basically the flagship project of multi-instrumentalist and occasional vocalist Arjen Anthony Lucassen. Other projects of his include Star One, Guilt Machine and most recently as of 2015, The Gentle Storm. Though he already had a couple of Ayreon albums under his belt at this point Into the Electric Castle was the release that introduced some of the key concepts of the project, as well as beginning Arjen's collaboration with drummer Ed Warby. It's a double disc effort, something that would be repeated with several of the later records. It builds on the rock opera format used on the debut album The Final Experiment (1995) by casting each of the album's vocalists in a specific role (The Final Experiment had many vocalists sharing a small cast of characters). Conceptually it also builds on the themes of The Final Experiment and introduces the alien race known as the Forever. The Forever would also play a prominent role in the seventh Ayreon album 01011001 (2008) and minor roles in a couple of other releases. Though the albums Actual Fantasy (1996) and The Theory of Everything (2013) are disconnected from the Ayreon storyline, all other albums are tied together into one large multiple plot science fiction story. In the case of Into the Electric Castle it tells of the Forever race's interference and experimenting with humanity.

I should probably put a warning disclaimer in here now that, as this is going to be a very long and in depth review of all aspects of the album not only musically but also conceptually, that there will be plot spoilers aplenty herein.

To be more precise, the story begins thusly: a lone individual of the Forever race, known as Forever of the Stars on the album and played by Peter Daltrey (Kaleidoscope/Fairfield Parlour), plucks eight humans from different points in time and of varied cultural backgrounds and places them in 'a place of no-time and no-space'. Their goal is to reach the titular Electric Castle, however the mysterious voice guiding them (Forever of the Stars remains unnamed until near the end of the album) warns early on that some of them may die, and indeed, the cast of characters does thin out to half its original size by the time of the album's conclusion.

The cast of the album are as follows, in order of appearance:

Fish (ex-Marillion) portrays the Highlander. Fish was, at the time of the album's release, probably the only real high profile vocalist featured on the album though a couple of others have since gained larger followings. His character however is the first to be killed off during the course of the album, during the song Tunnel of Light, the sixth on the first disc. His accented singing is perfect for his role though.

Sharon den Adel (Within Temptation) portrays the Indian. I've always presumed that the use of Indian here refers to Native American rather than someone from India, but I don't believe it's ever specifically stated anywhere. She's one of only two female characters in the story. At the time Within Temptation only had the one album out, Enter (1997), which is far removed from what they're playing now. She's one of the singers that has since become quite high profile. Her vocals on the album seem a bit few are far between but she shines on the eerie Cosmic Fusion, however this is also the point where her character is killed off.

Damian Wilson (Threshold/Headspace) portrays the Knight. The Knight was in service to King Arthur and is also aware of the sorcerer Merlin, who played a role in The Final Experiment's storyline. I personally like to think that maybe this individual was present for the events of that album, but it's pure speculation on my part, though I wouldn't be surprised to learn that I'm right due to the way Lucassen weaves his plot strands together. Wilson is a great singer who's come to prominence within the progressive metal scene, particularly in recent years. The Knight survives the album. Damian Wilson also appears on Ayreon's The Dream Sequencer (2000) and Flight of the Migrator (2000) albums, though only doing backing vocals on the latter. He can also be heard on Lucassen's Star One project.

Edwin Balogh (Tamás Szekeres/Omega) portrays the Roman. He is one of the singers here that I remain largely unfamiliar with but his great rocking voice is a credit to the album. The Roman also survives the album.

Anneke van Giersbergen (ex-The Gathering) portrays the Egyptian. Anneke van Giersbergen needs no introduction really with her high profile CV of different releases with different acts and styles, including Lucassen's own most recent project The Gentle Storm. If you discount's the spoken word performances from Peter Daltrey that make up the whole of Welcome to the New Dimension and Forever of the Stars, Anneke van Giersbergen is one of only two of the Into the Electric Castle cast that gets to sing one of the tracks completely on their own, namely Valley of the Queens. It's a swansong performance though, as the Egyptian dies at this point. Evil Devolution is the other single vocalist song, but it does have Daltrey's narration leading it off, whereas Valley of the Queens does not. Anneke van Giersbergen also appears on 01011001.

Jay van Feggelen (ex-Bodine) portrays the Barbarian. Bodine was a band that also featured Arjen Lucassen in his pre-Ayreon days, though at different times to Jay van Feggelen. He brings a quite bluesy, yet powerful, voice to the album. His character is the final fatality, effectively falling at the final hurdle during The Two Gates. Jay van Feggelen also appeared on The Final Experiment.

Arjen Anthony Lucassen portrays the Hippie. This role was originally going to belong to a singer known as Mouse, who eventually appeared on the next Ayreon album The Dream Sequencer, but I'm personally glad Arjen took the role in the end. Arjen is his own biggest critic as a vocalist, but I happen to like his voice. He could never be considered one of the greats but for the role of the Hippie he is perfect. The Hippie, naturally, gets some of the wackiest lyrics on the album to sing. He survives the events of the album and possibly reappears briefly during The Dream Sequencer's One Small Step and 01011001's The Truth is in Here, if you connect the dots in a certain manner. Again, probably just speculation on my part, but it would make a lot of sense.

Edward Reekers (ex-Kayak) portrays the Futureman. Reekers was pretty much a staple of the early Ayreon releases, appearing on every album up until The Dream Sequencer. His is a very pure sounding singing voice. The character survives the album and goes onto became the main character of the next pair of albums, The Dream Sequencer and Flight of the Migrator, though the different structure of those releases has him portrayed by multiple vocalists, including Reekers. Connecting those dots again, since The Dream Sequencer deals with this character pre-incarnating, providing I'm correct in the assumption, the Futureman and the Hippie may actually be two incarnations of the same immortal soul (who are in turn incarnations of the character of Ayreon from The Final Experiment).

In addition to this main cast, there is the additional character of Death, who only appears during Cosmic Fusion and is the only character portrayed by two vocalists simultaneously; Robert Westerholt (Within Temptation) and George Oosthoek (ex- Orphanage). Aptly, both use death growling.

Now that I've introduced the cast let's move onto what Into the Electric Castle actually sounds like. Ayreon's music is not known for sticking to any one genre for long stretches, The Dream Sequencer/Flight of the Migrator pairing being a noted exception where Arjen instead separated his progressive rock and metal sides onto an album each. On Into the Electric Castle though Lucassen presents what I consider to be the classic blend of Ayreon styles. You can never really know what Lucassen is going to put into his music and while it's simplest to call Into the Electric Castle a progressive rock/metal album, it's also so much more than that. Folk music is a massive influence here, especially during guest slots by Focus' Thijs van Leer in tracks such as Amazing Flight and the Castle Hall. I don't normally do this, as I like my reviews to read universally rather than the audience of a single website, but it's really mind-boggling how people on the Rate Your Music website totally miss or dismiss the presence of folk music on Into the Electric Castle. It really couldn't be more obvious if it reared up and bit you on the arse.

There are other genres here to a lesser extent. The start of Amazing Flight is quite heavily influenced by blues rock which suits the Barbarian's introduction perfectly. This is one of my absolute favourite Ayreon tracks, not because I'm much of a blues fan (I'm not at all, really) but for the way it's different styles contrast and the dialogue exchange between Jay van Feggelen's Barbarian and Arjen Anthony Lucassen's Hippie. You couldn't really put two more different characters together. There's the Barbarian boosting about himself and the Hippie is basically just like 'hey dude, you're so uncool'. After the vocal exchange the track moves forward while Sharon den Adel's Indian chants, which is basically her voice being used as an extra instrument before the song concludes with one of the most epic instrumental sections I've ever heard on a progressive album. Along with Thijs van Leer's flute, Arena/Pendragon keyboardist Clive Nolan also adds a solo to the proceedings.

From the metal point of view, Into the Electric Castle isn't always the most metal album going, as it equally is as much a progressive rock release, but when it is metal, it can be really damn heavy. I'm especially thinking of tracks like Across the Rainbow Bridge and The Garden of Emotions, but there are metal riffs all over the place on the album. I can't mention Across the Rainbow Bridge and not talk about it; it's another favourite of mine on the album, and Lucassen's Hippie plays a big part of that, with some of the silliest lyrics on the album: 'Scarlet crimson rosy red, I must be dead, or stoned out of my head' is just the beginning of this scene. The Garden of Emotions isn't the longest track on the album, that goes to second song Isis and Osiris (a good track that serves to introduce most of the characters, but it's never been a favourite of mine with so much else on offer), but after Amazing Flight it's the one most deserving of the 'epic' branding that long songs get from rock and metal fans. Aside from those heavy riffs there is a lot of vocal interplay between the now Highlander-less cast, and strong symphonic prog elements.

Following this is Valley of the Queens, which as I mentioned above is the one of the only tracks to feature just a single vocalist, Anneke van Giersbergen's Egyptian. It's one of the shorter songs perhaps because of that, but a very effective deviation from the usual formula of the album. But it's back to business as usual after that when The Castle Hall starts. Another very powerful song with changing styles from metal to folk while the Barbarian and Knight duet. After that it's the Futureman and Hippie's turn during Tower of Hope and after that Cosmic Fusion starts up and we get to hear from Sharon den Adel's Indian again, after a period of silence. This is another multiple part track in the vein of Amazing Flight. Starting off light and eerie, den Adel delivers her characters final lines. The Roman and Futureman attempt to save her, but it is in vain, which leads into the movement called Death's Grunt, the only place in the album to use growling vocals. With a final scream the Indian is dead and the song launches into another of those epic instrumental sections that Arjen Lucassen is clearly the master of crafting.

In fact, I could probably give a detailed paragraph in this review to every single song not just for its plot but also style. With all the different genres cropping up in the album and the multitude of ways that Lucassen mixes them together every single one has its own identity. Even when songs appear to present a similar structure like Amazing Flight and Cosmic Fusion do (each has three parts and ends with an instrumental section), they are totally different in terms of composition. I've heard a lot of music since I first discovered Ayreon, but I don't think I've ever found anything else that really come close to what Arjen Lucassen does here and listening to it again to put this review together has me feeling very nostalgic, as I have realised that nothing I've heard since has blown me away the same way this album did, nothing that made the same lasting impact. I don't like to repeat myself but I will say it again: Arjen is a master of his craft and has many albums that deserve high levels of recognition (not just by Ayreon) but for me they all pale in comparison to Into the Electric Castle.

That's why this most recent revisit to the album has only reaffirmed something that I was saying back at the time but for a while become unsure about as I discovered more music in many different styles of metal (and some non metal genre too): Into the Electric Castle is the greatest album ever made. It's well played with its mix of influences put together seamlessly, has great production and also, it's clever. I guess the plot does sound a bit cheesy, when you think about it, especially if you're not a sci-fi fan , but it works. And really, this is about the characters as much as, if not more than their actual goal of reaching the Electric Castle. A few could have used more time to come into their own, the Highlander in particular, but it makes the death's felt in the same way a good book or film would this way. I'm not sure I know of any other concept album/rock opera that does that. In fact this could probably even be made into a decent film, provided one could find the right cast to pull it off.

This album even does things that I usually don't like in music, namely the excessive narration. But here it not only works, but actually enhances the music. Daltrey's voice doesn't appear in every song, but when it does, it adds a genuine feeling of threat even when his words are actually quite amicable. In the track Forever of the Stars the voice becomes electronic and computerised and at last the mysterious alien reveals its identity and what it was all about (setting up further threads of the Ayreon story), before wiping the minds of the four survivors, who are then returned to their own times for the final and pretty damn epic concluding track Another Time, Another Space.

The album has a total running time of just shy of one hour, forty-five minutes and not a second is wasted. It never drags, actually seeming to be over quicker than it really is to me as I'm that immersed in it. During my years of focussing a lot of reviewing new releases I ended up taking an excessively long break from the album without meaning to, but that's actually proved an unexpected boon to me: hearing the album again after all that time allowed me to be blown away by it a second time. I don't think I've ever felt this emotional when listening to an album before, it's that powerful. If I could only ever hand out a single five star rating to a release, I do believe I would have to give it to Into the Electric Castle. Even though I don't intend to limit myself in such a way, I still wish I could somehow give this one six stars just to differentiate it from everything else out there. Again, for me, Into the Electric Castle is the best album ever made. If just saying it isn't convincing enough, then consider how long this review turned out. I have never written any review this long before, for anything. Hopefully it isn't too long and people take the time to read it, because this is that rare album that deserved such a devoted write up. It's funny isn't it? Because it's such a long review I actually don't know how to end it, because no matter how much I do write there will always be that nagging feeling that despite my best efforts, I'll never be able to do Into the Electric Castle justice with mere words. I think the best way to end then is just to say: don't hesitate, just go and buy it.

AYREON The Human Equation

Album · 2004 · Progressive Metal
Cover art Buy this album from MMA partners
siLLy puPPy
For me listening to any AYREON album is little like going into a cheese shop. Arjen Lucassen really knows how to extract the absolute sappiest of power ballads and to me seems like a nurturer of 70s AOR / Pop rock bands like Styx into his musical equation. More often than not I am a little put off by his constant infatuation with the power ballad style of musical expression but there are times when his creative juices get flowing and he proves he is capable of something powerful and dynamic. The sixth album THE HUMAN EQUATION is one of those moments and yet another concept album / rock opera where each character is portrayed by a guest starring singer. Lucassen employs the talents of an army of vocalists and instrumentalists to create a musical rotisserie of vocal styles, musical motifs and narrations of a character called Me who is left in a coma from a car accident. Each song consists of one day spent in the coma and represents the spectrum of emotions and memories from his life that are played out by the musical cast. Unlike most AYREON projects, on this one Lucassen had help in the lyrics department from Devin Townsend who pretty much contributed the lyrical content and performance as Rage.

The music is in the vein of the usual AYREON style of part folk, part electronic and part metal. On HUMAN EQUATION there is also a lot of Irish jig music incorporated as well. This was my very first exposure to AYREON and I have to say that I have not been overly impressed with what i've heard on other albums. So far this seems to be the best album that i've heard. With all the praise that has revolved around this I was expecting it to be a perfect album but I find that the album is a little boring on Disc 1. The first several songs are just too folky and lack any bite. I'm not really engaged until track 7 with “Hope.” Luckily this double discker picks up from here. I find the real treat is on Disc 2. This is where all the creativity and excitement unleashes itself. Songs like “Trauma” and “Loser” are utterly brilliant and really the whole disc keeps my attention with so much more going on than Disc 1. Overall I find this album to be partially worthy of the hype surrounding it but as with most AYREON albums it seems too long with some less than captivating material finding its way onto the track listing. I would probably give Disc 1 a 3 star rating while Disc 2 gets a 4.5 so for the whole kit and caboodle I award THE HUMAN EQUATION a whopping 4 stars.

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666sharon666 wrote:
more than 2 years ago
The master of prog rock and metal.

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