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).

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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01011001 (3 l.p.) [Vinyl]01011001 (3 l.p.) [Vinyl]
Inside Out Music 2008
Vinyl$149.01 (used)
The Human Equation [Regular Edition]The Human Equation [Regular Edition]
Inside Out U.S. 2004
Audio CD$3.70
$2.54 (used)
Actual Fantasy RevisitedActual Fantasy Revisited
Special Edition
Inside Out U.S. 2004
Audio CD$9.50
$7.62 (used)
Human EquationHuman Equation
Import
101 DISTRIBUTION 2012
Vinyl$20.68
$29.80 (used)
Universal Migrator Pt 1 & 2Universal Migrator Pt 1 & 2
Limited Edition
Inside Out U.S. 2004
Audio CD$10.47
$9.50 (used)
Theory of EverythingTheory of Everything
Inside Out U.S. 2013
Audio CD$12.88
$11.43 (used)
Into the Electric CastleInto the Electric Castle
Import
Imports 2009
Audio CD$15.07
$12.95 (used)
Universal Migrator 1Universal Migrator 1
Import
Imports 2012
Vinyl$19.68
$23.57 (used)
Human Equation: Special EditionHuman Equation: Special Edition
Import
101 DISTRIBUTION 2012
Audio CD$17.68
$21.55 (used)
Final ExperimentFinal Experiment
Special Edition
Inside Out U.S. 2005
Audio CD$9.13
$8.13 (used)
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AYREON Discography

AYREON albums / top albums

.. Album Cover 3.47 | 29 ratings
The Final Experiment
Progressive Metal 1995
.. Album Cover 3.34 | 24 ratings
Actual Fantasy
Progressive Metal 1996
.. Album Cover 3.98 | 48 ratings
Into the Electric Castle
Progressive Metal 1998
.. Album Cover 3.44 | 36 ratings
Universal Migrator, Part 1: The Dream Sequencer
Non-Metal 2000
.. Album Cover 3.62 | 37 ratings
Universal Migrator, Part 2: Flight of the Migrator
Progressive Metal 2000
.. Album Cover 4.12 | 77 ratings
The Human Equation
Progressive Metal 2004
.. Album Cover 4.23 | 56 ratings
01011001
Progressive Metal 2008
.. Album Cover 4.31 | 29 ratings
The Theory of Everything
Progressive Metal 2013

AYREON EPs & splits

.. Album Cover 3.25 | 10 ratings
Elected
Progressive Metal 2008

AYREON live albums

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

AYREON boxset & compilations

.. Album Cover 3.24 | 7 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
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 Into the Electric Castle

Album · 1998 · Progressive Metal
Cover art Buy this album from MMA partners
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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
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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.

AYREON The Theory of Everything

Album · 2013 · Progressive Metal
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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
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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
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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.

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666sharon666 wrote:
1 year ago
The master of prog rock and metal.

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