Stylistically progressive metal, but often branded as a metal opera, Ayreon’s first album is still one of Arjen Lucassen’s best in my opinion. It is also what I consider to be the most unique Ayreon release. Although it has many singers like later albums like Into the Electric Castle, The Human Equation and 01011001 in those albums each singer had a specific part to sing. Here the many singers still portray characters but many of them for one character in the story, The Final Experiment being a concept album. It’s a method that Lucassen hasn’t ever repeated (at least not yet) on Ayreon and it makes the album all that more special.
The music here varies from the heavy progressive metal sounds (for example Eyes of Time, Sail Away to Avalon, Merlin’s Will) to lighter folksy sounds (Ye Courtyard Minstrel Boy, Magic Ride, Nature‘s Dance). There is a medieval feel to much of the music (Prologue, Ye Courtyard Minstrel Boy, Sail Away to Avalon for example) but progressive is the true theme that runs through The Final Experiment, with many songs that have their separate sub-sections (Prologue, The Awareness, The Banishment for example).
The Banishment is easily the most epic track on this album, not because it is the longest at over eleven minutes. It first has a classical sounding section, then some fanfare that leads into more instrumental music, which builds up into the first vocal section which is led by Robert Soeterboek with a host of backing singers. Ironically it’s the backing that handles the role of the character Ayreon. The story tells that Ayreon is on a sort of trial in his village and the music does of good job of making it seem like it is really happening. The build up to the vocal section and Robert’s vocals really fit the mood. Lucassen has a talent for doing such with his music. It’s the reason that he truly does deserve all the respect he gets. But this is not the end of the song, it leads now into another instrumental section where we get an amazing bass guitar solo from guest musician Peter Vink as well as great guitar riffs from Lucassen himself. To end we get another vocal section which sees a shift into a more (and rare for Ayreon) death metal territory. Vocals are now handled by Gorefest’s Jan-Chris de Koeijer and the story is supposed to tell how Ayreon has been banished from his village and how he feels despair, hurt and anger. The death metal vocals certainly do this as well if not better than Robert’s earlier vocals. In short it has everything that a progressive metal song should have; great technical playing, variation and amazing vocals. Top notch stuff.
Other great highlights of this great album are Prologue and The Awareness. Essentially one song although split into two they feature more great progressive elements and a strong vocal from Edward Reekers. Eyes of Time sounds like a heavier version of Led Zeppelin. Singer Lenny Wolf even sounds like Robert Plant to a degree. It’s really rocking and great for head banging. Sail Away to Avalon is sung by Barry Hay of Golden Earring and it’s heavy, folksy, and medieval sounding. It’s one of those songs that could easily get stuck in your head for hours. Merlin’s will is another heavy song with another great vocal, this time from Leon Goewie (singer of Lucassen’s old band Vengeance). The best of the light songs is Ye Courtyard Minstrel Boy. It’s short and folksy and a beautiful song.
The best singers on this album are as follows.
Edward Reekers - has a soft and gentle voice but is filled with power. Lenny Wolf - has a great classic rock/heavy metal voice and lifts his song to great heights Robert Soeterboek - has a powerful voice that he can use in many different styles
Overall what we have here is not just the beginning of the Ayreon saga but also one of its best albums. There is only one album by the project that can better it; Into the Electric Castle.
Special note on the re-release special edition which contains some songs from the original album re-recorded in semi-acoustic form. Some are not as great but some are actually better in my opinion. Ye Courtyard Minstrel Boy and Merlin’s Will now have female vocals and they make for a refreshing change from the versions on the main album. They’re well worth having.
(Review originally written for Heavy Metal Haven)