AYREON — The Source (review)

AYREON — The Source album cover Album · 2017 · Progressive Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
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.
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Nightfly wrote:
more than 2 years ago
Thought The Theory Of Everything was a bit average after the previous 2 excellent albums but quite impressed with this one.


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