Progressive Metal

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Progressive metal, more commonly know as prog metal, is characterized by genre transgression and instrumental virtuosity. Its signature features are guitar driven songs that have complex time signatures and very intricate playing.

Progressive metal as a genre is associated with acts such as Dream Theater, Fates Warning and Queensrÿche, who had their heyday in the early 1990s, but progressive elements have been fused into metal virtually since the inception of metal. For instance, on their early releases, Black Sabbath would incorporate jazzy passages into their compositions, while also drawing on other genres, and many proto-metal acts also had backgrounds in progressive rock and heavy psychedelic rock. In the early to mid 1980s, some NWoBHM groups, such as Iron Maiden would find direct inspiration in progressive rock acts like Genesis, Yes, and King Crimson and incorporate progressive elements, such as complex song structures, twin guitars and changes in time and tempo into their style, while the cult band Mercyful Fate were known for blatantly disregarding the conventions of composition in popular music, opting for complex and unusual song structures.

So, progressiveness was a part of metal since the inception of the genre, but it was not until the late 1980s and mid 1990s as bands like Watchtower, Fates Warning, Queensrÿche, Psychotic Waltz, and Dream Theater that progressive metal became established as an independent subgenre. These bands would draw both on previously established metal genres, like NWOBHM, and progressive rock acts of the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Especially Dream Theater would become iconic of the genre, and their instrumentation, which includes prominent keyboards, became the blueprint for many progressive metal bands to follow. The music that came out was very diverse and even symphonic at times. Not all of it was overly technical, though some bands such as Dream Theater were very technical, while others, like Fates Warning and Watchtower emphasized odd time signature. Psychotic Waltz incorporated psychedelia into their sound, and Queensrÿche began to operate with complex lyrical themes.

After progressive metal had been somewhat popular for some time, it began to take on more extreme forms such as progressive death metal, and so on. Bands such as Edge of Sanity and Atheist took prog metal to greater heights with their infusion of prog and death metal. Atheist also added a jazz/fusion sound to their music to make it true progressive death metal, as did Pestilence on their jazz-influenced Spheres. Also during this time, bands such as Opeth and Voivod changed their style to a more progressive sound. While Voivod changed in the early 1990’s, Opeth became a more progressive metal band in the late 1990’s which was probably an effect of the progressive metal movement that was going on at the time. Some already established metal acts in other genres would similarly cross over into progressive metal territory, such as Savatage, who - although having a background in traditional metal and power metal - released several progressive metal albums. In parallel with the development of progressive extreme metal genres, many power metal acts would take their music in a more progressive direction, resulting in the subgenre of progressive power metal (which is included under power metal here at the MMA) some of which, like Kamelot and Savatage, would eventually become fully fledged progressive metal acts.

Most bands in the progressive metal genre have their own unique style; whether it is more spacey, more symphonic, or more technical while others follow the Dream Theater configuration to a smaller or greater extent (these are sometimes referred to as 'traditional progressive metal' bands), but they all have an equal balance between the influences. Over the years progressive metal has gained the title of having longer songs then regular metal, and while this is mostly true, it isn’t always.

These bands are here because they are different, in a sense, than regular metal bands because they not only include metal but different genres as well, such as jazz/fusion, prog rock, and classical music, and put them all together to make an enjoyable sound. Bands and releases who include progressive elements in their music, but whose central sound is more firmly anchored in another genre are placed in that genre - for instance, Enslaved, whose style is progressive and experimental but still quite firmly based in their black metal roots, are placed in the black metal category, while mathcore and progressive metalcore bands are placed in metalcore.

Sub-genre collaborators (shared with Avant-Garde Metal):
  • siLLy puPPy
  • DippoMagoo
  • Sisslith
  • adg211288

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progressive metal Music Reviews

CONCEPTION The Last Sunset

Album · 1991 · Progressive Metal
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UMUR
"The Last Sunset" is the debut full-length studio album by Norwegian power/progressive metal act Conception. The album was released through CSF Records in December 1991. Originally with an artwork featuring a photo of the band members, but Noise Records re-released "The Last Sunset" in 1993 with an alternate cover artwork (which is probably the cover artwork most people are familiar with) featuring a picture of a sunset. Conception formed in 1989 and released a couple of demos before being signed for the release of "The Last Sunset".

Stylistically the material on "The Last Sunset" is a combination of US power/heavy metal (and sporadic touches of Euro power metal), progressive metal, and occasional nods towards thrash metal. The latter is only an influence though and it´s heard very seldom ("Live to Survive" is the most valid example). Conception are often tagged a progressive metal act, but on "The Last Sunset" I´d say they belong more in the power/heavy metal camp, although there are certainly progressive moments featured on the album. The most progressive oriented track on the album is the 10:38 minutes long closing track "Among the Gods", but there are other tracks on the album featuring progressive ideas. Those ideas are however predominantly just a minor feature in vers/chorus structured power/heavy metal tracks. The compositional quality is high throughout and "The Last Sunset" is overall a very well composed album. Although a few tracks stick out and make the album slightly inconsistent in style, it´s not an issue in this particular case, and only makes "The Last Sunset" a more diverse and interesting listen.

One of the great assets of the album (besides the high quality songwriting) is the high level musicianship. The instrumentalists deliver strong performances. Varied guitar work and a hard pounding and powerful playing rhythm section. Lead vocalist Roy Khan has a strong and distinct sounding voice and varied and powerful delivery. His voice reminds me somewhat of Morten Harket from a-ha, but in a heavy metal version. If anyone is in doubt that´s praise when it comes from me. "The Last Sunset" features some keyboards played by session musicians Staffan William-Olsson and Hans Christian Gjestvang, but the keyboards are not a dominant part of the band´s sound on the album. They are most prominently featured on "Among the Gods", which even features a keyboard solo. Gjestvang would become a permanent member of Conception on their sophomore studio album "Parallel Minds (1993)".

"The Last Sunset" features a clear and detailed sounding production. To my ears it lacks a little heavy bottom, and the snare drum is a bit too high and dominant in the soundscape, but overall it´s a well sounding production which suits the material. So upon conclusion "The Last Sunset" is a high quality debut album by Conception. There are a couple of odd songwriting choices, that could probably have been weeded out and made the album a bit more consistent, but as mentioned above the diversity is also one of the charms of the album. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is fully deserved (and maybe a bit too low really).

SWEVEN The Eternal Resonance

Album · 2020 · Progressive Metal
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adg211288
A few years ago there was a Swedish death metal band called Morbus Chron and their second album was called Sweven (2014). It was a gem combining death metal with retro progressive rock and psychedelic music, something that had been heard in black metal based acts like Hail Spirit Noir and Oranssi Pazuzu, but was still a rare element for metal to use (outside of the more obligatory stoner metal genre of course). It was the kind of album that showed its band off as something unusual and special. But then Morbus Chron disbanded in 2015. But now they're back, well, at least frontman Robert Andersson is and since his new project is also called Sweven you know that the new band is going to be more or less a continuation of where Morbus Chron left off. The Eternal Resonance (2020) is the group's debut album.

Sweven's The Eternal Resonance is not a mere rehash of their namesake album, but all the same elements are there: death metal, prog and psychedelic rock. While Robert Andersson brings a growling vocal style to the music it often feels like a bit of stretch to call this a death metal record. The instrumental work transcends death metal far too much to even pigeon-hole as progressive death metal; instead it falls more into the category of extreme progressive metal, a term often reserved for big names like the Opeth of old and Ihsahn and few others. And even that doesn't completely describe Sweven's sound, because there's just far too much retro progressive rock and psych in here as well to say its merely 'just' one thing. It's an album sitting on a bridge between two worlds, not torn between them, but in harmony.

The big difference in how the elements are balanced between The Eternal Resonance and the namesake album Sweven is that Morbus Chron used the psych influences a lot more than Sweven the band do here, but those are still an integral part of the new album's sound and it wouldn't be quite as special without them. Though if there is a fault here then it's that I really would have liked to hear the psychedelic element a bit more like in the previous band. Psychedelic metal is such an untapped well of potential that few bands seem willing to embrace, and fewer still the fans that seem to be able to recognise it, such as seems to have happened with this year's Hail Spirit Noir album Eden in Reverse, which to my knowledge could well be the first true psychedelic metal album that isn't stoner or extreme metal based. It's a shame that Sweven dialled this back on The Eternal Resonance, but they still make a really excellent record that has a rather unique sound, so I can't complain too much about that.

I find The Eternal Resonance to be one of 2020's finest debut metal records. Creating a unique sound in 2020 is no easy feat and while Sweven do lift a lot from their frontman's previous outfit one can hardly cast blame on the man for continuing to peruse a musical vision that produces an album this good. I can only imagine that Sweven will go on to impress even more if this is what they serve as the appetizer. Let's hope though that they make more albums than Morbus Chron did.

FLAMING ROW The Pure Shine

Album · 2019 · Progressive Metal
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voila_la_scorie
The music on this album is so incredible that they released it with a second disc of just the music! Yes, I didn’t quite expect to enjoy the second disc so much. After all, the songs and vocal parts are fabulous and tell the story of this conceptual piece, which is based on Stephen King’s “The Dark Tower” series. That whole first album is a treat with astounding instrumental passages between the rock opera vocals with a host of singers taking up the different parts. It’s a brilliant piece of work! But very soon I found that the music was just so exciting, so involved, so beautiful that it really could stand up on its own.

Flaming Row released their third album in December of 2019. After chalking up their previous album “Mirage: A Portrayal of Figures” as one of my favourite prog metal albums and favourite concept narrative albums of all time, I was both excited and hesitant to get the new album. The former is like Ayreon meets Dream Theater meets Haken. Since I hadn’t heard the first album “Elinoire” I didn’t know if “Mirage” was just a special thing or if this complex, varied and thrilling music was just how the band worked.

My first observation was that the metal element was relegated way in back of the acoustic side. In fact, it's quite the opposite of "Mirage" where the album was mostly electric with acoustic interludes. Here the acoustic instrumentation takes over and the heavier electric sequences are present and effective, but not at the front of the stage as much this time. However, that was not anything to disappoint me. All the acoustic guitar, piano, strings, woodwinds, and percussion easily won my ears over in an instant. There is simply so much beauty in the music here! So once again, I'm listening to just the instrumental versions of the tracks after having heard the whole first disc with the vocals once more through.

There’s something very interesting about some the music on this new album. Right from the first listen, I recognized at least a couple of the powerful and memorable melodies. I’d heard them on “Mirage: A Portrayal of Figures”. But the two stories were completely different. “Mirage” is about an alien species that tries to eliminate humans from the earth before it's destroyed by human beings, and how the survivours struggle to find a way to keep the human race from being snuffed out. “The Pure Shine” is from the Stephen King novel series mentioned above. Was there some connection?

I contacted guitarist Martin Schnella and asked about the repeated melodies. He replied saying that they had actually written much of the music for a trilogy back in 2011-13. But as his acoustic project with Melanie Mau overtook Flaming Row in popularity and also some key members left the band, the trilogy fell through. However, Martin loved much of the music he had written and decided to pass it along to the third album. It seems a bit puzzling to hear the same melodies for two different stories, but I really like hearing these again in a new sound pallet. Catch the powerful melody at 13:12 in "The Sorcerer" and compare it to "Pictures" from "Mirage: A Portrayal of Figures"at 2:39. There's also the flute melody in "Jake's Destiny" - incidentally, my pick for most awesome track on the album - that sounds really close to one in the opening track of "Mirage".

So, whether you enjoy the whole of album one with the lyrical parts and wonderfully good vocal executions or you can get into just letting the instruments speak, this album is a special work. I can enjoy either disc equally.

And if you can, I highly recommend checking out “Mirage: A Portrayal of Figures” because it's such a tremendous piece of work.

I'm giving this album 4 stars because it is not a masterpiece of METAL music but it does make an excellent addition to a metal music collection. As a prog album, though, I'd give it a full five stars.

DALI'S DILEMMA Manifesto For Futurism

Album · 1999 · Progressive Metal
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siLLy puPPy
The 90s was a wonderful time for alternative everything and progressive rock revival but in addition to bands rekindling the 70s golden age prog embers was also some highly innovative bands that took the prog of the 70s in a more energetic direction by fusing it with the metal of the 80s. A whole new hybrid that started way back in the 80s with Watchtower had finally caught on and when Dream Theater released their lauded “Images And Words.” The world would never be the same. Of course when such a phenomenon occurs it means the floodgates have been opened and a gazillion imitators will follow. Not that it’s a bad thing mind you as DT influenced bands such as Symphony X, Circus Maximus, Haken, Shadow Gallery, Seventh Wonder, Threshold (and i could go on all day really) were actually quite innovative despite being first descendants from DT’s 90s day in the sun.

But then there are the band’s that attempted to follow in the footsteps of the great Dream Theater and fell short. DALI’S DILEMMA formed in San Jose, CA and existed from 1994-2000 but only managed to release one album titled MANIFESTO FOR FUTURISM in 1999 before they instantly got smacked down with the dreaded “Dream Theater clone” tag which after prog metal really got rolling was something like the kiss of death for bands with thin skin. While there is certainly some truth to those claims, DALI’S DILEMMA wasn’t just a clone by any means but were in fact a very talented group of musicians that showed great promise. I mean if you dig back far enough Fates Warning was basically an Iron Maiden clone on its first album before stepping it up and becoming one of the best and most interesting prog metal bands of the 90s so you know, sometimes it takes a while to get your own groove goin’ on. Unfortunately DALI’S DILEMMA didn’t.

Oh well. Despite it all this album of just over 51 minutes certainly does bow at the alter of Dream Theater without a doubt however this prog powerhouse of Matthew Bradley (vocals), Patrick Reyes (guitar), Steve Reyes (bass), Matt Guillory (keyboards) band Jeremy Colson (drums) did a fairly decent job of mixing in the early years of Dream Theater (think “Images And Words” compositions with more of an “Awake” energetic level) with other classic sounds that ranged from Rush, Deep Purple, Fates Warning and even thrash metal bands like Metallica. This is one of those technically demanding prog metal releases where the musicians excel at detouring from time signature norms and craft catchy melodic hooks as well as keeping things interesting with various motifs that allow the music to proceed without stagnating. In that regard, MANIFESTO FOR FUTURISM is an outstanding album which clearly owes its primary inspiration to Dream Theater’s 90s output but by no means sounds like just another DT release.

Unfortunately for my ears at least, the weakest link in this otherwise stellar performance are the rather undistinguished vocal range of Matthew Bradley who pretty much breaks this album’s enjoyment level for me. Like many prog metal vocalists, he was trying to copy Steve Walsh from Kansas. While i’m forgiving with vocal abilities at times, when it comes to prog metal that focuses on an extremely technically demanding dynamic then i’m sorry but a vocalist with a multi-octave range is essential! There’s a reason Bob Dylan wasn’t asked to sing on a Queensryche or Fates Warning album, cuz he ain’t got the goods! Now Bradley certainly is gifted in a certain way but his vocals just don’t sound right here. Add to that the album is lopsided with lots of filler that is just plain yawn material. “Hills Of Memory” is particularly gag worthy. In general the album starts out fairly decent but then descends into snooze-ville. Add to that the over dependence of DT-isms and you end up with a decent yet unremarkable album. It’s too bad DALI’S DILEMMA didn’t stick it out but i guess they decided that the best way to solve this DILEMMA was to end this project and scatter.

ISLE OF THE CROSS Excelsis

Album · 2020 · Progressive Metal
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siLLy puPPy
In many ways modern metal is vying to usurp classical music and opera as the most advanced and sophisticated musical expression ever heard by humankind and while early metal like Judas Priest or Black Sabbath may not take things to that level, so many contemporary bands certainly are. One such case is the brand new band ISLE OF THE CROSS which apparently comes from Sonora, CA in the USA and only formed a couple years ago in 2018. The band is led by the creative mastermind Je Schneider who is the lead songwriter, producer, mixer and master engineer. He is also the lead vocalist and hires a few extras to help out.

Along for the ride on EXCELSIS the band’s first and so far only release are Eric Gillette (guitar), Eric Castiglia (additional vocals) and Diane Lee also adding extra vocals. It’s unclear who plays bass, keyboards, drums and all those extra sound effects but i’d bet it’s Schneider who is actually a one-man band with a few guests helping out. Whatever the case, EXCELSIS takes on an epic one hour progressive journey through various metal styles that reminds me a bit of a heavier and choppier version of Ayreon in how things are strewn together. The album has twelve tracks including the two-part “The Wolf” and three-part “The 9th Circle.”

I’ve been reading that the band’s main influences are Opeth and Symphony X but ISLE OF THE CROSS doesn’t sound like either really however the progressive nature of the album will find a plethora of influences on board. Yes there are death metal riffs and choppy industrial black metal grinding as well but for much of this album it’s based on symphonic metal that relies on atmospheric keyboards that can accompany rampaging metal bombast or act alone with brief moments of ambient non-metal etherealism. There are even choirs that begin with the opening “Sacrifice” which immediately makes the album sound like one of those metal opera deals that Arjen Lucassen from Ayreon is so famous for.

Add the orchestral arrangements and the biblical influences and you have a bona fide progressive behemoth that wends and winds all over the place but as far as the metal elements go it’s pretty much a chugfest that becomes a little tedious over the album’s one hour span. EXCELSIS in all its excesses seems to be a vision not matched by the performances at hand and although this is by no means a throwaway album in the end i’m left unsatisfied thinking that the whole thing could’ve been thrown together in a much more cohesive manner that offers a bit more variety over the chugfest rampaging riffs or the choir soaked symphonic orchestrations. Add to that a touch of cheesiness in the female vocals with the slower metal that sounds like the worst possible ballad and well, you get the picture.

Not a bad debut but lots of room for improvement. While the progressive touches in the songs are nice and the no particular tracks is bad per se, the true problem arises in the fact that the arrangements just don’t jive well together and there needed to be more emphasis on the sum of the parts approach instead of just a wankfest that leads to random circuitous cul-de-sacs. Whatever the case, i can tell that there is latent talent lurking in these parts and ISLE OF THE CROSS is certainly a band to watch out for as the juggling act of disparate genres has just begun but sadly too many bowling bowl pins were dropped in this particular performance. We haven’t made it to Cirque du Soleil level yet.

progressive metal movie reviews

AYREON Electric Castle Live and Other Tales

Movie · 2020 · Progressive Metal
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adg211288
Electric Castle Live and Other Tales (2020) is a live release by Dutch progressive rock/metal project Ayreon. It is a documentation of the second run of official live Ayreon shows following the Ayreon Universe shows and was recorded in Tilburg in September 2019. While the prior Ayreon Universe was a retrospective show, Electric Castle live is a stage version of Ayreon's breakthrough album Into the Electric Castle (1998) with an assortment of songs from other Arjen Anthony Lucassen projects and one cover song.

Like with Ayreon Universe Arjen Lucassen isn't performing himself as part of the live band, but he does reprise his original vocalist role as the Hippie from Into the Electric Castle so is generally on stage more often on this live release than he was on the former. Speaking of the cast most of the vocalists from the original album have returned to their roles on Electric Castle Live; Fish (ex-Marillion) as the Highlander, Damian Wilson (ex-Threshold, Headspace) as the Knight, Anneke van Giersbergen (ex-The Gathering, Vuur) as the Egyptian, Edward Reekers (ex-Kayak) as the Futureman, Edwin Balogh (ex-Tamás Szekeres) as the Roman and George Oosthoek (ex-Orphanage, MaYaN) as one of the voices of Death. Replacement cast members for unavailable vocalists are Simon Simons (Epica) as the Indian (replacing Sharon den Adel (Within Temptation)), John 'Jaycee' Cuijpers (Praying Mantis) as the Barbarian (replacing Jay van Feggelen (ex-Bodine)) and Mark Jansen (Epica, MaYaN) as the other voice of Death (replacing Robert Westerholt (Within Temptation)). The vocalists replacements are well chosen and you'd be forgiven for mistaking them for those who original sang their parts. Of course there is one person I have no mentioned yet, the most notable of the re-casts: actor John de Lancie (best known as Q in Star Trek: The Next Generation) replacing Peter Daltrey as 'Forever' of the Stars, complete with new narration. Marcela Bovio (ex-Stream of Passion), Jan Willem Ketelaers (Knight Are) and Dianne van Giersbergen (ex-Xandria) make up a trio of backing vocalists.

Some of the stage musicians are the same as on Ayreon Universe but with some changes that were likely due to availability from their usual projects. Of course Ed Warby is there on drums and Joost van den Broek on keyboards, with a triple guitar setup of Ferry Duijsens (Vuur), Bob Wijtsma (Ex Libris) and Marcel Singor (Kayak), with Johan van Stratum on the bass. Ayreon regular Ben Mathot is on violin with cello performed by newcomer Jurriaan Westerveld. The most noted guest performer is of course Thijs van Leer of Focus, just as on the original album. He makes his entrance during Amazing Flight and continues to appear both through the album show and the Other Tales segment.

The narration change is the biggest difference that the live version of Into the Electric Castle has to the original. The songs themselves are faithfully performed, more so than much of the material on Ayreon Universe was, with minimal other changes to the flow of the album. Some other changes are the inclusion of a piano solo by guest musician Robby Valentine after Cosmic Fusion; some backing death growls on The Castle Hall and some vocal alternations to include Fish on the final song Another Time, Another Space. Nothing changed is out of place and makes the performance unique from the original. In some ways de Lancie's narration is faithful to Daltrey's original, but is a little jarring at first when you're like me and are so familiar with the original that anything else seems wrong to start with. By the time the show is over though, I've come to realise that the de Lancie narration is in some ways a improvement on the original, especially for the live environment.

The show isn't over with Into the Electric Castle though, as there is more to come. After a quick pre-recorded video introduction by Mike Mills (Toehinder) in character as Th-1 from The Source (2017), the other projects of Arjen Lucassen are worked through: The Gentle Storm and the heavy version of Shores of India (sung of course by original vocalist Anneke van Giersbergen), Stream of Passion's Out in the Real World (with Marcela Bovio on vocals), Ambeon's Ashes (with Simone Simons on vocals), Guilt Machine's Twisted Coil (with Damian Wilson on vocals), a cover of Marillion's Kayleigh (with Fish on vocals, of course), Arjen's solo album Lost in the New Real and after a speech by Lucassen and Joost van den Broek, Star One's Songs of the Ocean as an encore with Arjen on guitar and primary vocals by Robert Soeterboek (making his first and only appearance during the show), Dianne van Giersbergen, Marcela Bovio and Damian Wilson before everyone involved in the show comes out on stage for a climatic sing-alone finale. The extra songs allow some Lucassen work that wasn't featured on Ayreon Universe to also get an airing. The total show is over two and a half hours long, so there's a lot of value for money to be had here.

Where Ayreon Universe gave the overall better airing of the Ayreon catalogue in the live environment, a stage show of a complete album is where the project's music really comes to life. The main cast of singers are all dressed up as their characters, with Damian Wilson coming out in full knightly armour and wielding a sword being the best costume, while Oosthoek and Jansen don black metal style corpse paint in the role of Death. The stage is done up as a castle set, though sadly it doesn't look like the Electric Castle from the original album's cover, but that's probably for production reasons: the castle set is set up to its battlements can be used by the vocalists and musicians as well as the main stage.

So Ayreon Universe or Electric Castle Live? There's no easy answer to that question. Except perhaps to say, both. Once again this is an essential live release from the project that I once thought would never have true live releases. This is especially essential if you're as big a fan of Into the Electric Castle as I am (it's my favourite album of all time) and it's clear that more Ayreon albums deserve this kind of attention.

AYREON Ayreon Universe - Best of Ayreon Live

Movie · 2018 · Progressive Metal
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Ayreon Universe – Best of Ayreon Live (2018) is the second live release by Dutch progressive rock/metal project Ayreon. It follows The Theater Equation (2016), which was a stage adaptation of The Human Equation (2004) in full. Ayreon Universe is presented as more of a traditional live show, featuring a set list covering all of the Ayreon studio albums plus a couple of tracks from Star One's Space Metal (2002) album. There are many reasons why Ayreon has not been performed live until relatively recently (The Theater Equation wasn't even performed as Ayreon though it was released under the name), such as the nature of the project which meant that previously Ayreon songs were only performed on tours for other Arjen Lucassen projects, but there is also the fact that Arjen Lucassen himself isn't a big fan of playing live due to stage fright. He has done it as can be seen on live releases for both Star One and Stream of Passion, but it is something he has often avoided since those tours. So that leads us to the big catch with Ayreon Universe, which might be seen as a deal breaker for some: for the most part, he isn't on stage during this show.

Instead the release is performed by musicians and singers who we might consider the Ayreon extended family. Many of the musicians on stage have been Lucassen's go-to people for some time, mostly notable among these of course is Ed Warby on drums, who has been with Lucassen since Into the Electric Castle (1998), only not drumming on The Dream Sequencer (2000) – that album's Rob Snijders is also performing on Ayreon Universe for a couple of the lighter tracks – and the upcoming Transitus (2020). On keyboards is Joost van den Broek, who has a long history with Lucassen including performing on Star One's Live on Earth (2003) and a regular Ayreon guest since The Human Equation. On bass is Johan van Stratum, who was Lucassen's bandmate in Stream of Passion, while Peter Vink plays on Star One's Intergalactic Space Crusaders. The two guitarists are Marcel Coenen and Ferry Duijsens. Coenen performed a guest solo on The Source (2017) while Duijsens makes his Ayreon debut here, but previously worked on Lucassen's The Gentle Storm project. Elsewhere in the core band are a few names that Ayreon fans will recognise, regular collaborators Ben Mathot, Jeroen Goossens & Maaike Peterse on violin, flues/woodwinds and cello respectively.

Then there are the vocalists. As a project known for its often large casts of different singers on each album, it isn't going to be an Ayreon live show without a while host of talented vocalists getting on board with it. Some of the singers are the same as on album, but elsewhere changes have been made. But the live cast is as good as any studio cast: there are singers who were regulars in Ayreon's early days who may not be as well known in the metal scene in particular, but perhaps are the ones who most deserve to be part of this experience. There are also some of the biggest names in both prog and power metal performing under the Ayreon name on this show. I'm not going to mention them all here: there really are too many to list, so instead I'm going to form this review based around what's taken from each album, so let us go back to the dark ages and The Final Experiment (1995).

The debut Ayreon album is represented by three tracks on Ayreon Universe and fittingly it's the duo of Prologue and Dreamtime that kick off the event. Prologue is altered to instead be in the voice of The Source's TH-1, performed by Mike Mills of Toehider. Mills is a modern Ayreon regular having first appeared on The Theory of Everything (2013). Mills is a standout performer on Ayreon Universe. You can tell that this guy is just so fucking into it as he comes out on stage in full TH-1 costume, bringing a theatrical performance to the stage. We haven't even got into a proper song yet and the man has proved that he is a born entertainer.

Then we get Dreamtime and you can probably see that it's called that and not The Awareness which is what the song is on album. That's because it's edited down for the live show. That is unfortunately a trend with the track selection on the album. Honestly I think that does kinda suck because Ayreon is a prog act and prog is known for it's impressive instrumental work, something Ayreon is no exception to, but I can understand why they've taken this approach on the live show: they're maximising the time for vocalists to be on stage as well as the amount of songs that can get an airing: there is a lot of material that needs to be covered.

Singing Dreamtime is of course none other than Edward Reekers (ex-Kayak), the original vocalist who did the song. Reekers is one of those early Ayreon legends. It's been a long time since Lucassen used him on a studio album (come on you Hippie sort that out!), and this marks his return to the project. For long time fans of Ayreon Edward being here and singing this song must be like nostalgia overload. It certainly is for me and I only discovered Ayreon in 2007.

The other song from The Final Experiment is another classic one: Merlin's Will. On album this was sung by Leon Goewie, the vocalist of one of Lucassen's pre-Ayreon heavy metal bands: Vengeance. Leon is not among the vocalists performing on this show, so instead the song is performed by Floor Jansen (Nightwish), which makes it a unique version. Floor's sister Irene, part of a trio of backing vocalists on this show, previously sang an acoustic version of the song for the special edition of The Final Experiment, but this is the metal version. And Floor rocks on it.

The second Ayreon album Actual Fantasy (1996) is also represented by three songs. One of these is the short title track that on this show leads into Computer Eyes rather than Abbey of Synn, which is the other track performed from the album. Actual Fantasy is the oddball Ayreon album with only three lead vocalists, but two of them are present on the show. One of course is Edward Reekers again and the other is Robert Soeterboek (Wicked Sensation). The latter performs Abbey of Synn on his own and they duet on Computer Eyes. Because the album was structured that differently to most Ayreon albums and was disconnected from the overall concept that The Final Experiment begun, Actual Fantasy is probably the Ayreon album that gets most overlooked by fans, so its good to see that it gets a fair airing.

The third Ayreon album of course was Into the Electric Castle. Into the Electric Castle is my personal favourite album of all time. It would later get the full live show treatment which resulted in the next Ayreon live release Electric Castle Live (And Other Tales) (2020), but on Ayreon Universe it still gets a four track showing, in order of performance: Valley of the Queens, The Two Gates, The Castle Hall and Amazing Flight. The latter two performances are notable for being the two that Arjen Lucassen himself is playing guitar on and singing in the case of Amazing Flight. But first is Valley of the Queens. Initially sung solo by Anneke van Giersbergen (ex-The Gathering), this version is an alternative one for three voices, with Floor Jansen and Marcela Bovio (ex-Stream of Passion) joining her on stage. It's a really good and haunting rendition.

The Two Gates is used as an opportunity to introduce the musicians on stage with the song itself being sung by Damian Wilson (Headspace), returning to his role of the Knight with the Barbarian performed by John "Jaycee" Cuijpers (Praying Mantis). Cuijpers also went on the play the role on Electric Castle Live later on, but here he's an odd choice considering that the original vocalist Jay ven Feggelen (ex-Bodine, another band Lucassen was a part of though they were never on the same album) is actually there and sings the role later on during Amazing Flight. Neither does he sing the character's parts on The Castle Hall, there handled by Robert Soeterboek. Both men do the part well, but it really does beg the question over why when the man himself is present. Good versions though and rightly chosen as staples of the Ayreon discography.

Then we have The Dream Sequencer (2000) and what is the most under-represented album of the night with just one song played: And the Druids Turn to Stone. Damian Wilson sang it originally and of course performs it here too to perfection, actually raising the song in my personal estimations to be honest. There's really little else to say on that. I've have loved Lucassen to come out to do my personal favour Carried by the Wind though, or for perhaps other personal highlights My House on Mars or The First Man on Earth to be included. But I guess they took the Universal Migrator selection between the two albums, speaking of which...

...Flight of the Migrator (2000), the heavy counterpart to the Dream Sequencer, has two tracks featured and they are obvious choices: Dawn of a Million Souls and Into the Black Hole. However neither of their original vocalists are there on the night, Russell Allen and Bruce Dickinson respectively. Busy men, those guys. John "Jaycee" Cuijpers takes on Allen's song Dawn of a Million Souls and ends up being a highlight of the whole show though. I kid you not by the time the man had walked off stage again my first thought was precisely this: 'Damn, Russell Allen just got handed his arse!'.

Into the Black Hole is an Ayreon classic and not just because of who happened to sing it on the album originally. If anything the song is more known in the fan base these days because of Damian Wilson's renditions on the Star One and Stream of Passion live releases. So it comes as a surprise that he isn't the chosen singer for it on this show. Instead Tommy Karevik (Kamelot & Seventh Wonder) performs it for another good, though like many other tracks, edited down version.

Between Flight of the Migrator and the next Ayreon album The Human Equation came the first Star One album Space Metal. Two tracks are featured in the set list, Intergalactic Space Crusaders and The Eye of Ra. As they decided to feature Star One as well I do find it a shame that the second album Victims of the Modern Age (2010) was ignored, but I can't deny they picked a couple of good ones. As Russell Allen is absent, the former track becomes a vocal battle between Damian Wilson and Maggy Luyten (at that time still Nightmare's vocalist) and it's a damn good take with plenty of vocal interplay between the two. The Eye of Ra is the final song of the show and is used as a celebratory climax: with everyone singing it, including many singers I haven't even had the opportunity to mention yet! So moving on...

...The Human Equation is one of the most popular Ayreon albums so it may come as a surprise that it isn't that represented here, with only two songs, the singles Loser and Love, featured. Perhaps that's because The Theater Equation saw that album performed in full, I don't know. Loser is a highlight of the show. It starts with Jeroen Goossens bringing out a didgeridoo for the I dare say iconic intro before Mike Mills starts to sing. Once again you can tell he's really into this just by looking at him. The song is changed from it's original version by swapping Devin Townsend's original manic harsh screaming at the end for four the female vocalists coming down to stage to reject Mill's character Father. Mills draws out the last high note displaying his incredible vocal ability, before giving a shout out to the late Mike Baker, who originally sang the song, which is enough to get any fan of The Human Equation or Baker's band Shadow Gallery choked up.

The version of love features a number of vocalist changes from the original version. Dream Theater's James LaBrie is not here, so the role of Me is taken over by Edward Reekers. Heather Findlay's role as Love is converted to the voice of Wife (Marcela Bovio). Irene Jansen original appeared on the song and is able to step down from a backing vocalist role, as does Lisette van den Berg, a singer that Arjen hasn't really worked with outside of backing roles yet. Robert Soeterboek also takes part and taking over the lines of Fear, originally Mikael Åkerfeldt's part, is none other than Ed Warby in his first Ayreon vocalist role.

01011001 (2008) is the most represented Ayreon album on Ayreon Universe, with five songs, though very edited from their original versions, in order of performance: River of Time, Waking Dreams, Ride the Comet, Comatose and Age of Shadows. River of Time brings out Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian) with Marco Hietala (Nightwish) subbing for Bob Catley's role. It's a very good version, their voices work well together. Waking Dreams is as on album, with Katatonia's Jonas Renske with Anneke van Giersbergen, though edited to not feature notably the keyboard solo originally played by Tomas Bodin, which ends up being jarring to my ears and actually spoils that track a bit. The same vocal team also handled Comatose, again shortened. Jorn Lande originally sang the song and it is one of my favourite light Ayreon songs. This is a good version, but I do really wish Jorn could have been there to do it.

Ride the Comet originally had several singers delivering short lines in its verses, but here Renkse takes over with Floor Jansen for some reason sitting out her bits in favour of the trio of backing singers, while Maggy Luyten does her chorus. Age of Shadows is just that, not the We are Forever deviation, with the vocals shared between Kürsch, Hietala and Floor Jansen. An iconic more recent Ayreon track it's an obvious pick for the show, though I'd have rather seen in played in full, since the vocalists who did the We Are Forever part were Jonas Renkse and Anneke van Giersbergen, both featured elsewhere on this show.

The Theory of Everything (2013)'s tracks is where things get more theatrical and if there's any other Ayreon album apart from The Human Equation and Into the Electric Castle that could perhaps have the full performance stage show treatment it's that one, as the singers prove on the selection of four tracks featured here, with props used and the vocalists visibly acting the parts, a highly of which is the exchange between Tommy Karevik, Marco Hietala and Anneke van Giersbergen during Magnetism.

Finally we come to The Source, the then latest Ayreon album and surprisingly represented by just two songs: Star of Sirrah and Everybody Dies. You'd think the latest album would have more presence here but then maybe not, this isn't in support of that album and it certainly isn't a show from any kind of normal tour. These songs are all done by singers originally on that album with the addition of Luyten, but with some changes due to absences, notably James LaBrie again. Everybody Dies is a highlight, again seeing Mike Mills in his TH-1 regalia.

Arjen Lucassen himself shows up for the final song of the main set which was The Castle Hall and then gives an over ten minute speech about the event before the first encore. Although he talks about his fear of playing live and public speaking he does a pretty good job of it when he does perform on stage and delivers his speech well, a point he does reference himself as it goes on. On most shows I don't think audiences want a band member to speak for over ten minutes, but this is no normal show or normal musician. The audience is rapt and Lucassen's speech is amusing. He has always struck me as a musician to be a very down to Earth and humble man and it is obvious that he is overwhelmed by what has been done with his music for this show and how many people have turned out to see it performed.

In summary Ayreon Universe as a live release does have a few niggles like tracks being edited down, but ultimately it's a minor issues. The whole thing is damn impressive, especially when you consider how many major bands couldn't possibly have plans for the three nights these shows were performed due to their vocalists being occupied with it for ultimately very little time on stage each. It's a massive undertaking to put Ayreon on stage. It's testament to the quality of the music that Lucassen can get such talented people not just to appear on his albums but on stage as well. And despite it's niggles, Ayreon Universe is a damn entertaining show. It's very possibly the best live release I've seen to date.

DREAM THEATER Breaking The Fourth Wall

Movie · 2014 · Progressive Metal
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rdtprog
It seems like it was just yesterday that the Luna Park DVD was released. Now it's another one from the Boston Opera House less than a year later. The show is divided in three acts. The first act is tracks from the last two albums and the song "A Trial of Tears" from "Falling to Infinity". The second act is 5 songs from the "Awake" album to celebrate his 20th anniversary and the third act is the encore celebrating again "Scene from a Memory" with his 15th anniversary. On those 2 albums, the band use the same pattern by starting to play the technical, fast and heavy songs like "The Mirror", "Lie", "Overture 1928" and "Strange Déjà Vu" and finishing with the slower and emotional songs like "Lifting Shadows Off A Dream", "Space Dye Vest" and "Finally Free".

"The Illumination Theory", the most progressive and the epic song of the last album is played with an orchestra in the second act which is the perfect fit with this song that contains an irresistible classical break in the middle. The picture is crystal clear and the camera work more satisfying than the "Luna Park" DVD. As for the sound, I had to crank up the volume very high to get the full sound. Again, I wish we could hear John Myung louder, but that's what happens on live recording, it rarely match the sound quality of a studio release. James Labrie's voice is in nice shape as well as all others members. It's another nice addition to your Dream Theater collection. 3. 8 stars.

DREAM THEATER Dream Theater - Score: 20th Anniversary World Tour Live with the Octavarium Orchestra

Movie · 2006 · Progressive Metal
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AtomicCrimsonRush
I always look forward to putting this DVD on as I know I am going to get the best of both worlds; symphonic orchestrated music and full on Dream Theater prog. I agree with some reviewers that the setlist is not exactly mind blowing but it nevertheless spans the 5 year history. It is interesting the way the orchestra blends into the metal sound, similar to the Metallica S&M concert, or indeed Kiss Alive IV. It is always of interest when metal meets symphony. The DVD "Score" is very well produced, sharp editing throughout and excellent sound quality. There is nothing wrong with the visuals at all, with the band members sharing the spotlight, but the problem lies in the setlist itself. There are too many omissions and some opportunities wasted in the early part of the concert.

It opens with some deadset oddities such as The root of all evil, I walk beside you, Another won and Afterlife. It isn't until Under A Glass Moon that it really takes off showing the power of that brilliant track and Petrucci's amazing guitar solo. Later we are treated with The spirit carries on and the entire suite of Six degrees of inner turbulence; absolutely flawless and indispensable on the live stage. After an ovation the band belt out Vacant, The answer lies within, Sacrificed Sons and the masterpiece epic Octavarium that is quintessential to the band. The Encore: Metropolis Pt. 1 is a brilliant way of ending the concert to a rapturous crowd.

Disc 2 is packed with some hit and miss Bonus material including a mammoth 20th Anniversary Documentary, that has some fascinating info on the band and the way that not everything goes to plan on a tour. Portnoy has too much to say and now it is a bitter taste now he has scarpered and been replaced. The Octavarium Animation is terrific, and the live performances are always a treat including Another Day (Tokyo - 1993), The Great Debate (Bucharest, Romania - 2002) and Honor Thy Father (Chicago - 2005).

The DVD comes with high recommendations due to the visual quality, and overall package. Ignore the early part of the set and just enjoy DT at their absolute best in the middle half of the concert accompanied by masterful orchestration. A must for all DT fans and one of the best DT DVDs available to this point in time.

DREAM THEATER Live at Budokan

Movie · 2004 · Progressive Metal
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AtomicCrimsonRush
One of the first DVDs I saw of Dream Theater before the onslaught of DVDs that have come since. This is an early performance and of considerable interest as a result. These were the glory days of Dream Theater ramming prog down the throats of the hungry Budokan fans. It is an incredible performance best seen than heard though the audio experience offers much as a type of Dream Theater concoction of the best of the earlier years. The CD is good listening but the visual persentation is incredible. There are a few odd surprises scattered in the mammoth set list but the classics are here and played to perfection. Beyond This Life is a huge epic clocking 19:37, and with some dynamic lead guitar from Petrucci. The Test That Stumped Them All is always a killer track live and sounds fresh and powerful with huge bass runs of Myung and Portnoy's slamming percussion.

Endless Sacrifice is an 11 minute gruelling journey into prog excess with a wild keyboard section from Rudess. The Instrumedley to follow features some awesome musicianship. LaBrie is in fine form on soaring vocals, and shines on such compositions as the 14 minute Trial Of Tears and New Millennium. It is always a pleasure to experience a Jordan Rudess keyboard solo and it is as inventive here as ever. There are some amazing songs such as Solitary Shell, Stream Of Consciousness and quintessential Pull Me Under. The set closes with epic 16 minute In The Name Of God. So overall this is a great set with power metal and tons of instrumental breaks. It is progressive and packed to the gills with mind bending virtuoso solos and material from some of their best albums. It was the "Train of Thought" tour so there is plenty from that album as well as "Six Degrees" and "Images and Words" among others.

The special features are wonderful featuring 'Riding The Train Of Thought" a Japanese Tour Documentary of about half an hour, and John Petrucci Guitar World segment, Jordan Rudess Keyboard World, and a Mike Portnoy Drum Solo clocking 12 minutes. The Dream Theater Chronicles - 2004 Tour Opening Video is okay showing the video the crowd saw in the opening, and Instrumedley with multi-angles is lots of fun. Overall it is a fantastic DVD concert, and all Dream Theater fans must have it.

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