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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CONQUERING DYSTOPIA Conquering Dystopia

Album · 2014 · Progressive Metal
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UMUR
"Conquering Dystopia" is the eponymously titled debut full-length studio album by US progressive metal act Conquering Dystopia. The album was independently released in March 2014. Conquering Dystopia was formed in 2013 by guitarists Jeff Loomis (Nevermore, solo) and Keith Merrow (Demisery, Merrow), when enough fans demanded the formation after watching the two gentlemen doing guitar grear review videos on Youtube. Drummer Alex Rüdinger (Ordinance, The Faceless) and bassist Alex Webster (Cannibal Corpse, Blotted Science) also joined and completed the quartet lineup.

Stylistically the 12 tracks on the 52:56 minutes long album are fully instrumental progressive metal in the heavy end of the scale (hence the progressive death metal tag, sometimes given to the album). The technical level of playing is through the roof, and the listener is treated to brutal heavy riffs, blistering guitar solos and themes, and complex rhythm work. Considering the musicians involved this is in no way a surprise and the music in most ways sound exactly like you´d imagine it would sound like. The album features a massive and heavy production job, which further enhances the listening experience and makes "Conquering Dystopia" the ultra heavy release that it is. It´s not only a brutal and punishing listen though, and it features a lot of intricate guitar work and melodies too. A track like "Lachrymose" is even a mellow melodic track with no heavy guitars, and there are other moments on the album like that (for example the intro to "Nuclear Justice"), so this is a more dynamic album than what it may initially feel like.

"Conquering Dystopia" is still very much a musicians album...designed to make your jaw drop and make you frustrated that you´ll never ever be able to play anything resembling what these guys churn out. There are of course loads of albums out there produced with the same agenda, but there aren´t that many in the heavier end of the scale. If I have to make a comparison to another instrumental metal act it would be Webster´s other project Blotted Science, which is also quite a heavy act. "Conquering Dystopia" features a powerful, raw, and detailed sound production, which suits the material perfectly, and upon conclusion this is a high quality instrumental technical/progressive metal album. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

ROYAL HUNT The Watchers

EP · 2001 · Progressive Metal
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lukretion
Dubbed “the longest EP in history” (at nearly 70 minutes of length), The Watchers is an EP released by Danish melodic prog metallers Royal Hunt to accompany the release of their 6th full-length album The Mission. The EP contains one new track that was not included on The Mission but is part of the same concept (a musical soundtrack for the book "The Martian Chronicles" by Ray Bradbury about the colonization of Mars by Americans who flee the troubled, war-ridden Planet Earth). The EP also contains four live tracks and four re-recordings of songs taken from the band’s earlier albums. Seven of these eight songs are particularly interesting because they feature for the first time new singer John West who had joined the band only two years prior, following the departure of the band’s previous, much beloved singer DC Cooper.

The previously unreleased track, “Intervention”, appears on the EP in two versions (a full version and a radio-edit version). The full version is a great, 14-minute epic, proggy track that in my opinion is almost better than any of the songs that were actually included on The Mission album. The track moves through different, recurring parts, some of which instrumental while others feature the great John West at the mic. His singing here, as on The Mission, is impeccable: warm, soulful but powerful and epic when needed. The song features a very nice chorus that reminds me of the Paradox album, partly because of its lyrics describing an imaginary dialogue with God. The whole song is actually more in the spirit of the music the band released on Moving Target/Paradox (symphonic, mid-tempo, classically-inspired prog rock/metal) than the more metallic and fast-tempo songs included on The Mission. This perhaps explains why “Intervention” was left out of the full-length release since, sonically, it does not match the rest of the tracks of that album very well. The song also sounds better produced than the material released on The Mission, whose sound I found a bit too compressed, thin and plasticky. The drum sound in particular is much improved as it feels less artificial and processed than the sound on The Mission album (drummer Allan Sørensen is credited a playing on the EP, while he did not appear on the full-length album). Overall, this is an awesome track that alone is worth the price of the EP.

The other tracks are live or re-recorded versions of songs from earlier albums, mostly Paradox, Clown in the Mirror and Land of Broken Hearts. The most interesting aspect of these tracks, as I mentioned earlier, is that these are among the first recordings of these songs with John West behind the mic. West is an amazing singer, there’s no doubt about it. However, his voice is quite special - warm, bluesy, and soulful - and it truly shines when the music gives him space to breathe and he can explore the space between the notes. Some of these earlier songs have been written for a different type of vocalist, like DC Cooper, whose performance is much tighter and more sober. The same goes for the earlier songs written for the band’s original singer Henrik Brockmann who sang on Royal Hunt’s first two albums. This is to say that, although it is interesting to listen to John West performing tracks taken from the band’s first four albums, the outcome is not as amazing as one would have perhaps expected. Especially on the live versions of “Flight” (from Land of Broken Hearts) and “Message to God” (from Paradox), West sounds a bit uncomfortable and out of place. He lacks the grit that Brockmann put in his performance and the tightness of DC Cooper. He does better on “Epilogue” (from Clown in the Mirror) that is indeed a more spacious song that is more apt to West's expressive, modulated vocals. The same applies to the studio re-recordings, where West appears more in his element on soulful tracks like “Clown in the Mirror” than “One by One” (from Land of Broken Hearts).

Despite this, The Watchers remains a nearly-essential release if you are a Royal Hunt fan. The unreleased track left off The Mission is worth alone the purchase of the EP, being a song that is probably superior to all the material released on that full-length album. The live and re-recorded tracks are interesting because of the presence of the new singer John West and more generally because they contain some of the most beautiful tracks the band has ever written (“Message to God”, “Epilogue”, “Clown in the Mirror”, “Legion of the Damned”).

[Originally posted on www.metal-archives.com]

ROYAL HUNT The Mission

Album · 2001 · Progressive Metal
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lukretion
The Mission is the ambitious 6th full-length album by Danish melodic prog metallers Royal Hunt. Based on the book "The Martian Chronicles" by Ray Bradbury, The Mission is a conceptual piece of work consisting of 13 interconnected tracks, each revisiting a chapter in Bradbury's book about the colonization of Mars by Americans who flee the troubled, war-ridden Planet Earth. Of these 13 tracks, five are actually short interludes (mostly instrumental), so there are only seven "proper" tracks on the album. Some may feel this falls a bit on the short side of what a full-length should be, but I do not mind as the alternation between shorter and longer tracks actually works well in terms of the storytelling the concept album sets out to do.

Musically, the album follows in the footsteps of previous Royal Hunt's releases, albeit with a few surprises and tweaks to their trademark sound. The songs are still firmly rooted in the classically-inspired blend of melodic progressive metal the band has been playing since their beginnings. The classical music influences are most evident in the song structures and in the way the bass, drums, guitars and keyboards play contrapuntal melodies and rhythms that bring to mind the way instruments are used in a typical classical orchestra. The progressive elements lie more in the contamination of influences (classical music, metal, hard rock) and in the ambition of the concept than in the mere display of technical wizardry (though in each song there is ample space for dazzling guitar and keyboard solos by Andre Andersen and Jacob Kjaer). As in all Royal Hunt's releases, The Mission retains a strong focus on the vocals, which are the "instrument" of choice for carrying the main melody of the songs. On The Mission, John West makes his second appearance with the band after his debut on Fear. John has a splendid voice, deep and soulful but at the same time powerful and with incredible range. On The Mission, his performance is very strong, especially on the most melodic tracks like the ballad "Days of No Trust".

However, The Mission also shows some elements of progression relative to the typical Royal Hunt's sound. Frist, at various places Andre Andersen experiments with a swathe of futuristic sounds on his keyboards that are unusual for his style and refreshing, and sit well with the sci-fi theme of the album. The way the backing vocals are processed (very compressed, almost alien-sounding) also keeps in line with the concept. The drums also sound quite plasticky and processed. This may be again intended, to give a more futuristic feel to the music, or the result of the fact that the band actually used sampled drums on the album, this is not clear to me (drummer Allan Sørensen quit the band just before the recordings of the album, two guest drummers are mentioned in the album credits list, Kim Johanneson and Kenneth Olsen, but I am not convinced they actually played on the record). Either way, the drum sound is not fantastic on this album and, more generally, the album sounds a bit too compressed and thin, especially by today's (2021) standards.

Another difference is that The Mission features more muscular, hard-hitting and fast-tempo songs relative to a Royal Hunt's typical album. In fact, The Mission may be the most "metal" record the band has released up to this point in their career. Tracks like "World Wide War" or "Total Recall" would not sit out of place in a progressive/power metal album, actually. Unfortunately, I feel that, with this shift towards more metallic musical territories, Royal Hunt lose a bit of the "magic" that one can instead find on their more symphonic rock oriented albums like Clown in the Mirror, Moving Target or Paradox. Another problem I have with The Mission is that the tracks tend to be a little bit too homogeneous, there is not much variation across the seven longer tracks of the album ("Days of No Trust" is probably the track that stands out the most because it represents a change of pace and style compared to the other six). On the positive side, this again sits well with the interconnected, concept-based nature of the tracks. But, on the other hand, this uniformity makes The Mission an album that is a tad less adventurous and exciting to listen to.

Overall, for these reasons, The Mission is not my favourite Royal Hunt's record. It is nevertheless a strong album by a band that at the time was at the apex of their creative powers, and remains today one of the finest in the band's catalogue.

[Originally posted on www.metal-archives.com]

CONCEPTION In Your Multitude

Album · 1995 · Progressive Metal
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UMUR
"In Your Multitude" is the 3rd full-length studio album by Norwegian power/progressive metal act Conception. The album was released through Noise Records in May 1995. It´s the successor to "Parallel Minds" from 1993 and features one lineup change as keyboard player Hans Christian Gjestvang´s has left. He has not been replaced here, so the keyboards are handled by session musician Trond Nagell-dahl.

Stylistically the material on "In Your Multitude" feel like the natural continuation of the power/progressive metal sound of "Parallel Minds (1993)". The sound is maybe slightly more progressive in nature than the music style on the predecessor, but it´s details which set the two albums apart. And that counts for both musical style and the high quality of the material featured on the two albums. Those expecting an explosion of progressive features like complex song structures, unconventional time signatures, or longer instrumental sections, should look somewhere else, as Conception may use those elements on occasion (like on the longer instrumental section on "A Million Gods"), but they are more in the power metal camp than in the progressive metal ditto. If I should make a comparison to a contemporary act which most people can relate to, I´d mention Queensrÿche, although the influence is only heard occasionally.

The high level musicianship is one of the greatest assets of "In Your Multitude", but anyone familiar with the preceding releases won´t be surprised by that. The instrumentalists are very well playing, and especially guitarist Tore Otsby delivers some strong riffs, very well played guitar solos, and loads of intriguing ideas to the musical landscape of the album. His playing is technical but still tasteful and restrained when the songs call for it. The rhythm section are skilled too and deliver the right heavy pounding performance to back up the riffs and the many great vocal melodies performed by lead vocalist Roy Khan. The latter mentioned is a singer extraordinaire with a strong voice and a powerful and varied delivery. The keyboards are mostly used for atmosphere, but there are moments on the album when they have a more prominent role.

"In Your Multitude" features a well sounding production job, which suits the music perfectly. There is power here and there is clarity enough to hear every detail being played/sung. So upon conclusion "In Your Multitude" is just the right step forward for Conception and it´s a high quality release deserving a 4 star (80%) rating.

MASTODON Medium Rarities

Boxset / Compilation · 2020 · Progressive Metal
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Kev Rowland
As one may expect from the title, the brand new release from Mastodon is a collection of material which is difficult or impossible to obtain, bringing together cover versions, soundtrack contributions, instrumentals, B-sides, and live recordings on one complete package. This means we get the likes of “A Commotion” (Feist), “A Spoonful Weighs A Ton” (The Flaming Lips), and “Orion” (Metallica) while also featuring soundtrack cuts such as “White Walker” (Game of Thrones), “Cut You Up With A Linoleum Knife” (Aqua Teen Hunger Force) and “Rufus Lives” (Bill & Ted Face The Music). If that isn’t enough, they also include instrumental versions of “Asleep in the Deep”, “Toe To Toes”, “Jaguar God” and “Halloween”. Given that many of the songs are unavailable elsewhere then this is obviously something that fans are going to be interested in, especially as it includes brand new song “Fallen Torches”, which features guest vocals by long-time friend and collaborator Scott Kelly (Neurosis).

Due to the nature of the music contained within this, it is aimed only at Mastodon diehard fans and those people will really enjoy this, yet in reality this is not something which normal punters will rush out to obtain, and rightly so. There are a few numbers which do stand out musically, but overall this is something which many people will listen to once and then go back to the “normal” releases. Rarities albums sometimes produce a few gems, such as Jethro Tull’s “Jack A Lynn” and “Coronach” which many people were unaware of until they were put out on such a set, but for most people they can be safely passed by until the next new album comes out, and this falls into that bracket. But if you really did want some of those rarer Mastodon songs then now you can do just that.

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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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adg211288
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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