AYREON — Transitus (review)

AYREON — Transitus album cover Album · 2020 · Progressive Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
4.5/5 ·
adg211288
Transitus (2020) is the tenth full-length studio album by Dutch progressive rock/metal project Ayreon. The follow-up to The Source (2017), Transitus wasn't originally convinced as an Ayreon album, which may explain why Arjen Anthony Lucassen has released two Ayreon studio albums in a row without working on another project between them, as is the normal process for him. Because of its origins Transitus is also the first Ayreon album since The Dream Sequencer (2000) to not feature Ed Warby on drums. They are instead played by Juan van Emmerloot. Other regular guest musicians like Joost van den Broek (keyboards) and Ben Mathot (violin) are still featured however. Guest guitar solos on this album are performed by Joe Satriani and Marty Friedman. Transitus was released with an accompanying comic book that tells its story, to be read along with the music, with all the characters designed to look like their vocalists.

Transitus is primarily the story of Daniel, played by Tommy Karevik (Kamelot / Seventh Wonder) and Abby, played by Cammie Gilbert (Oceans of Slumber). Daniel and Abby are a mixed race couple living in 1884 (200 years before the human race destroys itself in the main Ayreon storyline). If we were to talk of Transitus in terms of movie or literacy genres, then we'd primarily call it a romance as the starstruck couple face social prejudice related to their respective stations: Daniel's the son of the lord of the manner (Twisted Sister legend Dee Snider), while Abby is a mere servant. But this is Ayreon, so there are going to be twists of an otherworldly nature, so in fact Transitus is perhaps more than just a romance, but a ghost story. Spoiler alert, Daniel dies in track one. He ends up in a mysterious place between this world and next: Transitus!

Transitus is narrated by Tom Baker (TV's Fourth Doctor in Doctor Who), who adds a dramatic flair to his narration that's sure to get anyone's inner geek bouncing off the walls. Narration is something that for me that can ultimately harm a very good album if done too excessively, but Baker makes this a real treat, conjuring some real gothic horror vibes at times, which fits the music perfectly. Though not a singer, Baker is the only member of the cast in his role as The Storyteller to appear on every song on the album. Tommy Karevik's Daniel, despite his death right at the start of the story, appears the most often of the actual vocalists, but Transitus isn't designed to give everyone even close to equal singing time, so while Daniel is the tale's protagonist his role is primarily featured on the first disc of the album, where he appears on all but two songs. His appearances are reduced on the second disc, as the still living characters' parts in the story are told. Cammie Gilbert's Abby is the second most appearing character, followed by Lavinia, her stepmother, played by Amanda Somerville (Trillium). Lavinia, a medium, becomes haunted by the ghost of Daniel right at the start of the story, but her vocals are only featured on the second disc of the album, where she effectively becomes the lead character, neither hero nor true villain, just misguided.

The remainder of the album's diverse vocal cast are supporting characters. The most important of these is Henry, Daniel's brother, played by Paul Manzi (ex-Arena), who while only appearing as a singer on four songs, is the story's antagonist. He is most vehemently against the union between Daniel and Abby and after Daniel's death is determined to see that Abby pays for it, in which he conspires with Lavinia, who mistakenly believes that Abby killed Daniel, when in fact his death was a tragic accident. Also key on the supernatural side of things is The Angel of Death, played by Simone Simons (Epica), whom Daniel meets in Transitus along with her henchwomen The Furies (Marcela Bovio (ex-Stream of Passion) and Caroline Westendorp (The Charm The Fury)) – though the pair also play the servants of the manor and two of the villagers. Daniel is able to appeal to the Angel's better nature and after some wibbly wobbly, timey whimey stuff revealing the backstory between Daniel, Abby, Henry and Daniel's Father, gives Daniel seven days and seven nights to try to save Abby from the fate Henry has prescribed for her.

Also a part of this tale is Abraham, Abby's father, played by Johanne James (Threshold (drums) / Kyrbgrinder). While his role is much more minor than many of the cast on Transitus, appearing on just three songs, Abraham represents the quintessential 'good man' of the tale, devoted to his daughter and spending his appearances just trying to save the life of first Daniel and then Abby herself. Then there is The Statue, played by Mike Mills (Toehider), who makes a single song appearance, Dumb Piece of Rock, encouraging Daniel to choose Abby over status during the flashback, but whose role is probably all in Daniel's mind (but it is Ayreon so maybe not?). It's surprising to hear Mills regulated to a single song appearance given that he is basically one of Lucassen's favourite collaborators right now, this being his third consecutive Ayreon album (as it also is Karevik's). Dee Snider also appears on a single song, Get Out! Now! as part of the same flashback sequence.

Some other vocalists are also featured on Transitus in small roles as the Villagers, basically cameos, while Dianne van Giersbergen (ex-Xandria / Ex Libris) also appears on the album but isn't playing a role, just providing her soprano voice for a haunting eerie effect. As a vocalist cast it feels much more restrained than some Ayreon albums, especially The Source, with just seven recurring characters appearing on anything from three to eleven tracks each (out of twenty-two), two one off characters, a narrator and Bovio/Westendorp playing multiple characters in a backing capacity, with six additional villagers.

It is a good cast and I like that Lucassen has highlighted rising progressive metal star Cammie Gilbert along with his regular collaborators, as well as Johanne James, who is better known as a drummer than a singer, but I also feel like he may have missed a few tricks with this one. Both Bovio and Westendorp are surprisingly underused despite handling multiple roles and I feel like the story could possible have seen the role of the Furies expanded upon, perhaps with one in support of The Angel of Death's aiding Daniel and one against. I have this image of Bovio's Fury supporting the Angel and Westendorp's rebelling, using her growling voice to full effect instead of the few bits we do hear in the background. There was certainly plenty of running time that could have been used for such a subplot, or any subplot that saw their characters developed more, since as a double CD Ayreon album Transitus is only just of a length that requires that distinction at 80:49 long, making it the shortest Ayreon 2CD. But alas, that was not to be. Additionally Dianne van Giersbergen is such a good singer that her not even playing a role seems almost criminal. And finally the biggest gripe: I can't be the only Ayreon fan who is waiting for the day that Lucassen allows his own voice to grace an album again. Come on Arjen, it's been three albums now!

Just how much this story fits into the greater Ayreon universe is debatable. There are lyrical references in This Human Equation, which not only references The Human Equation (2004) but also the Universal Migrator (2000) albums, but mostly Transitus seems to be very stand-alone. The music itself has some familiarity to it – the guitar riffs are metallic, but overall this isn't as heavy an album as its predecessor The Source and the writing structure is very different, aiming for shorter songs in general, although not to the extremes of The Theory of Everything (2013) and its four long twenty-plus minute suites. But one should expect many tracks that are under three minutes long, doing their job to advance the story between more traditionally structured tracks. The only epic of sorts is the opener Fatum Horrificum, which is in some ways like a very long intro into the story about to unfold. There are other elements of genres heard like symphonic elements and some Celtic folk on Talk of the Town. Much like The Theory of Everything though, it's album that works best when listened to as a whole, considering each disc an separate act.

As such it often feels like the individual highlights are lacking on Transitus. They are here, but with the exception of the Mike Mills sung Dumb Piece of Rock fans should perhaps expect the album's singles to be the most individually memorable tracks, like the Dee Snider led Get Out! Now!, the soft duet between Tommy Karevik and Cammie Gilbert Hopelessly Slipping Away, along with the Simone Simons led This Human Equation and of course Talk of the Town, which features Paul Manzi as the lead singer with support from Karevik and Gilbert. That's not to say that the rest of Transitus isn't excellent, but it is fair to say that it's the Ayreon album that is closest to being an actual musical that you need to experience everything in sequence, narration included, in order to appreciate everything that Arjen Lucassen has created.

While I don't imagine ever ranking Transitus alongside my favourite Ayreon albums like Into the Electric Castle (1998) – my favourite album of all time – The Human Equation, 01011001 (2008) or The Source, I find myself very satisfied with it. It's very easy to get into, immerse yourself in its story (which I hope I didn't spoil too much) and if we can ever get out of these worldwide restrictions because of Covid-19 I can well imagine this getting the full stage show works like Into the Electric Castle and The Human Equation have done. It's very good work from everyone's favourite Hippie once again and dare I say...nice!
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adg211288 wrote:
29 days ago
I find it a rather easy album to get into personally but something miraculous will have to happen for it to upset my top 5 Ayreon albums. I'm not disappointed - they can't all be 5 star masterpieces after all.
666sharon666 wrote:
30 days ago
Good in depth review Adam. I'm not completely enthralled with this after a couple of listens, but maybe it'll grow on me.

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