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

progressive metal top albums

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THRESHOLD Legends Of The Shires Album Cover Legends Of The Shires
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OPETH Still Life Album Cover Still Life
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progressive metal Music Reviews

VOIVOD Angel Rat

Album · 1991 · Progressive Metal
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UMUR
"Angel Rat" is the sixth full-length studio album by Canadian progressive metal act Voivod. The album was released through Mechanic/MCA Records in November 1991. It´s the successor to "Nothingface" from October 1989, which was the band´s most commercially successful release up until then (and still is). Although Voivod shot a promotional video for "Clouds in My House", "Angel Rat" did not receive the same amount of praise and wasn´t as commercially successful as "Nothingface". It was the last Voivod album to feature the original quartet lineup, as bassist Jean-Yves Thériault (Blacky) recorded his parts for "Angel Rat", but exited Voivod before the release of the album. Voivod brought in prolific producer Terry Brown (Rush, Queenrÿche...etc.), who is responsible for producing, mixing, and engineering "Angel Rat".

When "Panorama" kicks in just after the short intro track ("Shortwave Intro"), it´s immedately apparent that Voivod have changed a lot since "Nothingface". Although "Angel Rat" is certainly a well performed release, all the most odd dissonant chords and time-signature changes are gone and instead Voivod present the listener with a melodic heavy rock/metal style. It´s still unmistakably the sound of Voivod with Denis Bélanger´s distinct sounding punkish vocals in front, but "Angel Rat" is a decidedly more melodic and straight forward release than anything Voivod had released up until then. "Nothingface" featured melodic moments but those melodic moments were woven into an odd dissonant and rhythmically challenging sound, which ultimately sounds very little like the music featured on "Angel Rat". Denis D-Amour still produces some pretty unconventional sounding riffs, which provide the album with a lot of identity and his at times futuristic sounding lead work is also a great asset.

I´ll be honest here and say that my guess is that Voivod were trying to make a commercial release to see how far they could drive their career (which is of course fair and understandable). When you know what came after "Angel Rat" it´s obvious Voivod didn´t succeed and therefore returned to a less mainstream oriented style on the subsequent releases, and if "Angel Rat" was their attempt at achieving commercial success I´d say they miscalculated a few things. First of all very few of the tracks on "Angel Rat" are immediately catchy and memorable. Even after listening to the album many times over the years, there are still tracks on the album I can´t remember what sounds like before I listen to the album. That´s not a good condition if you want to sell albums. Secondly the sound production is a bit "off". It´s overall a decent quality sound production, but it´s like the instruments are a bit detached in the soundscape (especially the drums) and I have to say that I was surprised to learn that this is a Terry Brown production.

When that is said "Angel Rat" is still a good quality release and tracks like "Clouds in My House" and especially the brilliant "The Prow" can be viewed as highlights. Upon conclusion "Angel Rat" may be Voivod´s botched attempt at achieving commercial success but it´s also an interesting and unique album release in their discography. It suffers a bit from being bookended by two of Voivod´s strongest albums, but a 3.5 star (70%) rating is still deserved.

MESHUGGAH Chaosphere

Album · 1998 · Progressive Metal
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Kev Rowland
It is difficult to realise that ‘Chaosphere’ is now 25 years old, how did that happen? When Swedish band Meshuggah released their third album back in 1993 they probably did not realise that their new experimental move into polyrhythms and away from the more thrash exploits of their first two albums would create the inspiration for a whole new genre, djent. To celebrate the 25th anniversary it is has now been remastered by Thomas Eberger and Sofia Von Hage at Stockholm Mastering, the with the result being that everything is that much crisper and somehow even more poundingly heavy than it was all that time ago.

I came to the band later, so didn’t hear this when it was initially released, but the impact on the metal scene was intense and hearing it again all these years later it still sounds fresh and very current. If this was released as a brand-new album today it would not sound out of place in the current market, as this style of music is now something many appreciate and understand, but when this first came out the impact would have been devastating. Somehow, throughout all the chaos the band stay in 4/4, but such is the complexity and offshoots of music that one often thinks there are in 5/8 or 7/8, but the head knows what is going on as it moves uncontrollably to the groove.

The intensity is off the scale, and any movement of volume must only ever be up, which means there is a real risk to eardrums with this one. Everyone who knows metal will be fully aware of this band, and will probably own some of their albums, but now is the time to revisit ‘Chaosphere’ in all its heavy beauty and mark at the birth of a movement.

QUEENSRŸCHE Digital Noise Alliance

Album · 2022 · Progressive Metal
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UMUR
"Digital Noise Alliance" is the sixteenth full-length studio album by US power/heavy metal act Queensrÿche. The album was released through Century Media Records in October 2022. It´s the successor to "The Verdict" from March 2019 and features a couple of lineup changes since the predecessor as guitarist Parker Lundgren has been replaced by Mike Stone (who previously played with Queensrÿche in the 2003-2009 period), and drummer Casey Grillo has been added as a permanent member after Scott Rockenfield didn´t return (he didn´t play on "The Verdict" either, where the drums were recorded by lead vocalist Todd La Torre, who also happens to be a capable drummer). Rockenfield took a longer paternity leave, but his status with the band was uncertain for quite a few years, before lawsuits between him and the other two remaining founding members Michael Wilton (guitars) and Eddie Jackson (bass) put an end to his time in Queensrÿche.

"Digital Noise Alliance" is the fourth La Torre fronted Queensrÿche studio album after he replaced Geoff Tate in 2012, and it further cements the musical direction which Queensrÿche returned to after they fired Tate. The last couple of Tate-fronted Queensrÿche studio albums weren´t well received and many fans felt that the band were going through the motions...and in retrospect that´s probably exactly what was happening, and change was needed and ultimately happened. The 2013 eponymously titled "Queensrÿche" album introduced a more power/heavy metal oriented style, where it was obvious that the band were searching for a sound closer to their late 80s/early 90s heyday, and with the new energy and strong vocals of La Torre they arguably succeeded in giving the fans what they had been craving for a number of years. Melodic and catchy power/heavy metal with an occasional commercial edge, but still not mainstream in a pop/rock fashion.

Since then they´ve continued down that same path and with a couple of more good quality studio albums under their belt with La Torre fronting them, it´s no surprise that "Digital Noise Alliance" is more of the same high quality melodic power/heavy metal which Queensrÿche have been exponents for in the last decade. La Torre is still an expressive and skilled singer with a voice which sounds like a combination of Geoff Tate and Bruce Dickinson (which are definitely not the worst singers to be compared to), and the band are as well playing as ever (lineup changes or not). This is sharp, melodic, catchy, hard rocking, and clear sounding power/heavy metal, which is packed in a detailed and polished sounding production, which suits the material well.

It´s maybe a bit too nice sometimes and I´d love to hear this incarnation of Queensrÿche really let loose and cut some of the polished production values and atmosphere enhancing keyboards. When they are most raw and heavy metal oriented (like the verse section of "Sicdeth" or the heavy riffs and rhythms on "Behind the Walls") they sound incredible. On the other hand they are still masters of producing beautiful harmonies (both with guitars and vocals) and it´s a big part of their sound, so it wouldn´t be Queensrÿche without the melodies and the polish.

Upon conclusion "Digital Noise Alliance" is another good quality power/heavy metal release from Queensrÿche. There are no surprises here and if you enjoyed the last couple of albums this one will be right down your alley too, and that´s maybe the only complaint I have with latter day Queensrÿche. Their will to experiment and try out new things are pretty much gone and although they arguably produce high quality music, they´ve locked into a groove now and their albums sound a lot alike. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

SHADOW GALLERY Tyranny

Album · 1998 · Progressive Metal
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UMUR
"Tyranny" is the third full-length studio album by US progressive metal act Shadow Gallery. The album was released through Magna Carta Records in September 1998. It´s the successor to "Carved In Stone" from 1995 and features one lineup change since the precessor as drummer Kevin Soffera has been replaced by Joe Nevolo.

"Tyranny" is a concept album release in two acts, which are subdivided into shorter tracks. Each act features 7 sub tracks. The plot of the concept is a conspiracy story involving a love story and covered up government weapons sales. Several times throughout the album I´m reminded of Queensrÿche´s "Operation: Mindcrime" (May 1988) album. Not only the conspiracy concept story, but many of the musical elements also point towards mid- to late 80s Queensrÿche. Hell...although not completely alike, lead vocalist Mike Baker even has a voice and a singing style which sometimes almost mimick Geoff Tate. Dream Theater is an influence too, but that influence is mostly heard when Shadow Gallery let go and play some technical instrumental parts, which they actually don´t do very often. They predominantly have a more vers/chorus oriented songwriting approach. Savatage is the last influence I´ll mention, and that´s because Shadow Gallery often take their music in a Broadway/theatrial direction, and sometimes "Tyranny" can almost be labelled a rock/metal opera.

With the influences out of the way, which should give you a good idea of what Shadow Gallery sound like on "Tyranny", let´s talk about the quality of the material featured on the fourteen tracks, 73:53 minutes long album. Shadow Gallery may wear their influences on their sleeves, but they are a brilliant band. You´ll hear many high level musical performances on this album. Blistering lead guitar work, the strong and well performed vocals by Baker, a tight playing rhythm section, and keyboards/piano which suit the music. Personally I would have chosen some more tasteful and less plastique sounding keyboards, but that comes down to personal taste.

The songwriting is strong and memorable and if you can look past (or maybe even enjoy) the saccarine ballad "Broken" and the awful honey dripping male/female duo ballad "Spoken Words", "Tyranny" is quite the brilliant release. They´ve taken the great elements of "Carved In Stone" and have built on them, ultimately creating a more complete release. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

VOIVOD Nothingface

Album · 1989 · Progressive Metal
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UMUR
"Nothingface" is the fifth full-length studio album by Canadian progressive metal act Voivod. The album was released through Mechanic/MCA Records in October 1989 (released through Noise Records in Europe). It´s the successor to "Dimension Hatröss" from June 1988. "Nothingface" is Voivod´s most commercially successful release and the promotional video which was shot for the cover of "Astronomy Domine" by Pink Floyd was aired on MTV´s Headbangers Ball and helped strengthen Voivod´s reputation and profile on the scene. It´s not like Voivod sold millions of albums and commercially successful should in this case be understood in the right context. But considering the type of music they play on "Nothingface", any kind of commercial success is a major achievement.

Stylistically the material on "Nothingface" is a strange, sci-fi themed, and darkly psychedelic tinged type of progressive metal, featuring odd abrupt rhythm work/time-signature changes, and dissonant riffs. Lead vocalist Denis Bélanger "Snake" sings more melodic on "Nothingface" than he has done on any of the previous releases, but his melody lines and the rhythm of this delivery are often weird and not particularly catchy. He sounds a lot like a punk singer who went through the wrong rehearsal room door but decided to stay and play with the technical metal/progressive metal band who happened to be playing there. So in many ways "Nothingface" is a fragmented and odd release, but that´s exactly why it´s so brilliant...

...it´s so unusual, creative, and unique that there really isn´t anything like it out there. Never before...and never since. Coming from the technical thrash metal/progressive metal of "Dimension Hatröss" the change of musical direction must have confused many of the band´s thrash metal fans, who were probably already a bit tired of the experimental songwriting on "Dimension Hatröss". "Nothingface" takes that approach and runs with it. Most thrash metal oriented riffs are gone from the music, and instead the use of twisted, dissonant, and unconventional riffs have increased. There´s also an almost uplifting funky groove to some tracks, which is something new too. Despite being a bit more melodic inclined release, "Nothingface" is by no means an easily accessible listen. It´s an aquired taste too and I´m sure that most people are left a bit baffled after their first listen. People´s reactions to listening to "Nothingface" can most likely be put in two catagories...those who found it an odd, inpenetrable, and uninviting listen and those who found it weird but were left with an urge to give it more spins because they heard something intriguing they felt was worth exploring more.

"Nothingface" features a powerful, organic, and detailed sound production which perfectly suits the material. The bass is quite prominent in the soundscape and provides the right amount of heaviness to the music, when the guitar often wanders off in more high end riff or lead part territories. The drums feature a powerful organic tone, and the vocals are placed just right in the mix.

Upon conclusion it´s almost impossible to describe what "Nothingface" sounds like on paper in a way that leaves the reader wiser or more informed after reading the review. It´s one of those releases which you have to give a listen yourself to be able to judge and evaluate. But to my ears (so here´s a pretty subjective opinion) "Nothingface" is the true definition of an artist being progressive. Voivod created something which didn´t exist before (not even in their own previous work) and they progressed a whole music genre in the process. So even if you aren´t able to appreciate the music and aren´t able to enjoy listening to it, there should still be points for creativity and uniqueness. A 5 star (100%) rating is deserved.

progressive metal movie reviews

OPETH In Live Concert at the Royal Albert Hall

Movie · 2010 · Progressive Metal
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Warthur
This release captures a compelling live performance from Opeth, hailing from right towards the tail end of their metal era; Watershed had been out for nearly two years when this April 2010 concert were recorded, and the band were still some months away from entering the studio to record Heritage, heralding their stylistic shift from prog metal to a more purely prog-based approach.

In this case, the results are excellent. The band are working with songs which have had extensive road testing. Moreover, the format of the concert makes this an apt tribute to Opeth's past before they moved on to a significantly transformed future - for the concert is divided into a first act in which the entire Blackwater Park album is performed, and a second act in which the band pick out and play one song from each other their other studio albums to date in chronological order.

Blackwater Park is, of course, a stone cold classic - an album where the band's prog influences and death metal roots achieved a seamless fusion, carrying enough of their past to be an appropriate album to focus on for this journey through their career whilst also exhibiting enough of their innovations to suggest the seeds of future developments. The second half of the set allows the band to take us on a whistle-stop tour of their musical evolution, and the "one song per album" approach allows them to showcase the absolute cream of the crop, with the band erring towards epic pieces to perhaps give each album a fairly expansive showcase. (All of the songs in the second half are over ten minutes long except Hope Leaves from Damnation - and none of the songs there hit the ten minute mark.)

With the recording of Heritage a few months after this concert, an entire new chapter of Opeth's existence would begin - but this concert is an excellent summation of their previous incarnation, and will be of interest to all Opeth fans.

DREAM THEATER Breaking The Fourth Wall

Movie · 2014 · Progressive Metal
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Warthur
This came hot on the heels on the Live At Luna Park live set, which might prompt you to wonder whether Dream Theater were starting to flood the market a little with these epic-length live releases. Ever since Live Scenes From New York ended up as legendary as it was, triple album-length live workouts have been part of Dream Theater's schtick, but I'm unpersuaded.

If you're here for the visuals, then god this is a lot of Dream Theater to sit there and watch for nearly 3 hours; probably too much. This got an audio-only release on CD as well as a DVD release, at least, though the audio does reveal some issues with the mix - LaBrie's vocals are outright murky at some point, and some of the higher cymbal sounds end up coming across weird. The audience are also a little prominent in the mix - some crowd noise is nice on live albums, of course, but here it's a little more intrusive than usual.

Sure, some imperfections come with the territory, that's part of the appeal of live albums usually, but on the technical front past live releases from the band have avoided these issues. It really comes across as something knocked out and released in a hurry - particularly given how close this release was to the Luna Park one - which only contributes to the impression of Dream Theater needlessly flooding the market. Maybe I could give it more of a chance if these nagging technical issues didn't keep taking me out of it - there's nothing wrong with the performance here, if anything the band are at the top of their game - but in this case, their live recording setup wasn't keeping pace with them.

DREAM THEATER Live at Luna Park

Movie · 2013 · Progressive Metal
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Warthur
Though released in late 2013, a few months after they put out their self-titled album, Dream Theater's Live At Luna Park actually captures a 2012 residency at the titular venue hailing from the Dramatic Turn of Events tour - hence the daredevil unicyclist from that cover appearing here.

That album was, of course, largely an exercise in reassuring listeners that Dream Theater could still be Dream Theater without Mike Portnoy at the drum stool, though it managed to pull through on the strength of its material. Here, the band seem to be doing the same thing from the perspective of live albums - demonstrating to fans that we needn't worry, new boy Mike Mangini can drum for absurd amounts of time just like Mike Portnoy could. The three-CD live album had become something of a calling card for Dream Theater - though by this point in their career they tended to be coupled to DVDs - and so this seems to have been an exercise in demonstrating that the adjusted lineup could still do this.

It's not bad, on the whole, but it doesn't feel compelling necessary either. Unless you are a true zealot, there's a point where you've kind of got enough live Dream Theater, and though the focus here on material from A Dramatic Turn of Events at least means there's fresh stuff here, there's more that could have been done to shake up the set list. There's a bizarre lack of material from Black Clouds and Silver Linings, despite that they hadn't done any of their 3CD live albums since the Systematic Chaos tour, so that's an entire well of material left unaccountably untapped. Chunks of this material has already had good airings on live albums, and the strong focus on material from Images and Words and Awake makes the set list feel lop-sided - Octavarium, Six Degrees, and Metropolis also get a look-in, but there's several albums which just get overlooked entirely.

To an extent, of course, that's a testament to the strength of Dream Theater's body of work - of course you can come up with a 3 hour-plus setlist only working from a fraction of their back catalogue, they've got an embarrassment of riches to choose from! At the same time, it does make the setlist feel a bit off, and between this and them sticking fairly closely to the studio renditions for the most part it just makes the whole thing seem inessential compared to prior live releases. It comes across as Dream Theater putting out these super-long live albums because they feel an obligation to, rather than (as with Live Scenes From New York) it felt like the natural and artistically appropriate choice. If my feeling on that is correct, that's an issue; if it's not, it's still a problem, because it means the album's failed to convince me on that front.

Either way, this captures a solid performance so I can't rate it down too much, it just doesn't quite have the magic of Scenes From New York.

DREAM THEATER Chaos in Motion

Movie · 2008 · Progressive Metal
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Warthur
Dream Theater might have thought that their triple live album schtick was starting to wear thin after Live Scenes, Budokan, and Score, because for Chaos In Motion the triple CD is only actually available with the DVD set (though most of the live album - bar an intro track and a keyboard improvisation - is available streaming). I don't think they need to have worried; this live sampling of the Systematic Chaos tour absolutely cooks.

Naturally, Systematic Chaos itself is well-represented, with all but two of its songs represented (those being Repentance and Prophets of War, the latter of which I considered one of the weaker songs on that album). In the Presence of Enemies is presented as one single 26 minute song, rather than split into two halves on the album, which is interesting in itself. As far as dipping into the band's past goes, honourable mention has to go to the extended version of Surrounded from Images and Words, extending it from a five and a half minute piece to a fifteen minute workout which ends up being a medley incorporating a good chunk of Marillion's Sugar Mice, which is a fantastic interpretation of what is already an incredible song.

It's surprising to find that Dream Theater are still excelling to this level on these triple live releases at a point when you would have thought that these would start getting redundant, but I genuinely think Chaos In Motion is an overlooked and undervalued part of their discography and it's well worth a revisit... just, lads, consider a standalone CD reissue, will ya?

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.

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