Progressive Metal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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progressive metal Music Reviews

RETROSPECTIVE iNtroVert

Album · 2022 · Progressive Metal
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siLLy puPPy
RETROSPECTIVE is one of the many Polish bands that have emerged in the 21st century that straddles the line between neo-prog / symphonic prog and progressive metal in the vein of the nation’s most popular export of this ilk, Riverside. Founded in 2005, this band almost goes as far back as Riverside itself. Amazingly enough despite almost 20 years on the scene and six albums under its belt, RETROSPECTIVE has featured the same lineup all this time with the sole exception of guitarist Darek Kaźmierczak joining ranks to make this band a six-piece instead of a mere quintet.

So what is this band exactly? Hard neo-prog or wimpy prog metal. I don’t know. Labels and boxes don’t interest me except to get a general gist of what to expect but what one can clearly state about INTROVERT (sorry this is my first experience with this band so the only reference i have thus far) is that this band is clearly focused on instantly catchy melodies in the vein of neo-prog while casting a wider net of including a pseudo-metallic guitar heft that eschews the excesses of Riverside’s aerie fairy atmospheric ambience and rather steers the band’s approach more into a Pink Floyd style of space rock that meets an 80s new wave demeanor not unlike The Psychedelic Furs in the beginning.

Yeah there’s a very 80s new wave style of crafting the melodic touches here. Is that a bad thing? Well only if you hate poppy easy-listening musical compositions. What’s cool about this one is it doesn’t try to pretend it’s something its not (like Riverside). It’s not trying to be another band (like Riverside) but rather just delivering some great music that has obvious influences that happen to be from an era where unadulterated melodic performances weren’t frowned upon. This album BTW features six tracks at almost 45 minutes. What sets this apart from other similar bands is the male / female vocal tradeoffs of Jakub Roszak and Beata Łagoda who share equal billing on the opening track “Log Out” (should be “Log In’’ no? :/ )

In comparisons to Riverside, this band doesn’t try to craft ambitious excesses in the vein of Porcupine Tree which obfuscate the pop hooks but rather just lets it all hang out so to speak. Yeah one could consider this a pop metal band that embellishes its charm with ample atmospheres and other personal touches but what’s wrong with that? Basically these types of bands are highly idiosyncratic. Does it work for you or not? Well, for me this band works incredibly well. Although i have not experienced another RETROSPECTIVE release i can say that i have enjoyed this one thoroughly from beginning to end. Warning though. For metalheads this is barely metal and for prog rock lovers this may be too metallic. Oh limbo here we go.

Yeah this isn’t a perfect album or the next level of quantum metal mechanics. Oh well. This one has an emotional pull unlike many albums even remotely metal these days and on the prog side of the equation likewise. Basically this is crossover prog of the 21st century really. It’s catchy as hell. The vocals, instrumentation and compositions are stellar for what they are and the band sounds somewhat unique really. Not a masterpiece of all ages but i really enjoyed this much more than i could’ve imagined. This is one of the few examples where a foreign accent singing in English actually works amazingly well. I know this music has nothing to do with the 80s post-punk / new wave band The Psychedelic Furs but vocalist Jakub Roszak really sounds like Richard Butler at times!

FARAZ ANWAR Tale Of The Lunatics

Album · 2022 · Progressive Metal
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siLLy puPPy
Pakistan is a geographical spot on the map that many of us Westerners are woefully ignorant of except for the occasional news blurbs casting this ancient region in a negative spin. This region of the world is actually quite fascinating not only for its multi-millennial history but as it turns out, for its modern contributions to the world as well. Musically speaking when one thinks of Pakistan (if one thinks of it at all), the immediate musical genre that comes to mind would be the qawwali with perhaps Pakistan's most famous musical export Nusrat Ali Khan as the nation's ambassador in the musical sense. While ethnic music is pretty much celebrated in every culture of the world, i have to admit that i wasn't aware of the fact that progressive metal has been a thing there for quite some time now.

Guitarist FARAZ ANWAR has been on the scene for quite a while as a member of the Karachi based Dusk and also his other band Mizraab. Both bands have been dabbling in the world of progressive metal since the mid-1990s and as a solo artist ANWAR released his debut "Abstract Point Of View" as far back as 2001. Although it took sixteen years between the last two albums, ANWAR returns only two years later with a followup. TALES OF THE LUNATICS is a concept album that tells the tale of a fictional angel named Afaiel who was sent to this 3D Earth by his master to be a human being. The album is an interesting mix of spoken word narration (in English) with ANWAR's stellar guitar works that range from a sensual Eric Johnson tone-rich blues oriented style to more aggressive shredding.

While primarily a guitar oriented release, TALE OF THE LUNATICS also features some excellent precision, divine choirs and chorus as well as some orchestration that is placed in the right places. While the term progressive metal can mean different things, in this case the album is very much a mix of slower symphonic prog moments with heavier prog metal alternating between intricate passages that allow ANWAR to showcase his guitar playing skills. Basically narrated vocals introduce an overarching theme and the instrumental interpretation ensues. Well i should say mostly instrumental because a few vocal tracks do occur such as on "Throw Your Swords." I should mention this this album is solely performed by ANWAR who handles not only guitars but bass, keys, drums as well as vocals.

Well i'm simultaneously impressed and underwhelmed at the same time with this one. While the concept is an interesting one and the narrative is pretty intriguing, i can't say the musical accompaniments match the magnanimity of the intent. No doubt that ANWAR is a gifted musician who can master all instruments set in front of him. My main problem is that the music doesn't convey the message of the storyline. Musically speaking this is a mix of Dream Theater, Kansas, other prog metal acts and a bit of Middle Eastern and local Pakistani flavors. There's even a few neo-prog moments however nothing really seems like it fits the narrative and therefore it seems like the whole concept was an afterthought than rather being the impetus for the entire album experience.

This is a fun album but i guess i expected more from the whole thing. It's really just an average prog metal experience with a better than average concept that doesn't quite gel with the musical performances. The most impressive track is the closing "Lap Lost" which features a more diverse roster of ideas and musical mojo. I'm torn between this album as i like a lot of what it represents and the musical skills showcased but i can't quite gel with the vocal performances nor can i get over the fact that i've heard this type of prog metal a million times prior. Overall this is a pleasant enough experience but not one that invites me to return time and time again. There is much room for improvement and i hope ANWAR continues to pursue a more sophisticated compositional development protocol. Good but not essential.

SIEGES EVEN Playgrounds

Live album · 2008 · Progressive Metal
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UMUR
"Playgrounds" is a live album release by German progressive metal act Sieges Even. The album was released through SPV Records/Inside Out Music in July 2008. It succeeds the release of the band´s seventh full-length studio album "Paramount" from September 2007. It was the last release by Sieges Even before they disbanded. They split-up in mid-2008, so they were probably already disbanded when "Playgrounds" was released.

The material featured on the album was recorded during the tour supporting the release of "Paramount" (2007), and the 10 song tracklist features no less than 5 tracks from the album. The remaining part of the tracklist comprise 3 tracks from "The Art of Navigating by the Stars" (2003) and 2 tracks from "A Sense of Change" (1991). So "Playgrounds" only features material from three out of the band´s seven full-length studio albums, and predominantly focuses on the last two studio releases. The show is incredibly well performed. All instrumental performances are brilliant and lead vocalist Arno Menses delivers his lines with great conviction and skill. It´s sometimes to a point where you´re in doubt if this was truly recorded live, but there are some audience noises here and there to make sure this sounds like an authentic live release. Menses also speaks to the audience on a few occassions, telling which song they are about the hear, making a joke about one of the songs being a hit in Lichenstein, because it sold 3 copies...etc.

The track selection works fine and there is a focused red thread throughout the show in terms of flow. While the tracks from the two preceding studio albums work well it is still nice to hear "The Waking Hours" and "These Empty Places" performed by this lineup of Sieges Even. I´m temped to say that these versions are better than the original studio versions. "Playgrounds" features an organic, powerful, and well sounding production, which suits the material perfectly, and upon conclusion it´s a high quality swansong release by Sieges Even. Hopefully one day I´ll be forced to revisit this review and delete the word "swansong". A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

SIGH Shiki

Album · 2022 · Progressive Metal
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siLLy puPPy
When it comes to strange and twisted experimental metal, few have been as weird and long lasting as Japan’s SIGH that started out over 30 years ago as a symphonic black metal band when it was propelled into the limelight with the help of Mayhem’s Euronymous. Through the decades this band has increasingly added more elements to its sound with each album unexpectedly taking you into a completely different and oft uncharted territory within the overarching metal paradigm. Having existed in a weird twilight zone where black metal, progressive metal, symphonic prog, jazz-fusion and psychedelia meet, the band had always looked abroad for inspiring musical forces but beginning with 2018’s “Heir To Despair” at long last realized there have been some interesting sounds to mine from the homeland all along and thus Japanese folk music was fair game. Something about that album didn’t quite gel for me though so i wrote it off as a fluke.

SIGH has been the brainchild of Mirai Kawashima (vocals, keyboards) and his wife Dr. Mikannibal (vocals, saxophone) and has featured a rotating cast of supporting musicians over the decades. With 2022’s SHIKI Kawashima has not only adopted more homegrown folk sounds but for the first time in the SIGH playbook has employed the Japanese language to narrate a concept album based on an ancient Japanese poem that along with the album cover art represents Kawashima’s inward perspectives on his native Japanese culture. Along for the ride in this episode of the SIGH show is guitarist / bassist Frédéric Leclercq who has played with DragonForce, Kreator, Denied and many other bands. Also on board is percussionist Mike Heller who has also been a tour de force in the metal world having played with Fear Factory, Raven, Malignancy and a host of others. The band is topped off a bassist simply presented a 藤並聡.

In many ways SHIKI is the aggregate achievement of SIGH’s long and varied musical palette. Starting off with a psychedelic ambience the track “Kuroi Kage” ushers in a doom metal stomp before the track typifies SIGH’s black n roll musical heft with Kawashima finally joining as Japan’s answer to Captain Beefheart with his schizoid raspy vocal style undecipherable to all but those fortunate enough to speak Japan’s native tongue. The album progresses by quickening the pace with “Shoujahitsumetsu” revisiting past black metal frenzy territory allowing Kawashima to find himself uttering lyrics like a Japanese mad rapper. In the album’s 46 minute run the tracks are beautifully forged to reflect SIGH’s long established commitment to Western song structures but this time augmented with Japanese folk musical textures ranging from backing vocal chants to beautiful sounds effects from instruments such as the hichiriki, taishogoto and shamisen.

While one could very well compare SHIKI to album’s like “Imaginary Sonicscape” for their bold incorporation of a multitude of musical influences, the focus has completely shifted with SHIKI making it a more streamlined and showcases a musical procession with a purpose beyond the shock value of being weird for weird’s sake (don’t get me wrong, i do love that too!) The album almost comes off as a dramatic musical with Kawashima’s vocals conveying the anguish and grief of some tragedy that due to linguistic alienation is conveyed through his vocal tirades that sound like the Japanese equivalent of Captain Beefheart having a temper tantrum at times. Add to that a stellar production, engineering and mixing job that allows the metal heft to perfectly coincide with the nuances of electronic, ambience and psychedelia all neatly sewn together. Through this tightrope act, SHIKI manages to maintain a thunderous energetic uproar with various strains of metal ranging from doom, black and thrash along with quieter moments of transcendence that result in satisfying polarized mood swings.

Unlike any of SIGH’s previous albums, SHIKI sounds epic in scope and perfect in execution. This is an album that is paced perfectly to allow heavy metal bombast to coincide perfectly with trippy psych-fueled electronic intros, outros and midterm breathing spaces. The influence of Japanese folk musical motifs is also incorporated into the very chord progressions that comprise the compositional flow and the use of the Japanese language gives the album a completely different rhythmic drive than any previous album. I’m very happy that bands from around the world are choosing to use their native tongue in lieu of the ubiquitous English for that very reason. Just when it seemed like SIGH was ready to go stale on us, this unique act has found a new lease on life and with the newly incorporated sounds and themes of the vast world of Japanese culture could very well be around for another 30-some years. This one was a true surprise and is one of my top album picks for the calendar year of 2022. What an amazing comeback from this legendary band. SHIKI is without a doubt this band’s best album yet.

SCARDUST Strangers

Album · 2020 · Progressive Metal
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bardberic
This review was originally written for RateYourMusic, but I decided to then move it to the Progarchives, now I've decided to copy the review here to the Metalmusicarchives. The review was initially formatted for RYM, so it may look a little unusual here, and I made some minor changes to actual score and the reasons behind it (I had a whole section on the individual track ratings, which doesn't exist on the Metalmusicarchives, so I removed it, plus some other changes). The review still gets its message across here though!

Let me preface by saying that Israel has a very strong progressive metal scene, and it's quite distinguishable, too as many of the bands have influenced one another separately from the larger European and American prog scenes, due to the country's isolation from them. It's similar to how Japan's progressive metal scene has a very distinct sound due to the country's distance from Europe/America. Many Israeli artists work closely with each other, and it's a very tightly knit group of musicians with a local fanbase small enough that the artists often recognize their fans by name/appearance - metal is still quite underground in Israel. With that said, Scardust really seems to be leading the pack at the moment, and this is especially noticeable now due to their recent performance at Wacken. While Orphaned Land is still Israel's largest metal act, they're in a whole different ballpark as the rest of the prog metal in the country, predating the majority of them and actually acclaiming mainstream (by metal standards) success and playing a different style of prog (although even they seem to be heading in the same direction as the rest of the Israeli underground prog scene), but I digress. With Scardust, they epitomize the eclectic theatrical sound for which Israeli prog is known.

Think "Disney metal;" I've heard people call them that before - very upbeat and theatrical with a wide array of influences in a cohesive, yet diverse package. What Scardust has that other Israeli prog metal acts haven't seemed to quite develop yet is refinement - that is a completely polished and confident sound that belongs to them, and them alone.

Edit - 2023 revision: Speaking of "Disney metal," well, well, well... I have just the surprise for any metalhead Disney fan :) You can thank me later: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i7lS9VQ7840&t=0s

The brains of Scardust largely belong to Noa Gruman and Orr Didi, both classically trained musicians who studied together at performing arts school. Noa claims to have been singing since before she began speaking, and from the beginning of the band's career Noa has proven to be quite a special singer, with many fans comparing her to the greats, such as Floor Jansen (under whom she studied for a while) and Simone Simons. Orr Didi, on the other hand, has been called a musical genius by many people with whom he has worked, including but not limited to Patty Gurdy, who makes an appearance on this album (more about that below). While Orr mostly handles the compositions, Noa mostly handles arrangements and lyrics, with input from other band members of course.

Now for some background information about the album. In 2017 Scardust completed their crowdfunding campaign for their debut album Sands of Time and recorded it and released it in the same year (and I was fortunate enough to attend the release concert as I was interning at an Israeli company that summer). This album was met with a very strong reception. In 2018, they promised to release an album within the next year, however, due to an intense touring schedule in 2019, they couldn't finish the recording before the end of the year. In 2019, they met Patty Gurdy and went on tour with her in the UK. During this period Noa and Patty would form a tight friendship with one another which would lead to them working together on various projects, and coincidentally, they both made an appearance on Ayreon's album Transitus and Alestorm's album Seventh Rum of a Seventh Rum. While the compositions and majority of the recording was done in 2019, including but not limited to Noa's trip to the UK to record a children's choir (she claims her flight was only $30 from Tel Aviv to England), they planned for the album to be released in early 2020, with a live show featuring Patty Gurdy to accompany it. Everyone knows what happened, however, in early 2020 with the pandemic situation. Mere days before Patty were to fly to Tel Aviv to play at the live show, record her parts of the album, and play in the music video for the song "Concrete Cages," on which she made her appearance, the flights between Israel and Germany (and the rest of the world for that matter) were cancelled and she was unable to come to Israel for the show. What she did manage to do, however, was play with Scardust live at their pre-release show in Tel Aviv via Zoom, and due to capacity limits at the venue because of the pandemic, they played a pair of shows side-by-side to accommodate all of their fans. She ended up recording her parts of the album at her home studio, while videochatting Noa, in tune to the rest of the world. It would not be until March 2022, two years later, that Patty would actually make her trip to Israel for the music video and a live show.

The Scardust members eventually had to pay for the recording of the album out-of-pocket, largely due to being unable to perform to fund it. The ironic part about all of this is that this album, "Strangers" is all about isolation and estrangement, something we all felt during these tumultuous times and a large chunk of this album had been recorded while the musicians were in isolation like the rest of the world. They were able to release the album in October of 2020, before the end of the year.

The album utilizes the musical concept of theme and variation, such that the album is based around the first musical theme with which it begins as a way to play on the theme of familiarity and estrangement. It started out as a classical piece originally recorded by Orr Didi back in 2017 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SG-m7qXKpvE). The songs are organized in an arch form - that is the album consists of five pairs of songs and an overture. Each of these pair of songs were recorded as one long piece and separated at the end of the editing stages, then put on opposite ends of the album to create a familiar sounding second half of the album, as a way to keep better the listeners' attention. The album, therefore, may be listened to the way it is, or the songs could be listened in their pairs.

The pairs are organized as such:



Break the Ice............................................................................(Mist)

.....Tantibus II...............................................................(Addicted).....

..........Stranger...............................................................(Gone)..........

...............Concrete Cages.......................................(Huts)...............

....................Over................................................(Under)....................

....................Under................................................(Over)....................

...............Huts.......................................(Concrete Cages)...............

..........Gone..............................................................(Stranger)..........

.....Addicted..............................................................(Tantibus II).....

Mist............................................................................(Break the Ice)

Therefore, if you notice similarities between the songs within each pair, that was done deliberately. It is especially noticeable, in my opinion, with the Concrete Cages/Huts opus. I actually recommend listening to the album in both its official release order, first, and to each pair of songs as pairs, second. I think it helps enhance the experience.

Strangers is very modern sounding progressive metal album. It has a somewhat thick and layered guitar sound with fairly groovy riffs. The album uses a lot of modern classical, as well as other styles of western classical music, such as baroque, to create a very fanciful and sophisticated sound, that isn't as prevalent on prog today as it was 20 years ago. In this regard, despite the modern sound and production, Strangers takes us back to the era when classical-driven progressive metal reigned king. The largest influences at play here are obviously Symphony X, with the occasional neoclassical metal riffage and classical-oriented progression (as pointed out above), and Dream Theater, with very distant power metal roots and heavy use of pianos and occasional foray into avant-garde territory. I've heard people compare "Strangers" with Rush's "Moving Pictures," and I would agree with that due to similarities with the synthesizer/keyboard and bass. With the more modern sound of this album, Amaranthe comparisons may also be made due to the variety in the vocals (provided by a single woman, no less), and the pop sensibilities - especially on the song "Gone." I suppose Arch Enemy could also be a distant influence here, as well. As mentioned below, this album even crosses into Unexpect territory.

Now for the review:

"Strangers" is the best progressive metal album I'd heard in 10 years, since Israel's very own Orphaned Land released "The Never Ending Way of ORwarriOR" in 2010. "Strangers" is cohesive and refined, yet eclectic and ambitious, while creating a brand new sound for itself that melds old school prog with modern prog. And when I say prog I mean progressive metal, not this pseduo-prog pro; that seems to be oh so common nowadays (which isn't necessarily bad, per say). The album showcases elements of celtic folk music, funk, modern classical, jazz, avant-garde metal, amongst other styles, wrapped within its progressive and symphonic metal exterior. All of these elements are brightly displayed in the opening overture.

Every member of the band here shines at one point or another. While many people would call Noa the star of the show, I personally would give that accolade to both Itai Portugaly's keyboard playing and Yanai Avnet's bass playing. How often is it that a band actually puts their bass player at the forefront of the mix? Scardust does and I love actually being able to hear what the bass player is doing. and on this album, he's doing some incredible things. The song "Gone," gives each member of the band a solo in which their strengths are sharply showcased. Noa, of course, showcases the variety of styles she can sing (in rapid succession at that). Yoav displays his ability to play polyrhythms with syncopation and provide a solid foundation for the band to play in odd time-signatures. Yadin displays his incredible virtuosity and ability to play with speed and style (his playing is distinct enough that I could recognize that he was the guitarist on Tillian's album "Lotus Graveyard"). Yanai displayed, also, his virtuosity, but also how well he can play grooves yet retaining a unique sound. Itai displays his incredibly dynamic and eclectic style that allows the band to be as diverse and multifaceted as they are, here. And by diverse and multifaceted, I mean I can make a dozen or so Unexpect comparisons here.

Lyrics on the other hand, are a bit harder with which to resonate. They are, in very Israeli style, not exactly... well subtle. Quite in your face, actually. I suppose for many European listeners, this may not be as much of a problem as we in the Anglosphere will perceive them. Due to the lyrical themes, which are nothing original - we've all heard the "we are isolated," etc. motif before - and can come across as cringeworthy, but if you're like me and don't care as much about the lyrics as the music itself, it's not so much of a problem as it just does not maximize the potential the band has to offer here. My only real complaint with the singing is the five seconds of rapping Noa does in "Over" and the fact that Noa is maybe a bit too technical and sometimes sounds like she's on autotune (and knowing Noa, she'll likely take that as a compliment), and we know she is not.

Unlike most prog (as mentioned above), nowadays, the songs here do not meander much, except for the tracks "Over" and "Under" which I think are the weakest points of the album.

The only true problem for me on the album is the mastering. While the Yonatan Kossov's mixing is very good - it's dynamic, clear, and the instruments stand out well, especially the bass, as pointed out above - I'm not a fan of how loud the mastering is. I've never been a fan of Jens Bogren, who provides the mastering here. Frankly, I wish most bands would stop hiring him as I feel he masters the music way too loud and as a result, they lose their dynamic range and becomes muddy and unclear. This is definitely the case here. At times, the music just seems needlessly loud and the otherwise great production job seems buried under the mediocre overlay that Jens has created here. This album clocks in at a DR of 7, which is better than a lot of other albums in this genre, but it still does sound a bit muddy at times (even Symphony X's "V - The New Mythology Suite," which is a very comparable album to this one, only has a DR of 6, yet somehow sounds better than "Strangers") - the best way to describe it, I suppose, is that the sound feels like it got constrained and can't project itself as well as it should; however, it is not as bad as Orphaned Land's "Unsung Prophets and Dead Messiahs" (which shares Hellscore as its choir [conducted by Noa herself] with "Strangers") which was actually mixed by Jens Bogren. With "Strangers" I absolutely can tell that the album was mastered by him due to his trademark sound, which I dislike.

Overall, this album is somewhere between a 4.0 and 4.5 - an easy 4.5 if not for the iffy mastering work here. While the tracks on their own aren't as incredible as the album as a whole, the cohesiveness of the album earns it extra points. Due to the fresh air this album breathes, and the impeccable musicianship here, I am giving it a 4.5 rating, despite the master from Jens DR 6 Bogren.

Ultimately, this album is a very strong recommendation for progressive metal fans, of both modern and old school. While "Sands of Time" was a tribute to Scardust's influences, combining the sound of Symphony X with Epica, predominately, "Strangers" displays the sound Scardust has crafted on their own.

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DREAM THEATER Breaking The Fourth Wall

Movie · 2014 · Progressive Metal
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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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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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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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Electric Castle Live and Other Tales (2020) is a live release by Dutch progressive rock/metal project Ayreon. It is a documentation of the second run of official live Ayreon shows following the Ayreon Universe shows and was recorded in Tilburg in September 2019. While the prior Ayreon Universe was a retrospective show, Electric Castle live is a stage version of Ayreon's breakthrough album Into the Electric Castle (1998) with an assortment of songs from other Arjen Anthony Lucassen projects and one cover song.

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

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

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

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

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

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

AYREON Ayreon Universe - Best of Ayreon Live

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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