Ayreon

AYREON – The Theory Of Everything

Ayreon - The Theory of EverythingArjen Anthony Lucassen. That is the name of he who is Ayreon. For all who don’t have a clue who Ayreon are, the project can only be described as just that – a project. Ayreon is not a band. The whole point with Ayreon is that it is one big rock opera, which means it contains countless (almost) of musicians and singers and therefore Ayreon will never be a live act. Lucassen was first known as the guitar player and song writer in the Dutch hard rock band Vengeance (he also released two albums with the band Bodine in the early 80’s) in the mid eighties, but as they were nothing special, Lucassen quit after four albums in 1992 and the band split up. A Lucassen-less version of Vengeance are still making records and touring to not much avail. They were an uninteresting band then and even more so now. Lucassen started out his Ayreon project in 1995 with the debut album The Final Experiment and its 1996 follow up Actual Fantasy, but it wasn’t until 1998 and Into The Electric Castle that things were moving up a bit, but his big breakthrough must be the two single CD releases The Dream Sequencer and Flight Of The Migrator, both with the side title Universal Migrator (Part 1 & 2). The story of Ayreon is somewhat confusing, but it is a fantasy / sci-fi / futuristic story about the young minstrel Ayreon who was contacted by human beings from the far future to warn the world about its demise. But as in all fantasy stories, things doesn’t go by plan and shit happens, to speak frankly. Musicians and singers has been participating in an impressing stream and everyone from Bruce Dickisnon to Fish, Jorn Lande, Steve Lee (Gotthard), Mike Baker (Shadow Gallery – RIP), James LaBrie (Dream Theater) and Mikael Åkerfeldt (Opeth) has contributed with their talents. In my book, Arjen and his rock opera hit pay-dirt with his The Human Equation (2004). where he left the space story and created a story about what was going on inside a man’s head during a coma, where he lives through all the emotions of his life, from childhood to adulthood and you also get to hear some of his life partners outside his head speak. This is a masterpiece and if you don’t check it out, well, it’s really not an option – just do it.  Also, the follow up 01011001 (2008) is almost as good and yes, I’d call that a masterpiece as well. Somebody really should be making movies out of Lucassen’s stories. Don’t forget to read the lyrics while listening, folks.

Which brings us into Lucassen’s brand new Ayreon-story. This time the story has lost the sci-fi elements, well at least the ones that has anything to do with futuristic space travels and time travelling and such. This time the story is more human – kind of like The Human Equation was, only different. The story in short is about an autistic scientist named Prodigy whose equals avoids him and his elders does their best to manipulate him. That said, he’s the only one who can solve the mystery of man and all – the theory of everything – and through his odyssey, a lot of characters plays a big part – parents, his love, psychiatrist, rival, teacher. To use Lucassen’s own words: “It takes a look at the fine line between genius and madness, focusing on the conflicting desires of the characters and the consequences following their passions. It’s not science fiction, but a human story set in science context”. So there you go. And for starters, you really need a lyric sheet for this one, because this album contains shitloads of songs – 42 to be exact. A bit overmuch anyone? Well, truth be told many of the songs are more like intros and outros and many of them are instrumental pieces as well. But if you don’t pay attention, things can – and will – get confusing pretty fast. So for all you “don’t bore us, get to the chorus” people, stop reading now. Because you won’t see a hit single here. On this double album (which almost all Ayreon albums are) the two CDs are split in four pieces – or phases – as they all start with “Phase” 1, 2, 3, 4 – “Singularity”, “Symmetry”, “Entanglement” and “Unification”. You also need to be patient and to pay attention and I would advice the use of headphones, at least at first listen, to be able to focus. I would also advice a good listen without paying too much attention to the lyrics just so you’ll get a grasp of the music as well – it’s very easy that the lyrics and the story overshadows the music with big musicals / rock operas like this. And the music is just as important as the lyrics, because if the music isn’t good enough the whole thing will fall flat.

Lucky enough, Arjen Lucassen is a brilliant songwriter, so no worries there. What’s interesting also, is to check out this albums’ guests. Long time drummer Ed Warby is present also on this one and former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett lends his talents to this project. The keyboard guest are really impressing here – what about Keith Emerson (ELP), Jordan Rudesss (Dream Theater) and Rick Wakeman (Yes)? The vocal department isn’t as filled with big names this time, but there are a few and what’s more important, there are some brilliant voices here. John Wetton (Asia, King Crimson, Uriah Heep) is the Psychiatrist, Tommy Karevik (Kamelot, Seventh Wonder) plays the Prodigy, Christina Scabbia (Lacuna Coil) is the Mother, Marco Hietala (Nightwish) is the Rival, Sara Squadrani (Ancient Bards) is the Girl (never heard of her before – what a voice!!!), Michael Mills (Toehider) is the Father and JB (Grand Magus) is the Teacher. The first “Phase” opens with a prologue called “The Blackboard” which goes right into the title track which is split in two parts, the latter ends Phase 1. Both has sounds of 70’s prog, Hammonds and flutes and all, but has that distinct Ayreon sound and has Mills and Scabbia on the dialogue, “The Teacher’s Discovery” is darker and more laid back, but still heavy and duets JB with Karevik and Hietala and “Love And Envy” is so brilliant and musically it could have been off The Human Equation. Squadrani and Hietala duets here. “The Consultation” opens Phase 2 (still on CD 1), a song that musically has a big 01011001 vibe where we have all three of Wetton, Scabbia and Karevik on the vocals, “Diagnosis” sounds like a more hard rocking Ayreon with some catchy melodies, but still very Ayreon and still very good. Wetton, Mills and Scabbia sings. “Alive” is just great – a little musical of its own where Karevik and JB holds the voices. Phase 3 (CD 2) has the magnificent “Transformation” as the opener, a musical mix of The Human Equation and 01011001. It holds the voices of Karevik and JB, “Collision” is a faster and somewhat Deep Purple-ish – a brilliant song with vocals by Karevik and Hietala, “Side Effects”, sung by Wetton, JB and Karevik, is a great ballad, done Ayreon way and “Magnetism” is heavy with a big celtic vibe and a great vocal mix of Karevik, Squadrani and Hietala. Phase 4 starts with an acoustic celtic sounding ballad, “Mirror Of Dreams”, with a HUGE Human Equation vibe, both lyrically and musically – it features Squadrani and Scabbia, “The Parting” is only four minutes long, but still epic, heavy, but still melodic and catchy and is a duet between Mills and Scabbia, “The Visitation” is heavy and dark, but still with a positive message, musically it’s electronic sounding – very good and a dialogue between Karevik and Mills and “The Breakthrough” keeps Karevik and Mills going – musically we’re back on Deep Purple territory here – great.

As a whole, this is fabulous as usual, but it’s not really there with The Human Equation or 01011001, but not too far away. It also could be that I need to listen to this a bit more, because truth be told, 42 songs on a two CD set can be a bit much to digest at first. But you can look at this album in two ways – either as a 42 track album or a four track album that has a lot of sequences in them –  all the short tunes, intros and instrumental pieces. Either way it’s a bit much – that needs to be said. I prefer the way he did it on the last album, 01011001, where he collected two, three or four different pieces – songs if you will –  and put them under one title and made one big song out of those. That makes it a bit easier for the listener to take it all in. But I guess that progressive rock operas is meant to be a bit tough to take in at first. Because we all know how it is with albums like this, they might be tough to grasp at first, but when they finally stick, they really f**king stick. And that makes it all worthwhile. Besides, my guess you won’t be seeing another Ayreon record until at least 2018, so we have the time to make this one stick. On the other hand, Lucassen might surprise us with something else while we’re waiting – mind you, this is a busy man who likes to keep himself occupied. Since he left Vengeance, he has an impressing merit list on his hands. his first solo album, Pools Of Sorrow, Waves Of Joy came out in 1994, his second Lost In The New Real in 2012 and apart from that he has made records with his other projects as Star One (Space Metal, 2002 and Victims Of The Modern Age, 2010), Ambeon (Fate Of A Dreamer, 2001), Guilt Machine (On This perfect Day, 2009), Stream Of Passion (Embrace The Storm, 2005) and seven Ayreon records, most of them double albums – all of them Lucassen’s work from beginning to end. As always, the production here is amazing and perfect for this kind of experience – big and clear where all the nuances and instruments can easily be heard. I can’t see no reason for anyone with just a trace of a musical gene not to buy this. And if Ayreon are completely new to you – go out and buy the whole catalogue. It might just change your life a bit.

Jon Wilmenius (9/10)

Tracklist:

Disc I
01. Phase I: Singularity
1 – Prologue: The Blackboard
2 – The Theory Of Everything [Part I]
3 – Patterns
4 – The Prodigy’s World
5 – The Teacher’s Discovery
6 – Love And Envy
7 – Progressive Waves
8 – The Gift
9 – The Eleventh Dimension
10 – Inertia
11 – The Theory Of Everything [Part II]
02. Phase II: Symmetry
1 – The Consultation
2 – Diagnosis
3 – The Argument I
4 – The Rival’s Dilemma
5 – Surface Tension
6 – A Reason To Live
7 – Potential
8 – Quantum Chaos
9 – Dark Medicine
10 – Alive!
11 – The Prediction

Disc II
01. Phase III: Entanglement
1 – Fluctuations
2 – Transformation
3 – Collision
4 – Side Effects
5 – Frequency Modulation
6 – Magnetism
7 – Quid Pro Quo
8 – String Theory
9 – Fortune?
02. Phase IV: Unification
1 – Mirror Of Dreams
2 – The Lighthouse
3 – The Argument II
4 – The Parting
5 – The Visitation
6 – The Breakthrough
7 – The Note
8 – The Uncertainty Principle
9 – Dark Energy
10 – The Theory Of Everything [Part III]
11 – The Blackboard [reprise]

concerns an autistic savant named Prodigy, who is shunned by his peers and manipulated by his elders. At the same time, though, he’s the only person who can solve the most important equation in the history of man (hence the title). Along the way, several other characters—including his parents, rival, psychiatrist, teacher, and the girl whom he loves—play their parts in his journey. Lucassen expands upon his intentions by saying, “…it takes a look at the fine line between genius and madness, focusing on the conflicting desires of the characters and the consequences of following their passions. It’s not science fiction, but a human story set in a science context.” – See more at: http://rebelnoise.com/reviews/ayreon-the-theory-of-everything#sthash.V1Z0U22K.dpuf
concerns an autistic savant named Prodigy, who is shunned by his peers and manipulated by his elders. At the same time, though, he’s the only person who can solve the most important equation in the history of man (hence the title). Along the way, several other characters—including his parents, rival, psychiatrist, teacher, and the girl whom he loves—play their parts in his journey. Lucassen expands upon his intentions by saying, “…it takes a look at the fine line between genius and madness, focusing on the conflicting desires of the characters and the consequences of following their passions. It’s not science fiction, but a human story set in a science context.” – See more at: http://rebelnoise.com/reviews/ayreon-the-theory-of-everything#sthash.V1Z0U22K.dpuf
concerns an autistic savant named Prodigy, who is shunned by his peers and manipulated by his elders. At the same time, though, he’s the only person who can solve the most important equation in the history of man (hence the title). Along the way, several other characters—including his parents, rival, psychiatrist, teacher, and the girl whom he loves—play their parts in his journey. Lucassen expands upon his intentions by saying, “…it takes a look at the fine line between genius and madness, focusing on the conflicting desires of the characters and the consequences of following their passions. It’s not science fiction, but a human story set in a science context.” – See more at: http://rebelnoise.com/reviews/ayreon-the-theory-of-everything#sthash.V1Z0U22K.dpuf
concerns an autistic savant named Prodigy, who is shunned by his peers and manipulated by his elders. At the same time, though, he’s the only person who can solve the most important equation in the history of man (hence the title). Along the way, several other characters—including his parents, rival, psychiatrist, teacher, and the girl whom he loves—play their parts in his journey. Lucassen expands upon his intentions by saying, “…it takes a look at the fine line between genius and madness, focusing on the conflicting desires of the characters and the consequences of following their passions. It’s not science fiction, but a human story set in a science context.” – See more at: http://rebelnoise.com/reviews/ayreon-the-theory-of-everything#sthash.V1Z0U22K.dpuf
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