Ayreon
01011001


3.5
great

Review

by Jorn van Schaïk USER (172 Reviews)
February 8th, 2008 | 67 replies | 15,312 views


Release Date: 2008 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Ayreon produces a solid and consistent album with the typical lows and highs of a Lucassen album. With that, the first mandatory purchase for the prog metal fan

5 of 5 thought this review was well written

Dutch music has never had that much to export, let alone break the US market succesfully. Artists that sell well in their native homeland here, such as Anouk, never seem to make it outside the borders; the only fortunate ones that have done so and achieved great success are sympho-metallers Within Temptation (though at the cost of a major quality drop in their works) and none other than the famous Golden Earring. In the shadows hide some impressive gothic/symphonic metal bands a la After Forever, but as the music they play is so niche it really prevents them from crossing over into the mainstream.

So what do you do if you are a Dutch multi-instrumentalist into progressive and metal, and you aspire to make the records that could have the same sort of popularity Dark Side of the Moon, or even something like OK Computer enjoy? You create Ayreon, a band formed by the one and only Mr Arjen Anthony Lucassen. Now, Lucassen can do much, but he can't sing well (though he does do some lead vocals with double-tracking) or drum. So Ed Warby (of Gorefest) is back behind the kit for the sixth Ayreon installment, which is to be expected, but what does he do vocally?

He amassed a who's who of prog and metal to sing and do his vocal tracks for him, which you can only do if you're somewhat well-known. Ayreon has achieved a cult following in the Netherlands, and word of mouth has spread. In the past he's worked with such vocalists as Bruce Dickinson (Iron Maiden), Mikael Akerfeldt (Opeth), James LaBrie (Dream Theater), Russell Allen (Symphony X), Ian Parry (Elegy), Neal Morse, Devin Townsend (Strapping Young Lad, Devin Townsend Band), Heather Findlay (Mostly Autumn) and an amazing amount of other singers.

The new lineup reads just as great for the new album. Lucassen has assembled a pretty strong cast for this round, including Pain of Salvation mastermind Daniel Gildenlow, Jonas Renkse of Katatonia, Jorn Lande, Hansi Kursch, Floor Jansen, Steve Lee, and many more. All in all it's an impressive vocal cast any other band would be jealous of. The vocal performances are not limited to songs like on the Universal Migrator epos, however; like on the Human Equation, they are split between the songs. This means you'll hear for example Renkse appear various times through the album, delivering his trademark vocals (since Renske is one of the few who wrote some of his own vocal melodies, he gives off a definite Katatonia vibe in some of his peaces, contrasting nicely with the music.)

Other vocal standouts include Lande, who provides first rate melodic hard rock vocals, Gildenlow with his unique expressive range, and Anneke van Giersbergen/Floor Jansen combine for some epic dual vocals to dominate the songs. The only times singers appear to sing full songs, are the Man vocalists, who usually share lead vocals on a song. They are less numerous and apart from Simone Simons (Epica) and the unknown Dutch hiphopper Wudstik (who is actually an excellent singer and Lucassen deserves some credit for picking this guy up to play), they don't stand out as much as some of the "Forever" vocalists.

The reason of course, why Ayreon is renowned besides Lucassen's preference for a dazzling amount of vocalists, is of course their concept albums. Ayreon albums are constructed like a science-fiction movie. Most of them hinge (except the Human Equation, which was also a story, but more of a drama-type thing) around some SF concept. Yes, it's cheesy to the max, but you know in this case the lyrics serve more as a backdrop to the music. All Ayreon's lyrics and stories are intertwined, however: you will find references to the famous Final Experiment, Flight of the Migrator/Dream Sequencer, Human Equation, and Into the Electric Castle albums. This epsiode hinges on a race called Forever, whose planet has been dominated by machinery, and they set out to travel through time and colonise another planet for their survival. They arrive at the planet Earth at the time of the dinosaur's extinction (various Ayreon albums also make reference to real-life events or previous events in the Ayreon Saga; the ending of the album centers around the destruction of the earth in 2085, and what happens to the Earth then. Further information should lead you to the Universal Migrator installment.) It's all complex and interlinked, and hard to get into unless you're a hardcore fan of the band, which does not make this the ideal newcomer's album, but it's there to get into if you like the music.

And musically, Ayreon does not disappoint. Ayreon always married prog and metal, but on this album Lucassen has added electronics to his widening arsenal, along with the folk elements returning. The album ranges through various moods, from the stomping opener Age of Shadows which openes with an almost Rammstein-esque riff, to the folk-metal inspired River of Time, to the drowsy Floyd meets Depeche Mode Comatose, to some terrific 80s hard rock choruses on Unnatural Selection (Lande plays a big part in enhancing these.) Overall the material on offer is varied, yet sustains a mood and a typical bombastic Ayreon sound with a lot of segue-background effects. Of course the technical enthusiasts aren't kept begging, with Michael Romeo delivering a grand guest solo, and various other synth/guitar/keyboard solos to be found. There are even violins and flutes, just to add to the grand drama of the whole thing.

The question really is: does the album suffer from the enormous pretense and weight of the music? The truth is that it is a double cd, and some of the songs do wind on for too long and could have been cut shorter. It's not that a single song stands out as being awful, more that the song lengths seem padded. Hence its 100 minute runtime just feels too long and tedious, and a single-cd would probably have served better (though it might have excluded a guest vocalist or two from appearing.) However, due to its variety and the scale of genres on offer, there is something for everyone on this disc: proggers will appreciate the Floydian atmospheres and the technical lines of Lucassen and his guest artists, metalheads will like the dark riffs combined with a subtle electronic backdrop, and even folk lovers get a nice dose with short, concise blasters such as River of Time and The Truth Is In Here.

In short: this is just another Ayreon album. Is it mind-numbingly excellent? No, it's not, though the vocal crew this time is particularly good. Is it awful? Only if you are already a hater, and despise this band for its bombast, pride, and cheesy science-fiction stories. Ayreon may not have the standout technicality of Dream Theater, or the extreme atmospheres of Pink Floyd, or the intensity of Metallica, but Lucassen does make a pretty consistent set of albums, and that alone is something to be proud of. It won't win over the people who desperately hate this style, but it's a good album for fans of the style, and in 2008, a prog fan could do much worse than making this their first purchase of the year.



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user ratings (256)
Chart.
3.8
excellent

Comments:Add a Comment 
HighandDriving
February 8th 2008



3232 Comments


God damn Dutch.

Altmer
February 8th 2008



5652 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I'm Dutch, I don't have much to be proud of except this band and a couple sympho-metal bands I don't even like that much.

MediocreAtBest
February 8th 2008



1473 Comments


Wanna hear something mildly amusing? The first thing I saw on the home page when I got on this time was that this album was reviewed, and I'm listening to 1000110101 by Clutch. Whoa dude whoa

ZapatoDiablo
February 8th 2008



167 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Good review, Altmer. I rate this album a little higher than you, as I think some of these songs are masterpieces. Others not so much. Has anyone else noticed that Jorn Lande sounds exactly like Phil Lynott on Newborn Race?

Yazz_Flute
February 8th 2008



18739 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

How does this rank against the Human Equation?

Digging: Anekdoten - Vemod

Crysis
Staff Reviewer
February 8th 2008



16025 Comments


I've been interested in this album but I'm not sure if it's quite my style and if I would like it. I may buy it just for the hell of it though. Good review.

Digging: Katatonia - Kocytean

Mr Fahrenheit
February 8th 2008



37 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Good review. I've only listened to this once so far, but I really liked it, probably at least a 4-4.5

Poet
February 8th 2008



5910 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

The good that occurs on here is excellent, but this is also very bland a lot of the time as well.

Mikesn
Emeritus
February 8th 2008



3709 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Can you fix the tracklisting.

The good that occurs on here is excellent, but this is also very bland a lot of the time as well.
This.

jrowa001
February 8th 2008



8749 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

im an ayreon fanboy, and i love this album. you should maybe mention the Tangerine Dream influence on this album (if you have heard of them). good review though

Shattered_Future
February 9th 2008



1539 Comments


The Human Equation was better than this one, and not just because it was more "metal" based. The songwriting sounded much more mature on it than any other ones...instead of relying on ridiculously cheesy synth sounds 90 percent of the time, he toned it down to about 60 and let some of the other instruments shine through.

There are some very, very good moments on this album too, some of the best Arjen has put out. I enjoyed the more industrial sounding influence he brought out on this album, and tracks like The Fifth Extinction, Age Of Shadows, and Liquid Eternity all make a perfect blend of cheesetastic synths, chug riffs, and powerful vocal performances.

And then you get to songs like Connect The Dots, and everything goes downhill; simply put, any song that has the line "I picked up fast food for dinner/and it's finger lickin' good" complete with vocoder harmonization for "finger lickin' good" does not even deserve to be written, much less released to those few who listened to this album.

Overall, it's probably on par with Into The Electric Castle (the second best one), but Arjen really hit his stride with The Human Equation, and everything else he released under Ayreon just doesn't compare.

Now that I've rambled on about this, who has the really powerful voice who sings the line "I'm losing my reason to live" on Liquid Eternity? The super epic part? That dude has a fantastic voice...

Altmer
February 9th 2008



5652 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

That's Jorn Lande.

I don't know about the Human Equation as I haven't extensively listened to that, I plan on getting that one.This Message Edited On 02.09.08

Yazz_Flute
February 12th 2008



18739 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I'm listening to this right now, i'm only on Liquid Eternity though.

Age of Shadows was very impressive, dragged on a bit (the part where the kept repeating random numbers)

Comatose didn't strike me as anything great, a little boring.

Liquid Eternity sounds really awesome.

racerX71
February 12th 2008



73 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

a lot of the songs on this album are kind of dry, but songs like age of shadows, ride the comet, river of time, and connect the dots are totally fun to listen to.

Yazz_Flute
February 13th 2008



18739 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I have a snowday today w00t. More time to listen t my new music.

I'm almost done with my third listen of this, and have decided to raise it to a 4.5. I would say this is every bit as good as Human Equation, if not better. This album has a few songs that are better than everything on THE imo (Age of Shadows, 6th Extinction, and possibly Unnatural Selection) however, unlike THE, this album has some boring parts. I found every part of THE to be very good, and it all kept my attention save a few parts. Here, there are some boring tracks. Especially Under the Waves, which I find horrendously boring.


RJayZ
February 28th 2008



84 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Perhaps I'm just a fanboy for thinking this, but this album is just...perfect. There are definately parts weaker than others, but I'm never bored listening to it. It's just an absolutely incredible album. Definately a 5 for me.

...okay it's a 4.5. I realize I hate 2-3 tracks. This Message Edited On 05.06.08

demo321
April 8th 2008



20 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

This is a great album. Has a lot of diversity, but it's always at the pace of Ayreon like in Human Equation for example. By that I mean it has the same systematic Ayreon elements that most of us are used to (if you've heard Ayreon before this album). Human Equation was a masterpiece and I feel like this album aimed for the same mark, but just missed it by a 1/2 inch. This is a great album though imo.

demo321
June 20th 2008



20 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

For those that like this album i highly highly highly recommend The Human Equation album by none other than Ayreon.

Bleak123
October 8th 2008



1902 Comments


This can get a bit over the top at times but is in general an excellent album.

fireaboveicebelow
January 19th 2009



6837 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Connect The Dots and Web Of Lies are fucking hilarious



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