Review Summary: Ayreon makes the definitive Ayreon album.
Ayreon is a progressive metal project formed by Dutch musician Arjen Anthony Lucassen. All of his Ayreon albums have an overarching storyline and a whole ton of guest musicians. On this one, he does both as usual. But it seems to me that Arjen decided to do the double album to basically definitively state, THIS IS WHAT AYREON IS ALL ABOUT. Ayreon on this album is:
Arjen Anthony Lucassen: Vocalist, Guitarist, Bassist, Synthesizers, and other Keyboards
Lana Lane: Vocalist
Johan Edlund: Vocalist
Floor Jansen: Vocalist
Edward Reekers: Vocalist
Ronnie “Mouse” Weiss: Vocalist
Jacqueline Govaert: Vocalist
Damian Wilson: Vocalist
Neal Morse: Vocalist
Mark McCrite: Vocalist
Russell Allen: Vocalist
Ralf Scheepers: Vocalist
Andi Deris: Vocalist
Bruce Dickinson: Vocalist
Fabio Lione: Vocalist
Timo Kotipelto: Vocalist
Robert Soeterboek: Vocalist
Ian Parry: Vocalist
Rob Snijders: Drums
Erik Norlander: Synthesizers, Piano, Vocoder, and other Keyboards
Clive Nolan: Synthesizers
Peter Siedlach: Strings
Ed Warby: Drums
Michael Romeo: Guitarist
Oscar Holleman: Guitarist
Gary Wehrkamp: Guitarist and Synthesizers
Rene Merkelbach: Synthesizers
Keiko Kumagai: Synthesizers
As you can see, there are a lot of famous metal musicians on this album, such as Bruce Dickinson from Iron Maiden, Russell Allen and Michael Romeo from Symphony X, Ralf Scheepers from Primal Fear, Andi Deris from Helloween, and Fabio Lione from Rhapsody (of Fire). The storyline also fits into the entire Ayreon “mythology.” It begins with the last man ever, a colonist on Mars, and he decides to use a machine called The Dream Sequencer to go and relive his past lives. These past lives include a female soldier fighting during the 2084 war the wiped everyone out, Queen Elizabeth I, Captain Frans B. Cocq, the blind minstrel Ayreon, and the first man ever. After that, he decides to go even further and relive the past life of the very first being ever, called the Universal Migrator. He sees the Migrator, who divides into a million souls to populate the universe. He sees the Migrator go to Earth, but the machine malfunctions, and the colonist dies. After his death, he becomes the new Universal Migrator, destined to repopulate the universe. Yeah, strange story. But it is fairly easy to follow, and it remains pretty interesting throughout. This helps with the superbly written lyrics and the great performance by all these musicians.
The first half of the album, The Dream Sequencer is a much slower paced, ambient, progressive half which has some superb musicianship. It is also has a sort of fairly haunting feel, mainly due to the fact that the Character is the last person ever, and this is his sort of way of experiencing life, which seems to really stand out to me on the tracks “My House on Mars” and “The Shooting Company of Captain Frans B. Cocq.” Even relatively upbeat tracks like “Carried on the Wind” and “The First Man On Earth” seem to carry a melancholic undertone.
On this half, there are some great synth parts as well as some really cool and melodic guitar parts, such as the ones on the tracks, “One Small Step,” “The First Man on Earth,” and “Carried by the Wind.” All of these synth and guitar parts work well together to get the feel of the album, with some great sort of ambient sounds.
Now, what can I say about the vocalists on the first half of this album? FAN-TUCKING-FASTIC. The vocalists are all diverse, which fits great with the theme that each song is a different past life, and each vocalist emphasizes this. The ones who stand out of the first part are Ronnie “Mouse” Weiss on “The Shooting Company of Captain Frans B. Cocq,” Lana Lane on “2084,” and Arjen himself on “Carried by the Wind.” However, all the vocalists do a great job giving the lives a different sort of personality, but what is interesting is that they all have a similar sort of tone, which ties into the idea that they are all related to each other.
Another thing that is great about the first part of the album, a trait that carries onto the second part of it is that all of the songs flow really well, which also gives the impression that the album is one giant continuous story. When I first heard it, I never realized the songs had changed due to how smooth the transitions are. Actually, if you have it set up correctly, the two albums parts transition really well as well, and then all of the sudden…
You are blasted by the frenzied and, well, chaotic guitar riffing of “Chaos.” This song basically demonstrates what the second part of this double album is about. It is the metal half of Ayreon’s progressive metal. Whereas The Dream Sequencer was about the ambient and progressive side of Ayreon, this part is about fast, aggressive, heavy progressive metal. The synths and guitars interplay wonderfully on this track and the drums really standout, whereas they did not so much on the previous part.
There are also some great guitar and synth parts in this half, just like the previous half, including the one-two punches of “Chaos” and “Dawn of A Million Souls,” followed by the second part standout “Into the Black Hole.” The guitars and synths weave in and out of each other fantastically and gives a great atmosphere, unlike the previous part, which was more melancholy, this one is more focused on the chaos of a new universe, and all that happens there. Whereas the melancholy in the first half was achieved with light synths and acoustic guitars, the chaos is achieved here by distorted guitars and heavy synths working in tandem.
However, not everything is heavy heavy on this half, “To The Quasar” is a fairly light track, at least in the begnning, and the closer “The New Migrator” is very orchestral, which helps the diversity of this half, which was a strong suit of the first part. But the guitar riffs, even with some of the background chugging, fit so well with the great synth parts that you don’t get really bored with the less diverse second half. Actually, I think that is what makes The Universal Migrator two parter is that it is so diverse that it doesn’t drag or get boring, which many complained about with other Ayreon albums.
The vocalists on this album also are amazing, lending their talents well. This half has some of the more well known metal vocalists, and they give their all on this album. Bruce Dickinson uses his talents well in the standout “Into The Black Hole,” Russell Allen is great on “Dawn of A Million Souls,” and Andi Deris does great on “To The Quasar,” actually, he seems to do better on this song than any of the stuff he did with Helloween.
This album is a fantastic prog metal album, and probably the album that most effectively defines Ayreon. It combines their ambient side, their heavy side, and everything in between. Plus, if you prefer one style over the other, you can just pick up either album and not miss the other side too much. But to get the whole experience, you need both albums. 5/5 all the way.
The Shooting Company of Captain Frans B. Cocq
Carried by the Wind
The First Man on Earth
One Small Step
Into the Black Hole
The New Migrator
Through the Wormhole