Review Summary: Journeying further into his own conceptual fantasy, Arjen Anthony Lucassen offers another solid slice of prog cheese.
When I first heard about The Source
, I had absolutely no doubt that Arjen Anthony Lucassen would be able to pull it off once again. After all, the man has had an illustrious career in essentially creating the musical equivalent of a wet dream for self-aware modern prog nerds. I don't mean to sound condescending with that previous statement, but Arjen knows what his task is with every successive release, and he does it respectably well. I mean, what hasn't he been able to do before that he can't do with a conceptual double album? Well, it depends on whether or not you've been a fan of Ayreon's previous output.
Let's begin by exploring the obvious fact that Disc 2 is leaps and bounds better in terms of consistency than Disc 1. The first seven songs are mostly riddled with obsessive amounts of cheese, average vocal performances and predictably symphonic sounds. Not forgetting Arjen's musical prowess, there's a lot in the first disc that simply doesn't connect. The worst victim of this is the thirteen-minute long opener, which admittedly has so much going for it, but very little glue holding everything together. It's appreciative that virtually every guest musician on the album has a spot on "The Day That the World Breaks Down", but it turns out that requesting James LaBrie to embark on a narrative focus wasn't such a good idea after all. The guest vocalist here with arguably the most annoying, nasally voice, and Arjen decides to let him do a sub-par prelude of the concept itself. Instrumentally, it's quite the powerhouse. Arjen's guitar work is straightforward yet satisfying, and his Hammond organ is quite the orgasm for those who love their symphonies in music. Just listen to "star of Sirrah", which is a progressive metal powerhouse from start to finish. Standing out as one of The Source
's definitive highlights, it really does prove how exemplary Arjen can get when he focuses on a consistent sound and doesn't get carried away with the excitement of it all. Yet it's unfortunate that more than half of Disc 1 is essentially Ayreon going through the motions. Whilst this isn't a bad thing, it provides a tried-and-tested formula which most, if not all who take the time to listen to The Source
willhave picked up on at some point previously.
Disc 2, thankfully, ups the ante and proves why Ayreon is so reputable in the prog world. From the get-go, you can feel the confidence oozing out of "Aquatic Race" and "The Dream Dissolves". The symphonic overload is still there, but it seems to have been restrained, and suddenly the overblown cheese of yore doesn't seem to be force-fed down your throat. The heaviness of both of these songs appears in all the right places, providing a consistent flow which reflects Arjen's seemingly neverending energy. The performance shines through in what is essentially Arjen not
trying so hard. Simons' performance is arguably better than any song she performed on in Disc 1, and despite it still not being her most impressive vocal delivery, she gets the job done just right. That said, Disc 2 still has its cheesy moments. "Into the Ocean" is a sub-par homage to mid-70s Rainbow, and the last three tracks don't really need to be there. It's almost like they were shoehorned at the end of the recording for the sake of it, especially as the excellent "Planet Y is Alive!" sounds like it could have been such a dramatic closer.
What's more, there's a sense that the concept at hand doesn't seem to be as much of an importance here, given that Arjen has focused a lot of composition on instrumental prowess. Let's return to the outstanding highlight of Disc 1. "Star of Sirrah" is exceptional for what it is, and in an ideal world should really have been the opener to this first half, rather than the ambitious yet confusing mess of "The Day that the World Breaks Down". Once again, it's because "Star of Sirrah" is more memorable, subtle yet never forgets to include everything that has made Ayreon's most successful albums so good. Reflecting this idea is how it seems to be the only song on Disc 1 which has a clarified beginning, middle and end: It feels like a storytelling moment, rather than a scattered communion of all guest musicians.
With The Source
, Arjen continues to fully realize his conceptual ideas, although when piecing together the obviously stronger tracks, it seems a double album may not have been so necessary in the end. Whilst it will undoubtedly excite prog fans of all ages for various reasons, its feeling of up-down in terms of quality renders it inconsistent at the end of the day, but this is simply left upto the individual. Whether you like it or not, The source
is still going to the most talked about prog album of 2017.