Review Summary: The first of a string of rock opera's by Dutch multitalent Lucassen proves to be the most important
After leaving his band Vengeance in 1992 and recording a mediocre solo album, guitarist Arjen Anthony Lucassen realised that in order to become really happy as a musician he should follow his heart and do the thing he had been dreaming of for a long time; make a rock-opera. Influenced by the greats of that genre (Tommy, Jesus Christ Superstar, The Wall etc), and financially aided by his father, he put together a cast of musicians and vocalists to tell a story of a blind minstrel that is send back in time to save the world from future disasters by singing songs about the future to warn the people. The minstrel is called Ayreon (English pronunciation of Arjen).
Most of the songs have a spoken word intro by a narrator. This is something I personally find quite irritating, but it does kind of keeps you connected to the story. The story is divided into four “Acts”. The main character Ayreon features in almost every song but his lyrics are sung by different vocalists for every song, something that would change on subsequent Ayreon releases, where one character is usually “played” by the same vocalist throughout the album.
Act I, “The Dawning”, is simply great from front to back. The different songs display a certain urgency that comes across as if these gems had been waiting to come out of Arjen’s brain for years. The songs flow fluently into each other, there’s accomplished musicianship and the vocalists deliver some very good performances. Kingdom Come’s Lenny Wolf is the standout singer here, simply ruling the track “Eyes of Time” which, with it’s obvious Led Zeppelin influence, is easily one of my favourite tracks of the whole album.
Act II features two folky songs and a great bombastic rock song “Sail Away To Avalon” sung brilliantly by Golden Earring’s Barry Hay who also adds a nice flute solo in the middle part.
The highlights of Act III are “Computer Reign (Game Over)” and “Waracle” with prominent vocal role’s for Ian Parry (Vengeance, Elegy) and Edward Reekers (Kayak).
Act IV is sometimes a bit too long for me, one of the reason’s why this album isn’t a true classic for me. Standout tracks in Act IV are “Swan Song” and “The Charm of the Seer”.
All and all this I find this album to be the most important work in Arjen’s discography simply because it lay the foundation for all other Ayreon albums to follow; Prog-metal, seventies rock and folk combined in a rock-opera style album has been Ayreon’s trademark ever since. Arjen’s guitar work on this album is great with lots of fine solo’s but also beautiful acoustic parts.
On a negative note, the synth-work on this album can sound dated from time to time with hard lead parts very upfront in the mix and sometimes there’s simply to much going on. Also, for some, the music and lyrical content on “The Final Experiment” might come across as cheesy or forced. But hey; if you want sensitive music and deep, poetic lyrics, go listen to Dylan!
If you’re new to Ayreon’s music, this is a great album to start with. If you don’t like this, you’re not going to like any of his albums.