I just love it when an artist or a band releases not only a new CD but a double CD! Some artists claim it is hard to put together a whole album with good songs, but ARJEN LUCASSEN (the mastermind behind the AYREON project) proves otherwise. I believe this is the 9th studio release (counting the two “Universal migrator” albums as two and not one) from this project that has been rolling on and off release-wise since 1995. Not even Lucassen’s own site has a discography, so I can’t be fully sure of how the guys themselves are counting.
Anyways, you’re in for a magical ride. To pinpoint AYREON stylewise is like answering the question “What is the meaning of life?” – there are so many ingredients! If you take the easy way out you could call this a rock opera, but it’s so much more. Progressive rock, hard rock, AOR, folk music, prog/metal, power metal, walls of synthesizers… All presented with feeling and, of course, featuring great artists. To name a few: vocalists JAMES LABRIE (DREAM THEATER), FLOOR JANSEN (NIGHTWISH) and RUSSELL ALLEN (SYMPHONY X) as well as drummer ED WARBY (drums; ELEGY) and keyboard player MARK KELLY (MARILLION). But there are many more, including many instruments handled by Arjen himself.
The story (very briefly summarized) for this double album takes place 6 billion years ago on the planet Alpha, where all life is threatened to be extinct. So how avoid this???
The album kicks off with the dramatically entitled song “The day that the world breaks down”, with LaBrie as the first vocalist to hit the notes. He is one of many characters in the story; his one being named The Historian. Other characters join already in this lengthy tune which is a superb example of the enormous variation of styles and moods on this album. (Here’s a boot in the butt to most distributors around the globe: music journalists very seldom receive the lyrics and artist line-up for each song to the albums they‘re supposed to review. This is the case here too, and it makes it virtually impossible for the listener to know exactly who’s singing in every part.)
The songs are sometimes bombastic and heavy, sometimes soft as a lullaby. You always get finely tuned pieces, no matter if it’s heavy or soft. And the choirs! Wow, top class stuff and rather QUEEN sounding, which is not easy to achieve. I mentioned folk music, and this spice is very clear at times, partly thanks to flute sounds (from keyboards though, as it seems) and violin (played by BEN MATHOT).
The way that Lucassen manages to go from intense grandness to soft, naked and almost medieval folklore in seconds, is rather unique. A fine example is found in “Star of Sirrah” after circa 4 minutes. If you can imagine a more majestic KATE BUSH mixed with folk poppers OCTOBER PROJECT, that's what you get in the female fronted "All that was". The flute in “Deathcry of a race” makes it sound almost like a hard rocking version of JETHRO TULL at times, which is extremely cool – and the song also brings some arabian melodicness. It is followed by “Into the ocean”, a straight-forward melodic hard rocker in best RAINBOW or DEEP PURPLE style. Even some PHENOMENA can be traced, and the song is simply awesome. To truly prove the variety of this genius, listen to the intro of “Bay of dreams” which could almost have been picked out of a JEAN-MICHAEL JARRE album! “Journey to forever” is exploding AOR and hard rock with a majestic choir, spiced with a perfect dose of violin. Then there is the soft “The source will flow” that actually reminds me a lot of ALAN PARSONS PROJECT. I could go on forever about this great double-album.
You will probably discover it takes at least five spins before you begin to grasp the songs. However, after that it only gets better. This is as close to a 5 in grading as I've come in many years. Occasional growl:ish vocal parts (not many) and one or two pieces with too much double bass drum playing brings me to land at a very strong 4. This may very well be the best album of 2017 when this year will be summarized.