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Ayreon: The Theory of Everything
So, the Theory of Everything. Where to begin? Ok, for those who want to cut to the chase…this will probably be on the top of many best albums of the year lists. I haven't decided yet, since I am writing this as I give it my first listen. But I have long thought it would be in my top three for sure. After all, I am both and Ayreon and Lucassen fan. A double album filled with progressive rock, with some of the genre's kingpins contributing. It's a natural. But like they say in the NFL, "You still have to play the game, despite the intended outcome". Well, fear not Ayreon and Lucassen fans, "The Maestro" never disappoints.
And now for the complete version…
Phase I: Singularity
"Prologue: The Blackboard" kicks things off like any good epic should…at the seashore. Wind, waves, seagulls and the pounding surf. Ready for the journey? No blast off into space this time. No, this trip takes place on earth, through the mind of Man. A man. A Prodigy who can assemble the world's mathematical equations and algorithms unlike anyone before him. Janne "JB" Christoffersson, "The Teacher" opens the story, "Will we ever understand this complex genius? This visionary thinker?" Sara Squadrani, as "The Girl", sings, , "Will we ever understand his isolation or his sense of wonder?" The left and right brain introduced, as deep bass chords, keyboards, acoustic guitar and whispering voices fill the soundscape. Meanwhile the traditional Aryeon theme drifts off to sea.
You need a sense of imagination to appreciate anything created by Lucassen. So close your eyes and imagine a flute player, Jeroen Goossens, dressed in Scottish garb arriving aboard a ship, with Rick Wakeman, synthesizer and grand piano in tow. They arrive at a non-functioning lighthouse, eleven years earlier in the story, at the home of our protagonist. Together they deliver the album's first powerhouse statement in the title theme, "The Theory of Everything Part 1". Yah, and when I say flute, I mean full throated flute, delivered with powerful synth, before Wakeman takes to the piano to weave his magic. Michael Mills, "The Father" and Cristina Scabbia, "The Mother" are introduced as their respective vocal and lyrical stories unfold. The Father is a genius scientist working to unlock the mathematical equation that will unveil all the mysteries of life. He is so obsessed with his equation that he has ignored his son who has the potential to achieve even more. Scabbia pleads for more of his father's attention to his asocial boy…
…as Wakeman delivers a symphony of sound on mellotron and keyboards during "Patterns". Ben Mathot's violin warms the sad and lonely scene as Ed Warby's drums punch their cadence.
Scabbia sings, "Talk to me". Tommy Karevik, "The Prodigy", responds, "Why was I chosen? What does it mean to me?" as the introduction of the central character for the opera sings his first lines on "The Prodigy's World".
Then, just take in those "Kashmir" – like strings surrounding your ears on "The Teacher's Discovery". Bathe in the glow. Mathot's violin is simply perfect. The power electric guitar chords will overwhelm. The acoustic guitar sounds like Steve Hackett. The story picks up on this track, a cut-scene to seven years ago, when the teacher discovered the Prodigy's talent with numbers, after the Prodigy discovers a paper full of numbers which had blown off the Teacher's desk. Marko Hietala, "The Rival", makes his vocal entrance into the story, to try to remain the Teacher's favored pupil.
With a title like, "Love and Envy", you just knew there had to be a violin. And it truly brings with it powerful emotion. Hietala, "The Rival" continues to shake his finger, as well calibrated fingers pluck the lead electric guitar and the keyboards flow. Squadrani, "The Girl", stands up for the prodigy against his Rival. Some of the melodies remind me of some of the dramatic tracks off the first side of The Electric Castle.
When I saw the track list for the first time I had a feeling "Progressive Waves" would be an instrumental extravaganza and let me tell you Lucassen does not disappoint. Matht's violin, the excellent lead guitar, deep bass, Donockley's Uilleann pipes and low flute, Ed Warby's power drums, Keith Emerson's Modular Moog solo, and Jordan Rudess's synthesizer ignite the soundscape like no song previously. Imagine two generations of keyboard geniuses playing on one song. This is my early favorite. The guitar and bass work are hard to distinguish above the keyboard and violin extravaganza, but the power is there.
The Teacher reveals the "The Gift" of the prodigy's ability to his father. The Teacher sings, "The gift of numbers, I've never known before". His father does not react the way you would expect with such wonderful news. The father has been too engrossed in his own success that he has neglected his son. However, he does half-heartedly agree to help develop his son, "But I better not be wasting my time!" Meanwhile more deep keys, bass, power drums, and lead electric guitar mastery envelopes the experience.
"The Eleventh Dimension" opens with heavy lead guitar, before violin and flute take over. A wonderful instrumental interlude.
"Inertia" is the young Prodigy's attempt to reach out to his father, "Are you trying to drive me away, just when I need you most. I think I have something to give, I just don't know how". The soft Hammond like organ keys are a wonderful surrounding light.
The main title theme, "The Theory of Everything Part 2" returns full of keys, power electric lead guitar, heavy bass, violin and yes plenty of keyboards. The end has come to track one, but the story is only beginning as Father and Mother seek outside therapy. Their objectives are as divergent as you might expect. Their objectives are also the seed for future conflict.
Phase II: Symmetry
"The Consultation" opens with some excellent spacey keyboards, mixed well with some steamy electric guitar. John Wetton as The Psychiatrist makes his vocal debut and his presence known. The interaction between Wetton, Karevik, and Scabbia is as powerful as if they were together in the same room while performing. It is so good to hear Wetton again on this album, after all that he has been through lately. The Mother asks the Psychiatrist to help reach their son and help bring out and master his "Gift", while the electric lead and spacey keys weave their mystery around the soundscape.
The Psychiatrist proposes his "Diagnosis", that the Prodigy is "an exceptional savant, one in a million. His mind is ablaze with distractions. But maybe I can help", while Wakeman's Mini Moog, Warby's pounding drums, Goossen's flute, the lead guitar and thick bass fill the soundscape with emotionally packed music. The Psychiatrist's diagnosis includes a new, as of yet, fully tested drug that will help bring concentration to the Prodigy. The Father sees an opprotunity to find an assistant to help him reach his objective. His Mother on the other hand sees things quiet differently.
The Mother sings, "How could you even contemplate experimenting on our child?", at the opening of "The Argument 1". The Mother and Father debate whether or not to use the drug…
…as Donockley plays the pipes at the opening of "The Rival's Dilemma". Meanwhile, gentle lead acoustic first, then electric guitar plays softly over the warm radiating keyboards and the deep cello from Maaike Peterse. The Prodigy's fears are revealed as he also contemplates the opportunity and risks. The Prodigy's Rival is not impressed and reacts with jealously. He tries to take down expectations as most rivals excel at mastering, as the deep cello and soft acoustic guitar play.
Wakeman's Mini Moog fills the soundscape on "Surface Tension", supported by smashing drums, and excellent lead electric guitar and bass.
"A Reason to Live" is great vocal celebration as The Teacher and Girl agree that the Prodigy deserves a measurable reason to live...even if their objectives are conflicted.
"Potential" is full of soft violin, acoustic guitar, cello and emotional optimism. "Where am I going?" The Teacher questions his abilities and more importantly his future. Can he use this Prodigy to help make a name for his teaching ability? The Girl only wishes to reach the prodigy and open his eyes to her charm. Everyone with an agenda of their own; regardless of the protagonist. Sounds a little like The Wall.
"Quantum Chaos" is another instrumental cut scene back four years prior which is full of excellent keyboard work, power packed drums, lightning quick lead electric guitars and solid bass. The Father contemplates the abilities of the Psychiatrist's drug and the possibilities it may hold for his son.
On "Dark Medicine", the Father meets with the Psychiatrist to advise that his son be given the medicine to help his and his son's dilemma. The Psychiatrist recommends small doses, as the organ and soft electric lead guitar play on. Wetton sings, "Let's both agree that no one needs to know".
"Alive!" opens like something out of the early ELO archive. Full of powerful cello, stunning keys and lead electric guitar. Father and son are ecstatic about the early results of the drug which has been secretly slipped into the son's food. For the first time they may actually finally see eye to eye. They are at least communicating.
On "The Prediction", the Mother is delighted by the changes in her son, unaware he has been taking the drug. Meanwhile keyboards light up the soundscape as the band plays on.
Phase III: Entanglement
"Fluctuations" opens the second CD with a one minute bamboo flute and keyboard instrumental. Goosens flute and the excellent lead electric guitar and bass create another wonderful opening for the continuation of the opera.
"Transformation" brings back some of that simply overpowering keyboard and guitar work most Aryeon fans will immediately recognize. Mathot's violin adds warmth and emotion as the Prodigy and Teacher contemplate and discuss the vast changes that have occurred since the Prodigy began taking the experimental drug. The Teacher imagines and conveys to the student , "A world of endless wonder lies ahead!"
"Collision" opens with some of the most amazing keyboard work on the album. It took me right back to Larry Fast and Synergy. Deep computerized rhythms that will amaze and delight. The perfect soundtrack for a collision between the Rival and Prodigy. Another album highlight. You will hear some wonderful reminders from The Electric Castle and Star One's "Master of Darkness", if you listen carefully.
Another cut scene. Three years earlier, the Psychiatrist discovers "Side Effects". He tells the father of the drug's side effects, as deep dark keys, bass, and slow plodding drums set the scene well. He asks the Father to stop giving the boy the drug. The Father faces up to the problem and discusses what he has hidden from his son. The Prodigy is upset that his father would deceive him for his own personal gain.
"Frequency Modulation" is one of the best keyboard instrumentals on the album. Completely spacey and full of original themes. It will take you back to Tubular Bells from the opening and later take you to some Synergy sounds. Those thunder drums of Warby's are a wonderful combination.
The son runs away from home with the revelation from his father on "Magnetism". He turns to "The Girl" for a place to go. Unfortunately his Rival meets the two of them in the throes of the discussion. Conflict ensues and the drums, lead electric guitar, bass and keyboards build the perfect battle scene.
Another cut scene, "Quid Pro Quo", follows the narrative of the Prodigy who has now been living with The Girl for over two years. Troy Donockley's low flute opens the piece with spacey keys floating above. The Prodigy has stopped taking the drug and his earlier symptoms have returned. His Rival enters the scene to help deliver a solution. The Rival is a brilliant chemist who can duplicate the drug…if the Prodigy is willing to repay the favor. The Rival needs the prodigy's mathematical abilities to design algorithms that will help infiltrate the banking systems without being discovered. The Girl does not like the plan and forces the prodigy to choose between the plan and her.
"String Theory" is an almost orchestral instrumental full of Goossen's flute and piccolo, Peterse's cello, Mathot's violin, and orchestration from Siddharta Barnhoorn. It is definitely another album highlight for me.
Success in the unlocking of the algorithms brings the two conspirators immediate "Fortune?", as the first half of the second CD comes to an end. The celebration is full of triumphant keys, bass, lead electric guitar, bass, and power packed drums. The Girl abandons the Prodigy as themes from Aryeon's past run through his head and the soundscape.
Phase IV: Unification
"Mirror of Dreams" is another cut scene back three months ago. The Girl is now contemplating the decision to leave the Prodigy. She reaches out to The Mother as Michael Mills plays Irish bouzouki, Troy Donockley plays low flute, and Maaike Peterse plays cello. Another wonderful moment of emotion filled dialog and music ensues.
"The Lighthouse", is the solution The Teacher devises for The Prodigy. The Prodigy wants to work alone to unlock the equation. The Teacher advises that he will help and check in to make sure all is well. The Prodigy wants to prove himself to his Father and all. Acoustic guitar, cello and contrabass develop the soundscape, before the keys, bass, lead electric and drums join in.
"The Argument 2" is the beginning of the end of the relationship between the Mother and Father.
"The Parting" is the actual break-up. The Father realizes his neglect of both his wife and son. Orchestration by Siddharta Barnhoorn and a wonderful guitar solo by Steve Hackett makes this another album highlight.
The Prodigy receives "The Visitation" from his Father. Michael Mills, sings, "I'm down here on my knees. Feeling the weight of shame. How could I have done this to you my son?" But his son is not immediately willing to forgive. However, he relents and joins with his father to solve the equation and mystery.
"The Breakthrough" is a bass and keys filled romp full of excitement and wonder as the two geniuses work hard to uncover the solution. The Prodigy has been consuming higher doses of the drug in order to reach the equation's solution. The keys join in later as "Eureka! We found it!"
"The Note" is full of deep organ and the Prodigy's regret. He realizes he has taken too much of the drug and it is taking his life.
"The Uncertainty Principle" returns to the scene of the album's opening at the lighthouse in early morning. This track unveils some important plot secrets, so I will not spoil it. I will only say that the music is full of excellent mellotron keyboards that surround the vocals well.
"Dark Energy" is another excellent instrumental full of cello, violin, and orchestration, similar to the kind found on most of the Aryeon epics.
"The Theory of Everything Part 3" brings a return to the album's theme music, full of violin, cello, flute, and orchestration.
"The Blackboard (Reprise)" gives away the finish, so I definitely will not reveal anything here.
Well, The Theory of Everything will be released on October 28th in Europe and October 29th in the USA. It will be released in multiple formats. In fact, too many to add to this massive review, so please consult the website for more details.
The artwork for this masterpiece was created by Belgian artist Jef Bertels and he is up to his usual Aryeon standards. Now that I have the promo, I am getting ready to order the Special Edition 2 CD and DVD with the media book. I also plan to buy the gatefold black 2 LP when it is available.
The list of composers/musicians putting out double albums with this level of quality is short. Lucassen sets a high bar for anyone in the genres of prog or metal. He continues to add to the historic art of storytelling, crafting a rock opera for this generation. In the tradition of The Wall, Tommy and many before. An opera for our times.
Run…yes run to the pre-order section of their website to get this. It is an amazing new start for the story of Ayreon. Lucassen has set a new course and left some things unresolved for a sequel. The amount of talent and the musical and vocal performances are enough to attract many fans to this album. If you're a fan of Ayreon or Lucassen…what are you waiting for? If not, where have you been? This is your chance to start anew.
After all…you know you want to know the Theory of Everything…right? ;^)
Phase I: Singularity
01. Prologue: The Blackboard
02. The Theory of Everything Part 1
04. The Prodigy's World
05. The Teacher's Discovery
06. Love and Envy
07. Progressive Waves
08. The Gift
09. The Eleventh Dimension
11. The Theory of Everything Part 2
Phase II: Symmetry
12. The Consultation
14. The Argument 1
15. The Rival's Dilemma
16. Surface Tension
17. A Reason to Live
19. Quantum Chaos
20. Dark Medicine
22. The Prediction
Phase III: Entanglement
04. Side Effects
05. Frequency Modulation
07. Quid Pro Quo
08. String Theory
Phase IV: Unification
10. Mirror of Dreams
11. The Lighthouse
12. The Argument 2
13. The Parting
14. The Visitation
15. The Breakthrough
16. The Note
17. The Uncertainty Principle
18. Dark Energy
19. The Theory of Everything Part 3
20. The Blackboard (Reprise)
Added: October 9th 2013
Reviewer: Mark Johnson
Related Link: www.arjenlucassen.com
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