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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: July 12th 2014
Reviewer: Mark Johnson
Related Link: www.arjenlucassen.com
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|Ayreon: The Theory of Everything
Posted by Murat Batmaz, SoT Staff Writer on 2014-07-12 11:45:00
Rather than strictly focusing on the singers and songwriting on this album, I am going to discuss The Theory of Everything from a slightly different angle. (If you want a quick run-down specifically on the songs on this album, scroll down to the bottom half of the review.) I've been an Ayreon fan for nearly two decades. I still remember the day I received Actual Fantasy in the mail coming from Arjen Lucassen's first record label Transmission Records and then seeking out his first album. The masterpiece, Into the Electric Castle, had not been released yet, so I can say I've been following this project for a very long time witnessing step by step its growth and turning into a household name among prog enthusiasts.
To me, The Human Equation was Arjen Lucassen's creative peak; he had assembled just about the most amazing lineup, gotten the very best out of them vocally to the point that we've never again heard James Labrie, Devon Graves, or Mikael Akerfeldt sing the way they did on this disc. Without doubt, Lucassen is one of the best, if not the best, when it comes to bringing out the finest performance in vocalists. On The Human Equation, we were also introduced to new names like Marcela Bovio and Magnus Ekwall while singers like Eric Clayton and Mike Baker managed to convince anyone who was on the fence with their respective bands that they were among the godliest singers in the universe. And I won't even mention my personal favourite on the disc, Devin Townsend. In short, The Human Equation remains Lucassen's most realized work in his career: the storyline, being removed from Arjen's typical sci-fi concept, was a lot more engaging, the melodies he composed were right up there with his finest works, The Final Experiment and Into the Electric Castle, the strings he employed in the mix gave the songs an organic weight, and the production was stunning, possibly his best ever.
I'm probably in the minority when it comes to rating Ayreon's previous release, 01011001, in the lower half of his discography. By the time this album was released, Ayreon had become so big that everyone listening to progressive music had a comment to make on Lucassen's music or a singer to recommend him. I even remember, at one point, Lucassen asked his fans to no longer send him demo tapes or artist recommendations because he had already compiled a list of over 200 singers he'd at some point like to work with. Still, before 01011001, the pressure was so big on him that not a single day went by when he didn't hear about working with Daniel Gildenlow, Tom Englund, or Jorn Lande, three of my all-time favourites in the genre. People kept posting about their dream vocalists on and on, it almost felt like Arjen Lucassen *had to* get these vocalists to sing on the new album, but there was a problem. He employed more singers than ever; even during the period when I was following the process I had started to get worried. Ayreon is not about enlisting the 'best' singers in the genre; it's about merging them into a collective, focused sound. I love all the singers on 01011001 but feel, due to the limited space, some of them have been underused while others are there for the sake of being there. It seems they never quite found the opportunity to expand and add their unique vocal touch to the songs; mostly the disc seems to be built around Jorn Lande's (amazing) voice with others supporting him. That is perhaps the reason why I consider Jonas Renkse's contribution the most essential aspect: he sounds totally different, and not just because of the growls, but rather because his deep, low voice remains unmatched by the others.
Worse yet, the writing on 01011001 is possibly Arjen Lucassen's most uninspired work yet. There are some truly underwhelming pieces on the disc with simplistic chord progressions and ideas rehashed from previous discs. The movements, rather than blending seamlessly and organically, drag on aimlessly before getting abruptly cut off to fit in yet another vocalist. Daniel Gildenlow, having recorded his parts last, sounds like an average, amateurish guy singing a couple of verses that were not even written with him in mind (I personally confirmed this with Arjen Lucassen when we discussed the album a few years after its release). They were actually written for Roy Khan who had to back out of the project for personal reasons. Up until this disc, this was the opposite approach Arjen Lucassen had taken when putting together an album. There was deliberate effort made to fit in as many singers as possible, mostly based on fans' incessant, never-ending wishes, and the result was an album with possibly his greatest cast of singers possibly singing his most lackluster tunes. To this day, I feel Anneke Van Giersbergen's vocal delivery is among her best, but it won't come through because of the dense vocal arrangement and subpar writing.
Enter The Theory of Everything. In the previous five years, I'm sure Lucassen had enough time to ponder and plan what he wanted to do with a new disc. Whether he openly admits it or not, I'm of the opinion that it was a misstep to get as many amazing singers as possible to cut an album, given none of his previous Ayreon discs were conceived in this manner. So the first thing he did was announce there were would be fewer singers on The Theory of Everything, but he also said that, rather than writing and arranging the pieces as he has always done before, he would go in his studio and start writing with no special musical direction in his mind (which slightly worried me). Arjen Lucassen might have written other projects this way, but if you've read any of his interviews discussing Ayreon material, you'll see everything from the melodies to the vocal parts to the instrumentation is ready by the time the vocalists are brought in to do their parts.
I was further disappointed to see he was announcing singers most of whom I am neutral or indifferent to. The two exceptions were Tommy Karevik (hoping he'd go for his Seventh Wonder style rather than emulating Roy Khan in Kamelot) and Marco Hietala (hoping he'd do his Tarot type of singing and not Nightwish). Karevik is without doubt one of the singers who shines on this album, particularly under the guidance of Lucassen. I love John Wetton, but his contribution to the disc is minimal at best and, if you've seen the making-of DVD, he didn't even let himself recorded, which probably means Arjen Lucassen had little involvement in his singing (well, the same thing holds true for Devin Townsend on The Human Equation, but anyone who's heard that disc knows Devin *makes* the album, not only musically but more so conceptually -- no one else could have portrayed the emotion 'Rage' better than him). Of the other singers, I've never been a great fan of Lacuna Coil or Grand Magus, and I'd never heard of the other singers, Sara Squadrani and Michael Mills.
As always, I got my autographed copy directly from Arjen Lucassen, spun the CDs about hundred times, watched the DVD, and then listened to the CDs for another hundred times before coming to the conclusion that The Theory of Everything, despite the less than stellar vocal parts compared to earlier releases, was certainly a step in the right direction. The inclusion of strings, especially the wonderful cello and violin sounds, lent the album an earthier feel, which was most welcome on my end. Also, Jeroen Goossens' flute work recalls his majestic melodies on The Human Equation compared to the predecessor where they were, in my opinion, employed less effectively. Goossens weaves intense melodies, be it on flute, bass flute, or bamboo flute, around the themes, resolving them with finesse and extraordinary songmanship. The melodies are amazing; songs are devoid of derivative structures, avoiding cliched Avantasia-like choruses. Obviously, the focus was to integrate these melodies into the compositions that can only be measured by Ayreon standards, and Arjen Lucassen has accomplished this feat.
The vocal performances are mostly solid, but no one except for Karevik blows me away consistently. Every singer shines in spots, with newcomer Michael Mills truly reaching stratospheric heights as evidenced on "The Parting," but unlike prior albums where each singer stunned and mesmerized me, I'm left with a feeling of incompleteness. Again, this is not because of the singers' low performance but the way they treat the melodies within their own trajectory. Hietala could have truly been a standout had he been utilized in a more Suffer Our Pleasures-style rather than constantly holding back and opting for a straightforward delivery. Both Squandari and Scabbia are good singers but I can't help but compare them to others like Bovio, the Jansen sisters, Findlay, and the unmatchable Van Giersbergen. Actually, it's not about surpassing or emulating these greats; it's about bringing your own unique touch like every former Ayreon singer has, but this is not happening here. Scabbia sounds just like she does in her own band, which I've never liked to begin with.
But there's more to take into consideration: the instrumentation, which is why this album is a winner. On the previous disc, contributions by Derek Sherinian and Michael Romeo were just that: contributions. It didn't feel like they enhanced the songs; it felt like they were the obligatory shred masters that had to be on the album. Here, Arjen Lucassen brings together some of his greatest influences. Not only are they true masters of their instruments but they also infuse the songs with original yet instantly recognizable sonic traits. The way Keith Emerson and Jordan Rudess duel on the same song, the beautifully titled "Progressive Waves," suggests there is undeniable instrumental dialogue between two of the genre's greats. The former's style is in typical ELP fashion with his amazing Modular Moog tone dominating while the latter uses his classic synthesizer lead, complementing and climaxing the piece. There is also more 'interaction' and interplay between Lucassen and outsiders' playing. They're not merely impressive solo passages slapped on the songs so that they could be mentioned during the promotion campaign of the record. They actually deepen and widen the compositions. When Lucassen approached Rick Wakeman for the album, he offered him three pieces: one prog, one heavy, and one melodic. He asked Wakeman to pick whichever one he liked, but Wakeman played on all three of them! He has a beautiful, captivating piano line on "The Theory of Everything Part 1," an arresting Mini Moog part on "Diagnosis," and another slithering Mini Moog sound collage on the rhythmically challenging "Surface Tension." Another important guest, Steve Hackett, performs on the pivotal "The Parting," giving it a powerful, intense solo that is almost up to par with his work on Steven Wilson's amazing Grace for Drowning, but this one's shorter and slightly more fast-paced.
That said, the aforementioned tracks are not songs per se; rather, they are the result of Arjen Lucassen deciding to break down the four movements into 42 pieces, each clocking in at a few minutes at most. Now, I never listen to my music on an iPod or MP3s; I always listen on my discman or main system using the CD itself, so it doesn't bother me, but I've read that by dividing the whole album into 42 tracks some people haven't been able to enjoy these songs the way they are meant to be enjoyed. The breaks in between tracks must make it impossible to listen to the songs. Honestly, I feel Arjen Lucassen should have presented the four main movements, each over 20-minutes, rather than cutting the whole thing into a million pieces.
As expected, the artwork is fantastic. I really love the black-and-white long exposure photos in the booklet, being deeply interested in this style myself. The lyrics can at times be off-putting, but subtlety or poetic descriptions have never been Lucassen's strong points. I've personally never given the concept much thought, as I've always been more interested in the musical (and vocal) aspects of Ayreon.
In short, The Theory of Everything has gone from average to highly engaging and impressive despite some of its shortcomings in a few areas. I really look forward to the new disc from Arjen Lucassen and hope it will see him exploring these musical ideas with a stronger cast of singers so that he can strike the perfect balance between the music and the vocals.
|Ayreon: The Theory of Everything
Posted by Keith Hannaleck, SoT Staff Writer on 2014-03-22 09:01:37
When prog rock fans listen to music they expect a great storyline, complex music, and atmospheres that encourage that story. One artist that has had a proclivity for doing that his entire career is Arjen Anthony Lucassen, otherwise known as Ayreon.
When The Theory of Everything came out last fall there was a lot of anticipation that his masterful concepts would continue along with all the incredible guest musicians. He did not disappoint, he never does.
A dream came true for Arjen on this musical sojourn. Three major players joined in on all the proceedings, each one a legendary keyboard player. Rick Wakeman, Keith Emerson and Jordan Rudess made their contributions count on the session. Another legend, John Wetton, provided vocals as the character The Psychiatrist.
I found myself all wrapped up in this story while listening. In short it's about a boy and his mother that are not getting enough attention from the scientist father who is working day and night trying to literally figure out The Theory of Everything. Further into the story, the father finally tells the son that he had been giving him a drug, using him as an experiment in hopes that it would help the boy overcome his problems. There is much more to it all and that is a short encapsulation of what you will hear. The music is right on time and spot on for every track and it always puts more emphasis and thought upon the entire process of listening for the music fans. Anyone that is familiar with Arjen's music knows of his fascination with the unknown, science fiction and what confounds man and all the mysteries of the cosmos. That is his driving force along with a never ending desire to create music in his studio.
Arjen puts it all into proper perspective in his own words: "The story on this album looks at what happens when people are driven by an irresistible passion, like me in music. In this case, it's a scientist who is obsessed with finding the theory of everything -- the equation that will explain and tie together all known physical phenomena. He's so focused on solving the theory that he risks losing everything, including his family. But he is not alone -- all of the characters are driven to fill some kind of emotional need no matter what the consequences. If I had to sum it up in one sentence, I would say that the story deals with the drive to succeed and the emotional costs that come with treading the fine line between genius and madness."
One element I particularly enjoyed besides all of the heavy prog metal guitars, bass and swirling keyboards was Troy Donockley's Uileaan Pipes. That one addition gave the music an air of distinction that separated it from all other prog projects that came out last year. CD 1 has 22 tracks and CD 2 has 20 so it a very generous collection. Arjen told me that it would take some time to sit and listen and be able to assimilate the entire package. He was right however it was a joy to do so.
Arjen continues to outdo the last project and he never seems to run out of steam. He is always inspired and has a lot of respect in the prog community. One look at the guest list would make that obvious. I know he is a very humble man and does not consider himself to be a legendary performer like the people that contribute to his projects but he has earned a place amongst the elite in prog rock. The Theory of Everything is one more addition to his ever growing popularity and impressive legacy.
One bonus I always look forward to is the DVD and all footage of Arjen and his guests during the creative process in the studio. I would feel incomplete without it. Not only is he one of the hardest working musicians on the planet, he makes it a point to communicate with all of his fans. That is so important especially now in our digital age. This man is as real as it gets folks and his music is something to be appreciated by all music fans.
This album showcases masterful musicianship, incredible vocals from talented men and women and a story that is thought provoking and exciting every step of the way. If you need an escape valve for a few hours and one that is not cookie cutter radio spew, then this can be your one way ticket to another world. Arjen has the magic and he uses it to the fullest extent. This is without a doubt a prog lover's happy place.
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