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Ayreon: Actual Fantasy Revisited (reissue)

Actual Fantasy Revisited is the (mostly) re-recorded version of Ayreon's 1996 release Actual Fantasy. Released after the highly successful rock opera debut, The Final Experiment, mastermind Arjen Lucassen decided to surprise his fans with a more electronic-based album consisting of fewer singers and a loosely connected lyrical theme. To give the album a more electronic feel and digital atmosphere, Lucassen used a drum machine, but the outcome was rather mediocre. The album didn't sell as well as the other Ayreon releases and Lucassen always wondered how it would sound if he used a real drummer and another bass player, which he realized eight years after the original release. Enter drummer Ed Warby (who else would Arjen work with anyway?) and bassist Peter Vink. Most of the guitars were re-recorded, some from scratch, the synth solos were changed, and even the programmed flute was replaced by the real instrument. The result is definitely a more powerful, more fresh, more crisp, and more alive effort. It's not too often that a re-release surpasses the original record, but this has happened with Actual Fantasy Revisited.

If you've heard the original version, be prepared to be blown away by the excellently crisp production. Each instrument is audible and perfectly mixed. The re-recorded guitars and synths are a lot better and more interesting. For those of you who haven't heard the 96 release, you're in for a treat. Arjen Lucassen used only three singers on this disc: Robert Soeterboek for the powerful stuff, Edward Reekers for the melodic parts and Okkie Huysdens for the Beatle-like choral passages as Arjen himself explains in the liner notes. The album may remind you of the Star One project in this aspect, with fewer singers, and therefore, a more compact sound. Lucassen plays heavy guitars and blends them with powerful grooves, psychedelic electronics and symphonic melodies. There are incredibly beautiful moments on this disc, starting with "Abbey of Synn". According to Arjen, 'synn' is the old spelling of 'sin', yet it also makes a direct reference to the important role of synthesizers on this album, hence the somewhat electronic approach. Another song, "Computer Eyes", deals with how computers and technology in general may have bad effects on people's lives, occupying their time, and making them lose touch with real life. The lyrics of "Beyond the Last Horizon" were penned during the last days of Arjen's father's life, so needless to say, it's a very personal song. Musically the album is equally competent, if not more haunting. Ed Warby's awesome drumming on "Abbey of Synn" gives the track more life, whilst Arjen plays one of his most emotionally engaging guitar solos ever. It's a soaring guitar run that blankets the tune right after the singers introduce themselves with their unique vocal delivery. The same solo is repeated in the latter part of the track by Rene Merkelbach on keyboards. It's jawdropping. "The Stranger from Within" opens with an electronic patch, but as the live drums kick in, you can't believe you're listening to the same song. Warby's drumming is the main focus of the track and it's surrounded by atmospheric keys and pummeling bass guitar! The song gets really dense in its finale. "Computer Eyes" has a similar intro before it picks up a pretty acoustic guitar and shifts to a Pink Floyd-driven psychedelia. Arjen's powerful guitar theme is further enhanced as singer Edward Reekers' warm voice creeps into the mix defining the highpoint of the album. Throughout the whole disc, Reekers proves to be a stunningly powerful singer with a very melodic delivery. As Huysdens does a fitting vocal harmony in the chorus, Peter Vink accompanies him on his plodding bass. Finally, Soeterboek's low singing closes the track before you can believe how Arjen managed to blend all these elements so seamlessly.

While"Beyond the Last Horizon" deals with an emotional theme, its music is truly uplifting. Reekers and Soeterboek once again combine their voices in the chorus. They sing in a soft tone over really heavy guitar arrangements, but the dynamics are awesome. "Back on Planet Earth" also features a very heavy musical pattern that interlocks electronics and melodic guitar riffs. This is a forceful track with an unforgettable bass line. Arjen says he may have been inspired by Rush 2112 when writing this, which kind of makes it special, since most of the other songs were inspired by (obscure) movies. Other great moments are how the slow keyboard piece is embraced by a forceful, melodic metal drive towards the end on "Forevermore", which Arjen himself sings the final chorus of, as well as Arjen integratings symphonic elements after the processed vocals in the closing track "The Dawn of Man". The tune ends on a somewhat happy note making room for hope. Overall it's a successful blend of a myriad of textures within a compositional framework. This reissue CD also comes with a bonus DVD which features the original version of the album from 1996, the video of "The Stranger from Within" shot by a few students, a behind the scenes feature showing the recording process of drums and bass with Ed Warby and Peter Vink, plus a nice booklet with detailed song commentary by Arjen Lucassen himself. I was pleased to read how he was inspired to write some of those songs I'd been listening to for years. Very good packaging indeed.


Track Listing
1. Actual Fantasy
2. Abbey Of Synn
3. The Stranger From Within
4. Computer Eyes
5. Beyond The Last Horizon
6. Farside Of The World
7. Back On Planet Earth
8. Forevermore
9. The Dawn Of Man

Added: March 13th 2005
Reviewer: Murat Batmaz
Score:
Related Link: Official Arjen Lucassen website
Hits: 3084
Language: english

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