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Ayreon: Timeline

Reviewing an Ayreon album is a daunting task in itself. Each elaborate concept album from the past thirteen years, has been a masterful work chocked full of sophisticated stories and intricate musical soundscapes along with a virtual who's who of progressive and metal musicians as guest stars. With each release, Arjen Lucassen, the mastermind behind these great works, has grown and expanded the story that is Ayreon. He has created a world unto itself that will suck you in and let your imagination run wild throughout the complex sci-fi tale set to some of the lushest progressive music the Earth has ever experienced.

So now Arjen has brought us full circle with the release of Timeline. This is a retrospect that is as bold and expansive as needed to give any kind of look back on his previous work. Timeline is a 3 CD audio set consisting of almost 4 hours of music with an additional DVD that culls many live performances along with videos and comprehensive featurettes on the making of the albums.

The main question is, can he do justice to the stories while providing us with the Readers Digest version of each album. The answer is yes. For those that are familiar with Ayreon, this set is a rewarding capsule of Lucassen's work that captures the essences of each album even without providing the whole story. For the newcomer to Ayreon, this set will overwhelm you with its musical brilliance and should set you running to the nearest store to start filling in the blanks to the music that this condensed version cannot avoid.

Lucassen has also avoided the trap of just including the most accessible tracks from each disc. Instead he has given you the most representative of each album. Arjen seems to have taken great care in not only making this set as flowing as possible, he gives you the best cross section of styles and what could be considered the true highlights of each album.

Disc one consists of music culled from 1995's The Final Experiment, 1996's Actual Fantasy and the start of 1998's Into The Electric Castle. Lucassen spends a good deal of time on the first album setting up the beginning of the story and what you are going to hear over the two other discs to follow. The early music by Arjen has a lush majestic air to it and a feel like something from a Rick Wakeman album. Lavish orchestration highlights the birth of Ayreon and Lucassen uses it to perfection. As you move to Actual Fantasy, you can feel the dramatic chance in mood and style. As the story dictates, this section becomes a bit heavier but still contains the terrific orchestration and superb creative genius of Arjen. By the time you get to the last pair of songs which belong to the album Into The Castle, you will be total enthralled by the offerings "Isis and Osiris" plus "Amazing Flight". This is the album that got me hooked on Ayreon and you will hear why!

The second CD picks up with the Into The Electric Castle album and continues with both part I an II of The Universal Migrator albums. Also on this disc is one cut from the The Human Equation album. Lucassen tickles the ears with a delightful mixing of electronic keyboards, searing guitar work and a dynamite line-up of vocal guest stars once more. Condensing the story does hinder the listener who knows the whole saga, but just for listening pleasure, all three discs are pure magic. Disc 2 may be my favorite of the three but that is only because it deals with a part of the storyline that is very exciting to me. Medieval times are brought to life with such songs as "The Castle Hall". Arjen then takes you well beyond the world of Merlin and Co. when you reach The Universal Migrator. Reflecting both the metal side of Ayreon and the symphonic traits of Lucassen, these songs represent a mesmerizing view of this chapter in the Ayreon story.

Upon arriving at disc three, you will be hard pressed to find fault with this retrospective. Continuing with selections from The Human Equation and the last Ayreon offering 01011001, Lucassen sends you through a virtual cornucopia of musical styles and offerings once more. From the wickedly sinister "Loser" from The Human Equation to the monumental "The Sixth Extinction" from 01011001 Arjen gives you enough of a glimpse into the vast story and complexity of the Ayreon musicianship it should have you running to the nearest store to complete your collection. By the same token, for those that already have the complete works you have a simply very enjoyable highlight reel from the history of Ayreon. If you need more, there is a special bonus. Lucassen has recorded a track that is only for this disc and it wraps up the full Ayreon story. "Epilogue" is the conclusion of the saga and is a must have for fans of the complete story. Introducing vocalist Jasper Steverlick, it is a fitting an apt scenario to end this project with a new voice! Jasper is a very young and talented singer and you will find the whole story behind his addition to the Ayreon family on the DVD.

The DVD included with this package is more of a mixed bag. While it has some very great moments there is a good deal that will be skipped over. Some of the highlights are the live tracks recorded with Arjen's live band Star One. Russell Allen of Symphony X fame provides a very potent vocal presence and makes these tracks the highlight of the DVD. Close behind is the live songs recorded with Lucassen's other side project Stream of Passion. Both of these sets will make your mouth water for a chance to see either of them perform. There is also some very cool animated videos and a little bit of behind the scenes that will give you a real feel for just how much went into the making of these great works. Probably the most annoying thing about the DVD is that I cannot find anyway to make it play all the selections at once. It keeps returning to the menu at the end of each segment.

All in all this is one of the best "Greatest Hits" packages you will find. When you look at the list of musicians involved, it is mind boggling.

Vocalist: Edward Reekers, Bruce Dickinson, Fish, James LaBrie, Mikael Akerfeldt, Russell Allen, Hansi Kursch, Devin Townsend, Neal Morse, and Jorn Lande just to name a few.

Keyboardist: Derek Sherinian, Oliver Wakeman and Ken Hensley are just some of the stars.

Even Michael Romeo adds a nice touch with his guitar magic.

This is just a few of the many guest stars that help to make this project something special. But the one that makes this music such a gripping opus is the man behind it all Arjen Lucassen. With an uncompromising vision, he has brought to the world a work that is a modern day masterpiece. Like the master composers of old, when you try to create a retrospective, something will be left out. This is unavoidable but Lucassen has done the best that is possible in giving you a very dramatic and enjoyable synapses of his overall work. The enclosed booklet and poster are the icing on the cake. A very detailed 56 page book tells you all you need to know about the music on the disc. The poster gives you a flow chart timeline on how the story fits together. These will help the listener to piece the story together, that is, until they end up with all the albums anyway!

Track listing:

Disc One

1. Prologue
2. The Awareness
3. Eyes of Time
4. The Accusation
5. Sail Away to Avalon
6. Listen to the Waves
7. Actual Fantasy
8. Abby of Synn
9. Computer Eyes
10. Back on Planet Earth
11. Isis and Osiris
12. Amazing Flight

Disc Two

1. The Garden of Emotions
2. The Castle Hall
3. The Mirror Maze
4. The Two Gates
5. The Shooting Company of Captain Frans B Cocq
6. Dawn of a Million Souls
7. And the Druids Turned to Stone
8. Into the Black Hole
9. The First Man on Earth
10. Day Two: Isolation

Disc Three

1. Day Three: Pain
2. Day Six: Childhood
3. Day Twelve: Trauma
4. Day Sixteen: Loser
5. Day Seventeen: Accident?
6. Age of Shadows
7. Ride the Comet
8. The Fifth Extinction
9. Waking Dreams
10. The Sixth Extinction
11. Epilogue: The Memory Remains

DVD

1. The Stranger from Within
2. Valley of the Queens
3. Isis and Osiris
4. The Two Gates
5. Teaser: The Human Equation
6. Day Eleven: Love
7. Come Back to Me
8. Loser
9. Farside of the World
10. Back on Planet Earth
11. Featurette Actual Fantasy
12. Computer Eyes
13. Day One: Eyes
14. Day Three: Pain
15. The Castle Hall
16. Release Party 01011001
17. Beneath the Waves
18. Teaser 01011001
19. Featurette Epilogue: The Memory Remains

Added: January 11th 2009
Reviewer: Scott Ward
Score:
Related Link: Band's Official Site
Hits: 2184
Language: english

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