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Ayreon: The Human Equation (Special Edition)

If I was going to introduce a youngster to progressive rock, I would choose Ayreon's The Human Equation. All the elements of classic "prog" are here and the album is wrapped in a glossy audiophile production that just begs the listener to sit between the speakers without distraction for nearly two hours. The massive special edition double CD package under review also contains a DVD that is very much worth watching.

For those new to the band, Ayreon is actually an ongoing series of rock operas conducted by Arjen Anthony Lucassen and he typically assembles a large group of guests to fulfill his conceptual fantasies. The Human Equation is fairly representative of all the styles that Lucassen employs in most of his projects: classic symphonic rock, heavy metal, Irish folk melodies, bits of electronica and even a bit of pop. One departure for Ayreon is the fact that the concept doesn't involve science fiction (I'm discounting the joke at the end of the album) but rather tells a fairly involved story of a man lying in a hospital bed in a coma. The listener is privy to his thoughts and emotions as he thinks on his past life. Meanwhile, we also become acquainted with the man's wife and best friend who are watching over him in the hospital bed. Though the lyrics tend to be melodramatic and the outcome of the story is more than a little predictable, the concept is in service to the music and the vocals-both of which are absolutely astounding.

It would be pointless to discuss the album track by track. Like most rock operas, the songs work best as a unified whole, but songs like "Day Eleven: Love" and "Day Sixteen: Loser" certainly do stand out for the great vocals and melodies. There is one thing that cannot be overlooked and that is the impressive roster of singers and instrumentalists Lucassen has assembled for his latest project: Martin Orford from IQ and Ken Hensley from Uriah Heep make small but invaluable contributions. Hensley's short but raging Hammond organ solo on "Day Sixteen: Loser" certainly takes us back to Hensley's work with Uriah Heep.

As for the singers, James Labrie from Dream Theater plays the part of the man in the coma, simply known as Me. If you are used to Labrie's work with Dream Theater, be prepared to be surprised here. For the most part, his singing is mellow and happily he proves that he has more depth as a singer than he is generally given credit for. Heather Findlay from Mostly Autumn is cast as Love and her singing is as impressive and moving here as it is with her own band. Mikael Akerfeldt of Opeth is given ample opportunity to shine as well; the man has a great voice. Relative newcomer Marcela Bovia also deserves a mention as the wife; judging from her performance with Ayreon, she has a bright future ahead of her.

As I said, the special edition contains a DVD and it is a very nice bonus. With a running time of an hour or so, we get a behind the scenes look at the making of The Human Equation as well as a brief history of Ayreon told by Arjen Anthony Lucasson himself. There's even a 5.1 Dolby Digital remix and video of "Day Eleven: Love" included.

Ayreon have been criticized in the past for being over the top and pretentious and there is nothing on The Human Equation that will change such views. However, put into the context of Mr. Lucasson's previous works, The Human Equation is miles ahead of Star One and is as engaging as Into the Electric Castle. It is one of the best CDs I've heard all year.

Disc One

  1. Day One: Vigil
  2. Day Two: Isolation
  3. Day Three: Pain
  4. Day Four: Mystery
  5. Day Five: Voices
  6. Day Six: Childhood
  7. Day Seven: Hope
  8. Day Eight: School
  9. Day Nine: Playground
  10. Day Ten: Memories
  11. Day Eleven: Love

    Disc Two

  12. Day Twelve: Trauma
  13. Day Thirteen: Sign
  14. Day Fourteen: Pride
  15. Day Fifteen: Betrayal
  16. Day Sixteen: Loser
  17. Day Seventeen: Accident?
  18. Day Eighteen: Realization
  19. Day Nineteen: Disclosure
  20. Day Twenty: Confrontation

    DVD

  21. Inside-Behind the Scenes of The Human Equation
  22. Concept-The Concept of The Human Equation
  23. Ayreon-The Story of Ayreon
  24. Drums-Ed Warby's Drums
  25. Video-Video Clip of "Day Eleven: Love"
  26. Teaser-Teaser Trailer

Added: November 4th 2005
Reviewer: Steve Pettengill
Score:
Related Link: Official Ayreon Website
Hits: 10235
Language: english

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Ayreon: The Human Equation (Special Edition)
Posted by Ken Pierce, SoT Staff Writer on 2005-11-04 15:14:45
My Score:

Multi-instrumentalist Arjen Lucassen has once again crafted a diverse and interesting piece of music for his many fans. Following his successful touring with his "Star One" project this recording might very well be considered Ayreon's finest work of them all. Like most of his musical adventures, Arjen makes sure to use a cast of performers that are second to none in the world of Progressive and Heavy Metal music. Among them is cast the newly discovered Marcela Bovio who Lucassens found from an Internet contest entry. Her voice is amazing and one can only hope that this is only the beginning of what we will see from her. James LaBrie of the mighty Dream Theater also lends his voice to the piece as the principle character and so does Michael Akereldt of Opeth. The list continues on with Irene Jansen, Devon Townsend and many others. Truly a who's who in the world of popular Metal and Rock. The story that is lined out this time focuses on the central character who is lying in a hospital bed after a terrible accident. This setting is the polar opposite from his space and fantasy themes of the past. The character is watched by his Wife and Best Friend in hopes of his recovery. At the same time his mind is paid visit by many different emotions and memories; all of them vying for his decisions in the healing process. This was one CD that I was finding myself lucky in seeing a lyric book inside. You need to read along with this piece as you listen. An added part of the appeal I found was the enjoyment of the story itself.

Musically I felt this album was brilliant as it takes Metal and Progressive ideas and manages to tie them all together seamlessly. At some points you will find things that remind you of the classic Progressive legends such as Emerson Lake and Palmer and Jethro Tull. There are so many positive highlights on this disk for me that it was difficult to find the few tracks I liked the most. I leaned towards the track "Loser" for it employed an almost Celtic feel and there were aspects of "Trauma" that I enjoyed. The one bad side of music by Arjen and his projects is the need to focus on the record as a whole and not a simple track or single. His work at Metal Operas is well-known at this stage and the listener cheats themselves if they choose to skip around listening to a song here or a song there. Overall this CD is a high recommendation and a worthy one at that. It is different enough from Star One and also tells a great story. So far Lucassens has not disappointed me, and I am very late to the game having first been exposed to his work with Star One. After listening to the CD I found myself also looking into his other work with this group and also finding myself anticipating his future releases. Take a journey inside someone's mind with the Human Equation; you will be glad that you did.


Ayreon: The Human Equation (Special Edition)
Posted by Murat Batmaz, SoT Staff Writer on 2005-03-09 07:00:06
My Score:

After hearing the numerous albums Arjen Lucassen released under the Ayreon moniker as well as his side projects Star One and Ambeon, I came to the conclusion that, while each release is its own masterpiece, he would never release something better than the very first Ayreon disc The Final Experiment. That album is criminally underrated and it actually marked the beginning of a completely new era in progressive metal. I personally considered TFE and Into the Electric Castle the highpoints of Arjen's career, and as much as I like pretty much everything he's released, I prepared myself to never hear anything from him that would move me as deeply as these records.

Well, I was wrong. I was completely wrong. Arjen Anthony Lucassen has achieved the impossible and created his greatest masterpiece to date! The Human Equation is so far the best release of the year and it may become one of the greatest CDs of the last couple of years.

This is an incredibly difficult album to review, because it is so deep and rich in content with its poignant songwriting, amazingly talented singers, intriguing musicianship, perfect production work and well-thoughtout lyrics that form a deeply moving storyline. Like many other Ayreon releases, this is a concept album, but somehow I can relate to the subject theme a lot easier than some of Arjen's previous works. Maybe it's because the album deals directly with human emotions (or lack thereof), and Arjen has come up with a very original idea. He has taken the human mind as the context because the human mind can be a very terrifying realm that most people would rather not spend much time investigating. In the story, the emotions are played by various singers and this presents its own unique challenge. Each singer depicts a certain human emotion or character like Reason (Eric Clayton), Love (Heather Findlay), Fear (Mikael Akerfeldt), Pride (Magnus Ekwall), Best Friend (Arjen Lucassen), Me (James Labrie), Wife (Marcela Bovie), Father (Mike Baker), Passion (Irene Jansen), Agony (Devon Graves) and Rage (Devin Towsend). All of these singers are vocalists Arjen hadn't worked with before in order to make this CD all the more unique and original. The story is about a merciless man getting into a car accident and falling into a coma as a result of it. As his wife, best friend, and father are waiting in the hospital room fearing for his life, he has to confront his past with the guidance of various emotions in his mind and fight them or give in to them. I'd rather not reveal what happens in the end because it has a great surprise ending that will just leave you speechless, especially if you're familiar with Arjen's back catalog. All I can say is that this album reflects the very pure form of all kinds of human emotions such as love, regret, betrayal, fear, revenge and agony. It is all seamlessly worked into the concept of this album.

Musically the album is very complex and varied in style. There is a dense mood that blankets every song, setting the atmosphere which Ayreon fans are familiar with. Arjen plays almost all the instruments himself and is accompanied by long-time friend and drummer Ed Warby. There is also a beautiful folk trait present on this disc borrowing sounds from non-metal instruments such as the flute, violin, cello and bassoon. Guest musicians include Oliver Wakeman, Ken Hensley (Uriah Heep), Martin Orford (Jadis) and Joost van den Broek (Sun Caged) who all lay down remarkable synth solos on various songs. Arjen plays mighty guitar riffs and impressive melodies alongside progressive, folky, and psychedelic tunes. His use of dynamics and contrast gives the album its own edge.

All singers on this album are simply phenomenal! Being a dedicated fan of most of the singers here already intrigued me even when this double CD was in the making, but I also discovered new voices here. The Mexican female singer Marcela Bovie provides an unbelievable performance with great charisma. I am speechless. Then there is Eric Clayton and Magnuss Ekwall, neither of whom I'd heard before. What have I been missing out on all these years?! Both perform exceptionally, especially Ekwall. It will be great to check out his band The Quill.

Needless to say the prog metal idols James Labrie, Mikael Akerfeldt and Devin Townsend along with female vocalists Heather Findlay from Mostly Autumn and Irene Jansen, not to mention the others, are all amazing! Akerfeldt and Townsend both use their multi-dimensional vocal delivery. Their growls and high screams are other factors that makes THE my current favourite Ayreon disc. You will be blown away when you hear Devin's vocals in the songs "Loser", "Pain" and "School" and Akerfeldt simply shines on "Trauma" along with the moving duet between Eric Clayton and Magnus Ekwall. James Labrie is always criticised by both Dream Theater and other prog fans, but I think he is an excellent vocalist. Some of his recent side projects like Frameshift and this new Ayreon CD are his proof that he can deliver if given the chance. Devon Graves' vocals on this disc are even better than his some of his work with Psychotic Waltz and Dead Soul Tribe.

It is impossible to depict each song and explain each singer in this review, but rest assured, The Human Equation won't disappoint you. It shines from start to finish with flawless production and Arjen's meticulous attention to detail. This is 103 minutes of prog metal heaven.



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