Flight of the Migrator is the second part of Ayreon's Universal Migrator double album; but it has another significance in Arjen Lucassen's almost 25-year long career. This is Ayreon's breakthrough album in prog metal, especially because of its unimaginable line-up of vocalists. Some of these singers are (in order of appearance on the album) Russel Allen from Symphony X, Damian Wilson from both previous Ayreon albums and Threshold, Ralf Scheepers from Primal Fear, Andi Deris from Helloween, Bruce Dickinson from Iron Maiden and Timo Kotipelto from Stratovarius. The list of musicians on the record are equally impressive: Erik Norlander and Clive Nolan on keyboards, Michael Romeo (Symphony X) and Gary Wehrkamp (Shadow Gallery) on guitars, and long-time 'godly' drummer Ed Warby. Needless to say, the prog community was taken by storm when they heard the involvement of all these talented musicians, and thus, 5 years after its inception, Ayreon finally made its name known throughout the world. While this record wouldn't make my favourites list, I believe there are some amazing moments and songs here that may easily surpass most bands' best works.
FOTM is the heavier part of the concept. Please note that, when I say 'heavy', I mean that by Ayreon's standards. If you check this out, you may think it isn't all that heavy compared to some of your favourite prog bands, but within the Ayreon catalog, it certainly has its own place in terms of the heaviness factor, particularly if you pop this disc in after listening to The Dream Sequencer. Arjen Lucassen's music has never been about being technically efficient or musically heavy, he has always, in his long career, strived for making 'good' compositions and finding relevant melodies to the highly creative concepts he comes up with. "Chaos" kicks things off with a spoken intro similar to that on TDS; the somewhat neoclassical arrangement is impressive indeed, but what really blows my mind every time I play this tune is Ed Warby's fascinating drumming -- TWICE!! Yes, he puts down a significant solo somewhere in the middle of the song and before you can regain your composure he lays down another one, only more wicked, proving that he is a terribly overlooked talent indeed. "Dawn of a Million Souls" is one of the most known tracks off this record; Russel Allen's vocal performance needs no explanation. The guy is out of this world. He recorded the song in his home studio and sent the copy to Arjen. I remember Arjen saying his eyes filled with tears when he first heard the song on the phone. Allen's bandmate Michael Romeo also performs in this track. He as always plays with melody and virtuosity. The chromatic riff in the solo is technically almost impossible.
Despite the Symphony X guys' killer performance, my favourite song on this CD is the 10 plus minute epic "Into the Black Hole" sung by none other than the godly Bruce Dickinson. I know it took Arjen a very long time to get Bruce to sing on the record, but once they joined forces, they created nothing short of a masterpiece. Structurally the song has an eerily dark intro with a brooding tone. Clive Nolan performs the keys here and it adds to the atmosphere. Bruce Dickinson did this track in only three takes but his performance puts most of his work with Maiden to shame. Arjen has given him a lot of room to showcase his talents as a singer as opposed to cramming lyrics in the scale. This song also contains one of his best screams ever recorded. It saddens me to think that the Star One project never happened with Bruce. After performing on this track, Bruce Dickinson was so pleased with Arjen's songwriting that he decided to have him compose the music for his upcoming solo record. The project, however, never took off the ground because of Bruce Dickinson's management and thus turned into the Star One - Space Metal disc with four other fantastic vocalists.
Unfortunately there are some weaker moments on this disc as well. With the inclusion of Power Metal vocalists Fabio Lione, Ralf Scheepers and Timo Kotipelto, I believe some of the songs fell a certain distance off the mark. No offense to Lione or Kotipelto, they're no doubt amazing singers, but they have more fitting vocal styles for the Power Metal genre. They are simply not as versatile as the others. Of the three I mostly enjoy Ralf Scheepers delivery because he sings out of his role in his former band Gamma Ray and Primal Fear and his song contains a beautiful jazzy interlude similar to the stuff you'd hear on Dream Theater's SFAM. The Fabio Lione-sung "Through the Wormhole" features a terrific guitar solo by Gary Wehrkamp. It is playful, fast and dangerously melodic. It's no wonder why Arjen worked with him again in Star One.
Like I said, FOTM is far from being the best Ayreon album. Still it's a very solid release overall with some killer moments both musically and vocal-wise. Getting over 135 minutes of music for the price of a single CD is a chance you shouldn't miss. I know the Universal Migrator records were poorly distributed because of Arjen's previous label, so here is Inside Out's offer progheads shouldn't turn down.
- Dawn of a Million Souls
- Journey on the Waves of Time
- To the Quasar
- Into the Black Hole
- Through the Wormhole
- Out of the White Hole
- To the Solar System
- New Migrator