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Ayreon - The Theory Of Everything CD (album) cover




Progressive Metal

4.04 | 634 ratings

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Rock Progressivo Italiano Team
4 stars I'd be the first to admit I'm usually not the biggest fan of Arjen Anthony Lucassen's Ayreon. The guy himself is an extraordinary talent, but too often for me the project presents the most deadly serious, stuffy, overblown spectacle without a trace of subtlety or sense of humour. The music is overloaded with a paint-by-numbers prog/metal approach, dialed totally up to 11, with an abundance of metal and theatrical kitsch worked in for good measure. Maybe the biggest hurdle for he has always been the over-the-top metal voices, which have never been a favourite type of vocal for me. So long story short, I've found Ayreon more than a little embarrassing.

So imagine my surprise when I found that the latest double album `The Theory of Everything' finally clicked with me. Don't get me wrong, it's still completely full of the above mentioned details, but I think this time I'd been warmed up to the idea by two other works. Earler this year, Clive Nolan's theatrical symphonic masterpiece `Alchemy' was unleashed, my favourite album of 2013, and a little earlier Lucassen's wonderful solo album `Lost in the New Real' truly won me over with it's colour, sense of fun and relaxed vocals from the man himself. Both of those albums seem to have given me an opening to enjoying this one, and although it doesn't reach the same heights for me, it's still impossibly grand and excessive prog music that is extremely satisfying on repeated listens.

A double album on both CD and LP, it's comprised of four 21-plus minute pieces, and although it may look like the Lucaassen equivalent of Yes' `Tales From Topographic Oceans', don't be fooled! It's not exactly the same genre-breaking tour-de-force that album was, but it's still very ambitious, even if it sticks to a similar format and sound that previous Ayreon works offered. The overall concept revolves around a group of individuals involved in the discovery of a complex set of equations with the potential to change the world as we know it, and a web of jealousy, suspect motivations and conflicted intentions unfold throughout the album. Taking in the viewpoint and inner monologue of different characters over a course of multiple time-frames, the story is tensely dramatic, exciting and confronting for the entiretyof the near 90 minute running time.

A frequently orchestral soft metal theatrical symphony might be a quick way to describe all the music here! Some parts of it come awfully chose to the brooding atmosphere of Pink Floyd's `The Wall' and `Welcome To The Machine'. There's brief electronic diversions like late 70's/early 80's Tangerine Dream, many other sections recall prog-metal bands like `Mindcryme'-era Queensryche, but rarely so heavy to ever actually resemble proper heavy metal or overloaded with suffocating technicality. Often the vocal passages have a confident and pleasing AOR smoothness, even recalling the sophistication of the Alan Parsons Project. The instrumental sections offer a truly wordly adventure, with numerous grand orchestral flourishes that incorporate a range of Celtic and even middle eastern themes, and the aggressive darting flute and violin almost aligns the music with the classic Italian bands. Other terrific reviewers on the Prog Archives go into greater track specifics, as well as the concept in better detail, so I'll leave that up to their superior descriptions.

Lucassen has the pull to ask for contributions from a number of legendary progressive musicians for this work. Rick Wakeman offers some lovely piano and Mini Moog solos (honestly, the guy is really in his element here!), Keith Emerson has a brief Modular Moog run, Jordan Rudess a synthesizer passage, Troy Donockley brings classy pipes and whistles, and Steve Hackett unleashes a ripping guitar solo near the end of the second disc. But special mention must go to UK/Asia/King Crimson maestro John Wetton's marvellous vocal contribution. Sounding better than ever, the guy must surely be on something of a roll after his memorable appearance on District 97's recent `The Trouble With Machines'. The high quality of the main vocals are performed by a number of vocalists more aligned with the metal end of music from bands such as Nightwish and Lacuna Coil, I'm sure many listeners will be more familiar with them than I am, but they are all excellent here and more than up to the task of conveying the story and it's different characters.

But as much of a selling point the legends of the genre here will be to some listeners, it's actually the core line-up of players that make the most impact. Ben Mathot's violin, Maaike Peterse's cello and Jereon Goossens' flute/other wind instruments positively dominate, their dazzling playing covering almost the entire show. Same too for Siddharta Barnhoorn's lush and sweeping orchestration, Ed Warby's subtly complex drumming, and of course Arjen himself is an effortless master of numerous instruments, his searing guitar solos, thick atmospheric bass and keyboard washes are all over the album. It's these musicians who should especially be praised and not have their achievements ignored compared to the more famous names present.

Although I probably prefer his lighter solo album `Lost in the New Real' over this (and I'm looking forward to the eventual follow-up!), there's no denying Lucassen is worthy of the status he has in the prog industry. His work with Ayreon is pure heavy concept and big spectacle, everything so painfully and carefully constructed, expertly performed and arranged, and he more or less shares the same kind of ludicrous, bombastic approach that made Rick Wakeman so (in)famous in the Seventies. None of what I said is actually an insult, it's simply giving him credit for a type of prog rock that thrills a great many listeners, who cherish and welcome a new Ayreon album as a truly special event.

Four stars.

Aussie-Byrd-Brother | 4/5 |


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