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Ayreon - The Final Experiment CD (album) cover




Progressive Metal

3.41 | 352 ratings

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3 stars This is one of those albums that I've kind of had to force myself to be hard on. It's AYREON's very first album, and unlike Actual Fantasy Revisited, there were no alterations possible to the original due to the loss of the tapes. Therefore, what I am reviewing is the original album as it was 10 years ago. Definitely from listening to this, it was a very promising start for AYREON, even though there were problems...large problems of a sort that are not really evident on any of ARJEN LUCASSEN's later AYREON works. I think one does need to own all of the other albums before getting this one, but if you are a dedicated AYREON fan, don't will find enough to keep you interested--especially if you'd like to hear a much darker side to LUCASSEN that very rarely ever appears: compare the ending music to Into the Electric Castle. While the ideas in those places were similar, the tones couldn't be further apart.

Before I really launch into this one, know that three stars means I see more good than bad on here. Even as a huge AYREON fan, there's no way I can hold back from discussing the issues on this album. Its problems are opposite from those that I discuss in my review of Symphony X, another good debut--where Symphony X lacked in sound quality but already had ironclad composition and playing, The Final Experiment had good audio quality but some problems in the execution.

The concept itself was a very clever, rich idea, and, as it turned out, inspiring enough when coupled with Actual Fantasy to end up spawning the entire universe we get to know through later albums. And I don't know about others, but when I listened to it, I definitely felt for the character of Ayreon, the blind minstrel in the age of Camelot who received the messages from the future. Probably ARJEN LUCASSEN himself, when singing for Ayreon, gave him the most life and compelled the listener to care for the character--especially on "Nature's Dance" and "Magic Ride". There were some nice lyrics that stuck out as I was set written by LUCASSEN for "Magic Ride" ("I long to see, I need to touch, I wish to be..." maybe you have to hear it to catch how well it flows?), but the other written by someone else was for "Ye Courtyard Minstrel Boy". In other places, he does a very good job to capture the bloody-minded arrogance of Merlin and others towards Ayreon, such as in the written lyrics to "The Banishment", "Merlin's Will" ("Don't you KNOW who I am??" You want to smack him for such condescenscion!), and "Ayreon's Fate". And one definitely suspects that Ayreon is no courtyard minstrel boy, but rather a full-grown man. Details like that work quite well.

However, while the concept was extremely clear, especially written, I felt that some very unnecessary confusion and distraction was created by two factors: first, there was no constant choice of vocalists for each role...or at least, people who had sung for Ayreon were not kept from singing later for Merlin, and I thought that was extremely problematic. Thankfully LUCASSEN seems to have realized this by the time he got to Into the Electric Castle, and such a confusing situation would never be created again. The other trouble was that at times there were some rather obvious English mistakes. (That in and of itself has not been one of my reasons for deducting points, though!)

There were many noteworthy musical moments: perhaps the most haunting is the leitmotif for the minstrel Ayreon himself. Heard in the "Overture" and "The Awareness", as well as throughout the album, this is a riff that captures all of the beauty and tragedy of this character...and honestly pulled at my heartstrings. "Eyes of Time" was probably the most infectious track, and while the vocalist playing Ayreon here has got an unusual voice to say the least (shades of GEDDY LEE?), I really find myself liking it. The bassist also shows off his skills well here, and later on "The Banishment". For some carefree fun, "Sail Away to Avalon" should make the listener's day, and is indicative of AYREON's future (the project, not the minstrel, unfortunately!). I also enjoyed "Nature's Dance", sung by ARJEN LUCASSEN himself, and the melancholy tone, while very unusual in light of later works, is executed well. "Computer Reign (Game Over)" is a much darker number, and here LUCASSEN hits his stride...not to mention that the minstrel himself is trying to do the most important creative work of his life! "Waracle" is also good (though marred by a certain instrument I'll discuss later), and the second part especially, as the vocalist begins ad-libbing for Ayreon, crying out, "Set me free!" is a success. On "The Charm of the Seer", as Ayreon nears his impending doom, you can hear some influence from "Gethsemane" on Jesus Christ Superstar (cited by LUCASSEN as an influence) as here Ayreon prepares to go to what he knows will be his death. This one prefigures some work from Into the Electric Castle. As for "Swan Song"...this is perhaps the most beautifully melancholy piece you'll ever hear on an AYREON album. You know what this is before you even look...and the hidden whispers are a nice touch, considering that a blind person in Ayreon's situation would probably be focusing in on every little sound around him.

Unfortunately, there definitely were some problems musically as well. Perhaps the most glaring, to my mind, is a mismatch that occurs at times between the mood of the lyrics and the music. Therefore, I must beg to differ with the other reviewer and say that "The Banishment" is by far the weakest track on the album. For some reason the music is intolerably happy during the part where Ayreon is about to be run out of town...this is a lynch-mob, and the music should reflect the darkness of their hatred. And then there are two vocalists that I cannot stand on this album: the first one also plays the "Barbarian" on Into the Electric Castle, and I didn't like him there, either. The second...what was up with the growling on here? Was somebody growling one line and yelling on another track? What was going on? It actually made me hit the skip button at that point; it was so annoying. Too bad a talent like MIKAEL AKERFELDT couldn't have been brought in to replace that part! The other problem came from an instrument heard prominently at the opening of "Waracle" and in other places...I couldn't tell whether it was a synth or a fretless bass played badly, but the sound really grated on my nerves.

Overall, The Final Experiment is an album just for the fans, but I had to give it the third star because I think it is one of the best debut albums I've ever heard.

FloydWright | 3/5 |


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