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Ayreon - Into the Electric Castle CD (album) cover




Progressive Metal

4.14 | 784 ratings

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5 stars Into the Electric Castle was what started my being a fan of Ayreon. I recall reading a number of reviews back in 1998, some raving about it, others dismissing it. I also recall reading that it was dubbed a space opera, involving multiple vocalists performing in different character roles. This usually brings an exclamation mark into my head along with a question mark. An ambitious and complex project with an advanced storyline. The question I always have about these types of recordings is: Is it an overdone, pretentious album that will contain vast quantities of filler and put me to sleep?

I took a chance and bought it. I've been glad about that decision ever since because not only did I acquire a masterpiece, but it opened me up to a whole new geographical region that I had not acquired any progressive rock from, that being the Netherlands. Not only did I explore the rest of the Ayreon catalogue, but I started exploring other Dutch bands which had members that guested on Ayreon's albums.

Into the Electric Castle is a complicated story involving eight individuals who are pulled from out of their timeline and brought together by an entity called Forever of the Stars. They are given the task of finding the Electric Castle and entering it to find out what's inside. The storyline is actually a lot more complex and covers several levels of concepts, too much to go into in this review. The Wikipedia page for this album contains a much better synopsis and I would suggest checking that out if you're interested.

The historical characters include the Roman played by Edwin Balogh (Omega), the Indian played by Sharon den Adel (Within Temptation), the Barbarian played by Jay van Feggelin (Bodine), the Highlander played by Fish (Marillion), the Egyptian played by Anneke van Giersbergen (The Gathering), the Hippie played by Anthony Arjen Lucassen (Ayreon's creator), the Futureman played by Edward Reekers (Kayak), and the Knight played by Damian Wilson (Threshold, Landmarq). In addition, Peter Daltrey (Kaleidoscope) is the voice of Forever of the Stars. In addition to all these vocalists, a number of guest instrumentalists appear on this album, including Clive Nolan (Arena), Ton Scherpenzeel (Kayak), Thijs van Leer (Focus), Ed Warby (Gorefest), and others. Lucassen really gathered together a wonderful group of performers.

The musicianship on this is superb incorporating elements of symphonic prog rock, prog metal, psychedelic, electronica, and occasionally some blues and jazz. The production is amazing, the mix is perfect. Lucassen is clearly a skilled studio technician in addition to his musicianship. The lyrics may leave something to be desired for some listeners, but Lucassen intentionally wrote the lyrics in this fashion because the concept and characters are based on old sci-fi TV shows and B-movies. In a way, I find it charming. The lyrics may be a bit cheesy, but they still reflect on so many levels of human perception, such as how each character perceives what the Electric Castle might be. The Highlander perceives it as Hell, the Knight as the Island of Avalon where the Holy Grail is, the Roman perceives it as the Underworld, the Egyptian perceives it as the Afterlife, the Hippie thinks he's in a drug-induced stupor, and the Futureman perceives it as a virtual reality. The conflicts between these different personalities from different eras of civilization adds a whole additional layer. Lucassen may have been inspired by B-movies, but he has the making of a compelling storyline for a full-blown science fiction novel.

Into the Electric Castle is probably one of the best releases of the 1990s and is a regular guest in my CD player. This is how a rock opera should be and is, in my mind, one of the few rare successful attempts at one. Easily a masterpiece and well worth five stars.

progaardvark | 5/5 |


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