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Ayreon - 01011001 CD (album) cover




Progressive Metal

3.87 | 637 ratings

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1 stars The Earth is sick and its fate hangs in the balance, unable to sustain its errant population. Aliens and self-absorbed dirtwalkers strive to complete lyrically silly but portentious couplets in voices strained by emotion and by the aftermath of too many late-night Dio listening sessions. Sephiroth intends to cause grievous injury to the very world itself, thereby releasing and embracing the power of the Lifestream to forge a twisted new deity. Sensing that downfall is imminent, a league of rockstar superheros have assembled... to spring another goofy rock pantomime on the fans of inoffensive hard rock. There must be an audience for this, but it doesn't include me, so here comes one of those perspective reviews that you all hate. ;P

01011001 is the science fiction version of last year's Fear of a Blank Planet in that it takes the form of a semi-established musician's blog, containing ineloquent rants about isolation, the world's sad exploitation and the consequences of technology. It has a plot, too, sort of, best left to be unlocked by people who enjoy hammy muscle vocals (for you, there's a Thin Lizzy-ish section during the song New Born Race which is absolutely *priceless* - I say this ironically but someone must like this sincere rawk-out business) and have come to be able to tell these singers apart - neato singers like Hansi the Hobbit get submerged in a river of perspiration exuded by a bunch of carbon copy rock gods and yodelling mini-vampirettes. Being a full-blown conceptual double-album (and I don't begrudge this sort of ambition - if this album has ties to progressive rock then they are seated in the idea of a bardic rock saga in the vein of '70s epics like Lizard or Supper's Ready, songs which were gloriously over-arching and groundbreaking. It's a shame that this sort of project now can't be original by default.) you'd expect plot-boosting filler even from the very best artists, and Mr. Lucassen isn't on my list of those.

Ayreon, being a troupe of forward-facing metal storytellers, can resemble Queensryche and can feel like their logical next step at times. Unnatural Selection is perhaps the most overt homage to that band, and the worst song on the album by entire kilometres. Aside from that fairly obvious comparison, Ayreon aren't really like any particular band, being more like a synthesis of a hundred other melodic metal/hard rock groups, many from the era where things like power and speed metal were still being defined, and perhaps this is inevitable in a project containing so many fragments from successful, Iron Maiden-inspired groups. In short, Ayreon rock hard in that early metal-that-just-shook-the-blues manner, and even during the folk-pop interludes there's a sense of riff inevitability. This is just a guess, but I think everyone in this album's line-up has long, silky, rock-out hair. I know that's a meaningless and silly thing to mention at the best of times, but while the profiling is good...

Many influences and techniques are culled from the music of the recent past and packed into giant songs, with results that range between the mediocre (the entire no-surprises structure of E=MC Squared is particularly disappointing and easy to deduce on your first listen) and the enjoyable - the opening track, Age of Shadows seems the most exciting on the album and shows a mastery of riff-choice (even if it's just someone playing the same fifth every half-beat, some thought has gone into this) transition and textural blending, reciprocating between mid-pace rock hysteria and more subdued, alt-goth-folk meanderment with impeccable singing and smoothed over by an application of synths and electronics. The cod-industrial introduction got me hoping for more than I got, but if Arjen promises to move his music further towards the electronic then I promise to try his next album. I'll also mention Beneath the Waves for having a very well-judged atmosphere - it's peculiar in that the metal moments are few and far between, being very electronic and moody, but you can tell the song wants to be heavy. It also brushes up against 7/8 at times - on a fairly straightforward rock album, you must notice these things; it's the law.

Sadly, I just can't ignore the feeling that this music is too safe; there are so many rock cliches in evidence that the album verges upon a joke during its weak points. I don't blame Web of Lies for this, like many have done in the forum - it's a short track, no sillier than anything performed by our beloved Canterburians and the lyrics aren't perceptibly worse than those in other songs. Rather than placing the blame on one of the songs, I find that it's more to do with the furrow Ayreon plough - it's one where it's impossible to do anything unpredictable, a situation in which the band's mastermind has instead decided to focus his efforts towards making solid, reliable, very well-played (accompaniment throughout is noticeably professional and one or two of the lead spots surprise in terms of technicality) but derivative rock music.

If you're looking for modern music that's advancing some form or another, then discount Ayreon - this is new old in all its glory. There's no shame in being a retrohead, of course - I just don't feel like I can score you highly if you are one. Rather, I'd recommend this album (or one of it's predecessors, Universal Migrator, on a forum-poster's advice - apparently they resemble each-other) to people who can never have enough modern rock, and by that I mean rock music untinged by influences from indie or from jazz. I'd recommend it to people who really like the collaborations between Meatloaf and Dollie Parton - I know there are those of you out there who hold their union dear and it's OK to admit it, honey. Most of all, I recommend 01011001 to you if you own jeans with Iron Maiden patches sewn on to them, or if you're a fan of Iced Earth (*giggle*) on the understanding that you've already heard and enjoyed Blind Guardian's Nightfall in Middle-Earth, because if you want a modern metal concept album that's not too heavy on the prog, then that one is far more classy and succinct. This album is going into my vault now, but you'll like it more than I did. Almost certainly, anyway.

Finally, I'd like to say two things: one, that in more forgiving times, Ayreon (should they tour) would be famous stadium-fillers, and two, that I hope the next Ayreon album is a one-disc affair, because the man will never write a large amount of songs that are distinct from one another. Don't give up hope, Mr. Lucassen, because I have faith in your desire to be epic!

laplace | 1/5 |


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