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Ayreon - Actual Fantasy Revisited CD (album) cover




Progressive Metal

3.63 | 75 ratings

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Queen By-Tor
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Revisiting dreams...

This version of Ayreon's second album Actual Fantasy was released in 2004 not long after his masterpiece The Human Equation. This rerecorded version of the original was an interesting choice for treatment considering that this remains the only album not to take place in the cohesive story of the Ayreon Universe. Also strange about this album is the considerable minimalism when compared to some of Arjen's other efforts which have choirs of star singers and instrumentalists. Where the cast of some Ayreon projects ranges in the area of 20 or so, this one only has the size of a regular band, 6! And three of those are vocalists!

The concept behind the record itself is likely one of the coolest that Arjen has ever come up with, and we're talking about intergalactic apocalypse in some of his other records. This album was based on the premise of being the exact opposite of Virtual Reality, hence, Actual Fantasy. Each song is a different story told from a different pair of eyes each time, not dissimilar to the way The Universal Migrator, Pt 1 was told, except with different people as opposed to one guy being reincarnated. In terms of style we have the usual Ayreon musical attack - Arjen wails away on his guitar while providing a spacey atmosphere on various synths and other instruments. One thing that is a bit more absent from this album is the more folky atmospheres that would make a very large impact on albums like The Human Equation and 01011001. While this absence certainly is disappointing for someone who really enjoys that factor of Ayreon's music, it does make for a much heavier record all around. All of the songs are very dark in general, the music is thick with heavy riffs and synths.

Where the album meets with a few problems, however, is not in the music or the concept. The unfortunate part about this album is the casting on the vocalists. Where on other albums Arjen usually manages to find a number of emotional and exceptional vocalists, on this one the voices all come off as rather flat. The fact that there are three vocalists (and I think I hear Arjen himself in there too) doesn't take away from the fact that they all sound the same, and without a very large range like some of the other vocalists that have worked on Aryeon projects, the vocals actually detract from the album largely.

Still, we have the very redeeming instrumental section of the album. As stated before, Arjen really knows what he's doing and can create the mood he wants regardless of the vocalist at the helm. For this particular remaster of the album, all the instrumental parts were rerecorded, and though I haven't taken the time to listen to the 1996 original version, this one really does well. Pink Floyd-esque guitar at the beginning of Forever More make for a very calming moment while the screaming power metal notes of The Stranger From Within make for a good amount of horn raising.

This revisited package is also more than just the new version of the album of course. While the 2004 version of the album is the first disc of the set, there's also a DVD that really helps make the package attractive. A large set of features including a ''re''-making of the album featurette, a 5.1 surround mix of the new version of the album, the original 1996 version of the album and a music video for The Stranger From Within (available in 5.1 or 2.0 mix) make for a very temping buy, even if you have the original album. The music video itself is a treat - an animated, somewhat creepy rendition's of the song's concept to drill the idea further into your head, while the featurette provides a great insight into the studio and Arjen as he works.

While not the best Aryeon album this one certainly is good and has a concept cool enough to forgive vocal shortcomings. Definitely a grower, this one is a hard sell and a hard album to really get into, but it's rewarding when you do. Recommended for those who want to hear a non-Opera from Ayreon, and fans of all Ayreon alike. Metal heads should also get a kick out of the style while prog heads should be able to appreciate the concept and the structure of the songs. 3.5 computer eyes out of 5. A very good album, but passable if you don't feel the need.

Queen By-Tor | 3/5 |


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