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Ayreon - Transitus CD (album) cover

TRANSITUS

Ayreon

 

Progressive Metal

3.60 | 54 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

lukretio
4 stars If there was an end-of-year list for "the most difficult albums to rate and review", then Transitus, Ayreon's 10th full-length release, would easily top the 2020 edition. This is because Transitus is so much more than just a music record that, depending on what aspect of the release one focuses on, the subjective experience (and how positively one feels about the whole thing) can be very different. This is not completely unusual for Arjen Lucassen - nearly all Ayreon's instalments are based on massive concepts that transcend the simple musical format - but I feel this time Arjen truly surpassed himself. To put things in perspective, Transitus was initially conceived as a movie, not as an Ayreon's album. However, things did not quite work out as planned, mainly due to the prohibitive financial costs that would have been necessary to pull off a high-quality project of such a scale, and so Transitus became simply a new release under the Ayreon's banner (although Arjen recently revealed to PROG magazine that the movie idea has not been completely put to rest yet). The unusual genesis of the album has inevitably colored its development and sound in quite a unique way. Hence, as a music album, Transitus is rather different from any other album released by Ayreon.

First of all, it is much lighter and rock-oriented than Ayreon's other recent releases. Musically, Transitus is closer to Ayreon's early rock operas such as The Final Experiment and Into the Electric Castle, with some added touches of dark ambient that brings to mind the mellower first part of The Universal Migrator project. The headbangable riffs and pounding drumming that have characterized nearly every Ayreon album in the past 20 years are nowhere to be found, and indeed Transitus is the first album since the very early days where we do not even find Arjen's loyal drummer Ed Warby, who is instead replaced by the more rock-oriented Juan van Emmerloot. In short, there is almost no prog metal on Transitus, but a lot of lighter (prog) rock.

Second, Transitus is a very vocal-driven album. Of course, this is something that can be said about nearly every Ayreon album, given that the use of (usually amazing) multiple vocalists who take centre stage in the songs is one of the trademarks of Ayreon's music. In this sense, Transitus is no exception, showcasing a stellar cast of singers, each one putting in superb performances (the cast includes Epica's Simone Simons, Kamelot's Tommy Karevik, Oceans of Slumber's Cammie Gilbert, Trillium's Amanda Somerville and Twisted Sister's Dee Snider, to name just a few). But on Transitus things have been really pushed to the extreme, to the point that the album sounds more like a musical than a conventional rock album. There is a very strong "Broadway" feel to this album that manifests itself in the exuberance and buoyancy of the music, in the frequent use of choral backing vocals, in the reprise of the same themes at various points in the album, and even in the way some singers actually act their parts at places rather than singing them (Simone Simons is a primary example of this). The choice of some of the singers also reflects the unusual musical direction of the project: according to Arjen, for instance, Paul Manzi (ex-Arena) was chosen partly because he is actually studying to become an actor. But the most conspicuous "Broadway" element in Transitus is without doubt the presence of a narrator (impersonated by the legendary Tom "Doctor Who" Baker) who introduces nearly every song of the album and helps push its story forward. The storyline also marks a departure from Ayreon's usual sci-fi themed concepts. The story takes place in the late 1800s and is centred on the cursed love story between Daniel (played by Tommy Karevik), a son of a rich aristocratic family, and Abby (played by Cammie Gilbert), a servant working for the family. The family is very unhappy about the romance between the two young lovers and this triggers a chain of catastrophic events that involve conspiracies, betrayal, murder, compassionate angels of deaths, and ghostly appearances, before the story reaches its (supernatural) happy ending. Arjen has always been a master at crafting these amazing stories that transport the listener to a parallel dimension, but I found Transitus's concept particularly fascinating and entertaining, partly because of its gothic undertones and partly because of its underlying message about the futility of class and race divisions. I also loved the idea of accompanying the album with a comic book (beautifully illustrated by Felix Vega), which gives more details about the "scenes" that are represented through the various songs. I thoroughly enjoyed the all-inclusive experience of sitting down for one hour and a half with the record, the lyrics and the comic book. It truly made me forget about my present for a while and transported me to the fantasy world described in the story.

This brings me to the central point I want to make in this review: Transitus is not just a music record, and it cannot be fully appreciated by only focusing on its musical content. Transitus is a more encompassing art form, akin to going to the theatre to watch a musical show. The comic book, the narrator, the sound effects, the acting ? they are all part of the package and contribute in equal amounts to the listener's experience. Granted, this means that Transitus may not be to anyone's liking (hence why Arjen initially did not want to release this as an Ayreon album, to avoid setting wrong expectations about what the project is truly about). Some may dislike the constant presence of the narrator, or the over-the-top acting/singing of some of the vocalists; others may find the music a bit too "safe" and vanilla (it's true: there are not so many surprises in terms of musical content, most things you hear here you can probably also find on other Ayreon's albums, and there are not even too many moments of epic musician showmanship). But I think that these elements all make sense when considered through the lens of the musical/movie experience. I find that the slightly tamer musical background (in comparison to Ayreon's other releases) is actually perfect as it does not distract too much from the main attraction of the project: the story enacted by the singers.

As a musical/movie experience, I genuinely enjoyed this, probably more than any other Ayreon's album (with the exception of my favorite record by Ayreon, Into the Electric Castle). One minor complaint I have about Transitus, though, is that the second disc is perhaps a tad too fragmented: with 13 songs crammed in 41 minutes (only slightly more than 3 minutes per song), I find the story stuttering a little bit in the second half, as there are too many changes of scene and too many different musical themes to properly sink in. In this sense, I find that the first disc is better constructed and more enjoyable, as the themes are given more space to grow on the listener.

To conclude, Transitus is different from your standard Ayreon's album, or from any conventional rock/metal album, for that matter. As a simple music record, it does not work so well: the narrator can be distracting, the music is not at the level of complexity and originality that Ayreon has accustomed us to, and there are probably even more over-the-top singing parts than ever. I can easily see why some people have criticized Transitus as a simple album release. The true grandiosity and magnificence of Transitus comes through only when appreciated as a more holistic art experience, which includes the comic book, the acting and, who knows, someday maybe even a movie to accompany the music. Transitus is not an album I would put on while I commute to work, or when I am multitasking. Transitus is an album that can only be fully appreciated when one sits down with a cup of tea and the comic book and lyrics sheets at hand, dims the lights and lets the storytelling begin. This is when Transitus becomes a truly captivating listening experience, and I am sure it will continue to do so for me for many times to come in the future.

[Originally posted on www.metal-archives.com]

lukretio | 4/5 |

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