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Ayreon - The Human Equation CD (album) cover




Progressive Metal

4.19 | 1106 ratings

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3 stars Show me a double album that isn't ambitious and I'll show you the contractual obligation from hell. Dutch prog-masters Ayreon (really just the multi-talented Arjen Lucassen) tell the tale of a comatose man's life (yes I know you're wondering why so man concept albums are centered on people in comas) through 20 separate but thematically linked pieces of music. Musically, there are many fine moments, but also many times when the diversity of style fails to produce a cohesive composition. As with most works of this length, the momentum eventually fades. Nonetheless The Human Equation must surely rank as one of the finest achievements in the history of prog-metal.

With a host of guest vocalists (Dream Theater's James LaBrie, Mostly Autumn's Heather Findlay, Opeth's Mikael Akerfeldt, to name a few) and instrumentalists (keyboardists Ken Hensley and Martin Orford among them) on board, this is a pretty multi-dimensional and confusing affair that takes a while to get into).

Day One: Vigil is just a brief ethereal opener with female vocals that only serves to lead up to the magnificent Day Two: Isolation. With layered acoustic guitar and a Moogy synth opening building up to a monster metallic riff with overiding organ that gives it character, Isolation is an awesome track. The initial vocal parts are gentle, with a number of male vocalists exchanging lines, before a Findlay's voice joins in for he "main" song. The second verse is beautifully flavoured by some violin flourishes and then the song breaks down into a lovely flute section courtesy of Jeroen Goossens, Findlay's vocals return, and a "rubbery" section that's surely influenced by Pink Floyd's On The Run takes over. When the full band comes in the Floyd sounds still continue, even if things seemed to have moved on to a segment from Shine You Crazy Diamond (I think)! The nice keyboard runs on the outro complete one of those "kitchen sink" affairs that actually work.

Day Three: Pain has a great riff, spacey synth, acoustic guitar, flute and violin, but I still don't really like the heavy parts that are so crucial to the song. Day Four: Mystery is another cornerstone of this album. Starting off fairly ordinarily with an acoustic guitar and female vocals the piece takes life when some Moog synth bursts forth. Some stunning synth lines over metal guitars are followed by the organ before the synth returns triumphantly. To me, this song is everything prog metal should be.

Day Five: Voices is basically an acoustic guitar track with one of those tunings that you'd find on Led Zeppelin III. Aside from the Violin and guitar, a flute comes in totally cool pastoral section. The vocals here aren't the best (I'll be damned if there isn't the odd attempt to mimic both Robert Plant and David Bowie during the course of this song!) and I'm not convinced by the hair-rock mid-section either!

Day Six: Childhood is an aching synthy tune with an 80s vibe, and many vocal contributions conveying a disturbing theme of abuse. There is a wonderful synth melody that comes in mid song, although I don't like the shrieking guitar leads that battle it for superiority from then on. Day Seven: Hope is one of my favourite songs recorded in this relatively barren decade, with its lovely warm organ melody, great interlocking bass and even some nice vocals from Arjen! Shame it's such a short tune, but that may be the key to its charm.

Maybe it's because it's a real anti-climax compared to Hope, but Day Eight: School is my least favourite tune on the whole album. Bland acoustic guitar that becomes a harsh metal chorus, a string section that reminds me of something that Cairo once did (Silent Winter I believe) and a ludicrious metal section featuring double vocalists, one of whom (Eric Clayton) has operatic pretensions, doesnt really do the trick for me.

Thankfully, Day Nine: Playground gets us back on track, with some fantastic string leads, although the brief tune seems to be building up to shredder territory before it fades out. Day Ten: Memories is generally a mediocre song, even if I do like the accompanying synths and the lead guitars come in to good effect. Day Eleven: Love is another one of those songs with some great riffs but overly poppy vocal segments, Day Twelve: Trauma is a metal song with some arty bits that don't really work. and I was already turned off by the time the growling started.

Day Thirteen: Sign is a beautiful song with an acoustic guitar and flute intro and female vocals that are reminiscent of Blackmore's Night, it's got some strong strings too, before turning into a rather bizarre, "musical" type song. Day Fourteen: Pride is generally dull 80s metal with a flute interlude that occurs twice, the second time with a powerful synth run in tow. Day Fifteen: Betrayal is pretty awful with more operatic vocals, and a melody that I swear reminds me of Duran Duran, yet this piece almost redeems itself with a delightful synth solo towards the end.

Day Sixteen: Loser has an amazing intro blending Celtic fiddles with heavy metal, following it up some vicious King Diamond like vocals. Day Seventeen: Accident! has a rather Gothic feel for a while and is another one of those pieces which has synth solos of fleeting brilliance. Day Eighteen: Realization is an engrossing mainly instrumental work. It's part Kansas/part Jethro Tull with some lovely pipes and strings, another example of damn good prog-metal ... that reminds me of a Jesus Christ Superstar exchange when three lead vocalists fight for supremacy! Day Nineteen: Disclosure is yet another very enjoyable pop-prog song with great melodic lead lines, and some benign strings underpinning the whole thing, it also ends with some nice organ work. The closer Day Twenty: Confrontation is another one of the metal blends that works, again with a synth section in the middle. Now it may not be easy to absorb this whole prog-metal-opera in one sitting, but I'd have to laud this as the finest progressive metal album I've ever heard, and one of the best overall prog efforts of the decade (so far). ... 67% on the MPV scale

Trotsky | 3/5 |


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