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Ayreon - Actual Fantasy Revisited CD (album) cover




Progressive Metal

3.62 | 96 ratings

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4 stars While I have not yet heard the original version (nor have I even had time to watch any of the DVD that came with this), I urge everyone to ignore the one unfortunate rating someone's given to Actual Fantasy Revisited without even bothering to explain him/herself; I don't think it's at all a fair reflection of what this album really is. I approached this earlier AYREON work with a little uncertainty about what to expect, considering that there are only three vocalists: EDWARD REEKERS (one of my favorite AYREON vocalists), ROBERT SOETERBOEK, and OKKIE HUYSDENS. Well...actually, there are four, given that ARJEN LUCASSEN himself for whatever reason did not see fit to credit his own vocal input (a shame!). But this, and the fact that the album runs the length of only one disc had me wondering. However, I was quite pleased. I wouldn't call this AYREON-Lite, because it is pretty densely-packed with fantastic musical moments throughout...AYREON-Compact is probably the best term!

There are some definite highlights on this album. The first one I really noticed was "The Stranger from Within", which is (like most of the album) heavily synth-dominated, with what I would call a very rich, almost supersaturated sound. The next song, "Computer Eyes" (OK, I'll admit it, it took me a couple of weeks before I spotted the little pun in that title!), is another one of the strongest ones from Actual Fantasy Revisited. In fact, I believe that if you've watched the DVD that came with the special edition of The Human Equation, then you have heard a little excerpt from this one. An acoustic guitar does well to help balance the chilling synthetic atmosphere, and there's a strange, PINK FLOYD-like vibe I had a hard time putting my finger on at first...shades of "Welcome to the Machine", perhaps? It was at this point, hearing this earlier work, that I realized that even though LUCASSEN depends heavily on synthesizers, his work never sounds dated...even this one from almost 10 years ago.

"Beyond the Last Horizon" must have been a tough one for LUCASSEN to write, from what he said about it in the liner was written during the last days of his father's life. No doubt that has a lot to do with the very dark, spooky atmosphere and unusually depressive bent to the lyrics. "Farside of the World" in particular reminds me of The Dream Sequencer, although with a heavier section. This one is a great track for those who are just tiptoeing their way into metal: the riffage and beat are excellent...just heavy enough for headbanging, but not quite full-on metal in the way of Flight of the Migrator. The next song, "Back on Planet Earth", was a definite highlight. The concept of it, for whatever reason, scared the daylights out of me: the colonists (perhaps the same colony where the man in Migrator came from?) have somehow completely abandoned their emotions entirely. The atmosphere is one of the most chilling on the record...and as you listen, you just can't help wondering how human beings might accomplish such an unholy objective. The vocal delivery is also very attention-getting: while not the inappropriate, out-of-context kind of "false emotion" heard from Forever of the Stars in Into the Electric Castle, you start to notice that the vocal delivery never changes, regardless of the content of the lyrics. That doesn't mean there's no dynamic to them--just that the vocalist seems not to react normally to the words, and that's an excellent touch, in my opinion. It is rather like a smile empty of feeling.

The next song, "Forevermore", is also a huge highlight...although maybe it's a certain three minutes or so that get my attention the most. The opening is beautiful and enticing, the concept of the song based on the movie The Never-Ending Story (almost all tie into movies, but this is the first movie I'd actually you can see from my failure to watch the DVD that came with this one, I am not a big movie-watcher!). There is a gorgeous backing Hammond during part of it--but the most impressive section comes during the final long chorus, with ARJEN LUCASSEN himself singing. Why he didn't credit himself for this is beyond me: I think he's actually got the most beautiful section of the album all to himself! And it's not just his fantastic voice that contributes to this, although that's the biggest part: the synths in the background really recall the upbeat last part of PINK FLOYD's "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" extended out to much greater length. This is one of those sections that honestly can bring me to tears because I just don't want it to stop, as the violin and pizzicato strings take over and the chorus winds down. Cannot...resist...rewinding!

The final song, "The Dawn of Man", seems to have a lot to do with the later Flight of the Migrator, and as if I weren't mushy enough by the end of "Forevermore", he had to put that cute kid on there! Though don't get any idea the entire song is like that...there is a middle section that is majestic, heavy, and fantastically dark--yet somehow he transitions out of that and back to the kid.

Now, I'll admit, when I give it a 4, this isn't quite the same 4 I gave to Universal Migrator...being an earlier album, even in the remake there are still a few issues which are not typical of LUCASSEN's later work. Sometimes there are moments that just don't come off quite as well, like the introduction track, the softer sections of "Abbey of Synn", and an odd transition at the very end of "Forevermore", and this doesn't have the conceptual unity typically associated with AYREON. (However, some of the concepts planted the seeds for later albums!) And...though it's a minor quibble that did not enter into my rating decision, somebody at the record company chose an absolutely unreadable text color for parts of the liner notes that annoyed the living daylights out of me! But, after you've already acquired the latest three, The Human Equation, Universal Migrator, and Into the Electric Castle, there is no reason why you shouldn't add this to your collection.

Personally, I feel that enjoying Universal Migrator is probably the ultimate driver as to whether you'll like this one or not. The synth-heavy, more ambient sections definitely recall The Dream Sequencer, and the heavier sections recall Flight of the Migrator. While they are by no means identical albums, I did find myself thinking of Migrator more than any other works that would come after this. If you are a fan of AYREON, this is a great addition to your collection. If not, don't start here...but you'll probably find yourself gravitating towards it eventually!

FloydWright | 4/5 |


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