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Ayreon - Into the Electric Castle CD (album) cover




Progressive Metal

4.14 | 784 ratings

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4 stars

"What heathen place is this that I've arrived in?"

I can fully relate to 'Highlander''s opening lines to "Into The Electric Castle - A Space Opera" - the "cranial vistas of psychogenesis", as the entity "Forever" announces it, doesn't sound all too comforting. A typical sci-fi setting wherein eight stereotypical characters (I am hesitant to refer to them as 'people' as they are as flat as fictional characters come), collected from different era's and places, find themselves stuck in some kind of a virtual reality, where they are forced to not only deal with each other, but just as much with their own fears and short-comings, in order to eventually survive the entire experience. And indeed, some of them even die! You almost get to the point where you start feeling for the poor buggers when "Forever" tells them that it's up to them to decide who. Quite a nasty piece of work, this fellow!

All of this sounds cheesy? Oh boy, it does, but you need just one glimpse at composer/multi-instrumentalist/singer Arjen Anthony Lucassen's list of favourite classic sci- fi shows and obscure B-movies to see where his inspiration came from, and you can't conclude otherwise than that all of the cheesiness is there intentionally. Main question is - does it actually "work"? Oh, yes it does!

In "Isis and Osiris", a truly fantastic, dazzeling 11-minute epic, we meet the characters 'Highlander' (obviously purely written for - and partly by - Fish himself), 'Indian' (Sharon Den Adel), 'Knight' (Damian Wilson - and who could ever sing this 'noble-knight-in-shining-armour'-role better than him?), 'Roman' (Edwin Balogh) and 'Egyptian' (Anneke van Giersbergen). Fish, especially, stands out in this top cast of top singers, delivering his lines with his trademark passion, which makes his apparent insecurity and fear about the situation immediately credible. His "Can you see the stars? Can you recognize the constellations?..." part, especially, is stunning. "Amazing Flight" introduces 'Barbarian' (a very bluesy singing Jay van Feggelen) and our mastermind himself as the constantly doped 'Hippie' - actually a role he wrote for someone else, but when it became clear that the guy wasn't available, Lucassen took up the part himself, and managed very well in doing so. And finally in "Time Beyond Time", we get to know 'Futureman', sung in a distinctive, distant style by Edward Reekers. All of them manage to make their carbon characters credible, and how Lucassen ever managed to 'direct' all of their singing parts together without it becoming one big mess... I wouldn't know!

I won't go through all of this 2CD's abundance of beauty, as it consists of over 100 minutes of music, and believe me when I say that barely a second of those 100+-minutes are in any way boring (though I personally could have done without "The Valley of the Queens"). Rather the contrary, whenever I put on these discs, I am always surprised to feel myself thinking after the whole journey has come to an end... "uhm,...finished already? I guess I'll have to give it another spin!"

With no intention of making the impression that any of rest of the stuff is of 'lesser quality', here are a few of my personal favourite sequences/songs: "Isis and Osiris", the 11-minutes dazzling epic; "The Decision Tree" with 'Barbarian' and 'Highlander' quarreling on who's got the most deaths on his record (cheese, anyone?); "The Tunnel of Light" with 'Highlander''s sad ending (another typical sci-fi tradition: killing off one of your lead characters before even getting halfway through the story - I guess Lucassen's collection of bottles of wine had finally dried up, and without booze, how would you think Fish could possibly continue singing?). To any Fish-fan who hasn't yet heard his contributions on this recording: do so immediately, as it's absolutely among the highlights of his career. "The Garden of Emotions - Ic The Aggression Factor", especially 'Futureman''s concluding line "...we had better stand together as a team..."; "The Tower of Hope" - the absolute highlight of the CDs I think - the song is uplifting, jumpy, and very Beatle-esque in its melody-line, which takes quite some time to leave your head after you've heard it again, every time! and... "Evil Devolution", 'Futureman''s solo-piece, with its fantastic lyrics, that actually make a lot of sense here and send a deep philosphical message. For some 6-and-a-half minutes, Lucassen drops the Cheese Factor.

I'll shut up here, as if I wouldn't this review would most probably end up an essay.

As fantastic as all of the singers do their jobs, the instrumentation is at the same incredible level. Just calling this Space Opera 'progressive metal' sells it short, as there are a lot more styles present, including pure symphonic rock (lots of classical keyboard here, including a healthy dose of Hammond organs, Moogs and a Tron), folky bits (mandoline, sitar, flutes), jazzy bits, psychedelics, even a dash of death metal-grunting - you name it, it's all there. Elaborate, bombastic, but at the same time, very accessible and melodic. Among all of the talented guest musicians around, in my opinion Thijs van Leer and Ed Warby deserve a special mentioning - the first for his trademark work on the flute, the latter for drumming as if his life depended on it. Delivering a genuine 'heartbeat' for the music, the guy (also active in Dutch death metal-outfit Gorefest) forms the perfect combination of Simon Phillips (technique) and the Muppets' Animal (drive & passion). And of course you can always count on Lucassen to come up with quite a few compelling guitar solo's himself as well. Oh, and let's not forget to mention the pristine production job. All of it pieces together very well, which wasn't always the case on Lucassen's earlier attempts. As such, I find it Lucassen's best effort to date, together with "The Human Equation" - a well-deserved 4-stars rating!

Antennas | 4/5 |


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