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Ayreon - Into the Electric Castle CD (album) cover




Progressive Metal

4.14 | 784 ratings

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3 stars I bought this a year ago on the recommendation of a fellow Prog Archives Collaborator. Although Progressive Metal is not my cup of tea, I listened to 'Tower Of Hope' and thought it interesting (and unusual) enough to give the album a try. I have the special edition 2-CD with bonus CD-ROM tracks, which comes with a 'quality' booklet containing notes, lyrics, photos and details of the artists and instruments.

Billed as a 'space opera', to me this is rather like a neo-Progressive version of a RICK WAKEMAN concept album with added metal (I'm thinking of a 21st Century "Journey To The Centre Of Earth" on steroids). Actually, the result does not sound at all bad to someone such as myself who prefers the Progressive Rock of the 1970s. The tunes and arrangements are often pleasing, and some 'bright' synthesizer and the crisp production do give it that neo-Progressive feel in places. But a retro feel is very much in evidence too - more on that below.

I find the 'Voice' (narration by Peter Daltry) rather corny, to be honest, both in concept and execution. To be fair, Lucassen says in the sleeve notes that the album concept is intended to be an over-the-top tongue-in-cheek science fiction story with exaggerated cliché characters. But, to me, the concept is just a little too over-the-top and corny for comfort, whether or not Lucassen's tongue was in his cheek.

The heavy guitars, from which there are very long respites on the two discs, are actually not difficult for me to digest on this album (the opposite, in fact), and neither is the 'neo-sounding' synthesizer too buzzing or tinny, a problem I find on some neo-Progressive releases. The wide range of guest musicians and instruments add interest to the sound. On the keyboard side alone there is piano, synthesizer, Mellotron, harpsichord, Hammond and Minimoog. The use of mandolin, sitar, violin and cello also contribute some very pleasant sounds in places.

The variety of singers (male and female) and instrumentalists do make this work sound like a rock opera; although, to me, it gives the whole thing a rather fragmented feel (but I suspect that's just me). The contributions are instantly recognisable to me from three of the guests: Fish, Clive Nolan and Thijs Van Leer. Parts of 'Amazing Flight', for example, could have come straight off a FOCUS album. I find Lucassen's mandolin and Pisters' brief sitar particularly pleasant. I also find the singing of the two female guests Sharon Den Adel and Anneke Van Giersbergen pleasant.

The styles are varied: bluesy, funky, classic rock, neo-Progressive, heavy metal, and pop (almost). Several tracks have a retro feel (in a good way): parts remind me of DAVID BOWIE, others of THE BEATLES, others of QUEEN, just to name a few. Actually the styles chop and change a bit much for my liking, and I would have preferred something a bit more cohesive. But again that's probably just me.

Overall then, a decent album to the ears of a dyed-in-the wool fan of the music of 1960s and 1970s, with parts I find notably enjoyable (including some of the chopping axes, which are pretty restrained really and not that frequent). I can't say I find the album stellar, but it is well produced, the range of instruments pleasing, and the musicianship evident, and I think I'm very safe recommending it to those who enjoy music at the Progressive Metal and neo-Progressive ends of the spectrum. It was obviously a labour of love for Lucassen and I can recognise a class act even if it is not completely to my taste. I take my hat off to the guy, actually.

I'm going with 3 stars (Good, but not essential) on this, but I can see that to the vast majority of the younger audience and to fans of Progressive Metal this would be at least a 4-star album. If I could cherry-pick from it I think perhaps even I, with my tastes, could find a 4-star single CD in there. In my opinion it's definitely worth checking out if you like Progressive Metal and neo-Progressive.

Fitzcarraldo | 3/5 |


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