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ACTUAL FANTASY REVISITED

Ayreon

Progressive Metal


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Muzikman
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars I did not have the pleasure to hear "Actual Fantasy" in 1996. Nearly 10 years later Arjen Lucassen decided to remake the progressive rock musical story. I had to watch the bonus DVD to understand what went into this project. Believe me it was a pleasure to watch the DVD, not to mention listening to the Revisited version several times to appreciate all of the hard work that went into making the album again, or as Arjen says in the video, it's a continuation or extension of the music.

After my initial listen, I was not as taken with this album as I usually am with recordings from the Lucassen catalog. I have nothing to compare this version to, as I said, I did not hear the original release. I considered how long ago this all came together and listened several times before coming up with a final assessment. I enjoyed it more with each listen, however this is not Arjen's best work. It is quite good, just not on the same level as "The Human Equation" or "Into The Electric Castle". Realistically, that would not be fair to compare it to those two fine releases. In the interview at the studio were the album was recorded, Arjen explained that many of the parts of the album were rebuilt and replaced. He created new guitar parts and totally removed some sampling (some parts were actually lost), then replaced it with real drums to give it more warmth. It is evident that it came together quite well as the sound is sharp and full.

The video for "The Stranger from Within" is very cool. The effects of the innovative MTV video "Take On Me" from fellow Norwegians Ah-Ha are duplicated. I really enjoyed the visit with Arjen in the studio with his band. He takes the time to explain why he decided to remake the album and how he did it. It makes for a complete experience that unfolds before you on the CD. The bottom line is you get a better album with many more features including the option of listening to it in 5.1 surround sound on the DVD. It is a nice package that is well worth checking out.

My rating: 9/10

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Send comments to Muzikman (BETA) | Report this review (#34549)
Posted Monday, March 21, 2005 | Review Permalink
FloydWright
PROG REVIEWER
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 notes...it 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 seen...as 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!

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Send comments to FloydWright (BETA) | Report this review (#34551)
Posted Tuesday, May 03, 2005 | Review Permalink
evenless
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars Actual Fantasy Revisited

AYREON was very pleased to kick off in 1995 with "The Final Experiment" a huge Rock Opera. In 1998 he will take the Rock Opera to an even higher surface with his third studio album "Into The Electric Castle".

Therefore I'm a bit confused by his second album "Actual Fantasy", because it's very much different. I'm not saying that it's less good though, just very more "ambient" or "synthetic".

The second CD released under the Ayreon name is 'Actual Fantasy'. It has no continuous story with a beginning and an end, but the CD's entire concept is fantasy. The songs are based on fantasy and sci-fi movies, or on stories Arjen wrote himself. The first ten thousand copies of Actual Fantasy featured a bonus CD-rom track; a full- length animated video clip for 'Stranger From Within'. The second version of the CD featured two bonus tracks: 'The Dawn of Man' and the single version for 'Stranger From Within' replacing the video. I think that Arjen did great doing the re-issue "Actual Fantasy Revisited". He thought that the guitars he played on the first release were a bit "outdated" and he also had Ed Warby drum all parts for which he used "drum computers" at first. The result worked out great, especially in the 5.1 surround mix.

My humble opinion on this album: very nice album but not for starters. They better try "Into The Electric Castle" or "The Universal Migrator" at first.

Actual Fantasy Revisited: almost 4 stars

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Send comments to evenless (BETA) | Report this review (#44437)
Posted Saturday, August 27, 2005 | Review Permalink
Cygnus X-2
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Arjen Lucassen's second album, Actual Fantasy, has him straying away for the concept oriented albums that Ayreon always releases. Instead of a concept of different casts of people, this album has a consistent theme with songs that aren't really interlinked. This album is also more metal oriented than his previous effort, The Final Experiment. The musicianship is classic Ayreon, though, with bombastic organ solos and crunchy symphonic metal overtones, but this time he goes with some new elements that make this album different from any other Ayreon album. This reissue of it features the entire original album completely re-recorded and made into a much better overall experience as well as a bonus dvd that explains the amount of work that went into the project and how Lucassen went around making the album again. In the end, though, there are many interesting sections in this album, but overall, it is a bit of a boring and not very memorable album.

It opens with Actual Fantasy, a brief introduction to the album. It begins the album on an ambient note with lush synthesizers and some melodic flute playing the main theme. It's an interesting introduction to the album to say the least. Abbey of Synn opens with a majestic synthesizer line and some emotive vocals. It has a typical Ayreon feel to it with majestic synthesizer solos and heavy riffs coupled with harmony vocals. My main gripe with this piece though, is that it isn't very concise and it does seem to drag a bit. The Stranger from Within has heavy riffing with acoustic guitar chords played above it to give a more surreal feeling. Lucassen's guitar work on this track is stunning and he really shows that he can play the axe quite well. It's one of the better tracks on the album and really holds up for the entire 7 minutes. Computer Eyes begins with droning synthesizers and acoustic guitars that break way into a very Shine On You Crazy Diamond like guitar solo atmosphere. Lucassen is able to sound like Gilmour and yet play in a totally different style all at the same time. Overall, this song has very strong Floydian overtones even if it does have some heavy sections to it. Not a bad song at all.

Beyond the Last Horizon begins with some forboding noises before becoming an acoustic/synthesizer based song. Although that trend doesn't last, as the song soon becomes a heavy piece with blaring and droning synthesizers. In the end, the piece is a bit boring, despite being an emotional piece. It just seems to go on a bit long and it loses it's consistency in towards the end. Farside of the Planet begins with some rather uplifting guitar arpeggios which sound somewhat remnicient of Steve Hackett's arpeggios in the beginning of Narnia. This atmospheric intro is brought to an end by somewhat muffled vocals and a harmonized chorus. Although it's rather simplistic in structure and in overall instrumentation, the song does have a bit of a kick to it and does come off rather effectively. Back on Planet Earth begins with some quality riffing and some droning synthesizers. Despite the incredible intro and riffing towards the beginning, the song does lose pace towards the end and I can't help but feel a bit disappointed in the end.

Forevermore begins with an emotive slide guitar solo from Lucassen and some underlying synthesizer work. It has the feel of a more commercially geared piece, but it still has an unaccessible edge. The vocals on this track range from melodic and pretty to somewhat sappy, but I'm not very disappointed in the piece, especially because of the stellar guitar work. The Dawn of Man ends the album with modulated synthesizers and banging piano chords. Soon, a heavily synthesized voice that is low in the mix plays alongside some majestic and rolling synthesizer beats. It ends the album on a somewhat bleak note and yet it ends on an uplifting note at the same time. Odd, eh?

In the end, Lucassen's "sophomore slump" isn't a bad record, but it does have some overly long pieces (the entire album averages at around 7 minutes, and there are only 2 songs that don't exceed 7 minutes). My main problem with it is that it doesn't really grab my attention all that much. Sure there are many interesting parts within songs themselves, but I don't really find myself pinpointing out entire songs. If you like bombastic and grandiose symphonic progressive metal, than Ayreon is your band. For me, I think Actual Fantasy Revisited is a good album, but not entirely essential. 3.5/5.

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Send comments to Cygnus X-2 (BETA) | Report this review (#84657)
Posted Monday, July 24, 2006 | Review Permalink
progaardvark
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars Actual Fantasy was the second studio album released by Ayreon in 1996. It's different from other Ayreon releases in that it doesn't contain a continuous story, although with each song representing a separate fantasy, it still fits the bill as a concept album. Some of these songs are based on movies that inspired Arjen Anthony Lucassen, Ayreon's founder and creative force. Among them are Abbey of Synn (based on Name of the Rose), Farside of the World (based on The Navigator), Forevermore (based on The Neverending Story), and Dawn of Man (loosely based on 2001 and 2010). Most of the other songs are original ideas by Lucassen, chiefly in the areas of science fiction and medieval history.

The other major difference with Actual Fantasy was that it contained only three guest vocalists (Okkie Huysdens, Edward Reekers, and Robert Soeterboek). Cleem Determeijer (Finch) added synthesizer solos as a guest musician. There were others included, but chiefly the music was entirely by Lucassen. Another important difference was the use of programmed drums and a slight shift towards more prog metal. The original release of the album really paled in comparison to other Ayreon releases.

Turn the clock ahead to 2004. With Ayreon albums being reissued by InsideOut, Lucassen considered remixing Actual Fantasy and adding a real drummer. This he did by bringing in drummer Ed Warby (Gorefest, Star One, and on other Ayreon albums). He also re-recorded some guitar parts and brought in Peter Vink (Finch) to add some bass work. The end result was fantastic giving the original album a much needed facelift. The overall feel of the album is a mix of spacey symphonic prog (like Pink Floyd meets Clive Nolan) and prog metal.

This remixed version of Actual Fantasy also includes a bonus DVD which features the original 1996 album in its entirety, the entire 2004 version in a 5.1 Surround mix, a videoclip of The Stranger from Within and a featurette about the recording of drums, bass, and guitar for the new 2004 mix.

Not quite a masterpiece, but clearly a four-star winner. If you had the original 1996 release and liked it, this 2004 remix is a must-have. If you didn't like the 1996 album, please give this 2004 remix a chance. It's well worth it.

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Send comments to progaardvark (BETA) | Report this review (#160489)
Posted Friday, February 01, 2008 | Review Permalink
Queen By-Tor
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Revisiting dreams...

This version of Ayreon's second album Actual Fantasy was released in 2004 not long after his masterpiece The Human Equation. This rerecorded version of the original was an interesting choice for treatment considering that this remains the only album not to take place in the cohesive story of the Ayreon Universe. Also strange about this album is the considerable minimalism when compared to some of Arjen's other efforts which have choirs of star singers and instrumentalists. Where the cast of some Ayreon projects ranges in the area of 20 or so, this one only has the size of a regular band, 6! And three of those are vocalists!

The concept behind the record itself is likely one of the coolest that Arjen has ever come up with, and we're talking about intergalactic apocalypse in some of his other records. This album was based on the premise of being the exact opposite of Virtual Reality, hence, Actual Fantasy. Each song is a different story told from a different pair of eyes each time, not dissimilar to the way The Universal Migrator, Pt 1 was told, except with different people as opposed to one guy being reincarnated. In terms of style we have the usual Ayreon musical attack - Arjen wails away on his guitar while providing a spacey atmosphere on various synths and other instruments. One thing that is a bit more absent from this album is the more folky atmospheres that would make a very large impact on albums like The Human Equation and 01011001. While this absence certainly is disappointing for someone who really enjoys that factor of Ayreon's music, it does make for a much heavier record all around. All of the songs are very dark in general, the music is thick with heavy riffs and synths.

Where the album meets with a few problems, however, is not in the music or the concept. The unfortunate part about this album is the casting on the vocalists. Where on other albums Arjen usually manages to find a number of emotional and exceptional vocalists, on this one the voices all come off as rather flat. The fact that there are three vocalists (and I think I hear Arjen himself in there too) doesn't take away from the fact that they all sound the same, and without a very large range like some of the other vocalists that have worked on Aryeon projects, the vocals actually detract from the album largely.

Still, we have the very redeeming instrumental section of the album. As stated before, Arjen really knows what he's doing and can create the mood he wants regardless of the vocalist at the helm. For this particular remaster of the album, all the instrumental parts were rerecorded, and though I haven't taken the time to listen to the 1996 original version, this one really does well. Pink Floyd-esque guitar at the beginning of Forever More make for a very calming moment while the screaming power metal notes of The Stranger From Within make for a good amount of horn raising.

This revisited package is also more than just the new version of the album of course. While the 2004 version of the album is the first disc of the set, there's also a DVD that really helps make the package attractive. A large set of features including a ''re''-making of the album featurette, a 5.1 surround mix of the new version of the album, the original 1996 version of the album and a music video for The Stranger From Within (available in 5.1 or 2.0 mix) make for a very temping buy, even if you have the original album. The music video itself is a treat - an animated, somewhat creepy rendition's of the song's concept to drill the idea further into your head, while the featurette provides a great insight into the studio and Arjen as he works.

While not the best Aryeon album this one certainly is good and has a concept cool enough to forgive vocal shortcomings. Definitely a grower, this one is a hard sell and a hard album to really get into, but it's rewarding when you do. Recommended for those who want to hear a non-Opera from Ayreon, and fans of all Ayreon alike. Metal heads should also get a kick out of the style while prog heads should be able to appreciate the concept and the structure of the songs. 3.5 computer eyes out of 5. A very good album, but passable if you don't feel the need.

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Send comments to Queen By-Tor (BETA) | Report this review (#176336)
Posted Tuesday, July 08, 2008 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars If you want to check out AYREON's second album this is the version you need. It's been re-mixed, re-mastered and tuned-up I guess you could say. The original used a drum machine while this one has Ed Warby on a real drum kit. After the success of AYREON'S debut he (at the time) didn't want to repeat himself so this album is quite different from all the rest. There is a theme here but it's not a Rock Opera like all the others, and also there are far less musicians taking part here. This is a stripped down affair I guess you could say when compared to the others. So yeah this one's unique but it's generally regarded by fans as their least favourite.

"Actual Fantasy" features synths,flute then almost spoken vocals. "Abbey Of Synn" is haunting early then reserved vocals come in. It kicks in before 2 1/2 minutes and vocals follow. A calm 6 minutes in with reserved vocals and synths. "The Stranger From Within" opens with synths as a beat comes in. A full sound before a minute and vocals follow. Heaviness comes and goes. I like the keyboards 5 1/2 minutes in. "Computer Eyes" has a mood to it that I like. Reserved vocals before 2 minutes. It kicks in at 3 minutes and we get a guitar solo too.

"Beyond The Last Horizon" opens with samples before we get a melody after a minute. It's fairly heavy 2 minutes in. Vocals are monotone until after 3 minutes. Contrasts continue. "Farside Of The World" has an intense rhythm section with vocals. "Back On Planet Earth" has a beat with synths that sounds cool early. Processed vocals follow. Some good guitar to end it. "Forevermore" opens with synths followed by reserved vocals and guitar. Some violin late. "The Dawn Of Man" opens with synths and atmosphere. Electronics after a minute then processed vocals join in. Reserved vocals 2 minutes in.

This does seem sort of samey to me and synths dominate the sound. Still it's a good album.

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Send comments to Mellotron Storm (BETA) | Report this review (#293326)
Posted Tuesday, August 03, 2010 | Review Permalink

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