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AYREON

Progressive Metal • Netherlands


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Ayreon biography
Founded in Hilversum, Netherlands in 1995 - Hiatus from 2008-2012 - Still active as of 2018

AYREON is the vision of Dutch multi-instrumentalist Arjen Anthony LUCASSEN (ex-VENGEANCE). He formed AYREON around 1994 from the need to create rock operas. His music can be broadly categorised as progressive metal but with themes that range from electronica to folk, symphonic prog and space rock. Lyrically, the stories tend to evolve around fantasy, sci-fi or human emotion. The rock operas tend to involve a series of characters, often represented by a different vocalist and a plethora of session musicians, although LUCASSEN tends to cover the majority of instruments.

AYREON's debut album, ''The Final Experiment'' was released in 1995 through Transmission label, initially as ''Ayreon: The Final Experiment'' with no specific band name. ''Actual Fantasy'' followed in 1996, an album with no specific storyline but a generic concept around fantasy. In 1998, ''Into the Electric Castle'' was released; a double-CD featuring a continuous story of invented characters of different historical eras, with the use of analog equipment giving a vintage feeling. Notable contributions are those of FISH (ex-MARILLION) and Anneke van GIERSBERGEN (ex-THE GATHERING) on vocal sections. The year 2000 saw the release of another double album, ''Universal Migrator'', yet sold independently as ''Part I: The Dream Sequencer'' and ''Part 2: Flight of the Migrator''. Part I focuses on more melodic atmospheres with plenty of electronic passages whereas Part II exhibits more aggressive patterns, closer to classic progressive metal. More guest appearances feature here with highlights including Johan ENGLUND (TIAMAT), Bruce DICKINSON (IRON MAIDEN) and Russell ALLEN (SYMPHONY-X). The same year also saw the release of ''Ayreonauts Only'', a collection of Arjen's previously unreleased tracks.

The departure from Transmission and signing with InsideOut Records was followed by the release of AYREON's 6th and most famous album to date, ''The Human Equation'' in 2004. With the exception of Ed WARBY (drums) who has been with Arjen since 1998, the musicians chosen for this album had never appeared in previous albums. Contrary to previous releases, this album deals with human emotion, including guest appearances from the elite of progressive rock and metal: James LaBrie (DREAM THEATER), Mikael AKERFELDT (OPETH), Devo...
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AYREON discography


Ordered by release date | Showing ratings (top albums) | Help Progarchives.com to complete the discography and add albums

AYREON top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.34 | 328 ratings
The Final Experiment
1995
3.20 | 264 ratings
Actual Fantasy
1996
4.14 | 778 ratings
Into the Electric Castle
1998
3.61 | 505 ratings
Universal Migrator, Part 1: The Dream Sequencer
2000
3.62 | 451 ratings
Universal Migrator, Part 2: Flight Of The Migrator
2000
4.19 | 1193 ratings
The Human Equation
2004
3.62 | 96 ratings
Actual Fantasy Revisited
2004
3.88 | 658 ratings
01011001
2008
4.04 | 634 ratings
The Theory Of Everything
2013
3.83 | 250 ratings
The Source
2017
3.59 | 51 ratings
Transitus
2020

AYREON Live Albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

4.33 | 48 ratings
The Theater Equation
2016
3.82 | 19 ratings
Electric Castle Live and Other Tales
2020

AYREON Videos (DVD, Blu-ray, VHS etc)

4.32 | 36 ratings
Ayreon Universe : Best of Ayreon Live
2018

AYREON Boxset & Compilations (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

2.02 | 29 ratings
Strange Hobby
1996
2.65 | 51 ratings
Ayreonauts Only
2000
4.23 | 73 ratings
Universal Migrator Part I & II
2004
3.71 | 70 ratings
The Final Experiment (Special Edition)
2005
3.96 | 74 ratings
Timeline
2008

AYREON Official Singles, EPs, Fan Club & Promo (CD, EP/LP, MC, Digital Media Download)

4.00 | 1 ratings
Sail Away to Avalon
1995
4.00 | 1 ratings
The Stranger from Within
1996
2.74 | 15 ratings
Temple Of The Cat *
2000
2.93 | 24 ratings
Loser
2004
3.46 | 26 ratings
Day Eleven: Love
2004
3.29 | 17 ratings
Come Back To Me
2005
2.96 | 32 ratings
The Universal Ayreonaut
2008
4.00 | 3 ratings
Talk of the Town
2020

AYREON Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 Transitus by AYREON album cover Studio Album, 2020
3.59 | 51 ratings

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Transitus
Ayreon Progressive Metal

Review by lukretio

4 stars If there was an end-of-year list for "the most difficult albums to rate and review", then Transitus, Ayreon's 10th full-length release, would easily top the 2020 edition. This is because Transitus is so much more than just a music record that, depending on what aspect of the release one focuses on, the subjective experience (and how positively one feels about the whole thing) can be very different. This is not completely unusual for Arjen Lucassen - nearly all Ayreon's instalments are based on massive concepts that transcend the simple musical format - but I feel this time Arjen truly surpassed himself. To put things in perspective, Transitus was initially conceived as a movie, not as an Ayreon's album. However, things did not quite work out as planned, mainly due to the prohibitive financial costs that would have been necessary to pull off a high-quality project of such a scale, and so Transitus became simply a new release under the Ayreon's banner (although Arjen recently revealed to PROG magazine that the movie idea has not been completely put to rest yet). The unusual genesis of the album has inevitably colored its development and sound in quite a unique way. Hence, as a music album, Transitus is rather different from any other album released by Ayreon.

First of all, it is much lighter and rock-oriented than Ayreon's other recent releases. Musically, Transitus is closer to Ayreon's early rock operas such as The Final Experiment and Into the Electric Castle, with some added touches of dark ambient that brings to mind the mellower first part of The Universal Migrator project. The headbangable riffs and pounding drumming that have characterized nearly every Ayreon album in the past 20 years are nowhere to be found, and indeed Transitus is the first album since the very early days where we do not even find Arjen's loyal drummer Ed Warby, who is instead replaced by the more rock-oriented Juan van Emmerloot. In short, there is almost no prog metal on Transitus, but a lot of lighter (prog) rock.

Second, Transitus is a very vocal-driven album. Of course, this is something that can be said about nearly every Ayreon album, given that the use of (usually amazing) multiple vocalists who take centre stage in the songs is one of the trademarks of Ayreon's music. In this sense, Transitus is no exception, showcasing a stellar cast of singers, each one putting in superb performances (the cast includes Epica's Simone Simons, Kamelot's Tommy Karevik, Oceans of Slumber's Cammie Gilbert, Trillium's Amanda Somerville and Twisted Sister's Dee Snider, to name just a few). But on Transitus things have been really pushed to the extreme, to the point that the album sounds more like a musical than a conventional rock album. There is a very strong "Broadway" feel to this album that manifests itself in the exuberance and buoyancy of the music, in the frequent use of choral backing vocals, in the reprise of the same themes at various points in the album, and even in the way some singers actually act their parts at places rather than singing them (Simone Simons is a primary example of this). The choice of some of the singers also reflects the unusual musical direction of the project: according to Arjen, for instance, Paul Manzi (ex-Arena) was chosen partly because he is actually studying to become an actor. But the most conspicuous "Broadway" element in Transitus is without doubt the presence of a narrator (impersonated by the legendary Tom "Doctor Who" Baker) who introduces nearly every song of the album and helps push its story forward. The storyline also marks a departure from Ayreon's usual sci-fi themed concepts. The story takes place in the late 1800s and is centred on the cursed love story between Daniel (played by Tommy Karevik), a son of a rich aristocratic family, and Abby (played by Cammie Gilbert), a servant working for the family. The family is very unhappy about the romance between the two young lovers and this triggers a chain of catastrophic events that involve conspiracies, betrayal, murder, compassionate angels of deaths, and ghostly appearances, before the story reaches its (supernatural) happy ending. Arjen has always been a master at crafting these amazing stories that transport the listener to a parallel dimension, but I found Transitus's concept particularly fascinating and entertaining, partly because of its gothic undertones and partly because of its underlying message about the futility of class and race divisions. I also loved the idea of accompanying the album with a comic book (beautifully illustrated by Felix Vega), which gives more details about the "scenes" that are represented through the various songs. I thoroughly enjoyed the all-inclusive experience of sitting down for one hour and a half with the record, the lyrics and the comic book. It truly made me forget about my present for a while and transported me to the fantasy world described in the story.

This brings me to the central point I want to make in this review: Transitus is not just a music record, and it cannot be fully appreciated by only focusing on its musical content. Transitus is a more encompassing art form, akin to going to the theatre to watch a musical show. The comic book, the narrator, the sound effects, the acting ? they are all part of the package and contribute in equal amounts to the listener's experience. Granted, this means that Transitus may not be to anyone's liking (hence why Arjen initially did not want to release this as an Ayreon album, to avoid setting wrong expectations about what the project is truly about). Some may dislike the constant presence of the narrator, or the over-the-top acting/singing of some of the vocalists; others may find the music a bit too "safe" and vanilla (it's true: there are not so many surprises in terms of musical content, most things you hear here you can probably also find on other Ayreon's albums, and there are not even too many moments of epic musician showmanship). But I think that these elements all make sense when considered through the lens of the musical/movie experience. I find that the slightly tamer musical background (in comparison to Ayreon's other releases) is actually perfect as it does not distract too much from the main attraction of the project: the story enacted by the singers.

As a musical/movie experience, I genuinely enjoyed this, probably more than any other Ayreon's album (with the exception of my favorite record by Ayreon, Into the Electric Castle). One minor complaint I have about Transitus, though, is that the second disc is perhaps a tad too fragmented: with 13 songs crammed in 41 minutes (only slightly more than 3 minutes per song), I find the story stuttering a little bit in the second half, as there are too many changes of scene and too many different musical themes to properly sink in. In this sense, I find that the first disc is better constructed and more enjoyable, as the themes are given more space to grow on the listener.

To conclude, Transitus is different from your standard Ayreon's album, or from any conventional rock/metal album, for that matter. As a simple music record, it does not work so well: the narrator can be distracting, the music is not at the level of complexity and originality that Ayreon has accustomed us to, and there are probably even more over-the-top singing parts than ever. I can easily see why some people have criticized Transitus as a simple album release. The true grandiosity and magnificence of Transitus comes through only when appreciated as a more holistic art experience, which includes the comic book, the acting and, who knows, someday maybe even a movie to accompany the music. Transitus is not an album I would put on while I commute to work, or when I am multitasking. Transitus is an album that can only be fully appreciated when one sits down with a cup of tea and the comic book and lyrics sheets at hand, dims the lights and lets the storytelling begin. This is when Transitus becomes a truly captivating listening experience, and I am sure it will continue to do so for me for many times to come in the future.

[Originally posted on www.metal-archives.com]

 Transitus by AYREON album cover Studio Album, 2020
3.59 | 51 ratings

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Transitus
Ayreon Progressive Metal

Review by javajeff

4 stars "The strange dimension between heaven and hell: Transitus." I am thoroughly enjoying the new album on a musical level. The musicianship and presentation are fantastic like other more recent Ayreon albums. Also, it has a ton of aural candy, so listening on excellent headphones will be rewarded. The story of Transitus is over-the-top, fun fantasy that rewards the adventurous. I am not opposed to the concoctions that Arjen comes up with, so anything in the story is fine with me. The point of a rock opera like this is to create a journey for the listener, and he does an excellent job bringing in a variety of characters that carry a theme throughout the album. Since Transitus has Simone Simons in a major role, it was an automatic purchase for me. The narration by Tom Baker is top notch, and it drew me in instantly while it ties the story together. I like how the narration breaks up the various styles of music, and the voice offers much charm. There are some notable tracks like Listen to my Story, which sounds like something from Diablo Swing Orchestra. After Between the Buried and Me did Voice of Trespass last year, it is good to see another track blend Swing and Avant-Garde metal as I think it is a very cool sound. Furthermore, it perfectly supports a vocal duet of Simone Simons and Tommy Karevik through an upbeat tempo. This vibe continues later on with Your Story Is Over!, but without the duet of the two leads. This Human Equation in the middle of Transitus is another standout track that feels like something that could have been on a previous album. It is an excellent song, and provides the needed "single" power that should appear on future live shows. Overall, this is another excellent album from Arjen Lucassen's Ayreon. It is a project that has found a very unique place in music, and Transitus continues a string of excellence.
 Transitus by AYREON album cover Studio Album, 2020
3.59 | 51 ratings

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Transitus
Ayreon Progressive Metal

Review by The Jester

4 stars Review # 109.

Transitus is the new Rock opera by Ayreon, which, I pre-ordered a few months ago, in the red vinyl version, which also includes a comic book with the story, signed by Arjen. I guess because of that, a few days ago, I received an e-mail with a code for the digital version of the album. So, while I am waiting for my order to arrive, I had the chance to listen to the album before its original release.

Have in mind that my review (or my point of view if you like), is based on the 3-4 times that I listened to the album so far. Maybe in the future, I will change my mind for better or worse, but for the moment, I believe that it is a very enjoyable, well-crafted album, with lots of wonderful moments in it.

Once more, Arjen gathered around him a big number of musicians and singers, but some of the usual names are missing; but there are some "newcomers" instead, like for example, Dee Snider of Twisted Sister, or Paul Manzi of Arena.

This time, Arjen Lucassen left aside his usual sci-fi themes, and created a dark story from the 1800's. Well, maybe the story is a bit cheesy, but we are not talking about a movie here, so that's not a problem. (For me at least).

Starting from the impressive and kind of gloomy intro (Fatum Horrificum), the story takes shape, as more and more characters are included in it. At the beginning of most songs, there is a narrator included, who gives us information about what is going to happen in the story, and this is something I really like. Let's not forget that this is not a simple album; it's a Rock Opera, with many characters and a plot, so we must somehow be informed of what's going on.

As I wrote on some of my older reviews, when it comes to Rock operas, I cannot separate the songs, because I see it as a whole puzzle with many pieces; and for that reason, I will not get into details for each song. Yes, there are some very good songs, and some others, maybe not so good ones, but each song serves its purpose I guess. To move the story further ahead.

Finishing this, I have to say that I am very pleased with my purchase, despite that it cost me double the price you will see in Ayreon's shop, because of the postal fee, but I am not regretting it at all, because this is a very enjoyable album for me. Give it a chance, it deserves it! My Rating: 4.0 stars

 Electric Castle Live and Other Tales by AYREON album cover Live, 2020
3.82 | 19 ratings

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Electric Castle Live and Other Tales
Ayreon Progressive Metal

Review by kurtrongey

3 stars Arjen Lucassen only does things on a grand scale, so you can imagine when he does a live extravaganza, it's going to pull out every stop he can reach. In this case, he enrolled a pretty well-known actor to narrate interlinking material, John De Lancie, famous as "Q" from Star Trek: That Next Generation. Well, I love that show and that actor (got to meet him once), so that's a big plus to soften me up to be receptive to this over-the-top prog-metal block party. Singers like Fish from Marillion and Anneke van Giesbergen from The Gathering get big parts in the performance of the complete concept piece "Into the Electric Castle," and then the show ends with a suite of Ayreon "hits." Focus' Thijs van Leer gets a flute spotlight in a few places as well. As always, it's fun, silly stuff, performances are tight, arrangements are thick and rich and everybody seems to be having a great time. Lucassen even gets Fish to sing "Kayleigh" at the end, although tuned about 3 1/2 octaves down. It doesn't fit my definition of greatness, but you're probably not breathing if you don't crack a smile at the high spirits or just the likable b-movie hokeyness of it all.
 Ayreon Universe : Best of Ayreon Live by AYREON album cover DVD/Video, 2018
4.32 | 36 ratings

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Ayreon Universe : Best of Ayreon Live
Ayreon Progressive Metal

Review by AtomicCrimsonRush
Special Collaborator Symphonic Team

4 stars Ayreon return to the stage in a blaze of glory with The Ayreon Universe. This is selections of Ayreon gold gleaned from Arjens back catalogue and supplemented with a plethora of vocal artists, some of which appear on the original tracks. The dvd that accompanies the CD is the best way to get maximum enjoyment from this but it can be experienced nicely without the visuals. The production on this is exemplary, each musician can be heard and the vocals are not overpowering. I love how the crowd roar when certain artists take to the stage such as the incredible Floor Jansen and Damian Wilson. Its a cool thing to hear the crowd explode when Arjen appears too. He is the visionary behind the whole concept so well deserved. I am no newcomer to Ayreon, having devoured every album, sometimes on countless listens, so I had heard some of these tracks many times, however its been a while since i heard anything prior to Human Equation so it was a joy to revisit tracks from Electric Castle and Actual Fantasy. I adored the live renditions from Human Equation, 011001001 and The Theory of Everything. It is also wonderful to see the vocalists injecting so much passion and energy into their roles with flawless performances. I missed Devin on Loser but its handled sufficiently. The trio of women singing angelic harmonies on Valley of the Queens is spellbinding. Everybody Dies is a powerhouse performance. Amazing Flight in Space features Arjen on vox, Dawn of a Million Souls is unforgettable, and And the Drids turned to stone is beautifully sung. The Eye of Ra finale is excellent featuring a massive harmony of voices.

Their are 2 discs of incredible masterpiece tracks from the universe we know as Ayreon so really no surprises that it is being rated highly. I prefer the studio albums but this is still an awesome concert experience. For those who could not be there, this is the next best thing. I hope Ayreon release more material soon as the albums are simply outstanding prog masterclass products.

 The Theory Of Everything by AYREON album cover Studio Album, 2013
4.04 | 634 ratings

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The Theory Of Everything
Ayreon Progressive Metal

Review by sgtpepper

4 stars I used to be very fond of this double album when it was released because of the line-up, music and the length. As time progressed, my opinion has deteriorated someway. 90 minutes is very long to stay focused to an album unless it is very good and cohesive. There is a lot of professionalism in it, especially thanks to Lucassen's guitar playing and keyboard masters Wakeman, Emerson and Rudess joining the boat. Vocals are less famous with the exception of Wetton. While music is better than average, the album suffers by having too many short tracks that don't help staying focused. If I should pick one instrumental track, listen to Number 7 with Rudess or Emerson giving a killer synth or Moog solo.

 Universal Migrator, Part 2: Flight Of The Migrator by AYREON album cover Studio Album, 2000
3.62 | 451 ratings

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Universal Migrator, Part 2: Flight Of The Migrator
Ayreon Progressive Metal

Review by sgtpepper

3 stars Impressive line-up with memorable vocal performances and no instrumentation lagging behind, that is another output by Ayreon.

The heavier companion of Part 1 also has interesting singers to offer, Russell Allen from Symphony X among others. Michael Romeo steps in one of the guitar solos. Excellent vocal perfomance comes from for me unknown Ralf Scheepers in "Journey On The Waves Of Time" who has a high-pitched vocal and scream. Bruce Dickinson let hear his classic vocal in the slow and ultra heavy "Into the black hole" with a splendid rich analogue synth solo. "Chaos" is a packed instrumental ouverture with brilliant guitar soloing by Lucassen. I still prefer Migrator 1 due to better melodies.

 Universal Migrator, Part 1: The Dream Sequencer by AYREON album cover Studio Album, 2000
3.61 | 505 ratings

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Universal Migrator, Part 1: The Dream Sequencer
Ayreon Progressive Metal

Review by sgtpepper

3 stars Universal Migrator part 1 is less of a metal opera and more a collection of various songs. Despite having interesting guests such as Damian Wilson, Neal Morse, songwriting is less memorable than on the two previous albums and instrumental prowess and arrangements won't save the day.

The first instrumental intro takes long 5 minutes with not much going on. "My hours Mars" has great female vocals, mediocre male vocals and a slow pace. Some compositions like "The Shooting Company Of Captain Frans B. Coro" have undistinguishable melody and dominant atmosphere or say surface. "Dragon of the sea" feels like awakening with its quality female vocals and strong melody by Lana Lane. Jacqueline Govaert leads us through "Temple of the cat" with folky renaissance melody. Unforgettable Damian Wilson's high pitched vocal adds points to "And The Druids Turn To Stone." Neal Morse's song has traces of his typical melodies, this guy is doing his best on this one song.

A good but non-essential album by Ayreon.

 Into the Electric Castle by AYREON album cover Studio Album, 1998
4.14 | 778 ratings

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Into the Electric Castle
Ayreon Progressive Metal

Review by sgtpepper

4 stars In comparison to the first two albums, this is a really songwriter-oriented album that quite steers away from conventional progressive metal album. There is a variety of styles and vocals presented, from pop, folk, rock to metal and even classical music. I prefer the second album that I find more dynamic. "Valley of the queens" has a warm female vocals by Anneke van Giersbergen. "The two gates" has an anthemic chorus with multiple vocals. The epic "The garden of emotions" is a mini-opera with a nod to the 70's prog masters, namely Rick Wakeman.

With its time over two hours, it is an overwhelming and challenging listening and you better split it into more parts. However, there are tracks that will quickly grow on you while the album maintains high artistic quality over time.

 Universal Migrator, Part 1: The Dream Sequencer by AYREON album cover Studio Album, 2000
3.61 | 505 ratings

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Universal Migrator, Part 1: The Dream Sequencer
Ayreon Progressive Metal

Review by SonomaComa1999

3 stars REVIEW #16 - "The Universal Migrator Part 1: Dream Sequencer" by Ayreon (2000):

Dutch multi-instrumentalist Arjen Lucassen's Ayreon project is one of the foremost outfits in the prog metal sub- genre, with many of his albums receiving critical praise on this site. Ayreon is best known for its elaborate rock opera album structure, which are concept albums that for the most part are set in the same fictional universe. Lucassen takes care of pretty much all the instrumentation, with the vocal parts of each character in the story being played by various "guest musicians" that have included icons such as Iron Maiden's Bruce Dickinson and Dream Theater's James LaBrie.

Ayreon's 2000 album "Universal Migrator" is split into two parts; now one could interpret this move as good marketing on Lucassen's part, but it seems that the music on parts one and two are thematically different. The first part (Which I will be reviewing) features more traditional melodic prog while the latter is more of what we would expect in an Ayreon album with a strong prog metal sound. Personally I prefer the slower, calmer and more intricate tendencies of classic prog, so I was excited to see what Lucassen could do in this vein of the genre. As is the case with Ayreon albums the guest vocalists return, but this time we see each vocalist take up a part in each song. The concept behind "Universal Migrator Part 1" is very interesting; following a war in the year 2084 which wiped out all life on Earth, the surviving humans set up a colony on the nearby planet Mars, which eventually collapses due to a lack of supplies, leaving one person remaining who is the last human being alive. This protagonist enters a contraption called the "Dream Sequencer", which allows one to revisit past lives and essentially live through human history, before he perishes just like the rest of humanity. Each of the protagonist's past lives are catalogued through their own individual songs - from the present day in 2084 all the way down to the dawn of humanity (we go even FURTHER back in time in the second part of the album).

We begin in the present day, where the protagonist enters the Dream Sequencer. I do have to say that I was unsatisfied with how the album started - we get this extended introduction where the voice of Lana Lane (playing the Dream Sequencer) basically goes through the instructions on how to start the machine up. Eventually the music officially begins on the title track; there are obvious parallels between this and the music of Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour's solo work, with spacey guitar solos and an ethereal background atmosphere. It's nothing too exciting, but I suppose it serves as a fine introduction into "My House on Mars", where the story begins to reveal itself. We learn about the protagonist's life on Mars, having been raised there from a child and never getting to truly experience life on Earth (at least in this incarnation). Although his father promises to bring him to the home planet, he never comes through as he is killed in the carnage of the war, and the protagonist realizes that he will never see Earth. This is an improvement on the opener; we get some grand musical passages, even though I consider the vocals by Swedish doom metal frontman Johan Edlund (playing the protagonist) of Tiamat to be sub-par. Backing vocals are provided by Nightwish vocalist Floor Jansen (playing the protagonist's sister), but are only provided on the chorus. I will have to say the chorus and the musical interludes are pretty fun and grand, leaving for one of the album's decent highlights. More Gilmouresque guitar parts are featured in the solos, but the vocals largely dominate this track. In fact, the first four tracks on this album are pretty strong in their own right; continuing onto the next piece "2084" we get more information on the war that has essentially led to the end of humanity as we know it, and its exodus to Mars. We start off with a pretty long sinister instrumental opening before the guitar re-enters; so far this album sounds like a metal version of Pink Floyd's "Division Bell" with more vocals and a concept. In the lyrics, we get some allusions to "The Final Experiment" album, as well as the character of Ayreon himself - musically I wasn't too impressed with this song, as it prods along following a painfully slow instrumental opening. I appreciate the use of synth and more traditional prog structures, but so far I have not really been blown off my socks.

The fourth track "One Small Step" changes that. Featuring the vocals of late-70's/early-80's Kayak vocalist Edward Reekers, we finally begin our journey back in time through history. As the song title may indicate, we go to the year 1969, on the morning of July 20 as the world watches American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin become the first humans to ever land on the Moon. The protagonist is a young child who like many others was awake in the wee hours of that day just to watch one of humanity's pivotal achievements. I find this song evocative on a personal level given the background of the concept; this is the epoch of space travel in our world, but by 2084 in the story all that progress and hard work is erased by war. I think that this is my choice song on the album; the lyrics make a needed transition to a symphonic style, with Lane backing up Reekers to make for some very great choruses. We get some interspersed samples of various real-life conversations between astronauts, including Armstrong's famous "one small step for man, one giant step for mankind" recording as he becomes the first human to ever walk on the Moon. Everything about this song is solid; we move away from the Gilmour guitars and over towards this retro 70's sound with chant and a prominent synth solo. As I have mentioned before, I am not too fond of prog metal, so the inclusion of a 70's vocalist and a generally 70's sound immediately intrigues me. Moving on we go back a few centuries for the song "The Shooting Company of Captain Frans B. Cocq" which obviously is a reference to Rembrandt's 1642 masterpiece "The Night Watch". Of course, we saw this work of art the subject of a King Crimson song on that band's 1974 album "Starless and Bible Black" which I am very fond of; we get off to a very good start until we get to the vocals, accredited to Mouse of the band Tuesday's Child. Not only do we get this digitalized and distorted voice, but it sounds like some sort of fusion between John Lennon and Noel Gallagher. Personally the vocals were a huge turnoff on this tune - it isn't necessarily bad musically, and the concept is rather cool with the protagonist now being a part of the crowd immortalized in Rembrandt's painting, which of course is a very seminal moment in Dutch history. The middle instrumental section is pretty good, aided by the presence of the immortal mellotron which is set up in tandem with a guitar solo and a synth solo. My major gripe with this song are the vocals; they really don't match with the time period; if there was ever a time in this song to use a vocalist with a thick Dutch accent, now was the time to use him.

"Dragon on the Sea" brings us to the year of 1588, and one of the protagonist's past lives is revealed to be that of England's Queen Elizabeth I, who is giving her Speech to the Troops at Tilbury just prior to the Royal Navy's stunning defeat of the Spanish Armada. Of course, the title refers to the English naval leader Sir Francis Drake, who led the Protestant English (and Dutch) into battle against the Catholic Spaniards. The Spanish defeat in this battle opened up the gates for British colonization of the New World as Elizabeth realized the abilities of her empire. Lane takes over on vocals once again, and just like the previous song, I am not entirely impressed with the end result. One thing that immediately struck me was the use of Hammond organ - I really liked that, but the vocals are once again a bit of a turnoff. I really have to say that I am enjoying the concept as a history buff, but so far outside of "One Small Step" the music has been mediocre - not bad, just unimpressive. This doesn't change with "Temple of the Cat", which is the track's lone single. We go across to the Western Hemisphere, namely modern-day Guatemala where the protagonist, now a young girl of the Mayan Empire, travels to the Jaguar Temple in the ancient city of Tikal. Lucassen this time recruits Jacqueline Govaert of the Dutch pop rock band Krezip to do vocals here; with the Abbaesque thick foreign female accent, it seems that the music becomes even more detached from prog. Overall this is a very mellow song with its own fair share of flute and dreamy soundscape, but at this point I have pretty much given up on the vocals on this album. Given that this is a concept album that is heavily reliant on vocals, it becomes rather annoying, especially since we saw in "One Small Step" how great this album can sound with the right vocal style.

For the eighth track "Carried by the Wind" we enter this sort of medieval-inspired metal where Lucassen enters the fray on vocals, playing the character of Ayreon and making several allusions to "The Final Experiment". Arjen's voice isn't bad at all; it's a bounceback from the previous three songs, and I sort of wish it were a bit longer. Most of the songs on the album to this point have been in the eight minute range, but the length begins to taper off as we go on. "And the Druids Turn to Stone" officially takes us before the Death of Christ to somewhere around 2800 BC. Damian Wilson of Threshold comes in on vocals to provide fantasy-inspired lyrics on the creation of the monument of Stonehenge in the UK. It is stated that it was actually created by Druids who were transformed into stone to make the monument we know today. I really did not focus as much on the concept at this point as I did the music, which is beginning to improve once more; Wilson is a fine vocalist with a great range and the thematic elements of the music are beginning to return to that classic style that I enjoy. We cap things off with "The First Man on Earth", which features Spock's Beard vocalist and founder Neal Morse as we finally reach the dawn of humanity in 50000 BC to investigate the origin of our species. Once again, we have a competent vocalist who can handle the music as we approach more modern territory. While this song has been regarded as a takeaway on the album, I just am not very accustomed to this newer take on prog, and will simply acknowledge that this is a good song; it does fine at wrapping up our story before the protagonist goes even further back in time in Part 2. The album is book-ended by a reprise of the "Dream Sequencer" instrumental song that we heard at the very beginning of the album.

I have listened to a few Ayreon albums in the past, but those were more of his better-known works such as "The Human Equation." Even as a guy who isn't that infatuated with prog metal, I still appreciate Lucassen's music and contributions to the genre. I really enjoyed the concept on this album, with us going back in time every song - of course, the more recent history stuck out to me, and even the song "One Small Step" was emotionally moving. I see that song as the major takeaway on this album, and a track that I may revisit once again in the future. "The First Man on Earth" and "My House on Mars" are two other standout tracks that are objectively good, while the rest is largely average and mediocre works. One big problem this album has is that it rarely deviates or changes sound; we get largely the same type of melodic prog throughout the entirety of an album which goes on for over an hour. That unto itself makes this album very repetitive, but I was able to fill the gap by researching the various historical passages and the concept itself. There are many other Ayreon albums which are better suited to get you into Lucassen's music; "Universal Migrator Part 1" is hardly one of his masterpieces, even though it is a fine album in its own right. With that all said and done, I will give this album a 3-star (78% - C+) review; definitely an album for Ayreon fans and any generic prog fan as a whole. It is definitely worth a listen for the aforementioned three songs I referenced in this conclusion. It gets rather dull through the middle of the album so do beware.

Thanks to ProgLucky for the artist addition. and to Quinino for the last updates

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