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Ayreon - The Theory Of Everything CD (album) cover




Progressive Metal

4.04 | 602 ratings

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The T
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
2 stars I haven't written a review for this website in over 2 years. I wouldn't like to start one after so long for an album that's such a disappointment. But it is sadly the case.

In less than a 2-month period, 3 of the most important progressive rock/metal bands on the planet (and, specifically, on my rock orbit), have released new albums of fully "new" material (more on that qualifier later). Normally, and especially since a couple of years ago, my rather diminished interest in rock in general would have experienced a much needed boost from such a line-up of consecutive releases. And what a list! Here we have the two bands that can be considered "founders" of the whole prog-metal thing, DREAM THEATER and FATES WARNING; and a name that in prog-metal circles commands respect and admiration because of his previous multi-artist conceptual works, Arjen Lucassen, and his main project, AYREON. Three albums by three big names in less than two months, enough to quench any fan's thirst and to rekindle any waning interest in the genre, wouldn't we say?

Reality, though, offered me a much bleaker, desolate picture. Of the three, only one really managed to live up to its name and my expectations: FATES WARNING, a band that was quite the acquired taste when I first heard them long ago, and that still requires some work getting into, but that nevertheless is so evidently full of talent and ideas that it should and will be reviewed somewhere else in a much brighter light. The remaining three? My typical favorites DREAM THEATER, a shadow of their former self (since the days of Scenes from a Memory really), further falling into oblivion with just a few moments and tracks that save them from utter irrelevance, a quintet that seems happy trying to convince fans that they still play it "faster and more technically" than anybody else, something that isn't even true anymore.

The hardest fall of the once mighty is definitely the one taken by the Dutch one-man rock idea called AYREON. Probably (and, maybe in a sad sign of the weaknesses of our genre's most revered "heroes"), precisely because he is the one who actually tried to do more than what he usually does. Curiosity didn't kill the cat in this case: pretentiousness did. The cat tried to be a tiger and ended up drowning in a river of nothingness.

Nothingness. That word defines this new attempt by Mr. Lucassen to submerge us in the oceans of space and time that he has successfully managed to get us into in the past. But while former space odysseys occurred amidst fantastic vistas of the universe and through constellations of stars and actual musical magic, The Theory of Everything seems like the perfect analogy to a trip through the void of outer space, where nothing sticks, nothing sounds, nothing matters.

The main problem with AYREON's new album is that, somehow, Mr. Lucassen seems to have decided to ignore what made his previous albums work. Yes, those were conceptual albums, with entertaining if a little convoluted, but still coherent, stories, with several artists trying to perform some sort of "rock operas" with multiple roles and personnel changes, but at their core, they still were rock (or metal, let's be generic for a second) albums, they still had great songs. Placing any previous AYREON disc on a tray came with a guarantee of at least a few memorable songs and the promise of some really good ones, with the hopeful expectation of at least one or two fantastic tracks per album. The dual album known as The Universal Migrator, AYREON's apex in my opinion, was full of these; the also-dual work Into The Electric Castle didn't trail the former by much; the band's (it really isn't a band but let's call it one for simplicity's sake) original effort, The Final Experiment, was a grower which improved after every listen and that showed its song-writing qualities even from the start; even their most derided album to date, Actual Fantasy, contains many really memorable songs that still speak Mr. Lucassen's favorite language but which are delivered in a very direct approach. Granted, the last two albums, The Human Equation and 01011001, weren't plethoric with memorable songs but without a doubt they showed Mr Lucassen's at his most daring while still maintaining the basic rock/metal allegiance to directness, energy, and accessibility.

He seems to have decided to let that all behind in The Theory of Everything. What he has delivered now is a constant stream of music with no borders, no gravity to speak in space terms, no center to hold it all together and no real direction. The discs are divided in over 20 tracks each, many just existing as an excuse for Mr Lucassen to be able to play all the millions of riffs and combine them with all the millions of effects he had in his mind at least for a few seconds, trying not to waste any single one of them. Sadly, the more of these he uses, the more he is actually wasting them since they become irrelevant tidbits that come and go without leaving any proper impression behind. And what's to be found in-between all these little fragments? Songs totally devoid of any song-like qualities, songs that have no memorable or even discernible choruses, songs that aren't proper songs, songs that also fly in and out of orbit without making the least of impacts in the listener, songs that make no effort in trying to stick in one's mind.

Our good old Mr. Lucassen, obvious fan of Pink Floyd and The Beatles and even Bowie (this last one I mention it by reference), seems to have decided to ignore the quite remarkable rock-song-writing skills of his mentors and tried to deliver some sort of Wagnerian music drama for which his style of music and, apparently, his skills, are quite less than well-suited for. An endless stream of music is beyond Mr Lucassen's rock sensibilities and it shows, even though at moments he actually manages to make some sort of leitmotif (more of a cyclical return in reality) out of the surprisingly good riff that opens the proceedings. Because we can say that much: the album opens with a blast and it really sets our expectations high from the very first bars, sadly only to bring them down to total collapse the longer the disc keeps spinning.

Mr. Lucassen, you have given me some of the greatest moments in the rock/metal side of my musical life, I know it is within you to produce great space-rock anthems that honor your heritage as a disciple of Pink Floyd, and some memorable melodies that speak of your enjoyment of the Liverpool gang. But it would appear to me that you have forgotten that this is rock'n roll (ok, metal) music after all, and it needs to have songs, to have some directness and memorability attached to it. Have you ever been to a jazz or classical music concert? There's zero noise in the audience, people are there only to listen (with the odd society lady always trying to show off her new outrageous dress thrown in the mix for sure). Have you ever been to a rock concert? What you will encounter there is a communal experience of band and audience singing, moving, sometimes dancing, head-banging, destroying things together, in an informal rite that appeals to the need of rock fans to sing their lungs out, to feel the energy in the air, to be reflected in their rock heroes. Rock is about energy. But to do that rock fans need songs, need some sort of tune, need something to remember. I understand that the very structure (or lack thereof) of AYREON as a band renders it the best vehicle for purely static experimentations that don't need audience feedback, yes, AYREON is no live band; but you still are making rock (or metal, whatever), you still depend on a musical language that demands memorability and directness just as a human being needs air to survive. You've never been on the "avant-garde" side of the rock world, and you have proven to be a master at what you do. But now you have gone (or tried to go) too far.

Again, it is curious that of the 4 mighty bands I was talking about at the beginning the one that tried to evolve is the one that most glaringly has failed to do so. Amazingly enough, there have been prog-rock bands that have released no-chorus, no-song endless streams of music with a higher degree of success than AYREON has here, but they started from different places anyway.

The Theory of Everything is thus sort of a theory of nothing. I will recognize the effort and the obvious instrumental talent at display here, and no serious person could give this album one star, because it's still way above that sewer-low level and because it has moments where the brilliance of the individuals (including Mr. Lucassen himself) manages to shine through. But considering the background, the type of experience we are used to with AYREON, the quality of earlier albums, the fall is that much harder.

There's no need to discuss the quality of the lyrics/story. Nobody would ever have bought an AYREON album for the stories only, without some great prog rock/metal music backing them.

This album might be the one where the relative importance of both is at its closest. And that speaks ill for that which we get to experience through the ears. Somebody out there might actually buy this for the story alone.

This mighty deserves a 2.5.

The T | 2/5 |


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