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Ayreon - The Theory Of Everything CD (album) cover




Progressive Metal

4.04 | 600 ratings

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4 stars After an absence of five years, Arjen Anthony Lucassen decided to bring back his Ayreon project. But where to go this time? Ayreon was originally a character in Arjens previously 6 part space opera (7 if Actual Fantasy is included, the only non-concept Ayreon album), and that story has concluded. The answer? Wipe the slate clean, and begin on a completely new story, seperate from the space opera of old.

The Theory of Everything is therefore meant to be the beginning of a new storyline, one that takes place in our world, were the Ayreon albums of old took place all over the galaxy (excluding The Human Equation. This is a more "real" storyline revolves around a boy, who has the gift of being able to see every equation on earth. He is an extremely intelligent boy but lacks social skills and is often alone. He's neglected by his farther, who's working on "The Theory of Everything", but ties to enlist the boy for his help when he discovers that his son is an exceptional genius. The boy's mother, however, tries to help him out with trying to fit into society, along with a girl from school.

There's obviously way more to the story than this. This is a Ayreon album afterall, which means that the plot is heavy but quite interesting. There's alot of sides and elements to the story, and while the album is easier to follow compared to some of the previous albums, it is still indeed necessary to have the lyric sheets in your hand while listening to the album.

So what about the songs themselves? The Theory of Everything is Ayreon as we know it, with all the charastics that people have come to know and love. Progressive metal mixed with some progressive rock, synth, orchestrations and flutes. And as always, each character in the story has a wide arrary of singers (more on them later).

What is different about this album though, is the structure. While it is a double album (like most of the previous albums), this time there are only four songs, named phases here, each clocking in at around the 20 minute mark, with the shortest being 21:31 and the longest being 23:29. The songs themselves include various movements and this is where problems sadly start to appear.

The four phases are split into 42 tracks, each track representing each their movement. It's understandable to split an album like this up. It's always a challenge to ask listeners to sit through four 20+ minute songs (just ask Yes), but by splitting it up into 42 tracks, the challenge has actually increased instead of being more welcoming.

The averge track is around one - two mintues long, with a couple that croses the three minute mark (the longest being 3:54) and a couple that goes under one minute (shortest being 24 seconds), but the tracks themselves can be pretty easy to miss. This is one of those albums were if you don't watch your music player, you wouldn't notice if one track ended and a new one began, that's how smooth the tracks seque into each other.

This means that each individual track can't be taken as a song on it's own, when it is part of something much bigger. This is what basicly amounts to have a film on blu-ray, and then asked to pick a random scene from the scene selection screen and stop it before the next scene; it doesn't quite work on it's own.

It also becomes pretty distracting when one of the four full stops comes. For example: the first eleven tracks are the first phase, after which there is a full stop before phase two begins. It further detracts from the overall experience, and praticaly forces you to sit with the back cover of the album, in order to know when the phase stops.

Personally, I used a cd ripping program (can't recall the name as I had someone else put it together for me), and were therefore able to listen to the album as four unbroken songs which immensely improved the album. It just makes the songs feel more natural, and where the individual sections are too short to stand on their own, they almost gain new life when taken as part of something larger.

So it is perferred to listen to this as four unbroken tracks, especially because the music on the two discs are great and actually some of the best Ayreon has ever offered (which says lot considering the previous albums). The quality is almost consistently high throughout the album, with Phase four being the weakest. Beside the ending, it just isn't that memorable and at this point kinda runs out of steam.

But it is never uncreative or boring. There is alot of varierty and memorable melodies on the two disc that has alot of the high quality that we are used to from Arjen. Phase 2 however is the absolute highlight of the record which includes the best and most thoughtout sections. The other three phases suffer a bit for having some sections cut short or apruptly ending when they really should have been explored more.

What is consistent throughout the album however are the singers. The guys and gals on display here do a great job, from John Wettons (Asia) as The Psychiatrist to Marco Hietala (Nightwish) as the boy's rival. Everyone does a good job of conveying their characters, with performances that quite easily matches the highs of the singers from The Human Equation. If you were hoping to her Arjen sing again however, I must disappoint you by saying that he doesn't sing on this one at all! I was suprised myself, but considering the characters and the story his voice would have a hard time fitting in.

Likewise the slew of quest musicians who provide various solos, especially keyboard legend Rick Wakeman (ex-Yes) delivers a fantastic solo on phase two, followed up by another great solo from Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater). Everyone contributes something valuable and it's amazing to listen too.

All this is even more solidfied by the usual excellent playing of Arjen who once again shows that he's got talent, and his drummer-in-crime Ed Warby delivers one of his best drumming on an Ayreon drumming.

The album is a welcome return for Ayreon and reminds us why this project has been so special throughout the years, even though the album loses steam by the last phase and the tracklist doing it's best to butcher the listening experience. I still recommend finding a way to split the album into the four tracks that it's meant to be listened as, as it improves the experience immensley. But still: Welcome back Ayreon you have been missed!

Elsteven0 | 4/5 |


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