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Ayreon - Timeline CD (album) cover




Progressive Metal

3.97 | 75 ratings

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4 stars After releasing tons of intricate "space opera" albums, Ayreon finally released a compilation containing many tunes out of every record they've ever put out. As a person that only heard their Human Equation record, this is quite a fantastic piece: three disks with some of the most amazing songs this dutch multi-instrumentalist recorded is quite a good thing. Another fine characteristic of Timeline is the fact that some of the longest tracks of this band are present on the best-of. Well, we all know the deal: the compilations usually contain the shorter and most acessible tunes of an artist (ask Dream Theater), but that's not the case with this excellent package. Songs like "Abbey of Sinn", "The Fifth Extinction" or "Isis and Osiris" are long-winded epics, but they're still included here, which is a plus as, usually, the best songs of a progressive artist are the longer ones.

For all those who have never heard anything put out by this act, I can tell you that this music belongs truly to the progressive genre. Despite some sound changes, Ayreon's music is very keyboards-driven (in the beginning the importance of the keys was even bigger, now the guitar is slowly beginning to play the most important role). Every Ayreon record contains lots of different vocalists and they interpret different characters, which explains the "metal opera" label used by many to classify this kind of music (or the term "space opera", used by Arjen Lucassen, which is a strange term, perhaps linked to the recurring sci-fi themes one can find scattered throughout his records). The only stable member of this act is its leader, Arjen Lucassen, who plays acoustic and electric guitars and also keyboards. He also invites different musicians to play other instruments and while the musicians invited to perform on his first albums are quite unknown, we can find a high-profile cast of players on his latest efforts (Derek Sherinian, Michael Romeo, Thomas Bodin, Ken Hensley, etc.). The vocalists chosen to perform are also quite well known in both the metal and progressive rock circles (Fish, James LaBrie, Akerfeldt, Daniel Gildenlow, even Bruce Dickinson).

Musically, there's a lot of different elements going on here. In the beginning, and as I've already said, there's an essential use of the keyboards, with some psychedelic elements showing up once in a while. Later, there's also some folk-ish sections on some songs (Human Equation comes to mind), with the use of flutes and other proper instruments. Still, there's a fair amount of metal riffs and sections to be found on many of the tracks featured here. Ayreon's music never was very heavy nor aggressive, their sound falling more into the prog rock bag than into the prog metal bag, but that's just my opinion. Another characteristic is the lack of solos, as this band has nothing to do with solo-focused prog acts like Symphony X or Dream Theater. There's an obvious focus on the melodies and lyrics (especially on their latest albums, since there are more vocalists singing) and there are surely no emphasis on the riffs. So, if you're a purist thrash fan and you can't enjoy prog, this is not the correct piece to make you change your mind. There is also a big electronic influence, wish you may clearly recognize on the songs contained on the second disk.

The first disk contains six tracks out of the debut The Final Experiment, four out of its sucessor, Actual Fantasy and two out of Into the Electric Castle (there are more four tunes of this record on the second disk). The tracks out of The Final Experiment are among the happier, most cheerful ones of this long compilation. By this time, Ayreon's music wasn't as progressive as it is now, the songs being shorter and much simpler. Basically, that album deals about a strange concept: it talks about Ayreon, a blind minstrel of the 6th century who is told by a bunch of scientists living in the year 2084 (the scientists use telepathy to contact him), that the world is condenmed to be destroyed, in the future. So, Ayeron must warn the world about it. "The Awareness" begins calmly, with Ayreon slowly understanding that he is being contacted by someone. Later, it becomes heavier, with some nice keyboard riffs and atmospheric guitar work. "Eyes of Time" speaks about how Ayreon is trying to understand all the visions he's seeing. It is a reasonably heavy track, dominated by some midpaced guitar riffs. "The Accusation", a track only included on The Final Experiment's Special Edition, is a more laid-back song, with some fine keyboard riffs and acoustic guitars. The vocal performance is pretty good and hearfelt, and this is, by far, the calmer song of the first disk. It's a good time to breathe before the epic "Sail Away to Avalon" kicks in with a bang. It's amazing how Arjen could create such a medieval atmosphere on this track, which speaks about the knights who travel to Avalon. The chorus is just anthemic and this is one of the most memorable songs out of the first CD. "Listen to the Waves" is the last song of the debut featured on Timeline and, guess what, it also rules. Somber acoustic guitar lines, accompanied by some dark and quite atmospheric keyboard work, work well as a background for the chosen vocalist to sing about the chaos that will precede the end of our world. All the tunes of The Final Experiment are, as you can see, quite good and definitely worth listening.

"Actual Fantasy" is the opener and title track of the homonym album and it is the first one of said piece to appear on the compilation. Actual Fantasy (the album) is, perhaps, the only Ayreon record that isn't a full blown concept album, each song containing their own story and concept. "Abbey of Synn" is a slow song, dominated by some very psychedelic keys, containing some rather dark lyrics as well. In comparison to the debut, Actual Fantasy is a much darker record, but also, at least in my opinion, weaker. "Computer Eye" follows the same path of "Abbey" with a mysterious atmosphere surrounding it. "Back on Planet Earth" is quite forgettable and one of the weakest tracks of the record. Basically, those songs (apart from the excellent "Abbey of Synn") are pretty damn average and forgettable.

Into the Electric Castle is the first full-blown metal opera Ayreon ever created, even reminding me a bit of Webber's Jesus Christ Superstar or The Phantom of the Opera. There is a full set of vocalists present on that album, each one interpreting his own character (there's the barbarian, the indian, the egyptian, the hippie, etc.). Its concept deals about a bunch of random guys who are led into a time of no-space and no-time, and are told to search for the Electric Castle. "Isis and Osiris" is a long epic, showing the surprise of all the characters after descovering where they are. The first disk ends with "Amazing Flight", a decent song that leads us to the...

Second disk. This one begins with "The Garden of Emotions", which one of the calmer songs of its record. An excellent laid-back track, dominated by the awesome vocal performances. "The Two Gates" is the last track out of Into the Electric Castle. Again, the vocals play the essential role, with the characters finally reaching the Electric Castle.

The two part Universal Migrator album follows, and it is yet another concept album, albeit different. This is not a metal opera as the other ones, it just describes the evolution of the human race from the 21th century to the first man on earth. "The Company of Captain..." reminds of some of the medieval atmosphere present on their debut, and it is a quite strong track, with a mellow and also psychedelic middle section. As the record contained two parts, one containing lighter and calmer music and the other containing more straight-forward heavy music, it is easy to distinguish where the different songs come from. There's a clear highlight here though: "Into the Black Hole", a track sung by Dickinson alone. This is perhaps the only really riff-driven Ayreon song: it is constructed above a solid keyboard/guitar riff that is constantly repeated throghout the song. Add to this Bruce Dickinson and some dark lyrics and you have a winner.

Human Equation follows and I won't take long describing the tracks of this record as I plan to write a full review of it in the future. Let me just say that all the tunes here display a strong electronic influence and also lots of folk elements, with the use of acoustic guitars and flutes. Still, there are some heavier sections on some songs. Strangely the keyboards are much less prevalent on this album.

This long compilation ends with some tunes out of the epic release 01011001 and while many of the traditional Ayreon fans dislike that album, I can't help but consider its tunes just masterful. All of them are very long and epic, especialy "Fifth Extinction". The only complaint I have is that Hansi Kurch doens't sing during much time, I was expecting him to absolutely dominate those tracks. Ahh, nothing is perfect.

So, an excellent compilation for all those who would like to know Ayreon. The tracks are all killer (okay, there's a few exceptions) and it is really a pleasure to listen to this whole thing in its entirety. A quite epic compilation, among the best ones ever made, that's for sure.

Best Moments of the CD: so many.... - the screams of Bruce Dickinson on "Into the Black Hole". -the keyboard riff of "The Accusation". -the full "Epilogue". And many many more.

Nhorf | 4/5 |


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