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4 stars This great album is the perfect mixture between rock/metal guitar (incluiding the pretty guitar slide style of mr.Lucassen) and the Analog synthesizers ,keyboards and hammonds that "paints " an amazing space/prog/electronic landscape that definitely leads you to the stars.

the execution of the instruments are perfect, very emotional solos , enjoyable instrumental parts , great athmosferes , cool HARMONIES and "make uped" vocal parts and a very melodic composition makes this record an" Exellent adition to any prog rock collection"

my favorite tracks are: Abbey Of Synn , The Stranger From Within ,Beyond The Last Horizon and Back On The Planet Earth .

Ideal record for people who likes ELO;Pink Floyd ; Dream Theater ; The Beatles ;Jean michelle jarre and Allan Parsons Proyect.

Report this review (#1160)
Posted Tuesday, June 29, 2004 | Review Permalink
Prog Folk Researcher
3 stars This is a fantastic piece of musical art in pretty much every respect. Arjen Anthony Lucassen follows up on critically-acclaimed The Final Experiment with another powerful aural experience, full of mystical images, towering guitar flights of fancy, and richly detailed tales of imagination and mystery. This is without a doubt almost by definition a progressive music classic. The minor quibbles I have are largely a result of comparing this with other even more impressive Ayreon epics.

First, this isn’t a true concept album in that it doesn’t tell a contiguous story from start to finish. Rather, the songs make up a number of parallel but discrete tales. Other albums like Salem Hill’s Mimi’s Magic Moment, Kansas’ Song for America, and Alan Parson’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination are similar in this respect.

Second, there are only three vocalists here, all of them male Dutch performers who do an admirable job of carrying each song, but they do not offer the range of sounds and emotions found on later Ayreon works.

Finally, and this is a point to be made of Ayreon works in general, one has to become accustomed to the heavy use of keyboards and synthesized sounds on this and other Lucassen works. While the guitar pyrotechnics are plentiful and striking, this is without a doubt largely a studio-enhanced effort. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does serve to set this and all other Ayreon albums apart from more traditional metal works, so the listener must be prepared to make the auditory adjustment.

With the disclaimers aside, a look at the songs themselves show this to be a very worthwhile listen, and a unique musical experience with few comparisons except to the other Ayreon albums.

The title track is little more than a prologue, leading to the first tale, “Abbey of Synn”, where clerics in a desolate abbey perish in pursuit of secrets found in a book that details the essence of humor. Kind of a weird theme, but pretty much self-contained since one of the clerics burns down the abbey and destroys the book in the end. Musically there is a complex thread of keyboards and synthesized sounds including thunder, anguished cries, and orchestral instruments that runs through most of the work, interspersed with Lucassen’s piercing guitar arpeggios and extended riffs to emphasize the more tense moments in the story. This is a first-rate work that might have been improved by slightly more dynamic vocalists, but again this is only an observation of a listener spoiled by The Human Equation and The Universal Migrator series.

“The Stranger from Within” starts off with an edgy tempo and guitar lead-in, and aside from some keyboards that are probably a Hammond, the hypnotic drum tracks and guitars pretty much dominate the song. Here the harmonic male vocals fit the theme perfectly, as the voices here are the ones inside the central character’s own head. This may be the birth of the main character in The Human Equation, as he is also either in a coma, a trance, or at least asleep. The three-part vocals are also similar to those in the aforementioned work. Like some of the other songs on the album, this one seems to leave the door open for a sequel, as there really isn’t any kind of closure to the story once the main character realizes he is hearing voices that come from inside him.

In “Computer Eyes” our character is locked into some sort of synthesized world that is surreal and confining, kind of Max Headroom with a sense of rhythm. The theme may be intended to represent progress, technology, or perhaps simply an evolving sense of detachment with reality and self-awareness in an increasingly impersonal world. The word-morphing lyrics are kind of clever –

“I'm locked in this universe; the real world will disappear.

Where fantasy dies you will see our dreams –

Material lies; materialize; computer eyes - computerize”.

This song also features repetitive drum tracks and frightful guitars, kind of a contrast between the digital (impersonal) and the analog (abstract, emotional) worlds. The keyboards are slightly distracting here, especially in the middle where Lucassen seems to be simply playing chord progressions that don’t quite fit the mood, but otherwise a pretty solid track.

“Beyond the Lost Horizons” is the story of a warrior pierced with a sword in battle and going through his death throes, vacillating between two sides of the otherworld – one framed in light and the other a dark chasm. Creepy stuff. I don’t like the chanting vocals here all that much, but they do accentuate the morbid mood of the tale. This is a much simpler composition than most of the rest of the album, with largely straightforward guitar chords and some pretty basic keyboards mixed with the sinister vocals.

An abrupt time change occurs with “Back on the Planet Earth”, some radio headset ‘space command ground control’ type of chatter that is terminated with some tight and intense guitar and an irregular tempo set with drums tracks and synthetic bass. This song borders on black metal in many respects, specifically the tempo, dense guitar, and dark mood. The voices are synthesized to give realism to their coming from space-elders of the future on another planet reminiscing about the days back on Earth before it was destroyed. The basic premise to the song is a younger, space-born youth who is using computers to create a simulation of the former Earth so he can experience the joy of walking through the flowers. It’s unclear if the destruction was man-made or not, so I’m not sure if this is supposed to be some sort of social statement, but probably not.

“Forevermore” is the closing piece and the tale of the Great Hope, the young lad who has the power (and perhaps the calling) to be the one who saves us all from chaos and destruction. This is the Ayreon equivalent of ELO’s “Hold on Tight (to your Dreams)”, and the tempo and synthesized strings actually remind me a bit of that earlier work. It’s a mild and largely inconsequential work, a predictable but decent way to bring the album to a palatable close.

This is a great feat of musical composition, arrangement, and technical precision in the production. Finding an appropriate rating is kind of like when the school teacher gives the nerdy brainiac kid a lower grade than the class bumpkin though, and explains the decision by stating “well, I expect more of you because I know what you’re capable of”. That’s how I feel about this Ayreon work. For most artists this would be an A+ for effort, but having heard how much further Lucassen would go on future albums, this one gets a bit of a dig for underachieving. 3.49 stars.


Report this review (#80891)
Posted Saturday, June 10, 2006 | Review Permalink
3 stars Great album, great music, Arjen's second release and I must say it wasn't a faliure, but it wasn't his best. Ayreon has become one of my favorite bands eversense I picked up Electric Castle and Human Equation. I will not lie, this album is great, Abbey of Synn is actaully one of the great songs of Arjens work. He has a lot of good songs here, sure their not his best, but beating Electric Castle and Human Equation isn't an easy task. Still, this album isn't a complete story like all his other albums are, it's just 8 songs bearing 8 different stories. Some of them are Arjen's own ideas, some are dedicated from other stories he always liked. All the songs have qualities to make this a great album! This album isn't something to start off with Ayreon, but it wont hurt if you give it a listen. You'll probably hear it and say, this isn't bad, and if he has better then by golley! I'm going to give it a listen! I haven't heard the revisited, I don't know if it's enhanced or anybetter, but Actual fantasy is probably Arjens poorest set of works, and it's still great and incredible! You could almost relate this piece to Dream Theater's Falling into Infinity, not music wise, but sucess wise, it's arguably the worst album but it has enough qualities to say it's worth listening to! The songs are great, all bearing stories of thier own as I explianed before, but they all have good moments. This is also before Arjen decided to use really symphonic insturments instead of cheesy imitations from synthesizer. Believe me, it's still good though not his best.
Report this review (#96023)
Posted Friday, October 27, 2006 | Review Permalink
2 stars The very short intro (93 seconds) is a great summary of this whole piece of music which is half a concept album, half a traditional one. "Sit back and relax. Crawl into the maze, Within your mind. Leave it all behind. Now allow yourself to Slide into a world As real as you want it to be. Actual fantasy". And here we go for a strange adventure...

"Actual Fantasy" mixes symphonic style, electronic beats, orchestrations and at times some metal inspiration. "The Stranger from Within" fully describes this. Somewhat "Ultravox" - the Ure era - oriented and somewhat heavy during the closing section). A very good mix.

But before this song, one of the highlight has already been performed. A scary and complex trip to the "Abbey of Synn". Almost mystical. The beat is rather hypnotic, heavy but slow (like "Kashmir"). Here and there a great guitar break will punctuate this very good song.

The Flodyan intro of "Computer Eyes" is so pleasant and so sweet. Miles away from the "heavy metal" style. But we get there with the second part of the song. Heavy riff a la "Dream Theater", but the melody is still pleasant. Heavy melodic rock, maybe! The finale is extremely bombastic (some would say pompous). A highlight.

Not all songs will be jewels of course. One of the weakiest one being "Beyond the Last Horizon" IMO. I don't really like these "computerized" vocals and these orchestrations are a bit too much for me (but I have never liked these). No feeling during this song. A filler. "Farside of the World" also sounding too much "electro-metal" to my taste.

But Arjen will revert to better inspiration with "Back On The Planet Earth". Especially during the great duet : keys / guitar. One of the best moment of this album. A bit too dark maybe...

The last two numbers are going directionless. Invading orchestrations during the mellowish "Forevermore" and totally bizarre mood for "The Dawn of Man".

The single edition of "The Stranger from Within" won't be good enough to save this album from being average. It starts promisingly but can not deliver.

Two stars.

Report this review (#151314)
Posted Saturday, November 17, 2007 | Review Permalink
4 stars Well what can we say abou this second effort by Arjen Lucassen's Ayreon. The first thing that comes in my mind is that this is a far more accessable and somewhat commercial sounding album than the debut (Final experiment) and also the successor (Into the Electric Castle). Somehow I feel the other two are more Ayreon than this album but still he composed this so this must be true Ayreon as well.

Do I like it more ? Not really, there was a time I appreciated Actual Fantasy a lot but this has faded I'm afraid. The songs are more or less in the same style, future-like a little sf about it (Computer eyes, Back on planet earth). Lots of (heavy) keyboardmaterial and on itself good songs. But my taste has changed and this isn't my thing anymore.

But because the quality is high and the song structures are ok I will still give it 4 stars (3,75).

Report this review (#152007)
Posted Wednesday, November 21, 2007 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars When I revisit my philosophy that "Music is emotion" I find it the more deep I look into it, I am much more sure about that simple definition that applies really well for me. In fact, when my colleague Djoko Dwijono who commented at my personal blog that "music is life" I could not disagree with him at all because he is very accurate: when I explore further, life is about emotion also, so it's just a matter of differences in word being used, but the meaning still revolve around emotion. So, whenever I have a collection of CD I always try to evaluate the music on the basis of how the music can stir my emotion. Sometime, I really don't care about the lyrics or the meaning of the lyrics which stem from the composer or the musicians who created the music. They must have thought about the storyline of the song or even the album if it's a concept album. Take Genesis "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway" which revolved around personification of Rael, imagined by Peter Gabriel. Why should I bother to understand Gabriel's story line? (It's not of that it's difficult to understand, in fact, by other Genesis members). I can use the music to contemplate my own personal life journey and reflect about it to build my own personal legend. Why not?

An album that stirs my emotion, really!

So is the case with this "Actual Fantasy" album by Arjen Lucassen's AYREON. The first time I heard the music, it blew me away especially in the way the music flows - it's so natural and so nice. The music does not need to take another spin for me to be able to digest it well. Everything sounds very melodic and simple to follow and there is no such thing as complex arrangements. I suddenly imagined that this kind of music is very good for me to contemplate and perform self-reflection to move forward with ever increasing challenges. Oh my God .. how come I am now so melancholic? Well, . it's basically because of I am now listening to this excellent composition by AYREON. Believe me, I am not exaggerating, this album is really nice and simple!

The album starts with a short overture "Actual Fantasy" (1:45) which sets the overall tone and theme of the whole album. It comprises a long sustain keyboard work and floating vocal line in nice melody. It's really a good overture and it represents the whole tone of the album. I especially like the flute-like sound which is produced by keyboard. I flows seamlessly to the ambient "ghost" (?) sounds as intro of "Abbey of Syn" with some keyboard solo in slow tempo. When it approaches minute 1:00 the low register notes vocal line enters nicely to the music with long sustain keyboard sound at background. I like the sound of keyboard effects right after the first lyrical verse before minute 2:00 followed by full blast of music at 2:25 which bring the music into another platform with nice keyboard solo (reminds me to the work of Rick Wakeman). At approx minute 3:43, guitar gives its stunning solo - WOW! what a great musical piece here! I am totally satisfied with this! Keyboard also provides solo intertwiningly with guitar. Overall this second track has an excellent composition combining nice / catchy melody and wonderful music flow in slow to medium tempo. The keyboard solo is the attractive point of this track. I really love it!

"The Stranger From Within" starts with a keyboard effect in spacey nuance that reminds me to the work of Tangerine Dream or Klaus Schulz. But when the drums enter, the music moves into different kind with medium tempo beat accompanying vocal that flows in flat emotion. This sounds like a pop song but the beat which comprises keyboard plus drum work has given different nuance beyond pop music. Again, Arjen proves himself as an excellent composer who focuses on music flow more than just the melody. What I mean here is the fact that the melody is actually not that catchy but Arjen has suceesfully made the song is rich in textures and solid in nuance. The guitar solo and keyboard that appear in the middle of the song is really excellent and very enjoyable.

As the name implies, "Computer Eyes" starts something like Jean Michelle Jarre music which creates a nuance of computer world while the acoustic guitar work strengthens the composition. There is a blend of Pink Floyd music and Tangerine Dream here at the opening part until minute 1:50 when the vocal starts to enter the music. In fact the background music with keyboard reminds me to "Welcome To The Machine" by Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here" album. At minute 3:00 the music moves into riffs-driven beats which make the song much more wonderful. Especially, the guitar solo at this segment is also stunning. The vocal line is flat but it has great nuances as well as textures especially with the backing vocal. The guitar solo at 4:49 reminds me to Pink Floyd again but the riffs-driven beats are sort of Dream-Theater-like (in its simplest way). Frankly, I am so engrossed with the music! That's why I am so convinced that "music is emotion" because this song has proven to be very successful to stir my emotion. Thanks, Arjen!

"Beyond The Last Horizon" starts with some robotics narration followed by keyboard sound effects sounds in ambient space style. The guitar fills stimulate the new kind of music which explores the acoustic guitar work while the keyboard provides background music. At 1:53 the music enters its full blast fashion. Again, melody-wise this is not a catchy one but .. the flow of the song is really excellent and it comprises also changes in style and nice breaks.

"Farside of The World" has a nice acoustic guitar work backed by long sustain keyboard work plus effects. Vocal enters with long distance style plus some backing vocals. At approx 1:54 the music moves into upbeat tempo while maintaining the keyboard effects at background.

The remaining tracks "Back On Planet Earth", "Forevermore, and "The Dawn of Man" are also excellent ones which I will not review on track by track basis. But from this album, it's very clear that Arjen is a talented musician who could put together nice melody and nuance / ambience into nice composition. Overall, this is an excellent addition to any prog music collection. For those metalheads, this might be a very light album but for those who have not favored metal music, this album might be a wonderful beat for your lifelong journey of metal music with progressive touches. Bravo Arjen Lucassen! Keep on proggin' ..!

Peace on earth and mercy mild - GW

Report this review (#157217)
Posted Sunday, December 30, 2007 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Second album for Arjen Lucassen's AYREON and this one is just another great effort as their debut...This is not metal to the bone as someone expects from a prog metal you can get superb atmosphere,lots of spacey fillings and effects, some emotional acoustic guitars along with nice vocal lines, a rather keyboard/effects driven album that is enjoyable from the very start to the very end...Imagine I would say a more spacey version of early SHADOW GALLERY...A memorable effort,maybe a little bit weaker than their first album,but certainly a good addition to any prog collection...
Report this review (#176094)
Posted Friday, July 4, 2008 | Review Permalink
2 stars Two stars do not denote a bad album. Merely, Actual Fantasy is almost entirely unmemorable, almost entirely standard, and almost entirely aimless.

I enjoy this release plenty. In the catalog of Ayreon, it stands plenty fine. However, missing here are the unique interactions of vocalists. Missing here is the strains of folk and world music that give Ayreon its distinct binary flair. Instead of combining inhuman electronic sounds with the much more human acoustic and woodwind elements, we get a simple rush of electronic metal sounds. Most of these sounds are not particularly unique, either, sounding more like the usual samples from an 80s keyboard synthesizer. The song structures are mostly the same throughout. In short, this album shows all the cliches of Arjen's songwriting without showing his unique strengths. The vocalists present, while not lacking in talent, do not carry enough flair to turn this release into anything that can hold attention very well. The guitars and drums play very common sorts of metal riffs and rhythms, forming a background that does not deliver any sort of the promised energy of an Ayreon release.

Indeed, that is the issue here: lack of energy. With the exception of the single true standout song, Back on Planet Earth, the songs mostly peter about with the usual trappings of progressive metal and melodic power metal without truly packing any sort of energy or excitement into them. This, then, while not a terribly constructed album, is a rather cold one, one lacking the human and variable touch that marks the remainder of Ayreon's release. Back on Planet Earth is, as I mentioned, the one true standout track, with a nicely syncopated pre-chorus and odd vocal melodies. However, the instrumental parts and solo section really are no different from the rest on here. Of note, though, is the long fading outro of Forevermore, in the vein of The Beatles's Hey Jude, with the repeating vocal line (and, I must add, lyrics based on Neverending Story). The rest of the songs are not bad, just not very memorable, not very deep, and not really providing in any sort of lasting interest for the progressive music fan.

This is easily the weakest album in the Ayreon catalog. It is however, full of plenty of things that Ayreon fans will find enjoyable. So if you like the rest of their stuff, you'll probably like this, too. But do not start here. Please.

Report this review (#186209)
Posted Saturday, October 18, 2008 | Review Permalink
3 stars My second ayreon album review with 3 vocalists robert soeterboek,edward reekers,okkie huysdens,starts with actual fantasy with a child saying actual fantasy and edward reekers telling you to relax and a little bit more of vocals bt him sounds a great start and is with keyboards and sounds great,next is abbey of synn which is one of my favorite ayreon songs starts very good and with edward reekers starting the song of with mellow keyboards and sounds like your traveling in the universe [to me anyway] and with a quire sounding bit a bit in sounds brilliant and then the guitar and the keyboards come in and the drums to which is excellent and then okkie huysdens sings his bit and then robert soeterboek does his bit and then a good bit of guitar comes in a nice solo and then okkie sings again this is a brilliant song indeed then edward sings his bit and his voice has a sound what sounds good for ayreon especially on this album and the chorus in this is brilliant and the keyboard part solo is sci fi sounding and just addictive this whole song is no doubt about it one of the best ayreon songs but there is loads which are all good,next is the stranger from within and this starts with keyboard sounding like its shooting a beam to destroy something like a spaceship and this is another promise of a good song i enjoy everytime and arjens guitar kind of like chugging along and then okkie sings his bit and sounds great and then robert takes over and thenmore keyboard comes in then okkie sings his bit and thentime for a guitar bit from arjen which is great and a joy to hear and then acoustic guitar with keyboard and robert sings again and then he adlibs and then theres a hammond sound and it sounds brilliant always good to hear the old hammond and this is with everything except the vocals and it ends [when i say keyboards its mostly synth and sounds great to],next is computer eyes which i love this song its so addictive and starts with syth which sounds like your traveling the universe and with acoustic guitar makes the journey better and chugging stnth to and then electric guitar comes in which makes the song complete and then edward sings and this is the song just for him his voice just fits right here a bit in the song gets really going with the guitar sounding beutiful[to me] and the synths still sounding in the bacvk ground and when robert sings he makes his little bit sound so powerful and when the chorus comes in edward sounds so good and the guitar brilliant here and the synths to like there fighting to win a race or something this has to be one of the best or my favorite ayreon songs a good song which is powerful and sounds great to here anytime in the day and ends like how the universal migrator starts,next is beyond the last horizon starts like a backwards sound with synths and then gets going very nice with acoustic high notes and electric guitar comes in with drums and everything sounds so good here then robert sings his bit kind of sounding like hes chatting and then edward sings and makes the song and okkie sings a little bit and sounds great to this song is another which sounds good but not the best in my opinion but still good then theres a bit in where the synths come in and soundgreat and the guitar is great to although its not arjens best best as it kind of chugs along a good song and ends with a nice acoustic background bit,next is farside of the world and starts with acoustic guitar kind ofuniverse sounding and then edward sings and he sounds great here and then robert sings his bit and then okkie a little bit and they all kind of sing together which is good and okkie sings his bit then robert and then they all sing there bit as before and guitar with them to kind of under them the synths in this song are chugging along with effect which sounds good and goes well with the drums to and then ends,next is back on planet earth and starts like a part of someone rep[orting to earth to fly back in and then the synths stats and then guitar which sounds great start to a song with edward first singing and kind of with effect and robert sounds good to and okkie sounds good here to edward sings again for a bit and roberty comes in and makes the song more here and okkie sings the chorus which is great chorus and the synths are basic sounding and theres kind of background singing here which sounds like womening slightly and the guitar here goes well with the song with synths and a bit more in the vocals sound echoey for a little bit and then the guitar carrys on and it ends a great song,next isforevermore which strarts very nice with guitar with edward the guitar here is so nice to the ears[i think]robert comes in and with acoustic come in and edward sings again a electric guitar bit here is very nice in this song and the bit in this song when the hammond comes in and the vocalists sing dream on forever more sounds the best bit of the whole album i just love this this bit it will get stuck inside your head for awhile the hammond here is a great welcome making the singers carryon and then a keyboard sound comes in like a sound like violin kind of this has to be the best song on whole album i think and ends with kind of battle sounding sound,and next isthe dawn of man which starts mellow and a kind of piano heavy kind of sound very nice to and makes it sound a great ending song and then arjen on the vocoder sounds ok here and edward sings and sounds great here and a strings sound comes in this is an ok song but better on the album i think but still a good song i think could of done with more speed in it just to make it more i think but still ok just a little slow but there is a bit when it does get going and sounds as it should of more with synths and guitar sounding good and theres a synth bit which sounds very scifito which is great i think then the song ends with a baby which sounds good actually as the song is callked the dawn of man afterall the version of this album ive got is the insideout 2004 version with a dvd with it and the dvd is good to but only with just a few bits like recording drums for the 2004 version videoclip of stranger from within and 1996 version of this album and a 5,1 mix of this version to so not to bad ,i give this 3 stars i would give it 4 but the next ayreon releases are better and thats why this gets a 3.5.
Report this review (#206281)
Posted Wednesday, March 11, 2009 | Review Permalink
3 stars This album is good but non essential... 3 Stars. Personally, I like it a lot, it has that classic Ayreon sound... a bit more atmospheric and quiet like the Dream Sequencer or Ambeon. While it's still a really great work, I still say that it is non-essential to a prog music collection, although it certainly is a good edition to it. But I think that this album is like that one album that is still good but is not so overly amazing as the others. But fans still buy it, and listen to it regularly, and enjoy it.

Rather than tell overarching storylines like in all the other Ayreon albums, this album has many storylines, one for each song. The storylines vary from old medieval tales to futuristic science fiction, to dream-like fantasies. A lot of the songs on this album are precursors to the stories of other Ayreon albums later.

The main thing that makes this album a bit less amazing than the rest of Ayreon's albums is the fact that none of the songs are very memorable. With a good album, you will generally be able to remember the tunes and stuff for all the other songs... but with this album you kinda go in and out and then say wait, I was just listening to that for a hour? What happened? Nevertheless, when you go back to pay attention to it every once in a while, you'll always come to an exciting part and find yourself entertained.

This is the worst Ayreon album thus far. That of course doesn't mean that it is BAD, but simply that all the other Ayreons are better than it in my opinion.

Report this review (#221244)
Posted Sunday, June 14, 2009 | Review Permalink
1 stars Lucassen was here with his most limited cast. By ruling a one star rating, I do not mean that this album is worthless; it's not an utterly bad work, but most probably an album that even Ayreon fans could live without. Clearly the low point of the Ayreon project.

1. Actual Fantasy (1:35) - Nice short intro with flutes and soft sounds. Not much to say as this song only lasts for a minute and a half.

2. Abbey Of Synn (9:34) - In my opinion the album's second best track. Atmospheric and slow opening, leading to a nicely done pitch of metal guitars driving the song into an heavier and catchy melodic body. Balanced vocals. A bit simplistic on the instrumental side though.

3. The Stranger From Within (7:36) - I simply dislike the vocals on this song. Yet, the verses are still ok, but the choruses and the transitions to them are, well, a complete failure. The song's simple structure (soft verses to heavy choruses) produces here a very taxing song, and the instrumental solo is uninspired. The very final notes get better, and they never come soon enough.

4. Computer Eyes (7:31) - The album's best moment. Successfully melodic, gloomy and spacey introduction, slowly building up and lasting for about three minutes. Vocals also get a lot better from where they left on the third track. Some metal guitars then join in, but not too agressively, and the overall result is enjoyable. Keyboards are well done too. Still, the instrumental passage during the sixth minute is average, whilst it does a good job at leading to the final, more powerful segment.

5. Beyond The Last Horizon (7:34) - Some acoustic guitars overlapping spacey keyboards to open the song, transitionning to metal after a short while. The riffs dont get very good, and the vocals once again get irritating, notably during the verses. Melodically acceptable, but nothing special there either. And the mid-section instrumental passage is annoying.

6. Farside Of The World (6:21) - Interesting first 80 seconds, but turns into a total disaster. Bad vocals along with hopelessly bad melody and composition. Skip at all costs. A six minutes that feels like 16. One of the worst songs I've ever found on a prog album.

7. Back On The Planet Earth (7:01) - Another promising intro, with suspenseful keyboards and a nice metal guitar riff. Disappointing vocals quickly tarnish our hopes once again, although they get better in the chorus. Not the album's worst part overeall, but never gets really great nor very original. Sci-fi ambience and a notch above most of the other tracks with regard to composition.

8. Forevermore (6:10) - Good balladesque ending, with a variety of sounds, to an album made of some ups but also of too many downs to be recommended to the average fan or collector.

Again, not a total failure, but quite below the average. Reluctantly but fairly, 1 star.

Report this review (#235361)
Posted Thursday, August 27, 2009 | Review Permalink
Prog Metal Team
3 stars Actual Fantasy represents a side of Ayreon that is different from the rock-opera sound of his debut. The influences from Pink Floyd and Tangerine Dream dominate above those from Yes and ELP. It's a more relaxed and reflective album, less heavy then the debut and keeping clear of Ayreon's usual opera bombast. The lush spacey sound, use of drum computers and a slight melancholic mood brings the ambience of Porcupine Tree's Up The Downstairs and Hawkwind's 90's albums to mind. All these features generally make it into a less loved album with the fanbase.

After a short intro, the album opens strongly with Abbey of Sin, it starts with a 2 minute long soft brooding intro. A Tangerine Dream inspired sequence sets a slow pace that is occasionally accented with a distorted guitar chord. It's a lovely song with strong melodies, warm vocals and great solos, both for guitar and synths.

The Stranger From Within is a grooving piece with an entrancing rhythm. The atmosphere is a bit gloomy and heavy on synths, bringing early 80's synth pop to mind. It features nice touches of Hammond organ, both in the ELP-type solo and the outro that reminds me of Hammill's Gog Magog.

More Tangerine Dream sounds and Gilmouresque guitars create the intro for Computer Eyes, another enjoyable symphonic epic. After 3 minutes, drum computers and background palm muted heavy guitars create a hypnotic pace similar to the previous song.

The quality level of the previous tracks is not continued through the entire album. Both Beyond the Last Horizon and Far Side of the World are decidedly less interesting, the first one even featuring an average poppy chorus and the second feeling like a long-stretched intro that never gets going. It ends with nice spacey Hawkwind synths though.

Back On Planet Earth continues the momentum of the opening tracks with another captivating dark spacerock song. Forevermore is a folksy moment with acoustic guitars and violin. The melodies are a bit too weak to make it memorable. The Dawn of Man is an average outro, especially the first 4 uninspired minutes. The majestic orchestral synths at the end are better.

Actual Fantasy sits close to Arjen Lucassen's later project Ambeon, but it is musically more intricate then the latter. With a good half hour of excellent songs and another 30 minutes of average material it's exactly 3 stars.

Report this review (#259711)
Posted Thursday, January 7, 2010 | Review Permalink
Symphonic Team
3 stars I have heard this album from one of my favourite prog artists a number of times but can't for the life of me remember a single song. I remember I enjoyed the album while it played but there are no songs that stand out at all, and it will be some time before Ayreon becomes a dominant force recruiting varied singers from their respective bands to enhance the music. Arjen decided to revisit the album to remix it to a better standard. For me, in any form, this early album was a substandard affair, enjoyable but nothing as innovative or creative as Ayreon would become in later years. I would definitely not begin the Ayreon journey with this album if you are new to the band, rather start with some of the awesome experiences of 'The Human Equation' or 'Into The Electric Castle'. 'Actual Fantasy' will work better as a bonus addition to these albums. I found it a bit of an empty experience but still give it 3 stars as the music is always a delight, with Arjen excellent on guitars.
Report this review (#285432)
Posted Monday, June 7, 2010 | Review Permalink
3 stars Ayreon's second full length output is a quite unique piece of music from this project. For the first and last time, the Dutch mastermind Arjen Lucassen decided to not invite a high number of guest musicians but did something like a solo project where he played all instruments and invited one main singer as well as one supplementary vocalist. The project feels more like a band in here and this album sounds quite homogenous. It's also the project's shortest full length release and gets quickly to the point. Everything sounds coherent and seems promising. To keep it short, the new project's project happens to be a band project. That's a pretty original statement, isn't it?

But the final result is by far not as brilliant as it could have been. The songs are all very long and surpass all the six minute mark apart of the short introduction. I feel that some of the tracks are artificially stretched and are not varied enough to justify such a length. That wouldn't be much of a problem if the songs had at least a great atmosphere, a gripping passage and some catchy elements but that's just not the case. The songs are mostly calm and slow paced and copy the progressive rock acts of the seventies without reaching the subtle intensity of calmer bands such as King Crimson, Genesis, Pink Floyd, Tangerine Dream or Gentle Giant. "Abbey Of Synn" for example could have been a solid opener if it would have been about five minutes long as everything is already said at this mark. The album closer "Forevermore" has the same problem and instead of finishing the record on a great note, the grand finale turns out to be a quite pointless and mellow stumbling towards the end of the line. The single "The Stranger From Within" shares the same fate. The shortened single version sounded like a tribute to the commercial progressive music of the late seventies and early eighties in the key of Yes and was rather catchy but the album version is twice as long and offers not much more than the short version. Progressive fans might find some interesting musical details from time to time but especially the metal fan section of Ayreon will quickly be turned off by the numerous unnecessary lengths. Let's also add the revisited edition of the album doesn't add anything appealing and actually sounds less coherent than the original release.

There are still a few highlights that keep the record away from sinking into boring mediocrity. The rather modern and catchy "Computer Eyes" is a good effort, the diversified "Beyond The Last Horizon" unites progressive passages, some thrown in metal riffs and catchy hooks and offers everything Ayreon usually stands for and "Back On Planet Earth" has an interesting story, atmosphere and some refreshing heavy passages. The latter is easily the best and most dynamic track on the record and stands out.

In the end, this release has been an interesting experiment from Ayreon and offers something we haven't heard before and afterwards from him. The project sounds like a band in here and offers a rather short and homogenous record. The songs are though artificially stretched and lack of energy, atmosphere and originality so that the final result is Ayreon's weakest release. Many promising ideas and attempts have not led to a satisfying, intriguing and coherent release. While progressive music fans could like this calm tribute to the past of the genre, metal fans might quickly get bored and should skip this album to continue with the great "Into The Electric Castle" which marked the band's stunning breakthrough where Ayreon also found its own style.

Originally released on on August 18th of the year 2011.

Report this review (#499365)
Posted Sunday, August 7, 2011 | Review Permalink
3 stars Ayreon's second album shows some improvement over The Final Experiment. Avoiding the rock opera format this time around means that Lucassen doesn't have to hammer his musical ideas into that constricting format and doesn't feel the need to add any filler to provide narration or context for the story. That said, it still doesn't scratch the itch for me, with songs that outstay their welcome and make me lost interest partway through and constant flirtations with developing the piece into a concept album (about the concept of fantasy) which are never quite followed through on. Like The Final Experiment, it's more of a blueprint for later Ayreon works.
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Posted Saturday, February 4, 2012 | Review Permalink
5 stars The best Arjen Lucassen's album ever. It took me few years to fully realize this. But, as much as I admire its more famous and grandiose successors, namely Into the Electric Castle and Universal Migrator (especially Dream Sequencer part) and even Star One's Space Metal, Actual Fantasy has certain depths that Arjen never reached again. Perhaps the key of this album lies in its relative kind of modesty and straightforwardness compared to other efforts. Drum-machine, often viewed as a weakness, is fitting needs of this music, doesn't degrade it at all. On the contrary it gives the album its "cold" feeling. Partly because of this sort of simplification, Arjen's stellar guitar work, especially Gilmour-like parts, including great slide guitar, has plenty of space to shine.

Actual Fantasy is Lucassen's darkest, quite fast-paced, melodically most convincing album, with perfect flow, pulsating synthetic rhythmicity and magnificent spacey arrangements. Balanced with no weak places - every song stands out on its own. Gone are constant sudden and predictably unpredictable changes, gone are hundreds of instruments that Arjen practice in his rock operas. On the other hand, tempo within the pieces is quite steady with great build-ups and several intricate moments and twists here and there, with occasional synth/guitar bursts and battles throughout. Three singers perfectly complement each other trading the lead vocals within individual songs. Every single piece has infectious hooks filled with intense, freezing atmosphere sending shivers down the spine. This music takes you on the journey into distant cold deserts revealing post-apocalyptic portrayal of wastelands of human civilization and shady perspectives of tech-future. It makes you reflect about depths of space as well as fundamental philosophy and a bitter fate of humankind. It makes you feel despair and anxiety as well as glimpses of hope and love.

For all those emotions and visions that Arjen has been able to project and deliver to me, I perceive Actual Fantasy as a peak of his creativity and energy and consequently as his masterpiece.

Report this review (#1314650)
Posted Monday, November 24, 2014 | Review Permalink

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