Ayreon - Discography

Ayreon, a project by Arjen Lucassen, is one of the projects of my life, a marvel in music that would be able to thrill even the least interested in prog music, thanks to a mix that embraces rock and metal without lingering in the cold virtuosity and focusing everything on narrativity. Treating the bands' entire discography in depth would require a careful examination of the concepts and the line-up, different album by album, so here I will limit myself as much as possible to observe the salient features of these works as succinctly as possible, trying to focus on those aspects that most impressed me about this Dutch genius. So fasten your seat belts, let's go.

Planet Earth, year 2084, humanity is on the brink of destruction and the only hope of salvation is the final experiment: to send images of the future to a mind of the past through the "Time Telepathy" project so that it can correct in time the rout of humanity and save it from ruin. This message goes to haunt the mind of a poor blind minstrel who lives in the time of King Arthur, Ayreon; will they be able to convince the knights of the round table and a surly Wizard Merlin (Walt Disney move!) of the goodness of his intentions?
Debut with a bang for the project by Arjen Lucassen, a jewel of medieval prog, which draws on both rock and some power nuances (take this last observation with a pinch of salt): already the introductory fanfare is enough to communicate the solemnity of this work that offers as a business card with a magical and easy-to-grip refrain such as "The Awareness" and "Eyes of Time" before lulling us with the long and wonderful "The Banishment". Other peaks are undoubtedly the power-song "Sail Away To Avalon", the hypnotic "Listen to the Waves" and the powerful "Merlin's Will". Perhaps there are too many songs and a glimpse of a quarter of an hour would have made everything more smooth, but as a first step, we are already at considerably high levels.

This album brings with it some problems: first of all a rather ugly cover, then the fact of being in the middle of two giants (see below), not being a concept album and, finally, its exquisitely prog nature!
The good Arjen this time chooses to focus on a reduced number of tracks (8 + intro in the remastered version) of medium-long duration and genuinely rock suggestions, dissatisfying the metal fringe and also the more "dreamy" one. And it's a real shame, because the record is really very good, the music slightly bizarre and more demanding but always suggestive and the songs are really good: I think of Abbey of Synn or Computer Eyes to name two, but the whole album absolutely deserves to be re-evaluated.

Here begins the habit of creating concept albums spread over two CDs and in which each guest plays a character from the story. In this case we are faced with a bizarre and forced encounter between people of different eras and their journey towards the "electric castle". The joust of illustrious guests begins, among which Fish (the first singer of Marillion) and Thiis Van Leer on flute undoubtedly stand out. Musically, Arjen enjoys giving a shot to the circle and one to the barrel, mixing rock and metal as in the debut and covering them with sci-fi suggestions: so aware of having created a capital work that he allows himself to put on the two longest songs, the wonderful "Isis And Osiris" and "Amazing Flight" as an opener. Also stands out the epic "Rainbow Bridge", the morbid "The Garden of Emotion", the short and intense "Valley of the Queen" and the evil "Castle Hall" and "The Two Gates" (what a chorus, folks). Lots of tracks but very few fillers.

Arjen realizes that he has two very distinct fringes of fans and decides to satisfy both by releasing in the same year two single albums linked to a single concept, the first more linked to the rock dimension, the second decidedly more moved to the metal side. Then in 2004 the two works will be reprinted in a single format. Given the number of topics to be treated, I think it is better to respect the original format and then treat them individually. And so:
We are on Mars, several years after the great devastation that in 2084 led to the demise of the earthlings, except for those few who colonized Mars. The protagonist is precisely the last terrestrial living on the red planet whose only activity is the Dream Sequencer, a machine that allows you to travel in time with hypnosis and retrace its previous incarnations: we see him then return now to the conquest of luna, now in the midst of the fight against the invincible army, until he discovers that among his first incarnations is Ayreon himself, the blind minstrel, and even Adam (The First Man On Earth). Musically it is an excellent work, with well-balanced rock sounds and an easy-to-grasp refrain, without ever falling into banal or pimp/derivative: the combination of "My House on Mars" and "2084" is thrilling. "One Small Step" and " The shooting company...", up to the magic of "The Druids turn to Stone" and the aforementioned "The First Man On Earth". But the whole record shines with inspiration. Excellent proof of the vocalists, each of which plays an incarnation of the protagonist (among the names certainly stands out Neal Morse).
Our protagonist decides to go further, to the origins of the cosmos, passing through Big Bang, black holes, overcooked pasta and other amenities, until he makes a big mess by overloading the machine and burning his brain.
Sound harder and closer in some ways to prog/power metal, perhaps more difficult to listen to but always of great class. Hosted in luxury, even here one per song: Russel Allen (scary on "Dawn of a Million Souls"), Andi Deris (how much I loved him on this record), Ralph Scheepers, our Fabio Lione, Timo Kotipelto and... his majesty Bruce Dickinson with a masterful and theatrical "Into the Balck Hole". Perhaps less immediate than the first part and more complex, but of great charm.

I think most of us got to know the Ayreon project thanks to this work to which I still owe a lot today, first of all for being the last in which I was able to listen to a James Labrie in good shape, and then for the story perhaps not very original but particularly successful.
A man after a car accident finds himself in a coma in a hospital bed; alongside him are his wife and his best friend, both with a painful secret. Track by track, day by day, ours deals with the different emotions in his head and will thus be able to reconstruct the whole story and understand his mistakes.
Once again the luxury guests are brilliant, besides Labrie, we find Mikael Akerfeldt, Marcela Bovio and Devin Townsend (his screams on the evil tarantella "Looser" are spectacular). It is difficult to extrapolate the best tracks of a concept that must be absorbed in this way, from start to finish, as a continuous flow. Two curiosities: the second cd starts with the twelfth day and to respect the correspondence with the list of songs is opened by 11 tracks of a few seconds each to actually start on track number 12 (wonders for those who still buy the CDs). Ah, and if by any chance you thought that this record has nothing to do with Ayreon's concepts .... listen carefully to the voice recorded at the end of the last track.
Finally, I add that there is an excellent theatrical transposition of this (with Labrie himself as a protagonist), very good and well done, even if the absence of Townsend weighs quite a lot.

01011001 (2008)
The good Arjen decides to free himself from the articulated and labyrinthine concept that he has created and releases a double CD that contains some events related to the stories already told. The name of the work, first of all, is the equivalent in a binary alphabet of the name Epsilon, the planet of Forever, the creators of the Dream Sequencer. And to them is dedicated the first album that brings with it some stratospheric pieces, such as the long Age of Shadow (listen to Steve Lee-RIP- and Daniel Gildenlöw as a great duet in the chorus), the dark "Comatose" with a Jorn Lande on great dusting and an epic "Ride The Comet". The second cd, called "Earth", opens with one of my songs from Ayreon's life, "The fifth Extinction", a magnificent suite with a spectacular ending. We find "The Truth is in Here" whose protagonist is the same hippie from "Into The Electric Castle" and "E = mc2" dedicated to the realization of the "Final Experiment". And again "River of Time" where even Hansi Kursch of the Blind Guardian and Bob Catley duet... everything finds an epic and magnificent conclusion in the splendid "Sixth Extinction" which closes the circle with new hope for Forever, the construction of the Dream Sequencer...
Perhaps a fragmentary album due to the fact that it is more a container of concepts than a story in itself, but musically flawless and harmonically heterogeneous.

Arjen decides to change course to devote himself to a new character, a child prodigy isolated from the world who manages to discover an equation capable of explaining all the phenomena of the world. Musically we are faced with the best you can ask for, Steve Hackett, Rick Wakeman, Keith Emerson, Jordan Rudess among others, and voices nothing like John Wetton or our Cristina Scabbia. All nice... or almost. Yes, because he realizes an extremely theatrical work divided into 4 macro suites, 2 per cd, in turn, divided into many mini-tracks, bringing the tracklist to the worrying number of 42 songs... too dispersive, too difficult to keep in mind and from listening extremely difficult... shame, because the music is really beautiful, and perhaps condensing the tracks in order to have a more human number would have greatly benefited its usability.

Arjen retraces his steps and then creates a sort of prequel to the events narrated in his classic concepts. It all begins with a world in disarray - and it seemed to you - and with the president who decides to entrust the solution of the problem to a computer: he declares that the only possible solution is... the extermination of humanity, and that is what it happens punctually. Only a group of the chosen ones manage to save themselves, recovering the only functioning spaceship, and colonize a new planet, Y. From here the new humanity will begin.... and the progressive slavery from the machines.
Guests such as Hansi Kürsch, Russel Allen and James Labrie return, joined by the "rival of metal opera" Tobias Sammet.
The album is particularly easy to listen to, ideal for metal fans who do not like too crazy songs; flows beautifully and many songs easily remain in the head, such as the long and wonderful "The Day that the World Breaks down", Queen inspired "Everybody Dies", passing through the epic "Star of Sirrah", "Planet Y is Alive" closing with the short, wicked outro of "March of the Machines". The idea that remains is that of an album composed on autopilot, playing it safe without daring particular solutions, in short, nothing new under the sun, more than good for any group, but since it is Ayreon we can and must expect something Moreover.

Questionable cover, missing booklet (a concept without lyrics is stuff from Nuremberg) for a work that again departs from the Forever story to tell us a Shakespearean-like tragedy with gothic hues full of twists, romanticism... and the usual set of illustrious guests who populate a work that, perhaps, could almost be defined as a "musical" in prog sauce, a work where I personally find it difficult to find a song that stands out. The music is really beautiful and the tracks have a limited length, only some vocal parts and the continuous narrated sections (from the voice of Tom Baker, directly from the Doctor Who series), as well as a certain repetitiveness of some tracks, did not completely convince me, the reduction of which would probably have led to a concept on a single CD, more compact and perhaps even more convincing. However, being the nice Dutchman, I allow myself to be accommodating and to remember that "the more there is the less" and that when faced with nothing as an alternative I prefer to keep this album, songs that are too much included.

Apologizing for the prolixity and, at the same time, for the approximation regarding the albums, I salute you.

Giovanni Gagliano

Passionate about music I wrote my first article for "Given To Rock" in 2012, reaching now 30K global followers. I am also a musician, gigging around London.

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