The Ayreon Special

All journies begin with a single step… And in the case of Ayreon’s ‘The Final Experiment,’ it was a step that shook the progressive world. Until then, the concept of a ‘rock opera’ had been left dormant since the early 80s, for the most part. And then out of the Netherlands comes a modest man with a great musical vision to change things, and contribute something great to the world. ‘The Final Experiment,’ while not quite a masterpiece, it is a milestone in modern Prog.

The concept, while a bit corny, is well thought out, and the story sets the stage for future Ayreon tales to be told. In summary, a young medieval Ministrel (named Ayreon) is contacted by humans from the far future to warn the world of it’s own downfall. However, things don’t go to plan, and a series of misfortunes ensue. The lyrics are fairly decent, but nothing mind blowing. However, they do manage to tell the story quite well.

Musically, the album is very well done. Good songwriting, and amazing song recording (considering it’s a debut record.) Songs like ‘Eyes Of Time,’ ‘The Banishment,’ ‘Merlin’s Will’ and ‘Ayreon’s Fate’ stood out to me as being great prog-rock tunes. Theres also quieter songs like the beautifully composed ‘Swan Song’ that bring out the more thoughtful side of Arjen Luccasen’s musical ability.

The one thing that could have been changed and improved was if each character in the story only had one corresponding vocalist, instead of a big melange of it all. It made the story I bit needlessly hard to follow, despite the relatively accessible lyrics. Besides that, it was great. Highly recommended for fans of good Prog-Rock, and although this isn’t ‘hardcore metal’ by any standards, fans of Metal should be able to appreciate the quality of this record.

Along with Ayreon’s more famous rock opera, ‘The Human Equation,’ this fine masterpiece is another highlight of the symphonic metal band/project,

Put simply, the album melds a whimsical Ziltoid-esque concept with excellent progressive music. To make a long story short, 8 different cultural stereotypes (IE: Roman, Barbarian, Hippie etc) are plucked out of time to go on a quest through an extra dimensional realm. While it’s certainly not an immensely engaging plot, it works well, and gives alot of potential to incorperate different styles, and despite the obvious fact that the story isn’t supposed to emotionally envelop a listener, there are moments where the characters really show added dimensions to their personalities beyond the simple stereotypes they set out to be.

This album (unlike the Human Equation, which I fell in love with at first listen) took me a little while to appreciate it. I’ve always enjoyed it, but like a few other albums in my collection (Coheed & Cambria’s ‘The Second Stage Turbine, and Opeth’s ‘Still Life,’ for example) when the album suddenly hit me, it was instantaneous and overwhelming.

It takes a huge amount of genius to make a double album this engaging. Beautifully produced, performed and composed. Gets better with each listen. An excellent addition to any prog collection.

Of all the Ayreon releases, this is the one that I find stands out. Not necessarily because it’s musically better than the others (it doesn’t top any of the double albums) but simply because the style is taken in a very unique direction. Most Ayreon music features alot of different, highly-progressive changes throughout a song, and a strong metal influence. However, ‘The Dream Sequencer’ concentrates primarily on Ayreon’s softer, more emotive side. The result is an introspective album that stands out as Ayreon’s best single-disc album.

As a contrast to the metal-oriented ‘Flight of the Migrator’ (relatable to Opeth’s Damnation/Deliverance releases) ‘The Dream Sequencer’ takes the listener to the planet Mars, where the last surviving human is spending his last few days alive on a Mars colony. In order to spend his remaining hours in relative comfort, steps into a Virtual Reality capsule called the dream sequencer. This mechanism takes him back to his soul’s past lives, and each most of the songs on the album (excluding the Intro and Outro) reflect their own past life. In this fashion, there is a wide span of content, ranging from apocalyptic warfare, to the Apollo 11 lunar landing, to a Mayan festival and even a reference to ‘The Final Experiment.’

Alot of the music draws upon alot of electronic instruments and synthesizers. It fits in very well with the science fiction theme of the album. The performances of the singers range from mediocre to well done; Damian Wilson’s performance in ‘And The Druids Turned To Stone’ stood out to me particularly. Instrumentally, there isn’t anything thats incredibly technical, but you can get a real feeling of the musicianship and skill through the amount of emotion conveyed.

While it may be outshined by the three double albums (Into The Electric Castle, The Human Equation, 01011001) ‘The Dream Sequencer’ stands out as an amazing and emotional concept album, and one of Arjen’s greatest musical hours.

This is a very cool, very psychedelic album. Theres a real feeling of travelling through space, and Arjen puts to use many cool effects. The musicianship on the album is also great. The intense instrumental opener ‘Chaos’ is probably the most technical effort Ayreon has ever done, and ever will do. Arjen even said himself that he needed to practice his guitar a few months before mastering the song! There are some great singers on this singer, most notably Fabio Leone (of Rhapsody Of Fire) and Bruce Dickenson (hailing from Iron Maiden fame.) The singers are for the most part used very well.

The album feels very one tracked; stuck to a single sound. It can get boring after an album, and from an artist like Ayreon, I’m really expecting more. Musically, it doesn’t compare to the other albums in Ayreon’s discography. This album’s counterpart, ‘The Dream Sequencer’ highly overshadowed this release in terms of quality, but I can certainly see why someone would love this album. It’s just not for me… Theres a real emotional lack to the musical craft, and while some songs really work well, others like the Dickenson track ‘Into The Black Hole’ can get really boring, and hurt the album.

The songwriting is good, and the atmospherics are FANTASTIC and are probably the album’s high point. I just have never found a great amount of enjoyment in this album. There’s nothing wrong with it, but besides ‘Chaos,’ there really aren’t that many moments that stand out on this album.

Well done, but Ayreon’s done much, much better.

I can remember the first time I listened to ‘The Human Equation.’ It was a quiet evening, and I was busy looking up new music to get into. Reading about a band called Ayreon, my interest was suddenly peaked. A band that used elements from a multitude of different genres? Guest vocals from Dream Theater, Devin Townsend and Opeth? I had to check it out.

My first taste of Ayreon was through ‘The Human Equation.’ Since then, Ayreon has become one of my all- time favourite progressive artists. ‘The Human Equation’ has everything you would expect in the typical prog masterpiece, and more. There are elements from folk, classical, electronic, gothic, avant-garde and metal, laid atop a heavy progressive backdrop.

This album is incredibly ambitious. Harkening back to the night first listening to ‘The Human Equation’ in full, I was addicted. It was the musical equivalent of a ‘book you can’t put down.’ As a work that’s almost two hours in length, it’s definately alot to swallow; but I was enveloped in both the storyline and music, and needed to finish the saga before I headed to bed.

The plot (provided you have a cast of characters list, and the lyrics in front of you) is relatively easy to follow, considering it’s mass complexity and style. In summary, the majority of the ‘musical play’ takes place inside a man’s head during a coma, where he speaks with different emotions; different facets of his character and being. In the real world, his best friend and wife look and watch over him, both with dark secrets of their own. It’s a deeply psychological trip, and would make for an excellent film script, if the opportunity arose.

‘The Human Equation’ is very popular among prog fans, and there’s no wondering why. It’s a masterpiece of modern prog, and shouldn’t be missed!

When I first listened to the vocal samplings released on the internet a few months before ’01011001′ was released for sale, I was a little bit concerned as to what this album was going to turn out like. There was no doubt in my mind that it was going to be good, but having been so used to masterful works such as ‘The Human Equation’ and ‘Into The Electric Castle,’ I was worried that this third double album wouldn’t match up to the other two. Upon listening to the finished project in it’s entireity, it was a pleasant feeling to realize that not only was this a good album, but it was more or less on par with the other two double albums (which exist as the defacto core of Ayreon’s repetoire.) What Arjen has done here is apparently wrap up his epic Ayreon storyline with an equally epic album, that uses a relatively unique style of storytelling to get the plot across. Instead of having recurring, filled-out characters, each singer, or ‘character’ is used to compliment the whole, instead of take a shape of his or her own. While this different conceptual approach took a while to get into, it ends up working well for the story Arjen is trying to tell.

The heart of this tale consists of the three ‘epics’ the album has to offer; ‘Age Of Shadows,’ ‘The Fifth Extinction,’ and ‘The Sixth Extinction.’ Each clock in at least ten minutes, and do the best job of telling the story. For those unfamiliar with the Ayreon concept, a race of alien beings called ‘Forever’ populated Earth with lifeforms in their own image (humanity) in order to experience emotions and primal feelings once again. However, in their blindness, they let humanity become too advanced and in the process, mankind destroys itself in a great war. While the concept is a little morose, it has a profound social message to tell, and that added dimension makes ’01011001′ a really moving experience.

Despite the fact that most of the singers portray alien characters, there is a resounding feeling of humanity that emanates from each performance. Despite each Forever character being named as nothing more then a symbol (such as a heart or pentagram) each character manages to forge it’s own distinct personality.

The music itself passes off as being darker then alot of Ayreon’s previous works. Elements from electronic and folk music are used alot here. There’s a strong metal influence here, second only to the metal-centric ‘Flight Of The Migrator’ album. The heavy use of synthesizers adds to the science-fiction theme, and the concept. Of special recognition is the beautiful Thomas Bodin keyboard solo in the song ‘Waking Dreams.’ Another highlight of this album is the mind-blowing choral arrangement ‘We Are Forever’ performed by one of the best female vocalists in Prog, Annette Van Giersbergen. The compositional talent required to write four-plus singing counterparts is massive.

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