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Ayreon, 'The Final Experiment'

The Final Experiment  (1995,  71.10)  ***

Prologue
Act I: The Dawning
  The Awareness
  Eyes of Time
  The Banishment

Act II: King Arthur's Court
  Ye Courtyard Minstrel Boy
  Sail Away to Avalon
  Nature's Dance
Act III: Visual Echoes
  Computer-Reign (Game Over)
  Waracle
  Listen to the Waves
  Magic Ride

Act IV: Merlin's Will and Ayreon's Fate
  Merlin's Will
  The Charm of the Seer
  Swan Song
  Ayreon's Fate
Ayreon, 'Actual Fantasy'

Actual Fantasy  (1996,  54.29/62.01)  **½

Actual Fantasy
Abbey of Synn
The Stranger From Within
Computer Eyes
Beyond the Last Horizon
Farside of the World
Back on Planet Earth
Forevermore
[expanded ed. adds several video tracks and:
The Dawn of Man]
Ayreon, 'Into the Electric Castle'

Into the Electric Castle  (1998,  104.31)  **½

Welcome to the New Dimension
Isis and Osiris
  a) Let the Journey Begin
  b) The Hall of Isis and Osiris
  c) Strange Constellations

Amazing Flight
  a) Amazing Flight in Space
  b) Stardance
  c) Flying Colours

Time Beyond Time
The Decision Tree (We're Alive)
Tunnel of Light
Across the Rainbow Bridge
The Garden of Emotions
  a) In the Garden of Emotions
  b) Voices in the Sky
  c) The Aggression Factor

Valley of the Queens
The Castle Hall
Tower of Hope
Cosmic Fusion
  a) I Soar on the Breeze
  b) Death's Grunt
  c) The Passing of an Eagle

The Mirror Maze
  a) Inside the Mirror maze
  b) Through the Mirror

Evil Devolution
The Two Gates
"Forever" of the Stars
Another Time, Another Space
Ayreon, 'The Universal Migrator Part One: The Dream Sequencer'

The Universal Migrator Part One: The Dream Sequencer  (2000,  70.07)  **½

The Dream Sequencer
My House on Mars
2084
One Small Step
The Shooting Company of Captain
  Frans B Cocq
Dragon on the Sea
Temple of the Cat
Carried By the Wind
And the Druids Turn to Stone
The First Man on Earth
The Dream Sequencer Reprise
Ayreon, 'The Universal Migrator Part Two: Flight of the Migrator'

The Universal Migrator Part Two: Flight of the Migrator  (2000,  65.40)  **½

Chaos
Dawn of Million Souls
Journey on the Waves of Time
To the Quasar
  a) The Taurus Pulsar
  b) Quasar 3C273

Into the Black Hole
  a) The Eye of the Universe
  b) Halo of Darkness
  c) The Final Hour

Through the Wormhole
Out of the White Hole
  a) M31
  b) Planet Y
  c) The Search Continues

To the Solar System
  a) Planet of Blue
  b) System Alert

The New Migrator
  a) Metamorphosis
  b) Sleeper Awake
Ayreon, 'Ayreonauts Only'

Ayreonauts Only  (2000,  62.17)  **

Into the Black Hole
Out of the White Hole
Through the Wormhole
Carpe Diem (Chaos)
Temple of the Cat
Original Hippie's Amazing Trip
Beyond the Last Horizon
The Charm of the Seer
Eyes of Time
Nature's Dance
Ambeon: Cold Metal
Ayreon, 'The Human Equation'

The Human Equation  (2004,  101.19)  **½

Day One: Vigil
Day Two: Isolation
Day Three: Pain
Day Four: Mystery
Day Five: Voices
Day Six: Childhood
Day Seven: Hope
Day Eight: School
Day Nine: Playground
Day Ten: Memories
Day Eleven: Love
Day Twelve: Trauma
Day Thirteen: Sign
Day Fourteen: Pride
Day Fifteen: Betrayal
Day Sixteen: Loser
Day Seventeen: Accident?
Day Eighteen: Realization
Day Nineteen: Disclosure
Day Twenty: Confrontation
Ayreon, '01011001'

01011001  (2008,  102.07)  **½

Age of Shadows incl. We Are Forever
Comatose
Liquid Eternity
Connect the Dots
Beneath the Waves
  (a) Beneath the Waves
  (b) Face the Facts
  (c) But a Memory...
  (d) World Without Walls
  (e) Reality Bleeds
Newborn Race
  (a) The Incentive
  (b) The Vision
  (c) The Procedure
  (d) Another Life
  (e) Newborn Race
  (f) The Conclusion

Ride the Comet
Web of Lies
The Fifth Extinction
  (a) Glimmer of Hope
  (b) World of Tomorrow Dreams
  (c) Collision Course
  (d) From the Ashes
  (e) Glimmer of Hope (reprise)

Waking Dreams
The Truth Is In Here
Unnatural Selection
River of Time
E=MC2
The Sixth Extinction
  (a) Echoes on the Wind
  (b) Radioactive Grave
  (c) 2085
  (d) To the Planet of Red
  (e) Spirit on the Wind
  (f) Complete the Circle
Ayreon, 'The Theory of Everything'

The Theory of Everything  (2013,  89.55)  **

Phase I: Singularity
  I. Prologue: The Blackboard
  II. The Theory of Everything part 1
  III. Patterns
  IV. The Prodigy's World
  V. The Teacher's Discovery
  VI. Love and Envy
  VII. Progressive Waves
  VIII. The Gift
  IX. The Eleventh Dimension
  X. Inertia
  XI. The Theory of Everything part 2

Phase II: Symmetry
  XII. The Consultation
  XIII. Diagnosis
  XIV. The Argument 1
  XV. The Rival's Dilemma
  XVI. Surface Tension
  XVII. A Reason to Live
  XVIII. Potential
  XIX. Quantum Chaos
  XX. Dark Medicine
  XXI. Alive!
  XXII. The Prediction
Phase III: Entanglement
  I. Fluctuations
  II. Transformations
  III. Collision
  IV. Side Effects
  V. Frequency Modulation
  VI. Magnetism
  VII. Quid Pro Quo
  VIII. String Theory
  IX. Fortune?

Phase IV: Unification
  X. Mirror of Dreams
  XI. The Lighthouse
  XII. The Argument 2
  XIII. The Parting
  XIV. The Visitation
  XV. The Breakthrough
  XVI. The Note
  XVII. The Uncertainty Principle
  XVIII. Dark Energy
  XIX. The Theory of Everything part 2
  XX. The Blackboard (reprise)

Current availability:

Ex-Bodine/Vengeance guitarist Arjen Anthony Lucassen left the latter outfit in the early '90s to concentrate on what has turned out to be his remarkably successful solo career, largely in the form of Ayreon. The band appears to be one huge, overblown concept, taking in war, environmentalism, technology and a dozen other subjects, spread across a seemingly unending supply of very long albums, all in a rather cheesy symphonic metal rock opera style that you'll either like or... you won't.

The band's career kicked off with 1995's The Final Experiment, originally released under Lucassen's own name as Ayreon: The Final Experiment, a science fiction/time travel concept effort involving many different vocalists (including Golden Earring's Barry Hay) and a good few instrumentalists, not least ex-Finch keys man Cleem Determeijer. The music is every bit as pompous as you'd expect, with little real invention, sounding like exactly what it is: progressive rock written by a mainstream rock guitarist. Saying that, it largely lacks any ELP-esque show-offiness, thankfully and can easily be ignored, unless some drivel I could mention. 'Mostly harmless', as the much-missed Douglas Adams once said. Now; Lucassen's brother wrote to me some years ago, alleging Mellotron use on all the Ayreon albums, but admitting they were sampled upon interrogation. Determeijer plays them here, with little obvious use (the choirs, flutes and most of the strings sound generic to me), with definite sampled strings on the last part of Act III, Magic Ride and the album's final track, Ayreon's Fate.

The following year's Actual Fantasy (huh?) is essentially more of the same, only the surprise of the new has worn off already, leaving a rather empty shell of bombast and thoroughly ordinary chord sequences. What was that business about empty vessels making the most noise? I'm sure if you're into Mr. Lucassen's thang you'll love this to pieces, but it bored me rigid. Oh, and Pink Floyd should sue over the bassline and 'guitar through Leslie' effect on Computer Eyes. More 'Tron samples this time round, with watery strings on Abbey Of Synn, with more of the same plus choirs spread across the album, though nothing that stands out in any way.

1998's Into the Electric Castle is Lucassen's most overblown effort yet, a two-disc concept effort concentrating (I think) on the nature of aggression, amongst many other topics, featuring the usual cast of thousands, including Fish, Arena's Clive Nolan, Kayak's Ton Scherpenzeel and none other than Focus' Thijs Van Leer, who provides the Tullalike flute on a few tracks. This really is profoundly silly; science fiction for the kind of 'fan' who thinks it began with Star Trek and ended with Battlestar Galactica, full of the most useless SF/fantasy clichés imaginable, all set to highly unchallenging progressive metal crossed with an off-Broadway show. Just say no. Not all that much samplotron, from Lucassen and Dutch rock dude Robby Valentine, with the usual suspects in the usual places.

2000 brought a double concept piece, The Universal Migrator, released as two separate discs, for once. Yup, it's another sprawling, not-that-coherent SF concept, complete with spoken-word interludes and all the usual suspects on the influence front. Oh joy. Part One: The Dream Sequencer is exactly what you'd expect by now, the bog-standard prog-metal slightly relieved by early(-ish) Floyd touches on closer The Dream Sequencer Reprise, but, by and large, this is unlikely to convert anyone not already a devotee to Lucassen's cause. Plenty of samplotron, with particularly obvious string samples on Temple Of The Cat (one of the album's better efforts), although the choirs and flutes are less so. Part Two: Flight of the Migrator features several (semi-)famous guests, as Lucassen's star rose, including Nolan again, Erik Norlander (Rocket Scientists), Lana Lane, Bruce Dickinson and, er, Symphony X's Michael Romeo. Citing 'better tracks' is probably a mistake, as the listener is no doubt meant to consume the concept in one sitting, but The Taurus Pulsar, the first part of To The Quasar, isn't too bad, although it's a bit of a blip on an otherwise dull album. More samplotron on Part One then Part Two, but it isn't a major component of either.

2000's Ayreonauts Only lives up to its name, being a 'fans only' disc of alternate versions and the like. Its version of Through The Wormhole is one of its less pointless tracks, but this really is only for the faithful. It took Lucassen four years to follow the Universal Migrator pairing with The Human Equation, which seems to be the third part of the concept, as far as I can work out. Once again, good moments (Day Eighteen: Realization and Day Twenty: Confrontation, the James Bond theme over a wash of string synth on Day Three: Pain) are spoilt by the overall 'cod-rock opera' feel of the album and the largely clichéd prog-metal moves displayed throughout. Low levels of samplotron on both of these, assuming you're actually that bothered.

Now, 2008's 01011001 (another double) actually starts really well, much of ten-minute opener Age Of Shadows being dynamic, reasonably interesting and almost original in places, particularly its industrial noise opening. Several other tracks feature interesting bits (many of them folky), too, although Web Of Lies' tale of Internet dating is an excruciating attempt to be 'contemporary', not least due to being about a decade out of date (it was bad enough when Rush tackled the subject in 1996). To be honest, the only thing stopping this getting three stars is its obscene length and its guff-to-listenable-stuff ratio, making it (sort of) one of the best Ayreon releases yet. Once again, reasonable, yet not excessive levels of samplotron, but you'd never mistake it for the real thing, frankly.

After a five-year hiatus, during which Lucassen involved himself in other projects, 2013's two-disc The Theory of Everything is, indeed, almost certainly everything for which his legions of fans have been waiting. The rest of us might not be quite so keen, but then, we don't have to buy it, do we? It's another multi-vocalled rock opera, this time concerning an 'idiot' chid who turns out to be a savant, the plot throwing a mish-mash of current theories in physics into the mix. Lyrically, elements of this look like a vague attempt to rewrite Tommy, although the two storylines are far from analogous, while musically, it's the same old same old, basically operatic prog metal with occasional and largely inappropriate Celtic overtones. Not that much samplotron compared to previous releases, with sparingly-used strings on Love And Envy, The Gift, Potential, Side Effects, Quid Pro Quo and Fortune? and choirs on The Theory Of Everything Part 2 and Frequency Modulation. Is this ridiculous? Overblown? Severely lacking in taste? Of course it is, but Ayreon fans will love it.

Do you bother with Ayreon? Depends on your tolerance for semi-operatic prog-metal, I suppose. Mine's low, in case you hadn't guessed. All of the above have their moments, but they're all, without exception, far too long, spreading a handful of just-about-OK ideas rather more thinly than they warrant. Your choice, really.

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See: Pythagoras | Star One | Ambeon


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