Arjen Anthony Lucasson is an remarkably tall Dutch enigma, a man who has carved himself out a career by making complex, unfashionable and occasionally insane sounding rock operas while building up a loyal and sizeable fan base without much in the way of traditional touring.
He has released albums under project names like Star One, Guilt Machine and Stream Of Passion (which he left and became a band in its' own separate right) but his most famous and most successful project is Ayreon.
After releasing a series of mostly epic science fiction concept albums under that name, based around a universe he created, this new album is his first return to the name in six years.
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Fans of his previous albums under the Ayreon banner will be glad to know he's kept to mostly the same formula here with a story told over ninety minutes or so with different singers playing different characters. There are some differences in that he has used singers he hasn't worked with before, the best known among them being Asia's John Wetton and Lacuna Coil's Cristina Scabbia.
He has also added some guest musicians from the old prog bands he obviously admires so much in Rick Wakeman, Keith Emerson and Steve Hackett as well as the aforementioned Wetton plus people from Nightwish and Drean Theater so he certainly is trying to give this album a certain pedigree.
The story idea is new too, a complex web of ideas about the fine line between genius and madness and I won't pretend that after a few listens I've got it figured out! Anyway this album is designed to appeal to the kind of person who enjoys pouring over the lyrics to try and figure it out for themselves! However 'The Theory Of Everything' will stand and fall on the music in the end and that is also a complex web of ideas like the story.
In the press release with this Lucasson references Yes' 'Tales From Topographic Oceans' and the music here is set out in a similar way with their being four main "songs" all around twenty minutes or more long and each broken down into subsections.
This is actually not a particularly digital friendly format as it is picked up as 42 separate tracks which seems to genuinely be a reference to 'Hitchiker's Guide To The Galaxy'! However the album is meant to be listened to as four pieces of complete music.
The four main songs are titled 'Singularity', 'Symmetry', 'Entanglement' and 'Unification' and while the giant Dutchman has claimed to have simplified things since his last Ayreon release, '01011001', these are four complex pieces of music which demand some commitment and time to fully get.
The sound is of course suitably epic and nothing too far removed from the Ayreon-norm with all the vocalists sounding comfortable with their roles and dense layers of keyboards and guitars whether it be in the slower acoustic passages or the huge epic more progressive metal sounding sections.
It is of course fun trying to spot who sings what and even more who plays what(although you'll spot Keith Emerson instantly if you've heard any ELP at all!) but on my first few listens it does hang together as an album in its' own way and doesn't really suffer from a lack of a band vibe.
Verdict: I think this will be an album which committed Ayreon fans will love. I though Lucasson's last three releases were disappointing ('Guilt Machine', the second Star One album and 'Lost In The Real World' released under his own name) and this is definitely a return to form compared to those.
It is a dense and complex piece of work though which rewards repeated listens with new delights spotted every time but inevitably fails to throw up any individually great songs like 'Loser' from 'The Human Equation' or 'Castle Hall' from 'Into The Electric Castle'.
If you like the previous Ayreon releases like me then this should be a must buy album and I suspect it is one I will grow to love over time. If you've never heard of Ayreon before ans like the idea of insanely epic progressive rock then there are better places to start but not by too much, just give one a go!
1. 'Phase I: Singularity'
I. 'Prologue: The Blackboard' - 01:55
II. 'The Theory of Everything Part 1' - 03:01
III. 'Patterns' - 01:03
IV. 'The Prodigy's World' - 01:31
V. 'The Teacher's Discovery' - 02:58
VI. 'Love and Envy' - 02:39
VII. 'Progressive Waves' - 03:16
VIII. 'The Gift' - 02:38
IX. 'The Eleventh Dimension' - 01:46
X. 'Inertia' - 00:45
XI. 'The Theory of Everything Part 2 - 01:50'
2. 'Phase II: Symmetry'
XII. 'The Consultation' - 03:49
XIII. 'Diagnosis' - 02:48
XIV. 'The Argument 1' - 00:24
XV. 'The Rival's Dilemma' - 02:22
XVI. 'Surface Tension' - 00:57
XVII. 'A Reason to Live' - 00:45
XVIII. 'Potential' - 3:14
XIX. 'Quantum Chaos' - 2:09
XX. 'Dark Medicine' - 1:23
XXI. 'Alive!' - 02:29
XXII. 'The Prediction - 01:05
1. 'Phase III: Entanglement'
I. 'Fluctuations' - 01:01
II. 'Transformations' - 03:13
III. 'Collision' - 03:26
IV. 'Side Effects' - 02:59
V. 'Frequency Modulation' - 01:44
VI. 'Magnetism' - 03:54
VII. 'Quid Pro Quo' - 03:09
VIII. 'String Theory' - 01:29
IX. 'Fortune? - 01:36'
2. 'Phase IV: Unification'
X. 'Mirror of Dreams' - 02:30
XI. 'The Lighthouse' - 03:16
XII. 'The Argument 2' - 00:49
XIII. 'The Parting' - 03:27
XIV. 'The Visitation' - 03:27
XV. 'The Breaktrough' - 02:00
XVI. 'The Note' - 01:11
XVII. 'The Uncertainty Principle' - 02:09
XVIII. 'Dark Energy' - 00:44
XIX. 'The Theory of Everything Part 3' - 01:29
XX. 'The Blackboard (Reprise) - 01:13'