Giant Dutchman Arjen Lucassen has been happy to buck music industry trends for the last twenty years plus, sitting in his home studio and putting out epic concept albums under the Ayreon name. No touring, little promotion, yet he has built up a worldwide fan base who buy everything he comes up with.
Ayreon: ‘Ayreon Universe’ (Mascot Label Group)
Words: Ian Sutherland
Finally last year he decided to step out of the shadows and have Ayreon perform live, but inevitably it had to be done on an epic scale. The result was a hand-picked eight-piece band and no less than sixteen singers along with a big stage show doing a three-night residency at the O13 venue in Tilburg.
Of course, the three shows sold out in double quick time and the fans came from all over the world to see it. People from fifty-four countries attended, and as one local newspaper described it the world came to Tilburg to see a guy no one in the Netherlands had heard of.
Inevitably these gigs were an amazing spectacle and a huge success and of course they were filmed, so now you can see and hear the magic again and again.
The way Lucassen and his right-hand man and keyboard player here Joost van den Broek put the event together, the set features two songs from each of the eight Ayreon albums plus a couple from the first Star One side project album.
The vocalists are rotated through the songs, each getting material allocated to them to try and suit their individual styles.
There are some big names here such as the Nightwish pair Floor Jansen and Marco Hietala, Blind Guardian’s Hansi Kurch and Dutch icon Anneke van Giersbergen, but there are no egos on display. Everyone is committed to doing the music justice and you can tell that the cast are loving every minute of it.
There is a lot going on, and the whole two and a half hour show is here. Ayreon fans will have their own feelings about the song choices and which song is given to which singer, but whatever your own tastes there are too many highlights to mention.
For me, the best part may be Damian Wilson’s spine-tingling vocal on ‘And The Druids Turn To Stone’. Or is it his duet on the Blake’s 7 inspired ‘Intergalactic Space Crusaders’ with Nightmare’s pocket dynamo Maggy Luyten? Or the epic ensemble sound throughout ‘Ride The Comet’? It’s so hard to choose. There’s so much to enjoy that you have to lay back and let it roll over you.
One thing that is for certain is that the sound on this release is fantastic. The band is a top-notch bunch of musicians and the production really lets that shine through, the sonics throughout are phenomenal.
What also adds to the overall feel of it is the magnificent trio of backing singers. Irene Jansen, Lisette van den Berg and Marcela Bovio are all great lead singers in their own right but the vocal backing they join together to add to most of the tracks here just raises the bar on every song and anyone singing lead over them has to bring their A game.
Visually I think there are a few weird camera angles and lighting choices but you get to see all the singers and musicians and lighting effects and excellent back projections so I don’t think that there will be anyone disappointed if they pick this up, whether they attended the shows or not.
There are a huge number of different options available too, CD, vinyl, DVD, Blu-ray, earbook, box set, you name it.
If you’re an Ayreon fan then you will already be buying this and won’t worry about what this or any other review says. If you don’t know much about Ayreon then the reaction from the crowd when Arjen Lucassen finally appears on stage three quarters of the way through this show will tell you that the man has got something going on and you should really check it out.