The Source by Ayreon – album review

Ayreon is a musical project by Dutch songwriter, singer, multi-instrumentalist musician and record producer Arjen Anthony Lucassen. Ayreon’s music is described as progressive rock, progressive metal and power metal sometimes combined with genres such as folk, electronica, experimental and classical music. The majority of Ayreon’s albums are dubbed “rock operas” (or “metal operas”) because the albums contain complex storylines featuring a host of characters, usually with each one being represented by a unique vocalist.

Number of musicians Arjen worked with is very large. That list includes some of the biggest names in the metal and rock universe such as Bruce Dickinson, Marco Hietala, James LaBrie. Rick Wakeman, Keith Emerson, Ken Hensley, Russel Allen and many more. On this new album “The Source” Arjen introduced some new names to already very big pool of singers he worked with such as Micheal Mills (Circus Maximus), Nils K. Rue (Pagan’s Mind), Tommy Rogers(Between the Buried And Me) and Zaher Zorgati (Myrath). Here is a full list of every single vocalist featured on the album:  James LaBrie (Dream Theater), Simone Simons (Epica), Floor Jansen (Nightwish), Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian), Tobias Sammet (Edguy, Avantasia), Tommy Karevik (Kamelot, Seventh Wonder), and Russell Allen (Symphony X), Micheal Mills (Circus Maximus), Nils K. Rue (Pagan’s Mind), Tommy Rogers(Between the Buried And Me) and Zaher Zorgati (Myrath).  for a total of eleven main vocalists.

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Album is divided in four chronicles. The Frame, The Aligning of the Ten, The Transmigration and The Rebirth. At the end of every chronicle something big happens, but that is something I will discuss later.

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Ayreon was always one of my favorite bands(if you can call it a band since it is a more of a project). “The Human Equation”, “Into The Electric Castle” and “01011001” are some of my favorite albums of all time with “The Human Equation” being favorite out of those 3 so it is clear that I have high expectations from Ayreon

2017 marks the year when Ayreon releases another album. This time it’s called “The Source”. So, did “The Source” meet my expectations?

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It did not meet my expectations, this album passed my expectations. This is everything I wanted from Ayreon times two. “The Human Equation” is still better, but that album is absolute classic in my books and Ayreon was so close to topping “The Human Equation” with this album

I have one small pet peeve when it comes to the albums. Albums that open up with very long songs. This is not the first time Ayreon album opens up with very long song. Same thing happened on 01011001, but when that opening song is not only one of the best songs of the album, but also one of the best songs of the year I am willing to ignore that pet peeve and completely enjoy the song. That’s right “The Day That The World Breaks Down” is still one of my favorite songs of this year so far. It has everything great prog song needs. Great instrumentation, amazing songwriting and even better vocal performances from all eleven singers.

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Every single singer did an amazing job on this album but I have to point out three of them who did the best job. First, let’s start with the best one. Floor Jansen. Honestly, I was always big fan of Floor Jansen. She is actually my favorite singer of all time and this album proved that. Her vocal performances on this album are amazing. Seriously, I have heard every single song where Floor Jansen sings and with full confidence I can say that this album has her best vocal performance of her whole career which says a lot about quality of this album. Just listen to her parts in the songs like “The Day That The World Breaks Down”, “Everybody Dies”. “Run Apocalypse Run” , “Condemned To Live” and especially “Planet Y is Alive”. I almost cried after hearing that part. and you will hear how good she sounds on this album

I love how in every album Arjen incorporates folk elements. That is the case with “The Source” too. Songs like “Sea Of Machines” “All That Was”  and “Dream Dissolves” have very folk inspired atmosphere which is mainly created by flutes, guitars and violins. Two out of those 3 songs have something in common. They feature both Floor Jansen and Simone Simons. There is very big chemistry between two of them because they sound absolutely amazing when paired together. This is not the first time Floor and Simone sing together. On Epica’s 10 year anniversary show Simone and Floor performed together two times.

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That brings us to second singer I would like to talk about. Simone Simons. As I already mentioned there is something about her and Floor singing together. Every time they sound beautiful. Every single vocal part done by her on this album is perfect. She delivers her with right amount of emotion when it’s needed. Just listen to the song “Condemned To Live”. Most emotional part of the story where ten inhabitants of the planet Alpha are given the chance to continue their life on the another planet. Planet Y.

“Everybody Dies” was second single from this album and it is absolutely amazing. In fact, if I was rating every single track this album has thirteen 5/5 songs in a row. From opening song to “The Source Will Flow”. Don’t get me wrong “The Source Will Flow” is really good too, but not as much as first thirteen songs.

“Run Apocalypse Run” is another one standout track. It seems like on every Ayreon album Arjen includes at least one power metal song. That is the case with “The Source” and it kinda makes sense that all power metal singers are featured on this song(Tommy Karevik, Hansi Kursch,Tobias Sammet). I remember first time when I was listening to this album was in the local bus and this song came on, more precisely chorus of this song. I screamed “YES” how much I liked it. Tobias Sammet did killer job on that chorus. His vocals on that chorus are exactly what that type of a sound needed.

Next song is where story gets very emotional. At this part of the story almost everything on Planet Alpha is dead and there is only one ship that can transfer ten inhabitants to the Planet Y. I love how sound of this song perfectly matches the story. This is the case for whole album. This is the part where second chronicle is ended and we get into third chronicle which is called “The Transmigration”

“Aquatic Race” is the song that opens up “The Transmigration” chronicle and honestly there was no better way to open it than with this song.  It opens the new chapter in the lives of ten inhabitants who left the Planet Alpha and are going to the Planet Y to try to continue the race. During that trip they dream about the beautiful world that is waiting for them and also realize that Planet Alpha, when their loved ones stayed, is probably over by that time, but at least they had hope that they will stay alive and continue the race.

Musically all of the songs from this chronicle are amazing, but not for the same reasons. That was always biggest reason why I like Ayreon and every Arjen Lucassen project. His albums tend to be very varied. Aquatic Race is typical prog metal song, while ” The Dream Dissolves” has very nice folk sound. Seriously, those strings make an amazing atmosphere in “The Dream Dissolves” and Simone Simons’s and Floor Jansen’s performance complements it very well. Both of them sound very subtle and emotional so it naturally matches the song’s instrumentation.

Now get to the one of my favorite songs of the album. “Deathcry Of The Race”. Everything about this song is amazing. I mean other songs are amazing too, but something about this one, “The Day The World Breaks Down” and “All That Was” that I really like. Arjen is known for including a lot of things you won’t expect to hear. Like on this song he did it two times. Islamic chant which is done by Zaher Zorgati and that is sadly his only appearance on this album. Second unexpected part is Floor Jansen’s opera part. Honeslty, those two parts are what makes this song to stand out because both of them are done perfectly.

This chronicle is finished with “Into The Ocean” and this song has weird almost glam metal feel at least guitars during the most of the song.  Seriously if this song was played by Motley Crue or Poison I would totally say that this is glam metal song. This song shows how good of a composer Arjen is. He is capable of making song in different style while still holding that signature Ayreon sound.

 4679_artistNow let’s talk about the singer that surprised me the most on this album.Tommy Karevik. I always knew that he is great singer but way he sings on this album is unbelievable. Way he goes from very aggressive to very calm falsetto in a matter of second is mind blowing. His performance on “The Day That The World Breaks Down” left me in the tears of joy while his performance on “Aquatic Race” blew me away. On this album Karevik showed us pure strength of his very big vocal range. Way he makes his vocals sound is out of this world. I ended up going back to hear his parts a lot of times to make sure that it is just him singing and looks like it was. This guy is a beast. His very good acceptance by Kamelot fans now makes total sense. After all, Roy Khan is a monster of a vocalist and Tommy was right person for that job.

“The Source” is definitely one of the most accessible if not the most accessible Ayreon album of his career. That is the case for the most of the songs, but song that shows that the best is song “Planet Y Is Alive”. Seriously that chorus is so catchy. I had it stuck in my head for almost two weeks and picking Hansi to sing that part was best decision Arjen made on this album. Hansi is used to singing very catchy and sing along choruses in his own band Blind Guardian so it was very natural for him. I mean he could go with any other power metal singer that is on this album, but for some reason Hansi feels like most right decision if that makes sense, Floor Jansen sings final chorus and she almost outdid Hansi and that tells a lot about his performance on this particular song. I got to mention Guthrie Govan’s guitar solo that appears on this song because it is absolutely amazing.

There seems to be some kind of trend between me and most of Ayreon albums and that trend is album’s ending songs. In this case last three songs. Same thing happened on The Human Equation. Don’t get me wrong those songs are still really good, but when I compare them to first thirteen songs they are not as good as those thirteen. Like for example song Journey To Forever. It is good, but it does not have same punch as those first thirteen songs have if that makes any sense but that is kind of nitpick when all less great stuff are justified by all of those more than amazing stuff that this album has.

Production of this album is one of the best productions I have ever heard in my life. After all it’s Ayreon. Everything but great production would be big disappointment. Every single instrument is on its place and can be heard very good. Especially bass. This album shows how important bass is in metal. Unlike last Mastodon’s last album where bass could barely be heard because it was heavily buried in the mix. I love how this album is full of very bombastic and catchy as fuck hooks which are heavily inspired by bands like Queen. Songs are much better structured than on “Theory Of Everything”. Don’t get me wrong, song structuring on “Theory Of Everything” was really good, but on “The Source” Arjen totally nailed it. While “Theory Of Everything” was heavily keyboard driven album “The Source” is heavily guitar driven album.  I like how Arjen does complete switch of the sound with almost every album, but still holds what makes that signature Aryeon sound.

Story of this album is perfectly written. It has its “head and tail”. It gets emotional right where it needs to be and music follows the story very good. When story is tense music is tense too. When story gets emotional so does the music. If someone asked me how would I explain Ayreon to me it would be like if you take screenplay of District 9 and make an album around it.

While “Theory Of Everything” had very tragic ending, “The Source” does not have conventional end. There is room left to continue the story and I guess Arjen will continue it.

 If in 10 years someone asks me:”Hey I would like to get into prog! What should I listen to?” My answer would be either this album or “The Human Equation”. “The Human Equation” because it’s a classic and “The Source” because it’s very close to the “The Human Equation”, but also very accessible and full of nice melodies.

Overall this album is absolute perfection and my favorite album of this year so far. You should definitely check it out if you have not already. Even if you end up disliking it it will be very interesting listen.

10/10

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