Wow. I stumbled upon this gem this week, one of those bands I'd never heard of, but downloaded to check it out, see if I strike gold. If you're a prog rock fan, or like lots of different types of music, or are just looking for something new as I was, you owe it to yourself to try Ayreon. The album I listened to is Human Equation. I am so floored by it, I purchased the cd/dvd editon as well as almost every other album by Ayreon and Arjen Lucassen's other project Star One.
Here's a review from Amazon:
Being the only Ayreon album I've heard, I cannot compare this to any of his earlier works, but from this, I must say this is one of the most phenomenal albums I've ever had the privilage of hearing. I would probably say it's the greatest album in all my collection of music.
Arjen Lucassen who heads the project takes the same approach he's taken w/ all his other works, which is to tell a conceptual story with a plethora of huge names of non-mainstream musicians as voice guests. This time, the story stars 3 people. The first is the main character who got into a car accident and went into a coma. The second and third are his wife and his best friend who are at his side at the hospital. The story takes place in two places; the first being the hospital room itself and the second being in the main character's head. The man is in the coma for 20 days and each track on the CD is a new day, progressing the story of how the man got into the accident, flashbacks into his life and secrets revealed later on. All the big guest voices (including Mikael Akerfeldt, Devin Townsend, James LeBrie, Heather Findlay, and Irene Jansen to name a few) take parts of his emotions, like Fear, Agony, Rage, Reason, Love, etc.
The music itself is mostly progressive rock, where songs range from all different forms; such as metal, rock, celtic, folk, orchestrial, classical, spacey synths, and 70's Pink Floydish type prog - some being all mixed w/in one song or spaced out accordingly. When you think you're listening to a metal track, in pop in the oboes, flutes, violins and soft woodwinds to completely blow you off track and not to mention blow your mind. A couple even go completely off that route, simply amazing melodies! There isn't one mediocre track on this record, in fact, ALL are great and depthful enough to blow you away- from the dueted, melodic and graceful vocal arrangements, to the simply HYPNOTIZING instrumentals, to some of the most amazing atmospheres ever created, and the way they're all brilliantly merged. Each track is very unique from the next or previous, and all moods according to which emotion is being concentrated on that particular day or track are dead on and fit it perfectly. One for example uses a very hardcore metal influence w/ a few woodwinds fused, while others are mellow folk songs, and another would be a full on Dream Theateresque metal anthem. The songs aren't just brilliant, they also just plain kick ass! Arjen Lucassen is truly a musical genius.
The best way to listen to this disk is to sit back w/ headphones on, take out the lyrics sheet and follow the story along, it'll only make the impact of the story and the way the music marries w/ it all the better. The disc, as amazing as it is, will probably take a couple of straight through listens to truly appreciate though, only due to its insanely in-depth complexity. The songs are completely unpredictable, but still focused enough to where it's not ridiculously random as I've had the displeasure of hearing from other progressive bands (eh-hem, Tristania, eh-hem).
If you're going to get this 2 disc masterpiece, make sure it's the special edition w/ the DVD. The DVD itself is another great addition. It includes a 45 minute look into the making of the record, where Arjen makes sure to give credit to every contributing member. There's also the first video off the album.
If there were any flaws, I would have to say the most significant is with the writing. The lyrics telling the story are a tad too simple and easily read, whereas given more time, more metaphors or complex writing could have been achieved and this mildly takes away from the impact of the story itself. This in no way affects the incredible music though. Also, when it comes to the metal parts, they're usually very Dream Theater type staccato razoredge sounding power chord riffs, where more Power metal/Gothic type depthness couldn't have hurt. These really are minor quiffs though, and this record is still worth about 3X the amount being charged for it. Lastly (and this has nothing to do w/ the CD), Amazon advertises this album to have a special 36 pg Bonus Book w/ the special addition, I didn't recieve it and I don't even think such a book even exists, so I don't know why Amazon says there is one.
Overall, I must say: Believe The Hype. Everyone on any website you'll visit talks about this record as if it were a Godsent, and I must say it truly, TRULY is. Easily being one of the greatest recordings ever put tape in the history of rock music, any fan of great music, whether it be metal, classical, pop, folk or whatever will find this to be absolutly mind boggling. BUY THIS NOW. "The Human Equation"... UNBELIEVABLE!