Ayreon – The Source – Album Review

 

ayreon-cover

Artist: Ayreon

Album Title: The Source

Label: Mascot Label Group/Music Theories Recordings

Date Of Release: 28 April 2017

My relationship with the music of Arjen Anthony Lucassen is a complex one. I would definitely class myself as a fan, but not one without reservation, as the back catalogue contains both the sublime and the slightly less impressive as far as I’m concerned. For example, I love the ‘Space Metal’ and ‘Victims of the Modern Age’ albums under the Star One moniker, whereas I have a hard time with early Ayreon records up to and including ‘Into The Electric Castle’. For many, this latter revelation will be akin to blasphemy, but that’s my opinion and I stand by it.

Nevertheless, latter Ayreon releases have made a much more positive impact with ‘01011001’ and ‘The Theory of Everything’ both capturing my imagination to the point where I was really excited to hear Lucassen’s ninth instalment of this particular franchise, ‘The Source’.

It has been a while in the making, some four years since the release of ‘The Theory of Everything’. Mind you, projects as ambitious as ‘The Source’ take some time and organisation to pull off, even for a workaholic like Lucassen. Additionally, the intervening period has also seen him working with Anneke van Giersbergen on the debut The Gentle Storm album, ‘The Diary’.

‘The Source’ is, as you might expect, a full-on science-fiction concept album, set 6 billion years in the past, that seeks to tell the story of an alien race’s attempts to save themselves and their planet from crisis. It is comprised of 17 individual tracks of progressive rock and in keeping with these huge Ayreon rock operas, it features no fewer than twelve guest vocalists, some which are new to the Ayreon family and others that are returning for another stint. As such, you get to hear the talents of James LaBrie (Dream Theater), Tommy Giles Rogers (Between the Buried and Me), Simone Simons (Epica), Mike Mills (Toehider), Floor Jansen (Nightwish), Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian), Michael Eriksen (Circus Maximus), Tobias Sammet (Edguy, Avantasia), Nils K. Rue (Pagan’s Mind), Zaher Zorgati (Myrath), Tommy Karevik (Seventh Wonder, Kamelot) and Russell Allen (Symphony X).

If that wasn’t enough, Lucassen, the multi-instrumentalist recluse is joined by a select group of musicians including drummer Ed Warby (Gorefest, Elegy), guitarists Paul Gilbert (Mr. Big), Guthrie Govan (The Aristocrats, Asia, Steven Wilson), Marcel Coenen and keyboard player Mark Kelly (Marillion). There’s even room for guest appearances from regulars like cellist Maaike Peterse, flautist Jeroen Goossens and violinist Ben Mathot.

Regardless of your thoughts on the music of Arjen Lucassen, one cannot deny his ambition to pull this project together, however seasoned a pro he might be. And on that note, let’s venture into the music itself. After all, that’s why you’re reading this review isn’t it?

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Cutting swiftly to the chase, it is fair to say that long term fans will be left feeling very happy with the results, wrapped safely in the comforting arms of the familiar. The die has been cast on previous Ayreon albums and by-and-large, there are no major deviations from the norm on ‘The Source’. It is over-the-top, pompous and at times, a little silly. Pick your cheese of choice and you’ll find a morsel or two of it here without question. My toes occasionally curl and I wince at certain points. The Celtic, folky ‘All That Was’ for example, does not fare well in my estimations, neither does the operatic injection within ‘Deathcry of a Race’ which is simply too much and a little ‘nails down a blackboard’ for me. As a result, ‘The Source’ is not the perfect, blemish-free release.

And yet, there is no escaping the fact that ‘The Source’ is a hugely enjoyable album for the most part, with plenty of stand-out moments where my imagination is fully captured and my enthusiasm ignited. And it must be said that much of my enjoyment comes from listening to the various vocalists who guest on this record. There are still those out there who dismiss heavy metal as just noise, overlaid by shouty blokes who can’t sing. Well, if there was ever a record to expose this ignorant view as the huge falsity that it is, it’s this one. The talent from across the gender divide is just off the scale and as absurd as the concept is in places, the vocalists breathe life into it, giving it a genuine credibility in the process.

In fittingly bombastic style, the record begins with a 12-plus minute epic that introduces just about every singer that features on the album. I’m not the biggest James LaBrie fan but even he sounds great, floating through an eerie and post-apocalyptic, dystopian soundscape at the outset. The song twists and turns throughout, never settling, as the groundwork for the concept is laid. Tommy Karevik is the early show-stealer thanks to an incredibly passionate and powerful performance, but the surprisingly heavy chugging riff pushes him close. Lucassen himself refers to this record as more guitar driven and heavier, a point that is underlined here right from the outset.

But the undoubted star of the opening act, surrounded by the likes of Nils K. Rue, Tobi Sammet and Hansi Kursch has to be Mike Mills. It’s a cliché as old as time to say that you could listen to certain vocalists singing the phonebook. But in the case of Mills, he manages to send shivers down my spine by singing something as dull as the binary code atop some moody, futuristic synths. ‘Zero, one, zero’ etc. has never sounded so utterly captivating and emotive, believe me.

I’m not such a fan of the funky, bluesy sequence that follows, although ‘Sir’ Russell Allen lends it a certain undeniable panache and swagger. There’s even time right at the death for Floor Jansen to lend her impressively huge vocal chords to see this opener out in rousing style. Had the entire record remained at this level, we’d have been staring down the barrel of a near-perfect score, it’s that good. In fact, I’d venture to suggest that it is one of Lucassen’s best under any of his various monikers.

Elsewhere, I’m a huge fan of ‘The Dream Dissolves’ with its killer lead guitar solo and the extended keyboard flamboyance. Aside from the aforementioned operatic section within ‘Deathcry of a Race’, it is a brilliant song thanks to its Middle Eastern melodies, heavy riffing and Zorgati’s distinctive vocals. And ‘Into The Ocean’ is a storming up-tempo rocker with overt 70s overtones created by the chosen keyboard sounds.

More heavy riffs and forceful drumming feature within the immediate and insanely catchy ‘Planet Y Is Alive!’ which evolves into something far more soundtrack-like and preposterously fun in the mid-section.

There are plenty more positives within this lengthy endeavour but for the sake of brevity, allow me to conclude with my joint-favourite piece, ‘Star Of Sirrah’. Heavy, melodic, over-the-top, this is Ayreon on top form. The song opens in moody but melodic and dramatic fashion with an acoustic guitar and bold synths before another huge, killer riff sweeps everything aside. It chugs and growls with real intent, complimenting all of the various vocalists who take a turn at delivering this part of the concept. If I had to nail my colours to the mast, I’d have to say that Nils K Rue offers the most compelling performance, closely followed by Tobi Sammet. It’s not a simple song by any means but it shows how superb Lucassen can be as a songwriter when he dials down the crazy and pens something a little more straightforward and rocking. Because boy does this track rock.

One of the nicest artists I’ve ever crossed path with is also one of the most openly insecure musicians in the business. Self-doubt riddles the psyche of Arjen Lucassen, something with which I can most definitely identify. The guy has an army of fans though and he always manages to attract great musicians to assist him with his music, so he must be doing something right. And there’s ‘The Source’ to further underline this conclusion. It might be a flawed record in places but regardless, ‘The Source’ is a triumph of which Lucassen should be rightly proud.

The Score Of Much Metal: 8.25

If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from previous years and for 2017 right here:

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

Until Rain – Inure
MindMaze – Resolve
God Dethroned – The World Ablaze
Bjorn Riis – Forever Comes To An End
Voyager – Ghost Mile
Big Big Train – Grimspound
Lonely Robot – The Big Dream
Firespawn – The Reprobate
Ancient Ascendant
Pyramaze – Contingent
Shores Of Null – Black Drapes For Tomorrow
Asira – Efference
Hologram Earth – Black Cell Program
Damnations Day – A World Awakens
Memoriam – For The Fallen
Pallbearer – Heartless
Sleepmakeswaves – Made of Breath Only
Ghost Ship Octavius – Ghost Ship Octavius
Vangough – Warpaint
Telepathy – Tempest
Obituary – Obituary
Fen – Winter
Havok – Conformicide
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day

Anticipated music in 2017 – an update – 30 Jan

Ayreon – The Source
Release date: 28 April 2017

ayreon-coverIt seems like every few days at the moment that we get a new Ayreon update. Not that I’m complaining at all. First we get the track listing and then we get a new song.

I must admit that the first time I watched the video and heard the music for ‘The Day That The World Breaks Down’, I got goosebumps. Not only because the music was strong, heavy and powerful, but because of the impact of the guest vocalists that litter the lengthy track. To have this amount of vocal talent in one place is bordering on criminally magical. You may have already seen me share it over social media outlets, but it can’t hurt to share it again here.

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I had high hopes for the new Ayreon album a few weeks ago. My excitement is now at a whole new level. I get the distinct impression that this could be Arjen Lucassen’s finest hour. Only three months to wait…

Pallbearer – Heartless
Release date: 24 March 2017

15826722_1705409859485158_999859890853457012_nIn the last few days, we have finally been treated to a new track off the upcoming Pallbearer album, ‘Heartless’. The song is called ‘Thorns’ and can be explored below.

Having featured Pallbearer in my ‘most anticipated’ series earlier in the month, I have been asked for my opinion of this new track a few times. In short, I really dig it – it still retains that doom sheen but the composition is so much more than that – it is varied, intriguing and enjoyable right off the bat. There are even hints to modern era Katatonia in there, which is a really welcome ingredient. If this is a true representation of the full album, I am very much on board.

Nailed to Obscurity – King Delusion
Release Date: 3 February 2017

15977895_10154446249752872_6528639204757627055_nI’m always on the hunt for exciting new music and during my most recent foray into the murky world of the extreme metal underground, I came across Nailed To Obscurity. They are a name that I’ve heard before but never had the overwhelming to explore. I’m not entirely sure I understand why that is because, based upon the track below, this is the kind of music that I truly love.

Heavy, dark and melodically aware, this has hints of early Katatonia and others within it but fundamentally, they create a very commendable racket indeed. New album ‘King Delusion’ is officially released very soon on 3rd February 2017 on Apostasy Records and I’m now feverishly trying to land a promo so that I can review the record for the Blog of Much Metal as soon as possible.

Mastodon – Emperor Of Sand
Release date: 31 March 2017

mastodon-emperor-of-sandI’d completely missed this album until last night when I stumbled upon the news. Mastodon are a big deal but not so much for me. I have a few o their albums but I’ve never warmed to them as much as I think I should have, or as much as others have. I’m not sure why, because on paper, their approach sounds right up my street. And yet the reality has never matched up. And yet I’m always interested to hear a new album from the industrious quartet.

‘Sultan’s Curse’ can be heard below and is a cut off the new record, ‘Emperor Of Sand’. I must admit that it is one of the most immediately enjoyable tracks I’ve heard from the metal juggernauts so I have a renewed vigour to check out this new album, maybe even give it a review if I can access a promo. Watch this space.

Demonic Resurrection – Dashavatar
Release date: 15 March 2017

15822908_1859610294309479_318929624969591399_nIndia is not a country renowned for heavy metal. However, flying what often feels like a lone flag for extreme metal in India is Demonic Resurrection. Over the past few years, their stock has risen quite a lot to the point where theirs is a name that is relatively well known in underground metal circles.

Their new album, ‘Dashavatar’ is released on 15th March 2017 on Demonstealer Records and below is ‘Matsya – The Fish’. As you can hear, Demonic Resurrection deliver their own take on technical death metal but they do so whilst embracing the musical influences of their homeland. As such, you’ll hear authentic instrumentation, sounds and textures within their music. I really like this and am looking forward to the album.

Vangough – Warpaint
Release date: 17 March 2017

I have been a fan of Vangough since the release of their debut album ‘Manikin Parade’ in 2009. The rich prog metal in the vein of classic Pain Of Salvation was a draw that was too powerful to resist and it is a record I still listen to a lot today. News therefore of a new album from the Oklahoma based progressive metallers is very welcome indeed, in spite of the fact that releases two and three were not, in my opinion, as strong as the debut.

I can offer you a teaser trailer of the new record and although it is difficult to glean too much from it, I’d say that the omens are good for a quality album. I’m genuinely chomping at the bit to see how this new album sounds. Who’s with me?

Anticipated music in 2017 -An Update – 21 Jan

Since I wrote my series looking at some of my most anticipated album releases of 2016, there have been some updates. I’ve never really done this kind of thing before, so let me know if you like it or find it useful. My plan is that if it is welcome, I could continue these bulk update posts throughout the year. I’ve shied away from re-posting individual press updates as there are plenty of sites that do this and I like my updates to involve a little effort on my part rather than simple regurgitation.

Over to you…what do you think?

Soen – Lykaia

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First up, here’s a new song from prog band Soen, from their upcoming album ‘Lykaia’ due for release on 3rd February. Soen are a band that I really like but completely forgot to mention in my ‘most anticipated of 2017’series, sorry. I’m a sucker for Marcus Jidell’s guitar playing in particular, as well as the more organic sound that they employ, so I’m really looking forward to hearing some new material from this vastly underrated band.

 

Ayreon

In the last couple of days, Arjen Anthony Lucassen has revealed the title and artwork of his new Ayreon album. Entitled ‘The Source’, I’m sure you’ll agree that the cover is very cool, not to mention quite dark and sinister, suggesting an album full of music with a similar tone. If that’s the case, it is bound to be a hit with me. Mind you, I’m not sure that there is an Ayreon record that has been released to date that I haven’t liked!

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Iced Earth

On 15th January, Jon Schaffer went live and provided an update on the world of the American metallers. Essentially, the upshot is that the studio that Jon had built is now complete and the pre-production for the album appears to be all but done. What this means is that the various members of Iced Earth will be heading to the studio over the next month or so to record their parts.

And then, just yesterday, we had an update from the studio where drummer Brent Smedley has arrived to lay down his material for the new album. So, whilst there’s yet to be a final release date, things are progressing nicely for a mid-late 2017 release.

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Lost In Thought

A few days ago, a new video was posted by UK prog metallers Lost In Thought. It isn’t very long, but it gives a little insight into the musical direction of the new album and proves that the finished article can’t be a million miles away. I’m liking this riff – it is getting me very interested in hearing the final product that’s for sure.

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Cynthesis/Jasun Tipton

Whilst keeping my eyes open for news on the new Cynthesis album, I had cause to make contact with Jasun. The guy is seriously one of the nicest guys on the planet and his response gave me cause to be extremely happy. Not only is a new Cynthesis on the horizon, there is other music in the pipeline from Mr Tipton. I quote:

“Plenty of music on the horizon actually. A Dying Planet is almost tracked. Cynthesis 3 is in focus again. Plus if I can make Zero Hour – DeEvolution come to life that would be great!”

With regard to the latter, it appears that the material for a new album from Zero Hour was recorded back in 2002-03. There are problems in finding out what programme the files are in given that it is 15 years ago, but this is being worked on as I type. The band is now officially defunct due to the fact that Troy Tipton can’t play the bass guitar any more. However, the music exists and hope is not lost for it to see the light of day eventually. If, like me, you love Jasun’s guitar playing, all this is superb news.

Anathema

In my previous series, I listed Anathema in hope as much as expectation but felt it was a calculated risk based on their normal release cycle of late. There is still no definitive word on a new album in 2017, but the omens are good based on a recent post by the band on social media. The picture is below and I invite you to draw your own conclusions. Personally, I am buoyed by this latest inferred development and will keep my eyes open for more concrete news very soon.

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Seventh Wonder

According to a post on social media, Seventh Wonder are hard at work in the studio at the moment, working on a long overdue follow-up to ‘The Great Escape’. It is too early to say for sure when the new album will be released but at least we now have definitive confirmation that a new record will see the light of day before too long. Finally!

Vanishing Point

Whilst the band pages have been quiet of late, guitarist and all-round top bloke Chris Porcianko posted an update on 17th January to say that vocalist Silvio and he had met up for another pre-production vocal. No samples sadly, but in Chris’ own words: ‘he’s killing it!!’ In addition, he goes on to say: ‘Totally loving the new shit, it’s sounding really, really great…’

Anyone else’s excitement levels just go up a notch? I think we’re guaranteed a new album in 2017 now.

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