Last week we had a close look at all the personnel involved in making Into The Electric Castle. In this part we will look at the actual album itself. And like last week, the best way to do this, is let the man speak for himself as much as possible. All quotes are taken from an interview which was especially conducted for this article, except where else stated.
Writing and Recording
"I remember when I wrote Into The Electric Castle, we moved house. The house we live in now had been under renovation for over a year, so there were all these workmen, who were all working their asses off. But myself, I didn't have much to do at that time, I'm not really the type of person to help at such things, so I isolated myself in a little room, and the ideas just kept coming. (...)
That's probably how it came to be a double album, the ideas just kept coming, and I felt it really antisocial to walk around the house whistling, with all these people working so hard. So that's why I stayed in that room, and I kept on writing. And in the end, when I stopped and listened to all the ideas I had, it turned out that I had so much material, so I made it a double album."
"I usually start like this: I have a small, stupid cassette recorder, and with this I record all the ideas I have, which I play on either acoustic, or unplugged electric guitar. Then at one point I start writing down all my ideas, usually these are comparisons, like I call one idea "Camel" and the other is "Led Zeppelin" or "Pink Floyd", or rather "Pink Floyd #17", as it always sounds like Pink Floyd. And when I have catalogued all my ideas, I try to put them in a logical order. I try and start with the part that I feel the strongest about, and then I try and make it as varied as possible with other ideas, like heavy part, mellow part, heavy part, mellow part. That way I glued all bits and pieces together in my head, and then I started recording it in my studio."
"At this time I still didn't have any lyrics. I always try and record a song completely instrumentally. Because the thing is, if you work with a continuous story throughout the album, you cannot switch any of the songs afterwards, you can't go: 'I want that song a bit earlier on the album', that's something you can't do. And I find music more important than lyrics anyway. Lyrics are also important of course, but it's more an extra dimension than an essence. So I found it more important that it was working instrumentally and musically, that the order was correct, that there was enough variation etc.
So first I wanted to finish the music, before I even started with the lyrics."
"Of course when I am finishing the music, I already have all vocal melodies in my head, for each part I write, I have some five different vocal melodies. When I was still with Bodine and Vengeance, these were usually based on guitar riffs, you know, like AC/DC's Whole Lotta Rosie , ta-da-da-da-di-da, that's just a guitar riff and that's all there is to the song. But with Ayreon I really work with melodies. Sometimes these are based on guitar riffs, but mostly I have a nice chord progression, and I try different vocal melodies with that."
The entire album was recorded in Arjen's home studio 'The Electric Castle', in Holland, with the exception of the drums, which were recorded in Oscar Holleman's studio 'RS29'. "I can't record drums here. I don't have the space and the microphones, nor the know-how."
Creating the characters
So almost all the vocalists and musicians travelled to Arjen's studio to record their parts, apart from Fish, whose vocals were recorded at his home studio 'The Farm' in Scotland. Arjen travelled to Scotland and spent a day with Fish to record the three songs.
With the music practically done Arjen was faced with the challenge of creating his story.
"I had the storyline roughly in my head, which of course doesn't come automatically - it took me about three months to come up with this storyline. Originally it was going to be a story of the seven seas, which I constantly changed and altered until finally, the circle is complete and I'm like 'Wow! This is it!' I definitely wanted something with different characters in a certain situation. This is basically what a space opera is. I didn't want tons of supporting roles, or the world to participate, or a crowd or something. I wanted purely these eight people in one situation."
So he came with the idea of using eight different characters, which were kidnapped from their own time and place by aliens that use Earth as an experiment. From that starting point it is easy to describe the album as a big-budget B-movie: a great cast, superb production and a very clichéd, yet nonetheless enjoyable story.
"I figured it would be nice to have different characters from different eras, but then real stereotypes, characters that could appeal to an audience. (...) It's basically pulp fiction. I did a lot of research, but I don't particularly like to read, so I rented movies in order to come up with some clichés, like Conan The Barbarian, or Winnetoo the Indian. I mean, it had to make some sense of course, but like The Final Experiment with all the references to Christ and all, I didn't want that anymore." (iO Pages)
"Of course it is a good thing to have five different vocal melodies, because beforehand, I don't know which singer will sing that part of course. So when it's completely finished instrumentally, I start looking which singers I can get. So I make a whole list of singers, this one is certain, this one isn't. Before someone is certain, you can't start the lyrics, because the lyrics are written especially for the person who sings them. So it wasn't like I had a story with a Highlander in it, no, I was able to get Fish, so I wanted a Highlander. I even went as far as actually phoning all singers and asked them what kind of character they wanted to portray."
"Naturally I had some ideas, like Anneke [Van Giersbergen] of The Gathering, well, I imagined her as something like an Egyptian, so I just phoned her and asked what she thought of that. I phoned Jay van Feggelen and asked him what he wanted, well Conan the Barbarian was his absolute favourite, so there, even though I had imagined him as a gangster. I phoned Damian [Wilson] and I pictured him as some sort of Knight of the Round Table, well, he saw himself slightly differently, but he could live with it. Edwin Balogh turned out to be very interested in Roman history, so that was also an easy choice. And I can see Edward [Reekers] as someone who's very intelligent, a bit of a know-it-all.
I tried many people for the role of Hippie, but in the end I had to do it myself, but I can really empathise the role of the Hippie, I mean, I have long hair, I love the sixties' so there you go."
So with his characters created, he then had to fit all eight characters in the story. "It's incredibly difficult. You have your vocalists, but some of them sing more than others. So you need to fit each of these singers into the songs. And that's very difficult, for like sometimes you imagine a certain singer in a certain song, but maybe this doesn't fit within the story.
The Finished Album
You can't use the same singer too often in a short time-span either."
Now let's have a look at the result itself.
Welcome To The New Dimension
Eight characters, each from a different era in time, find themselves all of a sudden in a strange, weird place, away from their home and their own time. A loud, echoing voice enters from the sky: "Welcome! You have entered the cranial vistas of psychogenesis. This is the place of no-time and no-space. Do not be afraid for I am merely the vocal manifestation of your eternal dreams. I am as water, I am as air -- like breath itself. Do not be afraid."
The Voice (Peter Daltrey) is of course talking to the eight characters we have not yet met, but he may as well be talking to the listener, who will no doubt be thinking the same thing as the characters: "What the f... is this?"
The Voice is accompanied by some electric guitar and lots of analogue synthesisers. It becomes clear from the start that the music of this album relies heavily on seventies prog.
Isis And Osiris
The first real song on the album, is immediately the longest song too.
Arjen: "This is probably my favourite song I have ever written. Because it contains everything, there's a bit acoustic, which I like a lot, there's a little folk, with the mandolin, which I love, there's heavy parts, which of course I had been doing live for 15 years, with Vengeance and Bodine. There are odd time signatures, the second part has lots of synthesisers, which I'm crazy about, there's a lot of Hammond, there are more mellow parts, very psychedelic parts, so basically everything I like is included in that song."
One by one we meet (some of) the characters, who each have their own explanation of why they are here, naturally based on their own beliefs and myths. In the first part, Let The Journey Begin, there's the Highlander (Fish) who thinks he has died and gone to hell to pay for his sins, and accepts this as his fate, whereas, the Indian (Sharon Den Adel) thinks this is an ordeal to get into the afterlife. They quarrel about their different points of view, while we also -briefly- meet the Knight (Damian Wilson), who thinks he is about to enter the mythical Avalon, in search of his holy grail.
The second part The Hall Of Isis And Osiris contains a similar quarrel between the Roman (Edwin Balogh), who thinks he is trapped in the underworld and wants to try and fight a way out of here, and the Egyptian (Anneke van Giersbergen) who sees herself as being chosen to enter the great hall of Isis and Osiris.
Musically, the first section is very mellow, with acoustic guitars, mandolin and some cool synthesisers. Then drums kick in and a heavy guitar riff starts, this is indeed what is vintage Ayreon: heavy and bombastic. It gets an eastern flavour with Jack Pisters' sitar and a weird synth solo played by Robbie Valentine.
"That man is a true virtuoso. He is a bit shy, but he liked doing it. 'So when can you come?' 'How about this afternoon?' So I said, 'Sure'. For weeks I had been practicing to play something for him on my guitar, and he sits down behind the piano and turns it into a whole symphony. And I thought 'Shit!' And then he politely asks me if I liked it - It was fantastic!
In the end he did four piano parts. Later I phoned him up whether he also did synthesiser solos. He hadn't done anything like that for twelve years, but it was fantastic. He just knocked out all three of them."(iO Pages)
In this heavy part Edwin Balogh sings in a brilliant, menacing way, while Anneke van Giersbergen makes her part sound very close to her work with The Gathering, with dual vocals and all.
The third part is a mellow interlude, with mainly acoustic guitar and synth effects, and a monologue by Fish. Then it gets heavy again with Roland Bakker freaking out on Hammond organ, and a Moog solo played by Arjen himself (I think).
And then we get a reprise of the theme from the first part, with Fish singing another lyric, as the Highlander once again tries to convince the others of his own, pessimistic viewpoint: "forget about your journey, forget about your grail, don't kid yourself for this is just nothing but the end of our lives."
The first part of Amazing Flight introduces two more characters: the Barbarian (Jay van Feggelen) and the Hippie (Arjen Lucassen himself). The Barbarian has no idea where he is, but wherever it is, and whatever may be ahead, he is convinced that he will conquer all. The Hippie can't understand what the fuss is all about, he figures he is just stoned, and this is all an amazing mind-trip.
There is a sharp contrast between the heavy, bluesy parts of the Barbarian and the light and spacey Hippie-part. It is a bit of a trademark for Ayreon, to have these sharp musical contrasts between two different characters.
"I think together with Isis and Osiris this is the best song on the album. These two together, make everything I stand for. Amazing Flight even has a bit of blues, because of Jay with his bluesy voice, and then very Hippie-like with my voice, which of course is also something I adore, like the Beatles and all."
The second half of Amazing Flight is instrumental, with additional chanting by Sharon den Adel. "There is the section where Thijs van Leer is raving, I love flute and the second part of Amazing Flight is of course very progressive. Pretty much in the style of other Dutch bands, like Kayak and Focus. But automatically you also have the obvious Jethro Tull reference imposing."
The Stardance contains a tremendous section where Thijs van Leer plays a duet with Clive Nolan. "I send him a tape and asked him 'to do something with it'. When he sent it back to me he remarked that he was done before he actually noticed. He didn't like it that he had such a small role and asked if he could play more on the next album.
"He also asked what those silences where, that he heard after his parts. I explained that those sections were meant for a flute solo, 'Played by Thijs van Leer, but I take it you don't know him.' 'What? What?!' Turns out the guy's a huge Focus fan."(iO Pages)
Nolan was thrilled about playing a duet with Van Leer, even though they were never in the studio together.
It is interesting how Arjen rates the first two songs on the album as his best ever, and these were also the first two songs written for the album. "The whole album started with the acoustic riff of Isis and Osiris, I had that riff basically that was the start of the entire album."
Time Beyond Time
The last character we meet is The Futureman (Edward Reekers), who tries to find a scientific explanation for this situation. This of course meets a lot resistance from the Knight and the Roman, who both come from an era where science barely existed. They try to find their explanations within their religious beliefs and myths.
This is once again a song that starts quietly and builds up in tension. After a quiet middle-eight section with Thijs van Leer's beautiful flute accompanied by Taco Kooistra on cello, before all hell breaks loose in an all-band reprise.
The Decision Tree (We're Alive)
This song is a more straightforward rock song. The journey leads the party to the point where only seven can continue. One will need to die here and it is up to the characters which one they will leave behind. The Barbarian and the Highlander break into a fight, as the Barbarian feels the Highlander is the weakest of them all, so he ought to be the one to die here. Obviously, the Highlander does not agree.
"I explained to Fish: 'The barbarian is attacking you and calls you a coward.' I had explained how all characters in the story are stereotypes, it was ok to exaggerate. So in the story he's a cowardly Highlander. 'There's no such thing as a cowardly Highlander' he responded. 'I am no coward, I am weary of fighting'." (iO Pages)
Tunnel Of Light
It is time to choose. The Highlander, who had given up hope for survival from the beginning, accepts his fate and chooses to stay behind here. Or, as Arjen puts it: "Fish only did a few songs on the album, and you can't divide him all over the album, so what do you do? Well, Fish will just have to be the first to die."
Despite the fact that the best-known star of the album is about to die here, this is one of the lightest, happiest sounding songs on the album. A comment must be made about Anneke van Giersbergen's beautiful vocal melodies as well, which she wrote herself upon Arjen's request.
Across The Rainbow Bridge
The party comes to a rainbow bridge, which they will need to cross in order to get to The Electric Castle, where, as the Voice tells them, the goal of their journey lies.
This song is one of my personal favourites, as it features my two favourite vocalists of the album: Damian Wilson and Edwin Balogh. The interaction between the two works really well, with Damian singing the quiet verses, and Edwin literally roaring the choruses. There is also a brilliant middle-section with the Hippie flipping on the beautiful colours that surround him.
All throughout the album, the vocals of the Hippie are distorted, something Arjen always likes to do. "If I had had Donovan singing the parts of the Hippie, I would never ever have dared to distort his voice. Mouse on the other hand didn't mind so much, as he likes doing so himself. However, as I ended up singing the parts myself I could experiment as much as I wanted. This way nobody could get angry either. I remember on Actual Fantasy, I had distorted Edward Reekers' voice on one song. Well, he never actually mentioned it, but I have the feeling he didn't really appreciate it.
But I've always loved doing it, the Beatles used to do it and I've always loved it. Double voices, that's another thing I love. Well, and if you have some kind of spaced-out hippie in your story, you can get away with it."
They have now made it across the rainbow bridge and are about to enter the realm of the electric castle. And thus ends the first disc.
The Garden Of Emotions
The second disc starts with eerie sound effects and whispering voices in the sky. It seems as if death itself has entered the room. Great scene setting.
The Voice explains the next task for them: to get through the Garden of Emotions. The seven are exposed to emotions that will divide them even further, while the thing they need to do is work together on this. In the first part we once again hear the Hippie's point of view. For someone who's stoned out of his head for most of the time, emotional overload is just order of the day. The Egyptian is the next one who can't handle it anymore and begs her gods to have her die soon.
This is another very bombastic piece, with a complete synthesised brass orchestra introducing the song, then very quiet verses and another piece of pure hard rock introducing the next part, Voices in the Sky.
In this part the Roman and the Barbarian break into a fight, which once again seems to stem from the Barbarian's arrogance and his conviction of superiority over the others (he's not so much the nice guy of the story).
"I had this point in Garden of Emotions, where the Barbarian and the Roman break into a fight, and here it works not so well, because their voices are just too similar. I already noted this when I was recording this, they tried to surpass each other a little bit. But in hindsight you can't change this anymore. Of course I can estimate certain things beforehand, but sometimes things like these have to happen for the benefit of the story."
Of course, this is all what the Garden of Emotions are about: divide the characters through these emotions. As the music built to a climax, so do the heated discussions. In the last part, The Aggression Factor we have the Indian, the Knight and the Futureman singing different vocal melodies at the same time, pretty much like a musical. It is (of course) the intelligent Futureman who realises that this is exactly what the Voice want, that they start fighting each other, and that they need to work together as a team in order to survive.
This whole section contains some great march-drumming and a very synthesiser solo that sound like a trumpet, playing some combat-theme, to emphasise the 'united we stand, divided we'll fall' message.
In my opinion this song has some of the strongest story-telling on the album, where the story is told through both lyrics and music.
Valley Of The Queens
Anneke van Giersbergen insisted her role would just be a minor one, so naturally she will need to be one of the first to die. Valley Of The Queens is a beautiful semi-acoustic song, with mainly acoustic guitar, some synths, a real harpsichord (by Rene Merkelbach) and more flute by Thijs van Leer. It is sung entirely by Anneke, and deals with the Egyptian explaining how her time has come to die.
"Anneke came in at 10am, sang her parts and left again around noon. She is a natural talent. She has a powerful voice with a beautiful vibrato and sings every melody, no matter how difficult, with great ease."(Mindcage)
Valley Of The Queens is the first of only two songs on the album that feature just one singer (apart from the monologues by The Voice, that is)
The Castle Hall
The sound effects get more and more eerie, once more you can hear Death lurking about. The party (only six left now) are finally entering the Electric Castle, which is supposed to be the goal of their journey. However, they will still need to find a portal back to their own era within this castle. Here in the castle hall, The Voice warns especially the ones that have killed, as the spirits of the ones they have killed may be lurking around in this part of the castle.
Especially the Barbarian and the Knight have a difficult time in this part of the castle.
The Castle Hall is a pretty straightforward rock song, enriched by yet another great flute solo of Van Leer. The second part of the song features a great reprise of the part of the Knight, with the Barbarian's lines echoing through it - once again a very musical-like approach.
Tower Of Hope
The Tower Of Hope is another feature taken from many science fiction and fantasy movies, a place where you can see many possible futures for yourself, which are all just a reflection of your deepest desires, rather than a prophecy. It's the Futureman and the Hippie that share their feelings here.
This is one of the most commercial sounding songs on the album, with a very catchy chorus.
After three somewhat lighter, more catchy tracks, it is time for yet another dark epic. Their minds are tricked by yet another delusion, and it's the Indian who succumbs to the call of death. The others try to warn her, but to no avail.
After a very new-agey first part we get Death itself paying a visit in the heavy, bombastic Death's Grunt. A grunt duet - I don't think this has ever been done before. It's Robert Westerholt and George Oosthoek in their small, but vital role of death.
It is funny, when I first heard this track it immediately struck me how one of the grunters (it's hard to tell which is which of course) has a bit of a Dutch accent, which of course spoiled the effect for me. So after I had noticed this, I couldn't listen to this section anymore with spotting that accent in certain words, silly really.
Musically it is a very strong section, as it combines a heavy guitar riff and the grunts with that bombastic brass section. And then there's Sharon's great chanting in the background in the second part, just fantastic. A pity she dies here, really.
The song ends with an instrumental part, The Passing Of An Eagle, which contains a neat Shadows-style guitar, and then an instrumental reprise of the vocal melody of the first part. And, of course, the synthesiser solo of Ton Scherpenzeel, whose role is remarkably small, when you consider he is one of the bigger names on the album.
The Mirror Maze
The Mirror Maze is a sort of a prolongation of the idea of The Tower Of Hope. Here it is a test how the characters respond to forgotten memories of their past. We learn about the Hippie, how he got to become the person he is now, how he got on drugs after a troubled childhood and his failed 'attempts' to change the world. I wonder how much of this is autobiographical for Arjen.
The Futureman tries to reason with him, with his logical explanations and he reassures the Hippie that some forgotten memories are best left forgotten.
The first part is a beautiful piece, just Robby Valentine on piano, with some washing mellotron chords in the background, and a very Brian May-like guitar solo.
The second part is a nice piece of songwriting, as the Roman and the Knight sing alternating lines, with each time the last word of one line, being the first word of the next line. "That was a tour-de-force, to accomplish that. It was difficult to manage to get the last word of a sentence to be the same as the first word of the next one, without making it look too much like Scrabble, to make sure it still means something and doesn't become just a neat trick. Of course it still is a neat trick, but I didn't want it to sound like a neat trick and make it so that it still had a meaning what they sang *and* that those words matched all the time."
"It is also nice that you can use the word twice, but give it a completely different meaning. Or like 'the end is here' and then the next sentence: 'hear what I say'
I think I spent a whole day just writing this little section, using a lot of dictionaries."
Evil Devolution is entirely sung by Edward Reekers' Futureman. It is a nice, mellow song, dealing with a bit of a 'Terminator' doom scenario. Very atmospheric instrumentation on the first half of this track, with great stringed basses during the chorus. The second half is the heavy version of the chorus, with yet another great synth solo by Merkelbach.
The Two Gates
They have now finally come to the end of their journey. They now face two gates, one of which will lead them back to their own world, while the other one will lead them to certain death. It's the Barbarian who makes the (wrong) decision here. Of the two gates, one beautiful gold ornate, the other one plain and old, he chooses the gold one and dies, or worse even, he 'fades in oblivion'.
This section in the story reminds me of the third Indiana Jones movie, where they are about to find the Holy Grail. They need to choose from a whole shelf full, so this Nazi chooses first, and he takes the most beautiful goblet that he can find, which is the wrong one, so he dies. I can imagine Arjen has based this song on that scene, as the Barbarian here, probably the most arrogant and unpleasant of the lot, chooses what seems the most obvious choice, commanding the others not to follow him as he should be the only one to win this game, and he turns out to be wrong.
The Barbarian could well have been a Nazi in the story actually. Arjen had first imagined him as a gangster, and it could well be that parts of his character still stem from that idea, as gangsters also have that sense of superiority and invincibility over the rest. In any way he is probably the deepest character of all.
This track is another rocker, with heavy guitars and Hammond organ, giving it a Deep Purple feel (which is still one of Arjen's favourite bands)
"Forever" Of The Stars
They have reached the end of the ordeal, it is now time for the Voice to reveal itself. The Voice is an alien from outer space, called "Forever", who is as old as time itself. The Earth is an experiment of this alien race, through which they study our emotions. It's pretty much '2001' fare here, but set in a different setting. "First I just thought of the fact that it doesn't matter what kind of faith you have, and how you got here. Those aliens, using us, is something I came up with later. The human race arose because a meteorite hit earth and exterminated the dinosaur. I just explained where that meteorite had come from - aliens indeed. Because they didn't know emotions anymore, they needed us. But it could just as well be pulp fiction."(iO Pages)
In this track, which is basically a monologue of The Voice, Arjen makes great use of vocoder and distortion techniques, in order to make the monologue fit with the music effects.
Another Time, Another Space
The obligatory happy ending. There was some criticism about the first album The Final Experiment not having an ending, so Arjen compensated for that on this album. It's just that he may have overdone it slightly. The four surviving are brainwashed and sent back to their own time, where they don't remember what has happened, but they're all happy and revived.
For many people this was a bit too cheesy, too Hollywood, which is a pity as this is actually a great song.
This is the fourth time on the album where the Knight and the Roman sing a verse together, and also the third time this happens with the Hippie and the Futureman. I asked Arjen about this, but: "That's just coincidence!" It is just something that happened in the process and these voices just work well together, especially those of Edwin Balogh and Damian Wilson.
And finally, at his very last bit, Damian Wilson is set loose to sing full-force. All through the album his vocals seemed a bit restrained, and I'm not sure why this has been done. Probably coincidence as well, plus that there already were so many other aggressive singers on the album.
Musically this song has a bit of a Beatles feel, with a guitar solo once again in the vein of Brian May. At the end of the track all eight characters make a brief re-appearance with a sample from an earlier song. They appear in the order of their death, beginning with the Highlander and ending with the Futureman.
The Door, The Future
"At the time of mixing I already had something like 'wow!'
"It all went so easy. The writing was easy, the recording of the vocalists was easy, the mixing went incredibly fast, I mean, it is a double album, with lots of different layers, but within a day or 10 or 12 it was done, it sounded great."
"I had a good feeling about it, I felt really sure about it that this was something special. I remember the record company still had some doubts. They had Actual Fantasy, which was received a lot less than the previous album, and it was less bombastic than the first Ayreon album. But knew immediately this was the right one, this was it."
Into The Electric Castle put Arjen back on the map. Better still, he may have become the most popular Dutch prog artist since Kayak. "Of course back in the seventies' you had Focus, you had Kayak, you had Supersister. And the sales in those days were enormous. But in comparison with more recent times, I think it was an increase."
The record sold really well. Not just in Holland, but in all countries. Strangely enough apart from Japan, even though this is a pretty prog-minded country. "I think it was a bit too weird for them, they are more into eighties' rock, whereas Into The Electric Castle was more sixties'-seventies' in my opinion."
An interesting thing about the aftermath of this album is that currently Within Temptation, Sharon den Adel's band, is a huge success in Holland and around Europe. They have even had a hit single, something which is virtually unheard of with prog. "I remember reading an interview in which they didn't call bands like Dream Theater, or Pink Floyd as an example, but Ayreon, which was unbelievable. So then I went to see them at this festival, and met them, and they were like 'wow, Ayreon, we know all your music and it is great'. So then I asked Sharon to perform on Electric Castle. So it is a fact that I influenced them, but strangely enough I don't really see it myself. Their music doesn't really sound like mine, they have their own thing.
"I don't think they have become successful because of me, but they have been influenced by me. This also becomes clear from the amount of e-mails I receive from other musicians, and also from the amount of rock operas that are starting to appear. So my music has been of some influence for rock operas. And that feels great, I mean, of course I'm not the inventor of rock operas, that was of course in the sixties' with Jesus Christ Superstar , which is still the best of all, in my opinion. But in the eighties' and nineties' nothing really happened in that field."
"But also, our music is doing well again. If you compare with the nineties', prog is allowed again, keyboards are allowed in music, so it is going rather well. Something which we have to thank bands like Dream Theater and Spock's Beard for, or Porcupine Tree."
Following the success of Into The Electric Castle Arjen came with his next Ayreon project: The Universal Migrator quite quickly. Rather than another double album, this project was divided over two separate albums, The Dream Sequencer and The Flight Of The Migrator.
This wasn't so much an attempt to make more money, even though most people ended up buying both albums, but another double album like Into The Electric Castle, which was sold for the price of a normal album, just wasn't financially feasible anymore. And with these two albums, Arjen did a little experiment, as to which of his two sides was more popular, his heavy side, or his mellow, symphonic side. So The Dream Sequencer became a song orientated, melodic and atmospheric album, while The Flight Of The Migrator was described 'a heavy progressive adventure'.
Even though both are great albums, this project wasn't as successful as the Electric Castle, probably because of the fact that Ayreon's strength lies with the diversity of the music. People just preferred a more diverse and varied album it seems.
Arjen then took a break from his Ayreon project, to record a different project called Ambeon. This was a more ambient album, with music, based on existing Ayreon songs, but completely re-arranged and with new vocals and lyrics by 14 year-old Astrid van der Veen. After Ambeon and a fans-only Ayreon compilation album, it was time again for a heavy project. Originally it started as a project with Bruce Dickinson, but in the end it became a heavy metal project with four vocalists, called Star One.
Though the next thing on Arjen's mind is a new Ayreon album. "I'm really looking forward to it. The new album will probably be something completely different, which probably in the end won't happen, but never mind. Each time this is the basis for a new project, but everybody tells me about Ambeon, that it sounds like Ayreon, everybody tells me about Star One, that it sounds like Ayreon. So it would be really cool if the next Ayreon album won't sound like Ayreon, but in the end it will be probably be just like Ayreon again."
"What I do want is a large diversity of musical styles again, which of course is still quite limited, as I will never include any R&B or Rap, or New Metal or that kind of crap, it will always have to lie within my own musical taste. But the idea is to go back to the idea of Electric Castle again, a continuous story, different characters, and once again a very honest production, with real instruments. It will probably be not so heavy, as I have used most of my heavy ideas for Star One."
As far as musicians are concerned, Arjen doesn't know yet. He has some ideas, but in order to keep rumours away, he prefers to remain silent until he has any people confirmed.
"I recently counted them all, and so far, I have worked with 40 vocalists. But I still have at least 100 more people on my list, so there's still enough choice.
It would be someone like Ronnie James Dio, [Elf, Rainbow, Black Sabbath], who has always been my favourite singer. He has the greatest voice of all. And as a kid, my idol was Alice Cooper, it would be fantastic if he would do the narration on my album. And then people like David Gilmour, who is a fantastic guitar player and singer, but I can forget about that, as I've already tried. And he doesn't like prog at all, he looked so incredibly sour when I mentioned the word 'prog', plus that he doesn't like hard rock either, and my records contain both prog and hard rock."
"But there are so many people I still wish to work with, and the greatest thing would be to work with the people you grew up with. The problem is that most of them are in their sixties now, or dead!"
But there are also people that are not as impossible:
"Ian Anderson would be fantastic, or Jon Anderson. [Both of them had actually been asked for Into The Electric Castle] I have tried a few times, and one time I've been very close, with Ian Anderson, so maybe one day I will manage to get him. And Jon Anderson, he is more difficult, I did give him my albums, but I've never heard from him.
Keith Emerson was to play on Universal Migrator, I even went to the USA for that, but when I arrived there, it didn't happen as he was working with another band at the time.
And Rick Wakeman has agreed, but I still need to see this happening. I met him in person when he handed me a CRS award [Wakeman is honorary chairman of the CRS] The funny thing was he already knew my music, I gave him one of my albums, but he said 'got that one already'. Something you wouldn't expect from him really. It could of course be the case that Damian had given him the album, as Damian sings in Wakeman's band at the moment."
One might say that Ayreon's music is the musical equivalent of kitsch. Well, it sure is, but whoever said kitsch can't be enjoyed? Ayreon's music is the progressive rock cliché itself, bombastic, heavily reliant on the seventies', long self-indulgent musical passages and mini-Moog galore. But you can't blame Arjen for being over pretentious, when the whole idea of his projects is to be pretentious. This is what his music is all about!
Arjen Lucassen keeps that flame alive, and he has proven that prog ain't dead!
"I am so proud on the production of the album, everything sounds so honest, so transparent. I remember how it all went, so clear, and this is still the highlight of what I have ever done, production-wise and tone-wise."
(Arjen Lucassen, July 2002)
Written by Bart Jan van der Vorst
Special Thanks to Arjen Lucassen for the last-minute interview!
Official Ayreon Website
Church Of Ayreon
DPRP Interview with Arjen Lucassen
iO Pages issue 16, October 1998
Mindcage: 2nd Ayreon Inner View, 1998
Studio photos were taken by Jan-Jaap de Haan, May 2000