Ayreon - Into The Electric Castle
Cast (in order of appearance):
Peter Daltrey - The Voice
Fish - Highlander
Sharon den Adel - Indian
Damian Wilson - Knight
Edwin Balogh - Roman
Anneke van Giersbergen - Egyptian
Jay van Feggelen - Barbarian
Arjen Lucassen - Hippie
Edward Reekers - Future Man
Robert Westerholt, George Oosthoek - Death
Ed Warby - All Drums
Robby Valentine - All pianos, synth solo IIa, IIIa (disc one) and IV (disc two), mellotron on VIa (disc two)
Clive Nolan - Synth solos on IIIc (disc one)
Rene Merkelbach - Synth solos on V (disc one) and VII (disc two), harpsichord on II (disc two)
Ton Scherpenzeel - Synth solos on Vc (disc two)
Roland Bakker - All hammonds
Thijs van Leer - Flute on IIIc, IV (disc one) and II & III (disc two)
Ernö Olah - Violins
Taco Kooistra - Celli
Jack Pisters - Sitar
Arjen Lucassen - Electric and acoustic guitars, mandolin, bass guitar, minimoog, mellotron & keyboards
Produced by A.A. Lucassen
Mixed by Oscar Holleman and A.A. Lucassen
Recorded at the Electric Castle, drums at RS29, vocals Fish at The Farm, Scotland.
Artwork: All paintings were especially made for this album by Jef Bertels,
lay-out and image handling by John van den Oetelaar at Fat John's Kitchen.
|Disc One:||Disc Two:|
|I)||Welcome To The New Dimension (3.05)||I)||The Garden Of Emotions (9.40)|
|II)||Isis and Osiris (11.11)||a) In The Garden Of Emotions|
|a) Let The Journey Begin||b) Voices In The Sky|
|b) The Hall Of Isis And Osiris||c) The Aggression Factor|
|c) Strange Constellations||II)||Valley Of The Queens (2.25)|
|d) Reprise||III)||The Castle Hall (5.49)|
|III)||Amazing Flight (10.15)||IV)||Tower Of Hope (4.54)|
|a) Amazing Flight In Space||V)||Cosmic Fusion (7.27)|
|b) Stardance||a) I Soar On The Breeze|
|c) Flying Colours||b) Death's Grunt|
|IV)||Time Beyond Time (6.05)||c) The Passing Of An Eagle|
|V)||The Decision Tree (We're alive) (6.24)||VI)||The Mirror Maze (6.34)|
|VI)||Tunnel Of Light (4.05)||a) Inside The Mirror Maze|
|VII)||Across The Rainbow Bridge (6.20)||b) Through The Mirror|
|VII)||Evil Devolution (6.31)|
|VIII)||The Two Gates(6.38)|
|IX)||"Forever" Of The Stars (2.02)|
|X)||Another Time, Another Space (5.20)|
All Songs written and composed by A.A. Lucassen, except:
Fish wrote lyrics for the 'Highlander' on II, V + VI (disc one)
J. van Feggelen wrote lyrics for the 'Barbarian' on III (disc one)
A. van Giersbergen wrote the melody-line for the 'Egyptian' on VI (disc one)
P. Daltrey wrote the lyrics for I (disc one) and IX (disc two) and all narration.
With the initial run of Counting Out Time columns we got criticism that although being an originally Dutch site, we didn't feature any Dutch artists in our column, despite the fact that there are some artists and bands who deserve a place in our list of milestones. With this two-part feature we've made a start to -gradually- improve on the lack of Dutch artists in this section.
An advantage of writing an article about from your own small country is that there is generally a lot of material available in numerous magazines and websites, so this article is interlaced with quotes from the man behind Ayreon himself: Arjen Lucassen, all taken from numerous interviews in magazines and a conversation I had with him recently.
In this first part we will focus on Arjen Lucassen's history and all the personnel involved in the making of Into The Electric Castle whereas the second part will deal with the actual album itself, its story and music and what happened afterwards.
Arjen Anthony Lucassen was born in Hilversum, the Netherlands, in 1960. He moved to The Hague, where he spent his childhood. He started playing the guitar at the age of 14, shortly after discovering the music of The Sweet. He played in a highschool band called The Flying Potatoes, which played covers of The Sweet and Slade.
During his studies he played in several short-lived cover bands, which resulted in Arjen becoming more and more skilled as a musician, but because of his music he completely neglected his school work, causing him to get kicked off school, and sent to an institute for difficult kids. "The school was at the Sweelinck Square and it looked like Colditz because of the continuously shaded windows. It was horrible out there, I got into a class filled with scum, and they were all taller (!) and older than I was. They really kept me on a leash in there and I finally finished my education. But if that was a good thing or not, I can't tell. Well, I am where I am now, so I guess it was okay."
Having set his mind on becoming a rock star Arjen auditioned as a singer for the band Bodine at the age of 22. "Of course I didn't think I was a great singer, but I wanted to present myself as a guitar player. That was in the days of the twin guitars, like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. I learned to play their entire set list within two months, loaded my gear in my dad's car and had him drive me to the audition. Getting there I just started playing along with them and at the end of the rehearsal they told me I was in. But they gave me the advice to practice with simple notes and rhythms, because all I could do was play fast. Again I started doubting myself, man I was a dork. So I practiced really hard for the next year. It still was kind of boring with Bodine, they all were about ten years older than I was. That meant no partying after the shows and we didn't make big money either. We just weren't able to save up a penny at all. So I got on welfare because I didn't have time to work because of the rehearsals and interviews. The shows were super of course, fans screaming for you and enough beautiful girls, that was what I was looking for at that time."
With Bodine Arjen recorded the albums Bold as Brass (1982) and Three Times Running (1983)
Then Arjen made the surprising move of leaving Bodine for the band Vengeance, an upcoming band that had actually played with Bodine as a support act! "The band got a record deal with CBS (now a division of Sony), but then their guitarist left. When they had played as a support act for Bodine, I was very impressed with especially Oscar [Holleman - guitars] and Leon [Goewie - vocals], and then they called me if I knew a guitarist for them and ha! I certainly did!! The band was so much younger and more adventurous than Bodine, so that's why I moved over to Vengeance - and within a year I had of course taken over the whole matter."
Vengeance became one of the most successful Dutch bands of the eighties and they released 7 albums between 1984 and 1994. Decreasing success causes the band to be put on ice in 1994, although the success of Ayreon prompted them to record another album, Back From Flight 19 in 1997.
Arjen had also recorded a solo album in 1993, under the name Anthony: Pools Of Sorrow, Waves Of Joy. His main reason for this rather poppy album was his desire to sing. Both press and audience seemed unimpressed. After the decreasing popularity of Vengeance and his failed solo album Arjen was all but written off for most people, however, that was all to change very soon...
1995 saw the release of the album Ayreon, The Final Experiment, subtitled 'a rock opera by Arjen Anthony Lucassen'. The album featured an impressive line-up of Dutch musicians, most of whom Arjen had already worked with at some point in his career, among which were Barry Hay (The Golden Earring), Edward Reekers (Kayak) Leon Goewie (Vengeance), Ian Parry (Vengeance, Elegy), Jay van Feggelen (Bodine) and Lenny Wolf (Kingdom Come)
The album got very mixed reviews. While a hard-rock magazine like Aardschok hailed the album as the new future of rock&roll, Hollands premier prog magazine, the now defunct SI Magazine called it a collection of Dutch artists attempting to resurrect their careers that have come to a dead end.
The bombastic hard rock opera found an audience though, and the album reached some sort of cult status. The over the top story dealt with an experiment where people from the future try to contact a blind minstrel in the 16th century in order to have him warn the people for a catastrophe that eventually destroy life on earth, some 400 years later. Even though this was yet another 'save the world' scenario, it got picked up by people - there were people who found (unintentional) similarities between Ayreon and Jesus Christ. Production company Endemol (responsible for the majority of Dutch crap TV shows and seemingly popular musicals) even approached Arjen for a musical version of the story, to perform for large companies, however, he would need to change some of the lyrics then... "I can already see myself: The world comes to an end, and I'm singing Sail Away To Avalon at Shell... They offered me a lot of money to do it, but I won't do it - it would be selling my soul"
Even though The Final Experiment was meant as a one-off project, Arjen's next album was also released under the moniker Ayreon. "The first album wasn't even Ayreon, it was an album by Arjen Anthony Lucassen and it was titled Ayreon. However, it turned out to be a huge success, so the record company said something like 'you have to call the next album Ayreon as well', which was completely ridiculous, because Ayreon was the name of the album, not the artist - it would be the same when The Who would all of a sudden call themselves 'Tommy'. For months we fought about this, but finally I gave in and decided to call the ongoing project 'Ayreon'. I remember that in Japan [where Vengeance had been especially successful] there was a lot of confusion about this, they didn't understand at all, was it 'Arjen A. Lucassen'? was it a solo project, or was it a band called 'Ayreon'? was it a record 'Final Experiment'? They didn't understand at all, and actually, I didn't understand it myself either - I just muddle along you know."
The next album was Actual Fantasy. Not a concept album this time, but separate songs. "The Final Experiment was a huge success, so I got a little arrogant and thought that I could do it all by myself this time, with more electronic music, with a drum computer, without any known singers, without a concept or story, but when I released it, it sold a lot less than the previous album."
Arjen realised the audience weren't exactly waiting for any innovative music from him, they rather had something more in the vein of The Final Experiment.
"I realised I had to come up with a record that was superb, or otherwise my musical career would be over, so with that starting point I made Into The Electric Castle, it had to be something incredible, with big names and a concept. (...) My basis for Into The Electric Castle was it to be a reaction to Actual Fantasy. Actual Fantasy was drum computer, everything went through the computer, all synth parts, all sequencers, the vocals were very cold, more an instrument than vocals, and the guest singers couldn't do what they wanted on the album, they had to keep themselves to the vocal melodies I had written. With Into The Electric Castle I wanted to create an 'honest' album: real drums, no samples, no computers, no Q-base. "
Arjen succeeded in finding an impressive list of artists for his project, let's have a look at everyone involved in the project:
Peter Daltrey's long career began in the mid-Sixties when he joined the fledgling R&B outfit The Sidekicks. After three years the band changed it's name to Kaleidoscope and released several successful albums, before splitting up in 1972.
Since then Peter Daltrey has released four solo-albums, while regained interest in Kaleidoscope has resulted in a recent re-release of all their albums.
Arjen: "In my twenties I got interested in sixties music en searched for all those bands, well-known as well as unknown. That's how I found that Nuggets-series with all those psychedelic bands. It had a track from the English band Kaleidoscope, titled Jenny Artichoke. I thought it was their only material, but still tried looking for more. That of course is fun, a search for more of their music. Finally I stumbled on their album somewhere in England, which made it even better. It was a vinyl for about 80 Dutch guilders. "Woow, let's buy it!" It was exactly the music I liked. In the Record Collector I read that the solo albums by Peter Daltrey had been released in Japan. I phoned that record label and asked them if they could get me in touch with him. I ordered his records right away. Two weeks later I got a letter from him in which he said that I was the first one to buy his disc, he didn't even had it himself! So I contacted my hero and I sent him all my CD's. He wrote back that he thought it was pretty good and that it was great that I liked his music. We have stayed in touch after that, I even played guitar on one of his albums. After I wrote him I was working on Into The Electric Castle and was looking for singers (Donovan, Kate Bush) he said: 'I owe you a favour.' It seemed a great idea to have him do the narration. I told him that that was what I wanted, explained it to him and within two weeks a pile of paper arrived! Then he took a plane to come over here for a weekend, and he even did some interviews here."
Born as Derek William Dick in Dalkeith, Scotland, Fish traded his forestry work for a successful career with Marillion. After four studio albums, with as a possible highlight the concept album Misplaced Childhood and eight years of almost constant touring, Fish left Marillion to pursue a solo career. In 1990 he came with his first solo album Vigil In A Wilderness Of Mirrors.
Fish is currently working on his 7th solo album Field Of Crows.
Arjen: "He is an actor, he is very good at that and is a great improviser. When he is singing as well as other times. I was scared for his voice, with all that partying, like with soccer teams who visited him for a complete week. At that time he hardly had a voice left, so I thought: what is this going to be! but he is such a good actor, in his singing too. Fish is no Ronnie James Dio or Steve Walsh (Kansas), who can really hit a note. But he has a very intrusive way of telling whatever he has to tell. That is exactly what I needed on my album, someone with an expression like that and on top of that the Scottish accent. He didn't miss a note either."
Sharon den Adel
Sharon Den Adel is lead singer with the successful gothic prog metal band Within Temptation.
Arjen: "I had actually never heard of Sharon den Adel. I had never heard of her band until she mentioned in Aardschok magazine that I was one of the persons influencing her music. I was really flattered by this. After that I heard them play at the Dynamo and went to meet them backstage. I thanked her for her kind words and she told me she had really enjoyed the first Ayreon disc and that I shouldn't forget about her if I ever planned to do something like that again. Because Sharon's voice is different from Anneke's [van Giersbergen] I decided to have them both sing on the album. Sharon said 'yes' after the first telephone call."
Englishman Damian Wilson is a familiar name in prog world. He has an incredibly varied career, he recorded three albums with symphonic rockers Landmarq, then two albums with melodic metal band Threshold and then came with a very acoustic, orchestrated solo album Cosmas. He then moved on play a leading role in the musical Les Miserables, a role that he landed on by accident. After this two-year tour with the musical company he moved on to sing in the Rick Wakeman Ensemble. He released his second solo album Disciple in 2001. He was voted "Best Vocalist" by readers of the Classic Rock Society in 1993, 1996, 1997 and 1998. Damian has appeared on every Ayreon album since Into The Electric Castle, including the side-project Star One, he will also be one of the four vocalists to join Arjen on his European tour in September 2002.
Arjen: "Damian has the clearest voice I have ever heard and there is no way of tiring him! I never had someone like that in my studio, someone with a voice that strong, it is incredible. I have had very strong singers, like Leon Goewie, but after eight hours of shouting he really needed a rest. But Damian didn't. He is an extremely energetic man, hard to keep under control. After singing his parts he insisted on checking out the Dutch nightlife. I will spare you the details on this..... but he sang all his vocals in just one day, even though he had the largest share of the vocals on the album. Considering that he didn't even have time to practice his vocal lines and lyrics before he got here, because he was playing a role in the musical 'Les Miserables' at the time, that is a remarkable job."
Arjen: "There is Edwin Balogh, known from his bands Omega and Tamas, but now working on solo-projects and busy in the production area. He offered his talents himself. I didn't think it would work in the beginning. as I thought his singing was too theatrical. But when he visited me he grabbed a guitar and just started playing some songs, from U2 and others. He proved to have a raw and melodic voice that would fit his role perfectly. I hired him immediately. Edwin really wanted to live inside his role. Here in the studio he actually became the Roman that he played. He was grunting in the microphone, that's about how angry he got. He even grew a little beard, as the Romans used to do in those days, though no one would see it. He is a very emotional guy, who can sing ballads as well as melodies."
Anneke van Giersbergen
Anneke van Giersbergen joined Dutch band The Gathering after they had already released two albums. With Anneke the band moved more and more away from their metal roots, and more into a mellower, melodic territory, creating a unique sound. The band recently released an EP, to celebrate their 12.5 years of existence.
Arjen: "Anneke didn't want to sing in the project at first. She was working hard with The Gathering and she didn't think it was okay towards her band. But she was the perfect person to me to sing the Egyptian's role, so I kept nagging and nagging to convince her. I sent her the music and finally she said yes, under the condition that her role would be a minor one."
Jay van Feggelen
Jay van Feggelen used to sing in the Dutch blues rock band Bodine, but had already left when Arjen joined that band.
Arjen: "Why this man isn't a celebrity all over the world is a big puzzle to me. He has a very bluesy voice, like Paul Rodgers, and for all those years that I have been a fan of Jay, his voice hasn't lost a bit of power.
"I personally really love Jay van Feggelen's lyrics. I asked him to write some of the lyrics. He is someone who immediately feels what you mean when you tell him your ideas. In the beginning I wanted him to be a gangster-type but he convinced me to play the role of a barbarian because he is a huge fan of Conan. With his unusual vocal sound he gave everything a bluesy atmosphere."
Originally Arjen asked the legendary singer Donovan for this part, but he refused and advised Lucassen to ask Jon Anderson. Regrettably, Anderson's e-mail address bounced, so Arjen was set back to zero.
By accident, Lucassen found a guy named Mouse, singer from Tuesday Child, a Dutch band from The Hague, Lucassen's original home-town. Lucassen convinced Mouse to come along and listen to the Lennon-esque part of the Hippy, despite Mouse's doubts about the symphonic nature of the project.
Arjen: "He seemed pretty arrogant, like 'okay, I'll do it and this and that is my price', which was even more than some others got. But I really liked his voice, so I agreed and he did his parts. Few weeks later, I called him and explained who would be part of it as well, and probably his manager egged him on that he should ask more. So, when I received the contract, there were all sorts of restrictions that we hadn't agreed on. Man, I started sweating..! Again, I prefer cats, you see. I took a red marker and put big cross through the contract. I send him a cheque and paid him, adding the words 'don't contact me anymore'.
"The same night, I went into the studio, set myself in front of the mike and did it all over again myself. And I was really satisfied, although I am not a top singer.
"I can really empathise the role of the Hippie, I mean, I have long hair, I love the sixties' so there you go."
Arjen and Mouse reconciled shortly after the album was finished, and in the end Mouse appeared on the next Ayreon album The Dream Sequencer.
Edward Reekers joined Kayak in 1978 and played on their last four albums before their break-up. Reekers had actually left the band before they disbanded, and released a solo album The Last Forest in 1981. Since 1985 he has worked mainly as a backing vocalist, voice actor and commercial singer. He has dubbed many cartoons and also done the voice-over for commercials and TV-programs. Edward Reekers is the only guest vocalist to appear on every Ayreon project.
Arjen: "Edward Reekers' abilities weren't really surprising for me anymore, since he was a singer on the previous two Ayreon albums too, so I know what he can do. He is a very melodic singer and he is the kind of singer that only needs one take to get his vocals on tape, just the way I wanted them. "
Robert Westerholt and George Oosthoek
For the section where "Death" pays a visit to the company, Arjen had imagined a menacing grunt. Eventually he actually had two different vocalists performing the Death's Grunt as a duet: Within Temptation founder and guitarist Robert Westerholt and George Oosthoek of Orphanage.
Ed Warby played drums with Dutch metal bands Elegy and Gorefest. Since Into The Electric Castle Warby has continued to work with Arjen, drumming on both Flight of the Migrator and the new Star One project. He will also play the drums on the upcoming European tour.
Arjen: "Ed Warby is a real virtuoso on drums. I was looking for a drummer like the Dream Theater guy, but he would also have to swing like Bonham (Led Zeppelin). Led by an advice from Oscar Holleman I asked Ed, whom I only knew from Gorefest. Within two days all the drums were on tape and Ed was happy that he could do something different on his drums for a change. No samples and other tricks, but just hitting it with only two microphones recording everything. I think that was the most important move for the album."
Dutchman Robby Valentine has had a classical piano training from the early age of six. Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody changed his perception of music and he went for rock instead of classical music. He played in various bands before having a massive hit with in the Netherlands his solo single Over and Over again.
Arjen: "I wanted Robby Valentine to play a bit of piano on the album. He's a true virtuoso. He has a lot of success with his albums in Japan. This guy was so incredibly good that after I heard that part I asked him to do more and to play some synth solos too. And even though it was more than 10 years ago since he did synth solos, the result was perfect. I played some guitar parts for him and he made complete symphonies out of them, really incredible. This man is an underestimated, true genius."
Although being probably one of the biggest names in the prog scene of the nineties, there is surprisingly little known about keyboardplayer Clive Nolan, even though his credentials are enough to dedicate a whole CoT chapter to: He joined Pendragon 1986 and has since then founded the bands Shadowland (3 albums), Strangers On A Train (two albums, a third one in the makes for ages), Arena (with ex-Marillion drummer Mick Pointer - 7 albums, the eighth in the works) and also released the projects NO (with IQ keyboardist Martin Orford), Casino (with the late Geoff Mann) and two projects with Oliver Wakeman, on the latter of which Arjen Lucassen returned a favour and played some
Arjen: "At his shows I was really impressed by his solos on those keyboards at the top of his rack, yup... the minimoog. Via Hans [van Vuuren] I was able to contact him and asked him if he knew what sound I meant. He knew immediately, I sent him the tape with the part that I wanted him to play and he sent back the solo a while later. Clive regretted that his contribution was so small. He wants a bit more space on my next album. He was really startled when I asked him how much he wanted for his role. Because normally anyone who knows him just assumes he does things like that for free. He was so confused that he didn't want anything. I just sent him a bunch of discs."
Rene Merkelbach has played keyboards with tons of artists, including Within Temptation, Ian Parry and Gorefest, but also for several commercials and even the fairy-tale theme park "Efteling". He is also known under the name Skizzo and has appeared on all Ayreon projects, apart from The Dream Sequencer.
Arjen: "I have worked with Rene Merkelbach many times before on several projects. He is great keyboard solo player and very reliable, both as musician and as a person to deal with. The only thing that gets to my nerves is that his guitar imitations on keyboard are just too close to the real thing!"
In 1972 Ton Scherpenzeel founded the band Kayak, a band which started playing music in the vein of Yes, but later on got a more unique sound. Between 1972 and 1981 the band released 9 albums with various different line-ups, and to various degrees of success - The band was disbanded in 1982.
After a short project called Europe and a solo album, Scherpenzeel joined Camel in 1984 and played on the album Stationary Traveller. The collaboration with Latimer & Co was somewhat short lived, partly because Scherpenzeel does not fly, so he could not joint the band for any oversees tours. He does however play on the live album Pressure Points and returned to play with Camel on the 1991 Dust and Dreams album.
In 1999 Dutch band De Kast invited Kayak to their TV-program "Vrienden van Amstel Live" to perform their biggest hit Ruthless Queen. This is the last little push the band need for a long-awaited reunion, and since 2000 they have recorded another two albums as Kayak, including most of the original line-up.
Arjen: "He is a top musician and a super friendly guy. Hans [van Vuuren] already knew him from the CD-releases of the Kayak albums. I phoned him and told him I was a fan of Kayak. After that I sent him my music which he appeared to like. Of course it was in the line of Kayak's Merlin-album. When I asked him to play a solo he told me that that really wasn't his specialty. Ton prefers orchestrations and melody lines for the singers, but I told him I had seen him with Camel, freaking out on that Prophet V synthesizer. After that he agreed and he played a super fast great solo for me at home. He did all this for free."
Arjen: "I asked Vengeance's Roland Bakker to play the Hammond on this album. I have worked with him since the last Vengeance album 'Back from flight 19'. Even though he had some problems adapting to my style of music in the beginning he just kept working for it and in the end did a wonderful job. So I guess it is only goodbye for now!"
Thijs van Leer
Thijs van Leer's career started in 1967 when he joined the cabaret group of Ramses Shaffy. In 1969 he started his own band, the Thijs van Leer Trio, which changed its name to Focus when Jan Akkerman joined the band. Focus is probably *the* most successful Dutch prog band ever, possibly even the most successful Dutch band, period.
Focus was disbanded in 1978. In 1985 Van Leer and Akkerman reunited and recorded another album under the moniker Focus, but their collaboration ended soon afterwards. In 2001 Van Leer made the surprising announcement of a new album and tour by Focus, this time however with none of the original members...
Arjen: "In the beginning I had Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull) in mind to play flute on the album. However, he just left for a holiday and planned to go on tour right after that. Thijs van Leer of course was a great second choice, but it was a giant task to convince him. (I had to phone his wife, his manager and his band first!), he was interested in participating because he had heard the first Ayreon album before and liked it a lot, and asking him was really worthwhile.
The man is really good. I don't like it if people are arrogant, but when you see him playing you know why. He can improvise as well as playing from written notes. The other classical musicians I hired were not very good at improvising. The collaboration with Thijs, in the end, exceeded my expectations. A day later I got a fax saying that he thought my music - even before the final mix - was at a great musical level and that he was open for further musical dialogs!"
Ernö Olah and Taco Kooistra
Not wanting to use any samples on his album, Arjen started looking for a violinist to play on his album. Eventually he ended up with the first violinist of the Metropole Orchestra.
Arjen: "That was Ernö Olah, you can see him on TV a lot, with the orchestra, a fantastic Gypsy character. And through him I found Taco Kooistra, a cellist, but I can't remember where he is from, he is not from the Metropole Orchestra though."
Arjen: "He is an incredible guitarplayer, a very fast guitar player. He used to be in a band called Avalon. And I happened to know that he played sitar as well and I had this one part in Isis and Osiris where I wanted to have a sitar, so I called him up for that part."
Oscar Holleman has been guitarist with Bodine and was founder of Vengeance. He dropped out of Vengeance because he just couldn't handle the rock & roll life that Vengeance was more and more becoming, and set up his own studio, with the intention to start recording his own music.
Ten years later he still hasn't recorded any of this music, mainly because he has become one of the most successful producers in Holland, having produced albums and singles for virtually all the new Dutch rock talent of the late nineties', including After Forever, Within Temptation and Krezip.
Holleman produced Arjen's solo album and he co-produced and co-mixed The Final Experiment together with Arjen, which was recorded in Holleman's garage at the time. On Into The Electric Castle Oscar helped Arjen mixing the album.
Arjen: "Oscar and I go way back. It is fantastic that we made it big together, I recorded the first Ayreon album at in his garage, and without him I could never have done it. I spent three months there and with his help I managed to create the album as it is now."
Jef Bertels is a Belgian painter, who lives in a small town near Leuven, who was actually only known locally before Arjen hired him. He has his gallery in his house, where he also teaches.
Bertels has also painted the cover for The Dream Sequencer.
Arjen: "Actual Fantasy had a very modern cover, so for this record I wanted something more fantasy-like, so I started checking out art galleries. Then my brother phoned me up that he had found this Belgian painter at some art gallery, so he sent me some brochures and it immediately appealed to me, so I phoned the guy up, told him what I needed and went to visit him in his gallery in Belgium. And this guy was an amazing character, completely out of this world - didn't even *know* what a computer was, and his paintings were exhibited throughout his entire house. I was there with John van den Oetelaar, who did the rest of the layout of the booklet, and with every painting I saw I went like 'oh, fantastic, wow, unbelievable' while John kept nudging me like 'shut up, don't do that', because he already saw the price rising.
So I explained to Jef what I wanted, that it needed to be an electric castle, that there had to be a garden of emotions, a rainbow bridge, there had to be two gates, a tower of hope, voices in the sky etcetera. I explained everything I wanted in that cover. So he came back to me with a sketch, and alone was already stunning. And final painting itself was simply fantastic, I have actually bought it off him, with a beautiful frame and all. And I remember when I received the painting I spent the rest of the afternoon just watching it. I love it when there is so much small detail, just like with music, that you discover new details each time you listen to it."
Written by Bart Jan van der Vorst
- Official Ayreon Website
- Church Of Ayreon
- UK Sounds.com
- Encyclopedie van de Nederlandse Popmuziek
- The Think Tank Media
- Robbie Valentine homepage
- Quotes taken from the following interviews:
In part 1 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.
"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."
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.
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.
"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