Issue 2008-004: Ayreon - 01011001 - Round Table Review
Round Table Review
Disc 1 - Y [50:10]: Age Of Shadows [incl. We Are Forever] (10:47), Comatose (4:26), Liquid Eternity (8:10), Connect The Dots (4:13), Beneath The Waves [Beneath The Waves - Face The Facts - But A Memory... - World Without Walls - Reality Bleeds] (8:26), Newborn Race ]The Incentive - The Vision - The Procedure - Another Life - Newborn Race - The Conclusion] (7:49) Ride the Comet (3:29), Web of Lies (2:50)
Disc 2 - EARTH [51:59]: The Fifth Extinction [Glimmer Of Hope - Worlds Of Tomorrow Dreams - Collision Course - From The Ashes - Glimmer Of Hope (reprise)] (10:29), Waking Dreams (6:31), The Truth Is In Here (5:12), Unnatural Selection (7:15), River Of Time (4:24), E=MC2 (5:50), The Sixth Extinction [Echoes On The Wind - Radioactive Grave - 2085 - To The Planet Of Red - Spirit On The Wind - Complete The Circle] (12:18)
:: Vocalists ::
Hansi Kursch - Blind Guardian
Daniel Gildenlöw - Pain of Salvation
Tom S. Englund - Evergrey
Jonas Renkse - Katatonia
Anneke van Giersbergen - Agua de Annique
Steve Lee - Gotthard
Bob Catley - Magnum
Floor Jansen - After Forever
Magali Luyten - Virus IV
Simone Simons - Epica
Phideaux Xavier - Phideaux
Marjan Welman - Elister
Liselotte Hegt - Dial
Ty Tabor - King's X
:: Instrumentalists ::
Arjen Lucassen - guitar, keyboards, synths, bass guitar, programming
Ed Warby (Gorefest) - Drums
Lori Linstruth - Guitar solo
Michael Romeo (Symphony X) - Guitar solo
Derek Sherinian (Planet X) - Keyboard solo
Tomas Bodin (The Flower Kings) - Keyboard solo
Joost van den Broek (After Forever) - Keyboard solo and piano
Jeroen Goossens (Flairck) - Flutes
Ben Mathot (Dis) - Violin
David Faber - Cello
The title 01011001 is the binary byte notation of the ASCII-character "Y". This is a reference to the Planet Y belonging to the race Forever introduced on Into The Electric Castle. The vocalists are divided into characters from the race Forever and people from mankind. Each song only features characters from one specific race but the songs from both parties are placed amongst each other on the album. After losing their emotions the race Forever is trying to survive by attaching their DNA to a comet that is on a collision course with Earth. Not only did the comet destroy the dinosaurs but it also enabled the race to experience emotions through the humans. After speeding up the human evolution mankind is suddenly bound for the same destruction as the race Forever. Their only survival depends on "The Final Experiment".
01011001 is released as a 2CD Regular Edition (28 Page Booklet), a 2CD + DVD Special Edition (28 Page Booklet) and a 2 CD + DVD Limited Deluxe Edition (36 Page Booklet). The bonus DVD features: Behind the Scenes - Making of 01011001; Beneath the Waves - CGI Movie (5.1/2.0); Guide Demos (audio) - featuring Arjen on vocals; Ed Warby's Session - Recording drums and Bloopers (audio). This Round Table Review covers the 2CD Regular Edition only.
Edwin Roosjen's Review
The approach for The Human Equation, which dates back almost four years, was different from previous Ayreon releases. Arjen Lucassen only wanted to use new artists and the concept was more down to Earth. For the first time one of the singers, Devin Townsend, was even allowed to write his own lyrics and record them himself. For 01011001 the control over all vocalists and instrumentalist has been taken back by the master of rock opera. Especially Jørn Lande's singing is somewhat restrained. His vocals on his solo albums and for Masterplan are much more extreme. The drums are sometimes replaced or supported by computerized beats. All effort has been taken to create an end product of supreme quality and in general this album is more accessible than it's predecessor. The music is a combination of all previous Ayreon albums moulded together and some might think that this album is predictable, but the album is of such a great quality that this is of no interest. This album surpasses all Ayreon albums by far, even my all time favorite Into The Electric Castle.
The opener Age Of Shadows starts in a way reminding of the style on the Star One album. The first part of the song is highly accessible with a nice rock drum beat, pounding guitars and supporting spacey sounds. After four years of waiting this will warm the hearts of all Ayreon fans. The second part is more mellow and holds a lot of familiar Ayreon elements. A flow of zeros and ones are sung in a dreamy way. When converting the bit-flow to ASCII characters the word HELP appears. The story has clearly been started.
Comatose is a hypnotic ambient song without drums. A beautiful duet between Jørn Lande and Anneke van Giersbergen and although nothing really much appears to be happening in this song but it's hypnotizing. Liquid Eternity opens in a threatening way, with dark guitars float to the surface and kick you in the face. A powerful pounding chorus and lot's of transitions to slower parts. All stops are pulled out during the fiery duel between Jørn Lande and Floor Jansen. Connect The Dots is a song that really surprises on this album. A loose rhythm and the relaxed voice of Ty Tabor are perfect for the lyrics that complain about the modern way of life. The lyrics "I checked the Mac and left it on over night. Downloading all the latest files." provide food for thought.
Beneath The Waves is a typical Ayreon power ballad. Beautiful fragile vocals by Daniel Gildenlöw combined with controlled outbursts by Jørn Lande.The song ends with rhythms accompanied by machine like noises, a bit like Pink Floyd's Welcome To The Machine. The beginning of New Born Race sounds so familiar that you think Arjen is covering an old song of himself. This song holds lot of familiar elements from different Ayreon songs. Very accessible song but still very diverse, very pleasant vocals.
After those longer songs Ride The Comet is a nice compact song. A very spacey rock song with interesting drumming. Web Of Lies is a duet between PX (Phideaux Xavier) and Simone (Simons). A gentle ballad with acoustic guitar and flute. It also amazes how much Phideaux and Arjen sound a like.
The second disc also opens with a song over ten minutes long and featuring a lot of different vocalist doing their bits on The Fifth Extinction. Newbies to Ayreon might have to get used to so many changes in voices. Songs with only two vocalists are more accessible but this song is for the true progressive rock fans, no easy listening here.
Waking Dreams has the same kind of programmable sequence as in "Forever" Of The Stars. The keyboard solo by Thomas Bodin is of absolutely brilliantly sadness. His one minute solo will already give him the award for best keyboard performance of 2008. A more accessible song than The Fifth Extinction The Truth Is Here has the same feel to it like Day Seven: Hope from The Human Equation. That song was also sung by Mr. L., his vocals sound very good.
Unnatural Selection is the highlight of the album for me. A powerful song with a chorus that blasts out of your speakers. The drums are perfect, on the whole album it's more restrained than on other albums but on this song they are kicking. The double bass during the chorus is marvellous and highly effective. River Of Time starts a bit like Day Sixteen: Loser. Celtic acoustic guitars and a sudden transition to a heavy guitar. Compact song that remains a bit Celtic.
E=MC2 is very spacey and has many alternations from one familiar sounding tune to the other. A good example of the Ayreon sound in a nutshell. The Sixth Extinction is the magnum opus on this album. Different vocalist take turns in a rapid pace. Female vocals and heavy grunting melt together perfectly. 01011001 is concluded in a perfect way.
Arjen Lucassen has done it again, he has again created an album that surpasses his previous works. Ayreon is in a league of it's own in which no one else can compete with the master. The style on this album is not surprising, even more than on The Human Equation the songs sound in the familiar Ayreon style. Sometimes parts or melodies seem an exact copy of tunes from other Ayreon albums. This doesn't mean this album is predictable or not interesting for people who already have all other Ayreon albums.
He has taken the music style he invented himself and moulted it into perfection. This album is the new standard to which all new albums have to be measured by.
Tom De Val's Review
Before embarking on this review, I feel I should have a bit of a ‘cards on the table’ moment. Upon its release and the immediate period after, I was highly enamoured with the last Ayreon album, The Human Equation, and (in common with a sizeable number of our readership) put the album high in my albums of the year. A couple of years down the line however, and upon digging the CD out for another listen, I found it hard to comprehend how I had found the album quite so remarkable. Yes there were some strong songs and performances, but a number of the tracks felt extremely cheesy and lyrically clichéd to me, and listening to the whole thing in one sitting felt hard-going. Now, whether this was due to the fact that there had by this time been a glut of ‘all star’ progressive/ symphonic metal ‘operas’ and what sounded fresh and imaginative at one time now felt stale (although I should say I still hold Ayreon’s 1998 opus Into The Electric Castle in high esteem); whether its due to the fact that my musical tastes and preferences are different now to what they were a few years ago, or whether the album simply didn’t have the staying power that true classics have, I’m not sure (probably a mix of all three), but I think this helps put in context my mind-set when reviewing this album.
Here are two overall observations to start with. Even for Ayreon, the lyrical concept behind this album seems to me somewhat far-fetched and incomprehensible. Maybe its just the fact that sci fi and fantasy are hardly my favourite lyrical genres, but I must admit that even after reading the synopsis (included in the introduction to this Round Table Review) I have very little clue as to what this album is supposed to be about. This meant that, even more than usual, my attention was focussed purely on the music, which leads to the second observation, which is that as I listened to the album for the first time, I felt a strong sense of déjà vu, which was only increased on subsequent listens. Now, being as familiar with this genre as I am, I know that many bands, far from being as ‘progressive’ as the (misleading) name of the genre implies, essentially repeat the same formula album after album, yet for this to work you have to maintain strong songwriting throughout. This is what I feel lets Arjen Lucassen down here – familiar sounds decorating songs which seem inferior to their predecessors. Ultimately, at 100 minutes or so, this feels somewhat stodgy, as if he’s taken the formula he pretty much perfected on Into The Electric Castle as far as he could, and is now starting to mine diminishing returns.
Having started with these negative impressions, I feel I ought to balance it with some positives – and, being as consummate a professional musician as Lucassen is, there are several. First of all, he’s once again put together a veritable feast of guest musicians, particularly vocalists. Now, you may argue (as I’ve already seen people do) that there are too many ‘straightforward’ hard rock vocalists here (and they may have a point) but you can’t really argue with the pedigree of the likes of Jorn, Bob Catley, Tom Englund, Anneke van Giersbergen and Daniel Gildenlöw. I particularly like the choice of Jonas Renkse (of Swedish gothic doomsters Katatonia), who seems to take on what could be called the ‘Mikael Akerfeldt role’ here, his mellow, brooding style contrasting nicely with the more histrionic style of many of the other contributors. The sound, too, is as huge and in-your-face as you’d expect, with the guitars in particular having a crisp, powerful sound.
Having stated that overall this album feels something of a let down, I should qualify that by saying that there are – as you’d expect from someone of Arjen Lucassen’s pedigree - some very fine tracks here. On 01011001 it’s on the three epics that I feel that we see Ayreon in his (its?) best light, none more so than on the fantastic opener Age Of Shadows. This is almost like a ‘best of Ayreon’ condensed into just over 10 minutes of the finest anthemic, bombastic symphonic metal you’re likely to hear this year. All the featured vocalists excel, and Ayreon cleverly inserts some breathing space (a gentle section featuring Renkse) which he then cleverly uses as a bridge to build back to the anthemic stick-in-your-head chorus.
The other two epics pale a little in comparison to this one, but both have their moments. The Fifth Extinction has an excellent build up, featuring spooky synths, a great galloping bassline and clever male/ female vocal trade-off lines, and features a cheesy but undeniably enjoyable keyboard solo in a neo-prog vein. There’s the requisite heaving riffs (although they do sound lifted from the superior Flight Of The Migrator cut Into The Black Hole), but the song is let down a little by a sappy chorus. The grand finale, The Sixth Extinction, meanwhile, is a good way to end the album, tying up the loose lyrical and musical ends in a veritable pot pourri of styles, the variety making up to an extent for the air of over-familiarity which once again hangs over sections of the song.
Whilst these are probably the highlights as far as I’m concerned, there are some other good tracks, particularly on the first disk. Whilst fairly lightweight, I enjoyed the Ty Tabor-led Connect The Dots, even tolerating the sub-Mr Blue Sky vocoder stuff. Beneath The Waves has an atmospheric build up, with some well delivered lines (particularly the ‘…but a memory’ couplets), although its probably at least two minutes too long. Waking Dreams is similarly atmospheric, with the bubbling synths and chiming organ providing a haunting backdrop to Renkse’s chilled vocals. Again, however, it’s a pity that the song does have its weak spots – in this case, a rather weedy chorus and defiantly average guitar solo.
Unfortunately, there’s plenty of less enjoyable material here. Worst of all is Web Of Lies, which is poor from its dated opening sample (does anyone still use dial-up?) to some rather cringeworthy lyrics. Ride The Comet is something of a by-the-numbers rocker that could have been a makeweight on Flight Of The Migrator, something that could also be said of Unnatural Selection. In fact much of the last thirty or so minutes leading up to The Sixth Extinction I found rather leaden and hard to wade through, particularly if listening to the album the whole way through – leading me to believe that, had he kept the album to a more manageable 70 or so minutes, I might have felt differently about it.
Overall then, 01011001 has to go down in my mind as something a disappointment, albeit a qualified one. As stated in my introduction, the disappointment may partly be due to having reached saturation point with this style of music, but even so I feel that Lucassen needs to instigate a fresher and more innovative approach, combined with consistently strong songwriting, next time out under the Ayreon moniker.
Chris Jackson's Review
I first heard about Ayreon in 2005, around the time The Human Equation was released. Consisting of an all star cast of members such as Neal Morse, Michael Romeo (who returns for a solo on E=MC2) and Russell Allen, Flight Of The Migrator sounded like an album that would really appeal to me. Unfortunately, on many different levels, it did not. I liked the story line but, musically it fell short of enjoyable. It wasn’t until I heard Day Five: Voices sometime later on an internet radio station that I decided to pick up The Human Equation. Arjen Lucassen really hit perfection with this release. Vocally, lyrically and instrumentally every piece fit together perfectly. Since buying all of the other past releases, I can’t say I really enjoy any of them as much as The Human Equation. To this day it remains the only one I go back to. This led me to be somewhat subconsciously cynical towards 01011001. Unjustly so, now it seems.
Disc One begins with The Age Of Shadows, a fairly heavy song that is mostly driven by a syncopated organ passage. Liquid Eternity is very dynamic, alternating between soft, ambient passages to harmonized vocals over a metal backdrop. New Born Race is were some folk influence comes early into the mix. It bears some similarity to Isis And Osiris off Into the Electric Castle. The last track, Web Of Lies, is a bit odd. It plays out as an internet conversation between Phideaux Xavier and Simone Simons about how much they miss each other.
Going against the rules of convention, Disc Two is by far my favourite. While The Fifth Extinction is very reminiscent of previous songs, there is one noticeable exception in the mix, Derek Sherinian. Considering Derek’s keyboard work in Planet X’s invokes a strong sense of space, it is a wonder why he hasn’t played on an Ayreon album before. Derek’s solo fits very nicely in contrast to the synthesizer laden back drop. Waking Dreams, even though it is one of the more laid back songs on the album, is my favourite track on the album. Anneke van Giersbergen has a very emotional voice and it is layered to great effect here. Unnatural Selection slowly builds in intensity eventually leading to a series of spoken dialogue from John F Kennedy, George W Bush and Winston Churchill among a few others. The Sixth Extinction is just over twelve minutes and contains everything a prog epic should have, great melody, coherence and vocals.
Only a few days prior to hearing this album I had just finished reading the Arthur C Clark novel Songs of Distant Earth. In a nutshell, this book dealt with humanity learning of its own demise and finding a way to, in a sense, survive by sending DNA to other planets that can support life. From what I have gathered thus far, this is the premise of 01011001. A society on the distant Planet Y (01011001 in binary) has become completely dependent on the technology it created. In effect, it robbed them of emotions. They then decided to send their DNA on a comet that passed by, later hitting Earth and killing the dinosaurs thus giving way to the evolution of humans. Humans, in turn, succumb to the same fate as the people that helped create them.
Arjen has an uncanny ability to bring out the best in his vocalists and 01011001 is no exception. I was particularly impressed by Anneke van Giersbergen, Simone Simons and Thomas Englund. Prior to this album, I had not heard many of these vocalists and was interested in how the chemistry between them would be. Just like The Human Equation, it is nearing flawless. The best example of this is in The Fifth Extinction. There is a section in the middle that features lines by Thomas Englund, Daniel Gildenlöw, Steve Lee, Hansi Kursch, Floor Jansen and Jorn Lande in succession and it took a while to even realize that there were more than two vocalists. This interplay is used many times throughout the album to great effect.
There are parts of this album that border on brilliant. On a few songs, Liquid Eternity, Waking Dreams and Unnatural Selection, I had goose bumps on my arm. There is something to be said about music that can do this. While I did think a few songs on the first disc didn’t hold up with many of the others, they weren’t by any stretch of the imagination bad. 01011001 is a must have for progressive metal fans who aren’t intimated or put off by a concept and lyrics that are out of the ordinary. Highly recommended.