Issue 2013-071: Ayreon - The Theory of Everything - Round Table Review
Round Table Review
CD 1 - PHASE I: SINGULARITY (23:29)
Prologue: The Blackboard (1:56), The Theory of Everything part 1 (3:02), Patterns (1:04), The Prodigy's World (1:31), The Teacher's Discovery (2:59), Love and Envy (2:40), Progressive Waves (3:17), The Gift (2:38), The Eleventh Dimension (1:46), Inertia (0:45), The Theory of Everything part 2 (1:51)
PHASE II: SYMMETRY (21:31)
The Consultation (3:50), Diagnosis (2:49), The Argument 1 (0:25), The Rival's Dilemma (2:22), Surface Tension (0:57), A Reason To Live (0:46), Potential (3:15), Quantum Chaos (2:10), Dark Medicine (1:24), Alive! (2:29), The Prediction (1:05)
CD 2 - PHASE III: ENTANGLEMENT (22:34)
Fluctuations (1:01), Transformation (3:14), Collision (3:27), Side Effects (2:59), Frequency Modulation (1:44), Magnetism (3:54), Quid Pro Quo (3:09), String Theory (1:29), Fortune? (1:37)
PHASE IV: UNIFICATION (22:20)
Mirror Of Dreams (2:31), The Lighthouse (3:16), The Argument 2 (0:49), The Parting (3:27), The Visitation (3:27), The Breakthrough (2:00), The Note (1:12), The Uncertainty Principle (2:10), Dark Energy (0:45), The Theory of Everything part 3 (1:30), The Blackboard (reprise) (1:14)
Brendan Bowen' Review
Ominous and bassy, The Theory of Everything opening sets a very dramatic stage to embark on another grand adventure. Immediately the Ayreon signature is unmistakable, removing all doubt that this go around will somehow sound scaled down from previous endeavours despite reports that this project would be reined in somewhat. Really, the number of players may have diminished but the vast array of sounds and drama that we have come to expect from Arjen Anthony Lucassen is all here.
Something Arjen has been extremely good at is his ability to weave talent from disparate sources to complement his own work while maintaining the integrity of the influence coming in. When you hear Rick Wakeman on the piano and Mini Moog or Jordan Rudess in Progressive Waves - along with the very forward drumming by Ed Warby, which piles the dizzying thought processes of the prodigy on without ever a quiver, even as it creeps into madness - you feel the intended effect while identifying the nuance of the contributors. It's a great combination.
Arjen's ability to choose contributors may be his lasting legacy: Ben Mathot's violin sound is haunting and heavy, Jeroen Glossen's flute is as good as any rock based flute work I have ever heard, and the character's different vocal parts are distinct and an audible delight that draw each individual in the story to the forefront.
The storyline is essentially a timeline that wraps back around to the beginning as an explanation for the sad state in which the prodigy finds himself. The music draws us further in and punctuates the archetypal characters that seem to make this plot allegorically apply to the world at large, the chosen sound effects building the tension in intricate details highlighting the drama of the story in spectacular fashion.
As I listened to this work over and over I was amazed that someone could actually create a metal-laced Irish folk space jam and have it come off superbly. All the strong metal riffs used in this work are in E-flat but never does it sound repetitious or as filler.
This album has elements that seem to draw from both 01011001 and The Human Equation (my two favourite Ayreon titles) without rehashing prior ground. The familiarity is not distracting or too similar to old territory but more of a warm reminder that we are in Arjen's world. If anything, The Theory of Everything is busier and carries more action than previous albums. I went back through Arjen's recent solo release, Lost In The New Real, and found it significantly different stylistically so this really is largely fresh new ground he has covered here.
There are 42 songs (Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy's answer to life) divided into four phases. Each of the four phases has a slightly different feel as if recorded in a different studio and all have very fine sound quality. The depth and breadth of the recording's dynamism may be equalled only by Ayreon's previous work. I especially enjoy how the ground-shaking bass can shift down to delicate without losing intensity. To me, what has been created here is a vastly significant rock opera that deserves to be on a pedestal as the new standard of this underrepresented genre.
My appetite for all things Ayreon continues to be satisfied. After multiple listens I cannot tire of this work. And anyone who can parse quantum mechanical terms into rock lyrics regardless of how awkward this can turn definitely gets thumbs up!
I didn't hear anything particularly new here, just incredibly talented playing and amazing writing. The album artwork is consistent for this act and really displays a consistency without any attempt at taking risks. No complaints here. The greatest compliment, though, is the incredible joy this is to listen to. For me it is a timeless tale and takes its place among Arjen Lucassen's best work to date.
John O'Boyle's Review
Arjen Lucassen has put pen to paper and written another Sci-Fi conceptual rock opera. One can never accuse him of not thinking before he writes; just look at his back catalogue, he has just completed a 7 album cycle about the creation and destruction of mankind by a race of aliens who lost their emotions because of science. The Theory of Everything chooses no lesser a path and science is in the air again, this time, the subjects of quantum physics and relativity, a look at the fine line between genius and madness.... And I for one don't get the impression that this is going to be a single double album affair.
Look at how the four acts are broken down - Singularity, Symmetry, Entanglement and Unification. Something that struck me whilst looking at the breakdown of the four acts is that there are 42 tracks... Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy anyone and the answer to the ultimate question of Life, the Universe and Everything? I digress. The only downside to this album is its formulaic approach. One could almost say that this is a typical Ayreon album (I did have a few déjà vu moments whilst listening to the album) as its presentation and approach are very much like past adventures. It would have been nice to have seen Arjen maybe step out of his comfort zone and be a bit more adventurous. This doesn't make the album bad, as Arjen's fans are sure to lap this up massively; newer fans can step into his creative world and be entertained too. What I can say is that no one else does this approach as well as Arjen. Period.
Musically the album is dynamic with a very precise production job, a crystal clear soundstage that coagulates various musical approaches together; acoustic, electric, space rock, folk, Celtic, classical overtones and prog metal, taking the listener on a journey. The interaction of the instrumentation is balanced and works well, one minute passive and subtle, the next aggressive creating the backdrop for the story line. Swirling and intricate keyboard dalliances that emotively twists and turns, caressing you, offering re-assurance - then hitting you square on as do the signature guitar passages, frantic fret work, big chords and then the beautiful harmonic displays.
The music presented has emotional intelligence as it punctuates the storyline, accentuating the emotional outpourings, whether they be heartfelt pleas, embittered cries or questioning statements. The songs don't work when played as stand-alone pieces, then again they were never designed to, which means in all reality to gain full effect the full experience must be participated in, which was Arjen's intention.
Not only does Arjen have a good ear for a damn fine tune, he is also adept at choosing the right people for the required vocal jobs as they hit the proverbial nail squarely on the head, adding to the effect and feel of the album.
The 18 months taken to create this album have not been wasted; it is full of the grandiose and will have you pressing play again to ensure that you haven't missed anything on your journey.
Inside Out again cater for the discerning fan by offering various editions of this release which is always great to see, meeting everyone's needs from the standard two disk release to the Limited Deluxe Art book (2CD, DVD + Bonus 2CD) which gets a BIG thumbs up from me.
The Contributing Vocalists (in order of appearance): JB as The Teacher, Sara Squadrani as The Girl, Michael Mills as The Father, Cristina Scabbia as The Mother, Tommy Karevik as The Prodigy, Marko Hietala as The Rival, John Wetton as The Psychiatrist
The contributing musicians: Ed Warby (drums), Rick Wakeman (keyboards), Keith Emerson (keyboards), Jordan Rudess (keyboards), Steve Hackett (lead guitar), Troy Donockley (Uilleann pipes and low flute), Arjen Anthony Lucassen (electric and acoustic guitars, bass guitar, mandolin and keyboards), Ben Mathot (violins), Maaike Peterse (cellos), Jeroen Goossens (flute, bass flute, piccolo, bamboo flute and contrabass flute), Siddharta Barnhoorn (orchestrations) and Michael Mills (Irish Bouzouki).
Geoff Feakes's Review
It's been 5 years since the release of the excellent Timeline box-set which neatly summed up the seven Ayreon albums up to that point. Since then, general all-round musical genius Arjen Anthony Lucassen has concentrated his energies on other projects including Guilt Machine, Star One and most recently, the excellent solo offering Lost In The New Real. Now begins a new chapter in the story with the first full length Ayreon album since 2007's 01011001.
The familiar Ayreon logo and Jef Bertels artwork is present and correct although Lucassen has eschewed the usual psi-fi storylines for a more earthly but equally ambitious concept, The Theory Of Everything. Otherwise it's the usual grandiose trappings including two CDs worth of music and an array of contributing guest singers and musicians. The album is in four, 20 minute plus parts (a la Tales From Topographic Oceans) - Phase I: Singularity, Phase II: Symmetry, Phase III: Entanglement and Phase IV: Unification - which in turn are subdivided into shorter tracks, no less than 42 in total. Continuity is not an issue however with each track flowing seamlessly into the next.
The story's protagonists are played by seven principle vocalists who weave in and out of the plot (and songs) to great effect. In fact it's some of the most accomplished ensemble singing I've heard on album since Clive Nolan's excellent Alchemy musical. Whilst Lucassen provides the usual guitars, bass and keyboards, he is supplemented by the appearance (albeit fleetingly) of several big-name guest musicians. That said, it's the nucleus of Ed Warby (drums), Jeroen Goossens (flute, piccolo), Ben Mathot (violin), Maaike Peterse (cello), Troy Donockley (Uilleann pipes, low flute) and of course Lucassen himself that holds it all together instrumentally.
It's normally my policy to appraise every track on the album but in the case of The Theory Of Everything with 42 tracks in total, that's not going to happen! I will however endeavour to provide an insight into the music and performances, dwelling on what are for me the album highlights. As this is a round table review, I'm sure my esteemed colleagues will fill in the gaps.
Following an atmospheric Prologue, The Theory Of Everything Part 1 introduces us to the strong main theme (which I shall hitherto refer to as 'The Theory Theme'). The Teacher's Discovery is an epic middle-eastern meets prog-metal track that Lucassen does so well. His organ and guitar and Donockley's pipes are the focal point of the powerhouse instrumental Progressive Waves before the unmistakable Moog of Keith Emerson and then Jordan Rudess weigh in with their own brief but memorable solos. 'The Theory Theme' sounds suitably bombastic during The Gift before returning for The Theory Of Everything Part 2 to bring 'Phase I' to a rousing conclusion.
John Wetton takes the vocal lead during Diagnosis which concludes with an inspired Mini-Moog solo from Rick Wakeman who later returns for the barn storming, but all too short instrumental Surface Tension. Potential begins with inspired acoustic instrumentation (guitars and violin) before developing into something decidedly heavier to stunning effect. Quantum Chaos on the other hand features a noble organ theme which is cut to pieces by a shredding guitar riff. There is undoubtedly some of the strongest material penned by Lucassen exemplified by the pairing of the majestic Alive! (my favourite track) and The Prediction that brings 'Phase II' and disc 1 to an epic conclusion.
Over on disc 2, Transformation is Lucassen at his bombastic best with a blinding riff that would have sat comfortably on 01011001. In a similar vein, Collision sounds like a synthesised update of Deep Purple's Fireball in stark contrast with the melancholic beauty of the bittersweet Side Effects that follows. Magnetism is a fine example of the folk-meets-metal that Lucassen does so well with mandolin and Donockley's Uilleann pipes in full flight whilst Quid Pro Quo underscores the superb vocal interplay of Nightwish's Marko Hietala (as The Rival) and Kamelot's Tommy Karevik (as The Prodigy) with symphonic keys.
The haunting Mirror Of Dreams that opens 'Phase IV' benefits from a lyrical vocal duet between Sara Squadrani and Cristina Scabbia (as The Girl and The Mother respectively and both outstanding throughout the album). In contrast, the crunching staccato riffs of The Lighthouse and the power-metal of The Argument 2 heighten the tension before the instrumentally stunning The Parting plays out with a stirring guitar coda from none other than Steve Hackett. The Visitation sees Karevik accompanied by Michael Mills (as The Father) for some impressive vocal harmonising before the symphonic orchestrations of Dark Energy sets-up the finale. The resonant voice of Magus' Janne 'JB' Christoffersson (as The Teacher) provides the closing words as he did the opening.
I'm never ceased to be amazed by the quality, invention and sheer boldness of Arjen Lucassen's output with The Theory Of Everything being, for me, up there with his best. Don't be fooled by the seemingly endless tack listing above, there is a cohesion that binds the album together into an impressive and easily digestible whole. The guest appearances that could have seemed like so much window dressing are the icing on the cake and together with the rest of the musicians and the singers they play their part in bringing Lucassen's vision to life.
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Ayreon CD & DVD Reviews:-
|Actual Fantasy: Revisited|
|"The updated version adds a lot to the original, and the replacement of the drum computer and the new mix give the recordings a lot more depth and make the album sounds less dated..."|
(Bart Jan van de Vorst, 8-/10)
|Into The Electric Castle|
|"...a great, bombastic prog-rock opera. It feature some great heavy guitar-stuff and beautiful synthesisers-solos."|
(Jan-Jaap de Haan, 8.5/10)
|The Universal Migrator (Part 1 & 2)|
|"There's really no reason not to recommend this album. Instrumentally it lives up to the quality I've come to expect on an Ayreon project."|
(Mark Sander, 8/10)
|"It contains enough interesting material even for less avid fans and while not all these tracks attain the standard of the previously released versions, it's interesting to see how some songs have progressed during writing and recording."|
(Mark Sander, 7.5/10)
|The Human Equation|
|"...if you have enjoyed Ayreon in the past, like me, then you should of course buy this album."|
(Martien Koolen, 9.5/10)
|"There are parts of this album that border on brilliant."|
(Chris Jackson, 9.5/10)
|"If you don't have any Ayreon albums yet this is more than a perfect introduction to his music."|
(Bart Jan van der Vorst, 8.5/10)
|Other CD Reviews:-|
|Day 11 : Love [Single]||Loser [Single]||Elected [EP]|
|Previous Ayreon Live Reviews:-|
|Previous Ayreon Interviews:-|
|Arjen Lucassen with Jan-Jaap de Haan (2000)|
|Arjen Lucassen with Andy Read (2008)|