Boasting more stars than the Milky Way*, Transitus is the tenth studio concept album to land on Planet Earth under the control of the Starship Ayreon.
Possessing the missing DNA that proves the genetic link between Operation Mindcrime and Andrew Lloyd Webber, this time around we have panto goodies and baddies headed by Twisted Sister's Dee Snider, placed under a spell by the guitar wizzardry of Marty Friedman and Joe Satriani, with the whole thing narrated by Doctor Who.
Having docked for re-fuelling, DPRP's Stefan Hennig gets to examine a few extracts from the "captain's log" alongside the erstwhile commander of the Ayreon Galaxy, Arjen Anthony Lucassen.
Firstly, thank you for an amazing album. My signed deluxe edition currently takes pride of place on my music shelf.
Arjen: You're welcome, glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for buying. And sorry for ruining the artwork with my scribble!
The accompanying comic is a terrific piece of work. With this you have revealed another talent. If you were approached by a major comic company, what title would you like to write?
Hmm... I'm afraid I'm a total ego-maniac-control-freak, so I only work on my own stories! They couldn't afford me anyway, ha, ha.
DPRP: This is your second album to reach number 1 in the Dutch charts, has the mainstream press begun to notice or acknowledge your existence?
Hmm... I don't think so. To be honest, I think they have no idea who this strange Ayreon dude, with the even stranger music, is, despite being number 1 all the time! They probably think it's all a scam, some shady hype concocted by the record label!
Are you getting any play on mainstream radio stations?
I have no idea, I haven't listened to the radio since I was a little kid. But I seriously doubt it. My music has real instruments like guitars, you know. And no autotune. I think that would be too hard for them to handle!
The videos for Talk Of The Town and Daniel's Decent Trilogy (which is stunning) are pretty epic, can we expect more, or even the whole album having a video?
Thanks! Yes, together with the famous Dutch director Dick Maas we're trying to get funding for a full-length feature movie. We already had some meetings and it's looking good. It won't be easy, even a low-budget movie costs a couple of million euros. And this pandemic might be an issue too at the moment of course.
The bonus disc of guide vocals in the deluxe package came as an unexpected surprise. Are there similar vocal guide tracks for any of the previous Ayreon albums that might see the light of day, and if so who sang the guide vocals for previous albums?
Glad you like it! I always sing the original guide vocals myself. Some of it has been released, but most of it you really don't want to hear, haha! I always think that hearing my dodgy guide-vocals gives the eventual singers some self-confidence. At least they know they will do a better job than me! But this time I wanted to raise the bar for the eventual singers, so I sent my guide vocals to excellent singers like Mike Mills and Marcela Bovio. On YouTube you can also find Theory Of Everything with guide vocals by Wilmer Waarbroek.
When allocating vocalists for roles, do you have an idea who would be singing a particular character, or do you write the parts, then search videos on Youtube to find suitable candidates?
It is quite different every time. Mostly I choose the singer first and then write the character and the vocal lines especially for the singer. If I first have the character, that would limit me in my choice of singers. So I rather do it the other way around.
Have you ever approached anyone who has flatly refused to take part, and if so can you reveal who?
Oh yes. It's extremely hard to get singers outside "our" style of music. For a lot of mainstream musicians, "prog" and "metal" are still scary words. But they usually have a polite answer, like: "Sorry, I don't have time right now". Oh, the list is endless. But as I'm getting more known in the world, luckily it's easier to get singers.
In 2000, at the time of the Universal Migrator albums, you seem to have developed a close working relationship with Erik Norlander, which turned sour after you went on tour with Lana Lane. So much so that your contributions on Oblivion Days by the Rocket Scientist were mixed out when the album was re-released. Can you reveal why such a bountiful partnership turned sour so quickly?
Right, that is such a shame. I'm happy to say that I don't have any problems with any musicians in the business. I can easily handle difficult people, if they are straightforward. But these people are backstabbers, and that is where I draw the line. It really hurt because I totally trusted and really liked them at first.
Who would be your ultimate guest on an Ayreon album, both singer and musician, or have you already gotten them?
Obviously, those musicians who I grew up listening to. My favourite bands are Floyd, Zeppelin, Rainbow, and the Beatles. So to work with Gilmour, Plant, Blackmore or McCartney would be the ultimate dream come true. Yeah, right, dream on!
With a list that included Rutger Hauer and now Tom Baker, I imagine you have crossed off many names for possible narrators. Personally I would love to hear William Shatner make a contribution to one of your future projects.
Oh yes, that would be fabulous! Star Trek was my way into sci-fi when I was just a kid. I was totally honored to work with John de Lancie who played Q in Star Trek TNG.
Have you had the opportunity to consider what comes next for Arjen Anthony Lucassen?
Every album I make is a reaction to the previous album. As Transitus isn't a very heavy album and sort of a rock-musical, I'd like to do something a bit wilder again. Maybe a third Star One album!
(*Astronomers estimate there are about 100 thousand million stars in the Milky Way alone, so this may be a very slight exaggeration!)
Ayreon — Transitus
A new Ayreon album was welcome news to enliven 2020. Having had my first taste of Ayreon with The Source and then delving into the back catalogue, I was excited.
The sheer calibre of guests that Arjen can conjure-up is exciting in itself, and this album has no shortage. Long-time collaborator Tommy Karevik (Seventh Wonder, Kamelot) is there along with the delightfully odd Michael Mills (Toehider) and Amanda Sommerville (Trillium) as well as the likes of Joe Satriani and Marty Friedman (ex-Megadeth). The narrator on this album is a little-known actor buy the name of Tom Baker.
So to say I was expecting something amazing is an understatement.
The style of the album, with the numerous short tracks, fits the storyline well. The story being about two lovers who society doesn't want to be together, many deaths, and a jealous brother. The short tracks and narration assist in bringing the story together and helps the album feel more like an audio book, rather than a musical. This, coupled with the associated comic book, makes for an enjoyable experience.
If you go into the album expecting The Source part 2 (like I did), you will be disappointed. However, if you go into it (like I did on my second attempt) as something completely different, it is much more enjoyable. It is heavy, ominous, fun, light-hearted and everything you would expect from the story. Elements of cheese abound, atmospheric symphonics and many great “rock” moments litter the tracks and bring the emotions of the characters to life.
The main thing I did find with this offering, is that it isn't an album you can listen to in a typical way, or pick and choose tracks from. It is an entire package. It is best listened to with the comic, with it being the focus of your attention. It is the kind of album that should be turned into a film similar to Pink Floyd's The Wall.
All in all, I enjoyed it. I was initially disappointed with the album for the reasons mentioned, but upon revisiting it and appreciating for the experience it is, I had a good time listening to and reading it. The vocal performances are fantastic, especially Cammie Gilbert of Oceans Of Slumber. The music is enjoyable and proggy, even if it isn't breaking any new ground, and the story is entertaining. I would say it is one for the collection, but not a must-have.
Album number 10 from Ayreon holds few surprises, containing the tuneful, theatrical bombast for which prog-metal maestro Arjen Anthony Lucassen has become renowned. It's already propelled him to the top of the Dutch album chart where Transitus debuted following its release on 25 September 2020. You know the drill by now, the multi-talented Lucassen and the cream of symphonic-metal singers deliver an extravagant concept, which here combines his familiar sci-fi elements with gothic Victorian melodrama.
The album spans two CDs (or two LPs for vinyl enthusiasts) but at a little over 80 minutes, it's not excessively long. The individual songs, which rarely exceed the five-minute mark, keep the narrative moving at a brisk pace. The exaggerated narration by Tom Baker of Dr Who fame is deliciously tongue-in-cheek. A 28-page graphic novel containing the lyrics is also available from Lucassen's website. The title Transitus refers to a "strange dimension between heaven and hell" (a bit like my local hostelry on an average Saturday night).
The 10-plus minute opening track Fatum Horrificum is divided into six parts and encompasses the full range of Lucassen's stylistic traits. It also acts as an overture, setting the scene for the story that follows. Many of the themes that will be reprised in later songs are introduced, including a dramatic bolero riff that owes a debt to Holst's Mars, The Bringer Of War. In contrast, the dreamy guitar intro to the Daniel And Abby part is a nod to Floyd's Comfortably Numb.
Despite the sci-fi trappings, the story of true love triumphing against adversity from the protagonist's own family, dates back to Greek mythology and Shakespeare. As the hero, Daniel, Tommy Karevik of Kamelot is in stunning form. He previously sang on Ayreon's The Theory Of Everything _ and the last album _The Source. Such is his versatility, emotive songs like Old Friend and Daniel's Vision demonstrate that he would be equally at home crooning pop and MOR ballads. Cammie Gilbert of Oceans Of Slumber is perfect as Abby, his true love, coming into her own for the sensitive ballad Abby In Transitus. The pair also engage in some superb duets, like the Pink Floyd-esque Two Worlds Now One and the slow-burning Hopelessly Slipping Away.
Providing fine support is the wonderful Simone Simons of Epica as the Angel of Death, who (despite her title) is on the side of our hero. The villain of the piece is Daniel's brother Henry, sung in suitably sinister style by Paul Manzi who recently departed company with Arena. His song Talk Of The Town has an Elizabethan flavour with harpsichord, string quartet and flute timbres and some very effective counterpoint vocals. Dee Snider of Twisted Sister fame is also memorable as Daniel's unsympathetic father. His contribution Get Out! Now! is one of the album's show-stoppers with a monumental riff that Iron Maiden would be proud of and a scorching guitar solo courtesy of Joe Satriani.
Other standout songs include the wryly-titled Dumb Piece Of Rock, where Micheal Mills of Toehider is supported by Queen-style harmonies, and This Human Equation with its shuffle drum pattern, djent riff and stunning female lead and backing vocals. The song's title is a reference to Ayreon's 2004 album. The simmering Message From Beyond is another vocal masterclass featuring a tense duet between Cammie Gilbert and Amanda Somerville of Avantasia as Henry's complicit wife Lavinia. The instrumental bridge has a surprisingly jazzy vibe with electric piano, whilst metal guitarist Marty Friedman rounds off the song with a histrionic solo.
Despite the contributions from Satriani and Friedman, Lucassen rarely indulges in long-winded solos, instead he orchestrates the songs with rich guitar and keyboard arrangements embellished by sundry instruments like violin, flute, cello and French horn. His riffs and vocal melodies are always memorable and Transitus benefits from some of his strongest yet. Together with his usual impressive production values, it makes for a compelling and richly rewarding listening experience.