I’ve been a huge fan of Arjen Lucassen’s AYREON ever since his debut “The Final Experiment” came out in 1995 And he continued to amaze with his ever expanding science-fiction concept around the Universal Migrator throughout the string of successive album, continuously stepping over the boundaries of Prog Metal and Prog Rock, while maintaining a cohesive whole tying everything together. Now in 2008 he has reached album number seven, titled “01011001” (which is the binary code for the letter “Y”) and he is still all alone instrumentally, with the exception of his trusted companion Ed Warby (ELEGY, GOREFEST) on drums and a few guest musicians here and there, but the lion’s share of everything is still played by the master himself.
And further standing in full tradition with his previous outings, he once again has assembled a grandiose ensemble of vocalists and even though name-calling usually is a sign of trying to convince with somebody else’s assets, the list still is too impressive to ignore: Hansi Kürsch (BLIND GUARDIAN), Daniel Gildenlöw (PAIN OF SALVATION), Thomas Englund (EVERGREY), Jonas Renkse (KATATONIA), Jorn Lande (ex-MASTERPLAN, ARK), Anneke van Giersbergen (ex-THE GATHERING, AGUA DE ANNIQUE), Steve Lee (GOTTHARD), Bob Catley (MAGNUM), Floor Jansen (AFTER FOREVER), Magali Luyten (VIRUS IV), Simone Simons (EPICA), Phideaux Xavier, Wudstik, Marjan Welman (ELISTER), Liselotte Hegt (DIAL), Arjen Anthony Lucassen and Ty Tabor (KING'S X).
The story behind the whole endeavour also is more than interesting, as we see the return of the alien race “Forever” return, describing their civilization on the planet “Y”, where they managed to artificially prolong their lives, but in return getting completely dependent on technology, thus losing their emotions. In a desperate attempt to break out of this state, they send their DNA to planet Earth on a comet, which leads to the extinction of the dinosaurs, but the creation of man, who is supposed to help the “Forever” to find their emotions again. Unfortunately they are too impatient and try to get man too far too fast and technology once more seems to be the doom of, in this case, mankind. Now there is far more to what superficially reads like a rather odd concept, as Arjen is transporting quite harsh criticism of our current state of civilization and modern life, hinting at Planet Y being a potential destination for our own planet by pointing towards internet, pollution, the general way of life and more. So it definitely pays off to read between the lines and find many parallels to the world we live in right now.
As in the past, Arjen was not satisfied with just putting out a regular album, no, “010011001” is a double-disc again, divided into the two parts “Planet Y” and “Earth”, producing 15 songs for a total of 102 minutes of music that will both challenge you and be like a good old friend at the same time that you love to welcome into your home, even if its entourage is big and probably will overload your couch beyond oblivion.
And opener “Age Of Shadows” combines everything that AYREON stands for, heavy riffing, spacey keyboards, multiple characters, eight different vocalists, incredible vocal harmonies and arrangements, an intense atmosphere, great flow, intricate melodies and pristine instrumentation embedded into a clear and powerful production, resulting in almost eleven minutes of progressive bliss that pass by in a rush, not caring for genre borders, but going with the flow and whichever sounds will realize the atmosphere and background of the song best, be it through industrial sounds or electronic drum loops surrounded by the above-mentioned elements or some pure Folk influences, everything has its place and serves a purpose, this is big, really big! And as contrast, take the rather minimalistic “Comatose” right after, which has this simple intensity that sends shivers down your spine and the eerie violin solo by Ben Mathot fits in perfectly. Overall “01011001” take a more reflective approach to music, often relying more on the quieter tones instead of unleashing the Metal monster and still it retains its identity as being typically AYREON, with “Ride The Comet” probably being the most guitar-oriented track, together with “Age Of Shadows”, of the first CD, before “Web Of Lies” closes things off in a quite introverted manner with soft acoustic guitar, violin and flute.
On the second disc “The Fifth Extinction” gives us another splendorous example for the grandeur of Lucassen’s song writing skills, twining together the talents of nine different vocalists/characters into a highly emotional song, while “Waking Dreams” again takes the quieter route and “The Truth Is In Here” even adds a Folk touch to it all, which is taken one step further by ne of my favourite tracks off the whole two discs: “River Of Time”, which is an almost pure and beautiful Folk Rock song with Hansi Kürsch and Bob Catley trading off their talents, in–between them “Unnatural Selection” forming a heavy counterpart with an immensely catchy chorus, greatly highlighting the flow of the album. At the end “The Sixth Extinction” paints a bleak picture of the future, which really should make people think…
Anyways, “01011001” is the first true masterpiece of the year 2008 and Arjen Lucassen continues to set the bar for his competition and himself very high, I am not sure, how he plans to top this album, but given his track record from the past, I am sure that he will find a way, this one goes high up in the year end lists! Arjen is a master of sci-fi storytelling and the music that perfectly translates this into the realm of sound!
(Online March 18, 2008)