Album review: AYREON – The Theory Of Everything

Inside Out  [Release date 28.10.13]

Telling a story through music is a tried and tested method and is certainly as old as Rock itself. Examples are too many to mention, but the most celebrated works would undoubtedly have to be Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Jesus Christ Superstar”,  The Who’s “Tommy” and ”Quadrophenia” and Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” – all having gained phenomenal success for their respective creators.

It was not long before this ‘baton’ was passed on to Metal, with bands like Savatage and Queensryche successfully leading the way in the late 80s/early 90s, but over the past 15 years or so it really seems as if the flag bearer of this scene has been none other than Arjen Anthony Lucassen – song writer, producer and mastermind behind the genre-bending musical project Ayreon.

It must have been with a huge sigh of relief that most Ayreon fans welcomed the news of the release of “The Theory Of Everything”, Ayreon’s latest studio album, as Arjen’s recent involvement in various different projects raised fears of this band remaining on a permanent hiatus.

Clearly invigorated, and with the musicians of undeniable pedigree by his side, such as Rick Wakeman, Steve Hackett and Keith Emerson (among others), Lucassen has brought to life what he himself described as a body of work with ‘A “Tales From Topographic Oceans”- thing going on’.

Now, before you start worrying over unnecessarily complicated time structures and marathon-long instrumental solos, let me reassure you by saying that “The Theory Of Everything” consists of material that is melody-driven and fairly easy to relate to.

In case, however, you trick yourself into believing that Arjen, the seven guest vocalists and the numerous instrumentalists involved in this project have had an easy ride, there are forty two cleverly crafted and masterfully arranged music sections here that will prove you wrong!

Unlike an average Metal album, the quality of a Metal opera has to be judged on both a careful evaluation of the story line, as well as the music compositions/arrangements on offer and it is in both these fields that “The Theory Of Everything” has scored some pretty high points.

The storyline revolves around the quest of a scientist to discover an equation that will explain and unite all physical forces of the universe (“The Theory Of Everything”) and involves a variety of intricate human relationships.

It is Lucassen’s intelligent portrayal and analysis of these relationships and the way that he decided that their evolution would influence the outcome of the story that will both intrigue and captivate your attention to the very end (I have decided to keep out any spoilers so as to let you enjoy the unveiling of the highly intricate plot).

To this end, Lucassen acquired the services of both well established singers such as Tommy Karevik (Kamelot), John Wetton (Asia, ex-King Crimson), Christina Scabbia (Lacuna Coil), but also those of two impressive ‘newcomers’, namely  Michael Mills (Toehider) and Sara Squadrani (Ancient Bards), who have both performed miracles for this album.

On a musical level, Ayreon’s eighth studio album is yet another varied musical affair. With keyboard players such as Rick Wakeman and Keith Emerson on board, it is quite logical to expect the keyboard to be given a leading role in the proceedings.

Having said that, their co-existence and co-operation with Steve Hackett has been  exceptional; not one of these virtuosos has wasted their skills upon senseless elongated solos, but have rather helped enhance the atmosphere that an album with a powerful concept such as this demands.

Mixing elements of Jethro Tull and Yes in equal terms, the main concept melody, expressed in three parts across the album, is simply staggering. It is, however, when strong melodic things successfully combine with powerful vocal renditions that the album truly flourishes.

Top moments would have to be “The Teacher’s Discovery”, a piece that is based on a beautiful Shadow Gallery sounding oriental theme, the heavy riffed and vocally dramatic opus “Diagnosis”, the Rainbow themed “Collision”, as well as “Mirror Of Dreams” – an emotional ballad based on the sounds of an Irish Bouzouki and which features an amazing twin female vocal performance from two integral characters in the story.

It is very difficult for any reviewer to explain, in the strict confines of an album review, what it is that the latest addition to the Ayreon catalogue has to offer to the willing listener. I’d like to think, however, that your curiosity has been aroused enough to make you want to fill in the blanks that, in turn, will help unveil this project in its majestic entirety.

What Lucassen has done in his typical, almost effortless manner, is to indulge in a project which many artists out there will never have either the skills or the stomach to undertake. Whether “The Theory Of Everything” will manage to surpass “Into The Electric Castle” in the consciousness of fans as the Ayreon’s best album remains to be seen. In the meantime, the gifted Dutchman can lay back and rest in knowledge that he has once again done himself proud with his latest offering.

John Stefanis

Rating: **** (4.0/5.0)

The latest Facebook Live session from Canadian singer-songwriter Josh Taerk Sunday 21 February, 16:00 EST, 21:00 GMT

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