Music Theories Recordings [Release date 26.10.18]
Aside from being the 20th anniversary of its release and a long overdue vinyl release, the most significant thing about the Arjen Lucassen’s remixed and re-mastered 1998 Ayreon project, is the way it successfully incorporates contrasting elements of prog, metal, folk, electronica, psychedelia, pop, gothic, funk and blues.
20 years on, many of those core elements continue to influence countless prog metal bands in the spirit of modernity.
‘Into The Electric Castle’ marries musical acumen with flair and ambition. The remix aims for a sonic clarity without sacrificing the big, epic qualities of music that is tied in with the emotions of the characters.
You could argue the whole project is slightly over extended, but the musical minutiae makes for a coherent whole that any self respecting rock fan will be drawn to.
The fast moving musical tableaux rocks as hard as metal, is an innovative as prog rock, and employs enough fleeting riffs and deep grooves to convince us, either side of a symphonic rock backdrop.
So while ‘ Into The Electric Castle’ is an easy target for naysayers, it stands up because of its musical integrity. The intense solos, contrasting musical feels and impassioned vocals make for a labyrinth of prog-metal and conceptual space rock, that 20 years after its birth still carries plenty of weight.
The album opens with a mission statement on ‘Welcome To The New Dimension’: “Welcome you have entered the cranial vistas of psycho genesis, this is the place of no time, no space….”
Then there’s a command: Where I lead you will follow…” over nuanced synth noodles, before a final defining narrative line: “You must enter the nuclear portals of the electric castle”, enunciated over symphonic bombast.
And it’s that early combination of prog, synth, metal and more, that sets out the album’s musical qualities.
‘Into The Electric Castle’ demands a lot of concentrated listening and patience as some of the narratives struggle to keep up with the musical intensity.
The Celtic tinged acoustic guitar intro to ‘Isis and Sotiris’ evokes early Hawkwind, while a combination of an ethereal female voice, synth line, and Peter Gabriel style vocal, strikes an essential balance.
A whirl of metal guitar riffs and swirling synths meld themselves into an integrated prog-metal landscape with folky female voices. There’s a staccato organ, synth break and Uriah Heep style bv’s, over manic instrumentation, before a Celtic tinged acoustic drop-down.
‘Amazing Light’ (Amazing Flight In Space) provides a funky counterpoint. The guitar and organ led groove has a Sparks style bridge and features an inspired Thijs Van Leer flute and Clive Nolan synth led break, on a musical high point that draws the listener in.
‘Time Beyond Time’ shifts from a measured, into-an-animated vocal line over a choogling backdrop, as Lucassen links disparate chunks of music into his conceptual framework.
The casual listener might not always be able to keep up with the libretto, but there’s an essential music pulse that traces a linear, propulsive quality.
The jaunty synth-led melody line of ‘The Decision Tree’ is in sharp contrast to the story which tells us someone has to die. It’s delivered in duet format by Fish who pushes the song into anthemic proportions before an organ and synth break.
He’s equally good on ‘Tunnel of Light’ with female harmony accompaniment and a glistening acoustic.
‘Across The Rainbow Bridge’ unexpectedly reaches into the psychedelic realm before settling on booming metal riffs. There’s another sudden change of pace as the band kicks in behind an inaudible rap, before a Jon Anderson and Yes style vocal line on another musical highlight.
And it’s Lucassen ability to suddenly shift tempos and moods without losing the essential thread that makes ‘Into The Electric Castle’ a far more coherent piece than it might otherwise be.
‘The Garden Of Emotion’, features a shimmering guitar line and doctored voice: “Its kind of groovy in this world of fantasy where no one else can go.” A mighty duet features female bv’s and some significant percussion from Ed Warby who is a rock throughout the album.
Anneke Van Giersbergen’s vocal on ‘Valley of the Queen’ sounds almost West coast folk rock, over a gently plucked acoustic, while the electro influenced ‘The Castle Hall’, comes complete with harmonies and an impressive vocal collage, voiced over a synth riff as the band stretches out.
Being a double album Lucassan works hard to maintain our focus on both the story and music. His neat use of synths and electronica leads us back to a metal riff and more doctored vocals on ‘Tower Of Hope’, which could be Todd Rudgren’s Utopia!
‘Cosmic Fusion’ juxtaposes female harmony vocals with a doom metal growl that borders on parody. ‘The Mirror Maze’ shades Pink Floyd, but has an edge, while ‘Evil Devolution’ updates the narrative to: “the door to the future.”
‘The Two Gates’ offers the characters a choice between oblivion and being a hero on harmony filled rock that could be Asia, before an unlikely soulful vocal rap over a B3, thumping bass and cool cymbal work provides another example of the band’s musical excellence.
The synth vocal of ‘Forever Of The Stars’ evokes Hawkwind’s Bob Calvert, as the journey conceptually resolves itself on ‘Another Time Another Space’, with a symphonic ending bathed in echo reverb
Ayreon’s remixed ‘Into The Electric Castle’ is a triumph, simply because of its enduring musical excellence and originality. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 20 September 2020.
UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year (2020) Pete Feenstra presents his weekly Rock & Blues Show on Tuesday at 19:00 ( BST, GMT+1) as part of a five hour blues rock marathon “Tuesday is Bluesday at GRTR!”. The show is repeated on Wednesdays at 22:00, Fridays at 20:00). This show was first broadcast 22 September 2020.
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