When I heard the debut album The Final Experiment (1995) by Ayreon for the first time, I was flabbergasted as I could simply not believe that this was a Dutch record. I still listen to it once in a while and I always love to hear it again. For me the other two Ayreon landmarks are Into The Electric Castle (1998) and The Human Equation (2004). However, the penultimate Ayreon album with the rather odd and mysterious title 01011001 (2008), was not what I had expected from Arjen Lucassen, as it was a dark and very melancholic album.
After five years of silence Ayreon is back with a vengeance with a new album called The Theory Of Everything. This double CD features a couple of changes compared to the previous albums. On this new record you can hear 'only' seven guest singers while on the previous album we were treated to no fewer than seventeen lead singers! The main vocalists on The Theory Of Everything are Marko Hietala (Nightwish), Tommy Karevik (Kamelot), Cristina Scabbia (Lacuna Coil), JB (Grand Magus), John Wetton (Asia, UK) and two new talents, namely Sara Squadrani (Ancient Bards) and Michael Mills from the Australian band Toehider.
Another new thing on this album is the theme of the story. On all other Ayreon records the story dealt with fantasy and science fiction, but this time it's a concept about 'real' life as the story follows the protagonist and his quest to find the theory of everything. His ambition to find this theory leads him and his family to destruction something which the story perfectly tells. Musically speaking this album is a journey through the progressive music of the seventies, eighties and nineties with dominantly present keyboards. Therefore Arjen invited some of the best keyboard players in the world, which means that you can enjoy solos and melodies of no one less than Rick Wakeman (ex-Yes), Keith Emerson (Emerson, Lake & Palmer) and last but not least Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater ). Other guest musicians are the famous guitarist Steve Hackett (ex-Genesis) and good old sidekick Ed Warby on drums.
As it is impossible to discuss all tracks I will only pick out my highlights of this amazing album. Progressive Waves, Fluctuations and Transformation are all extremely well-played songs with astonishing keyboard melodies and solos, while The Parting contains a beautiful guitar solo by Steve Hackett. Concerning the vocal tracks, I really would recommend The Rival's Dilemma, Mirror Of Dreams, The Parting and The Theory Of Everything, part 3. Luckily there are no grunts on this album and the overall sound tends more to metal than before. This CD is a musical rollercoaster which everyone should listen to once, before you'll get addicted to this superb new Ayreon album. I think it will end up high in my album top ten of 2013.
To end this review I would like to add a quote from Arjen Lucassen: 'the album contains forty-two tracks and all fans of the Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy know that forty-two is the meaning of life. This album has a thing from the famous Yes album Tales From Topographic Oceans (1973), as that album also featured one song on each side of its original vinyl, just as this Ayreon album does. So, progressive guys and girls out there: buy or die!'
***** Martien Koolen (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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