Ayreon - The Human Equation

InsideOut Music (Germany)
Produced by Arjen Lucassen

Pure musical genius. Never before has a record of such complexity and vision been created since the work of the great classical composers. Not since the last Ayreon album anyway, and this is better than all of those. Entirely conceived by one man, Arjen A. Lucassen, the Ayreon project is one of immense musical ability and complex stories, told via a collection of the World's finest singers, each playing a different character in the self-contained story of each album.

The Human Equation is the sixth such album from Arjen (also responsible for the Star One and Ambeon projects) and features some of the greatest voices in rock, prog and even folk to ever grace the music industry. For each Ayreon project, Arjen is responsible for all the instrumentation apart from drums and a small handful of guest guitar and keyboard solos. Like 1998's Into The Electric Castle all the singers sing through the entire two-CD album, so any one track has from two to six different vocalists. This may sound a bit overboard and difficult to listen to, but it isn't. It's masterful in its construction all the parts blend perfectly into a two odd hour story.

The story centres around an executive who is in a coma following a collision with a tree in his car on a stretch of open road, with no other car nearby. He is in hospital, with his best friend (played by Arjen) and his wife (Marcela Bovio of Elfonia). The executive, the "Me" character in the story, is played by Dream Theater's World famous vocalist James LaBrie. The story is told over the 20 day period "Me" is in the coma, with one track dedicated to each day. Even when we switch to disc two, the first 11 tracks are each about 2-3 seconds long, making part of the intro to track 12, so that the track numbers match the day in question. It's the little things.

Apart from the parts that take place between "Best Friend" and "Wife", the rest of the action takes place in the head of "Me", where all of his feelings are manifested as people, who confront him in his mind. Gradually the story of how he came to have the accident unfolds, as well as his background explained via his feelings which include Mikael Akerfeldt of epic death metallers Opeth (although he uses is exquisite melodic voice in most of this stuff - see Opeth's entirely melodic Damnation record for proof of his quality), Eric Clayton of Saviour Machine, The Quill's Magnus Ekwall, folk-rock outfit Mostly Autumn's Heather Findlay, extreme nut-job and musical genius in his own right, Devin Townsend, Irene Jensen from After Forever, Shadow Gallery's Mike Baker and prog metallers Dead Soul Tribe's Devon Graves.

The feelings in his head often react to things being said outside in the hospital and each one is portrayed by a vocalist perfectly selected for the part. Eric Clayton, for example, plays "Reason", and his voice is very deep, authorititive and "grown up". Magnus Ekwall demonstrates a fine melodic voice that he is more than capable of adding power to at the right time, sounding confident throughout as "Pride". Heather Findlay's beautifully soft voice, Heather is again the perfect choice "Love", and so it goes. And it will come as no surprise to fans to learn Townsend plays "Rage".

Throughout the whole album the music is masterfully executed, wonderfully complex without being overbearing on incomprehensible and almost entirely executed by Arjen. His guitar playing is stunning, demonstrating that he can play heavy and fast as well as beautiful acoustic pieces, laced with his keyboard and synth playing at strategic intervals, adding depth and grandeur to proceedings. The only stuff not handled by Arjen are some of the solos, the orchestral instrumentation, and the drums, which come courtesy of Gorefest's Ed Warby, as they have on so many occasions before. His rhythms, fills and rolls underpinning and driving the entire piece from start to finish, the man is nothing short of exceptional, all played on a kit the size of Scotland. Arjen takes all of the guitar solos, so the only guest soloing on this record is from keyboard players. The most notable of which being Hawkwind legend Ken Hensley on Day Eleven: Love (the album's first single).

There are three versions of this record on the market (although one is out of print in Europe). Firstly there is the standard edition, which is just the double album in a double jewel case with the standard booklet. Secondly, there is the Special Edition (which I have), which comes in a rather nice box, containing the standard edition double album, plus an accompanying DVD in a single slim jewel case. The third version is the Deluxe version, packaged in a beautiful DVD sized box, with additional artwork and notes, containing the double album and DVD. The only difference here is the packaging. This version is now sold out in PAL DVD version, but at the time of writing is still available in NTSC.

The DVD features the promo video for first single Day Eleven: Love, a feature on Ed Warby's drums (here's where you get to see it), a 3 minute feature on the concept of the album, told by Arjen (who speaks stunning English for a Dutchman), a 45 minute documentary on the making of the record, narrated by Arjen, another 4 minute segment on the idea of the Ayreon project (Arjen, again), and the original internet "teaser" trailer for the album. Clocking in at just over an hour of material, the DVD is remarkably interesting, as befits the album, really.

This is one of those albums that feel like it will never be bettered. Time will tell.

“ complexity and vision ”

Tracklist:
CD1 - Day One: Vigil / Day Two: Isolation / Day Three: Pain / Day Four: Mystery / Day Five: Voices / Day Six: Childhood / Day Seven: Hope / Day Eight: School / Day Nine: Playground / Day Ten: Memories / Day Eleven: Love
CD2 - Day Twelve: Trauma / Day Thirteen: Sign / Day Fourteen: Pride / Day Fifteen: Betrayal / Day Sixteen: Loser / Day Seventeen: Accident? / Day Eighteen: Realization / Day Nineteen: Disclosure / Day Twenty: Confrontation
DVD - Inside: Behind The Scenes of The Human Equation / Concept / Ayreon / Drums / Day Eleven: Love video / Teaser Trailer

Written by Andy Lye
More: 2004, Albums, Progressive, ,

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