Ayreon - 01011001

InsideOut Music
Produced by Arjen Lucassen

Following some difficult times in his personal life, and his decision to leave Stream of Passion, Arjen Anthony Lucassen is finally following up 2004's monumental The Human Equation with another guest-packed double-CD concept album.

Where on The Human Equation and Inside The Electric Castle each of the guest singers played a specific, named character throughout the album, on 01011001 (the hexadecimal representation of 'Y', which is the name of the planet the race that is the subject of the album comes from, in case you were wondering) they play unnamed members of a race (some of them are Man, some are "Forever", the race mentioned above). They do however have distinct personalities which they maintain. Jorn Lande, for instance, is often sympathetic and cautious, questioning whether the Forever should play God. It will take a lot of careful listening and following of the booklet to work everyone out.

The basic story is that the Forever, who live on the aquatic planet Y, have killed off their emotions and feelings as they have become increasingly dependent on machines to live (Age of Shadows, Comatose, Liquid Eternity and Beneath The Waves). They work out a way to transport their DNA (Newborn Race) on a passing comet to Earth (Ride The Comet) where it's collision exterminates the dinosaurs (The Fifth Extinction) and gives birth to Man such that the Forever can re-experience the lives they've traded away for technological advancement. Disc one is set on Planet Y and disc two on Earth.

All of the Forever singers appear across almost the entire album (with the exception of Virus IV's Magali Luyten), whereas all of the Man singers only sing once (with the exception of Lucassen). These single appearances include Ty Tabor (King's X guitarist), Liselotte Hegt (Dial), Marjan Welman (Elister), Dutch R&B star Wudstick, Simone Simmons (Epica) and Phideaux Xavier (Phideaux). The songs featuring the Forever are what this album is really made for and they present an impressively complex whole. The songs featuring Man less so.

Two of the songs sung by Man singers don't have an obvious role in the story. Connect The Dots, featuring Tabor and Lucassen, hints at global warming and strangely appears on the 'Y' disc between Liquid Eternity and Beneath The Waves, and Web of Lies (Simmons and Xavier) takes a side-long swipe at internet dating, also appearing on the 'Y' disc at the very end. Neither really seem to have much to do with the rest of the story and are certainly out of place given that Man isn't created until track one of disc two.

The Truth Is In Here features Hegt as a nurse ignoring Lucassen's tales of man's demise from his dreams and giving him more medication, and E=MC² (Wudstick and Welman) describes a pair of scientists trying to avert the demise of Man. Both of these appear on the 'Earth' disc and play a much more obvious part in the overall plot.

Everything else from beginning to end is the Forever singers, and in a statement of intent the album opens with ten-minute epic Age of Shadows featuring no less than eight of the ten singers. Evergrey's Tom Englund has a few verses to himself, Gotthard's Steve Lee and Pain of Salvation's Daniel Gildenlöw share some, as do After Forever's Floor Jansen and Blind Guardian's Hansi Kursch. Jorn Lande (Jorn/ex-Masterplan) contributes some ad libs towards the end and half way through Anneke Van Giersbergen (Agua de Annique/ex-The Gathering) and Jonas P. Renske (Katatonia) share a 'sub-song' called We Are Forever.

To sum up the 01011001 simply, and because it's too long to go through every track, it plays like an extended Star One album, with one or two quieter, but no less 'spacey' moments like Comatose. In terms of Ayreon albums it is most similar to Universal Migrator Part II: Flight of The Migrator with its space/technology themes, heavy guitars and some more individual songs than, say, The Human Equation or Inside The Electric Castle. The cover painting is pretty similar as well.

There are some very typical Lucassen moments, so there's no mistaking it's an Ayreon album. Some of the metal riffs are straight out of Arjen's work of old (River of Time, Liquid Eternity, ), but equally there are several moments that have a completely fresh feel. Half way through Newborn Race the music adopts quite a happy rhythm, but the lyrics are talking about creating and destroying life, juxtaposing music against lyrical content, making it less obvious what the mood of the story is at that point. On the second disc Unnatural Selection is one of the most unique songs on the whole album. Massively heavy, newsreel soundbytes, ominous warnings and vocal performances from all concerned (Englund, Lande, Lee, Catley, Kursch, Renske) that are very different from those on the other tracks really set it apart from some of the rest.

Stand-out vocal can be divided into two. Hansi Kursch and Steve Lee, who are two of the most recognisable and unique voices chosen, comfortably deliver the best performances for the duration of the album, but it's Jorn Lande who steals the finest single moments (aside from one particular Daniel Gildenlöw wail during The Fifth Extinction), while Lori Linstruth's (Warbride) guest guitar solo during Newborn Race is the best of those on offer (including Symphony X's Michael Romeo during E=MC²) and Joost van den Broek (After Forever) steals the show in terms of synth playing as the album draws to a close.

There's a strong feeling of familiarity to parts of this record, right down to the quick drum flourishes that signal a chorus in a slower song, but enough new ideas to make you feel like you're in comfortably territory while still expanding what you know. It's certainly not as immediately engaging as The Human Equation, and this maybe because the story is a lot less obvious than previous albums - partly due to more individual songs. What this does mean is that the story is more involved and will take more listening to work out what's going on, especially considering the singers don't have specifically named identities. There are also a lot more musical subtleties in this one which will present themselves through further listening. And Ayreon fans of old, pay careful attention to the very interesting first line of massive closing track The Sixth Extinction.

“ impressively complex ”

Tracklist:
CD1 - Age of Shadows / Comatose / Liquid Eternity / Connect The Dots / Beneath The Waves / Newborn Race / Ride The Comet / Web of Lies
CD2 - The Fifth Extinction / Walking Dreams / The Truth Is In Here / Unnatural Selection / River of Time / E=MC² / The Sixth Extinction
DVD - Behind the Scenes - Making of 01011001 / Beneath The Waves - CGI Movie (5.1/2.0) / Guide Demos (audio) - feat. Arjen on vocals / Ed Warby's Session - Recording drums / Bloopers (audio)

Written by Andy Lye
More: 2008, Albums, Progressive,

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