Ayreon - The Source

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It's been four years now since the last Ayreon album, during which Arjen Lucassen spent time forming The Gentle Storm with Anneke van Giersbergen and recording their debut album The Diary. But after every departure he makes, what fans want him to do most is return to Ayreon, whose albums are often challenging affairs, but the beauty of this latest offering is in its familiarity, both in terms of the sound, and the personnel. The cast of singers this time is predominantly a who's who of performers from previous albums including Russell Allen, James LaBrie, Hansi Kursch, and Floor Jansen, with only a couple of debut appearances, most notably Between The Buried And Me front-man Tommy Rogers. It's also the first full album to feature tongue-in-cheek musical rival Tobias Sammet (mastermind of fellow "rock opera" outfit Avantasia) as the pair have previously only collaborated on a one-off single cover of the Alice Cooper classic Elected. While it touches on a whole raft of styles, as has long been the Ayreon way, most of them will be familiar territory for fans, bringing together all of the most popular sounds and styles the project has embraced in the past. It's therefore the heaviest Ayreon record for some time - particularly Star of Sirrah - but also the most vibrant. Opener The Day That The World Breaks Down runs the full gamut of styles, from classic Lucassen heavy riffs, to a '70s rock groove, and smatterings of space rock keyboards, including cries of "Star Blade" from Australian Michael Mills - capable of channeling some of Queen's finest layered ensemble vocals by himself - which sound very much like a nod to David Bowie's Starman. For the length of both discs the album doesn't really let up. Even the softer tracks, which aren't long ones, have an urgency about them that was missing on the previous album. Much like the last couple of Ayreon albums, the story here isn't as immediately coherent as immaculate fifth album The Human Equation, but is thematically very well tied together and with a bit of effort and the accompanying booklet to hand, it's probably not too difficult to follow, and featuring as it does, some of the most popular voices to have appeared on Ayreon albums to date, there is absolutely nothing here for any Ayreon fan to dislike. After a couple of more adventurous departures, it's a great time to get Ayreon's music back on an even keel for a little while as a basis to experiment again next time, especially with the sold out Ayreon Universe shows coming up in September. These tracks will fit in seamlessly with all the old favourites.

Written by Andy Lye
More: 2017, Albums, Progressive, Quickplay Reviews,

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