Released 28th April 2017 (Mascot Label Group)
James LaBrie, Simone Simons, Floor Jansen, Hansi Kürsch, Tobias Sammet, Tommy Karevik, Michael Mills, Russel Allen, Tommy Rogers and Zaher Zorgati
I’m not going to make a habit of reviewing music. After all, just because readers are interested in the same books as me, doesn’t mean you’ll like the same music. But I have to talk about Ayreon at some point, especially now that there’s a new Ayreon album out and damn it sounds good.
Ayreon is the musical project of Arjen Anthony Lucassen, a Dutch singer, songwriter, musician and record producer. Ayreon albums are rock operas, with each one telling a complex story featuring multiple characters, each represented by a different vocalist. Describing the genre of Ayreon is tricky; the most apt label is prog, or progressive rock, but elements of power metal, folk, classical, and electronica music are also heavily featured. Each album tells a separate story, but all bar two of the albums are set in the same universe.
And this wider Ayreon universe is why I’m reviewing this album. The Ayreon albums tell a story of an alien race called the Forevers, who are kept alive by machines and no longer feel emotion. To help them regain these lost emotions, they seed Earth, thus creating Humanity (01011001). They run a number of tests on Humans (Into the Electric Castle and The Human Equation) but in the end we destroy ourselves (The Universal Migrator and again 01011001). We do attempt to prevent our destruction by sending a warning message back in time (The Final Experiment), but this isn’t so successful. It’s a great science fiction saga, which leans a bit on the fantasy side at times, but is a lot more complex than you’d think given the media.
The Source is a prequel to this saga, detailing how the original humans on planet Alpha became the Forevers. It details how the Alphans reliance on technology led to the destruction of their world and most of their population. The main characters are amongst the few survivors, who escape their dying world on a spaceship and relocate to an ocean world. To live on such a planet, they must undergo certain changes to their biology. They also aim to make other improvements using machinery, while also trying not to make the same mistakes as before.
I’ll admit, as a stand-alone story it isn’t the best Arjen has done, but as a prequel to the rest of the Ayreon story it works well. It is an emotional ride, and I loved hearing all the references to the wider story arc. Musically, it is a masterpiece. All the vocalists were great, and I especially loved Floor Jansen, Michael Mills, and Hansi Kürsch. But really all the performances were perfect. I’ve been listening to this album a lot since it came out. I’ve listened to the whole thing in its entirety, both with my full attention and in the background while driving. I’ve listened to individual songs (cannot get enough of Run! Apocalypse! Run! at the moment) but I don’t think I could pick a favourite one. Most of the tracks are good in very different ways; compare the heavy Everybody Dies with slower tracks like The Source Will Flow and All That Was. Arjen has unleashed another masterpiece on the world. He has been called a genius many times, and I feel that that label is well earned.
If you enjoy metal, or rock operas, or science fiction stories that kinda brush up against the fantasy border, then go check out Ayreon’s music. I find Youtube a good place to listen to music, but I think that makes me a bit of a weirdo when there are so many actual music streaming places out there. Check out Arjen’s official channel to listen to all the songs from The Source and see lyric music videos.
Reviewing music is much harder than reviewing books. I find it hard to articulate what I like about music; it’s a much more instinctual thing than books. But I can say that Ayreon is a truly epic, and unique experience. The Source is one of the best concept albums I have heard in a long time.