At the end of 2018, I had a choice to make. I could be responsible and keep saving my money, or I could go to Holland to see a metal concert. I chose to be responsible and have regretted it ever since.
This week, I watched the DVD of the concert in question – Ayreon’s Electric Castle Live and Other Tales and damn I wish I’d gone. Now I don’t talk about music a lot on this blog, since I know that isn’t what people are here for. That, plus it’s harder to talk about music. Why do I like it; ‘it sounds awesome’, end of review. Ayreon’s Into the Electric castle is worth attempting to review here I think, since it is still a science fiction story, just told in a different medium.
First things first. What is Ayreon? 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 played 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.
Most Ayreon albums tell the story of an alien race called the Forevers, who are kept alive by machines and no longer feel emotion. Before this, they used to people people like us, until their machines ran amok and they had to flee their planet, Alpha, for a new home on Planet Y (The Source). 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 on the fantasy side at times, but is a lot more complex than you’d think given the media.
Into the Electric Castle was Ayreon’s third album, and was originally released over 20 years ago. It is the story of a Forever (Played by Peter Daltrey in the studio album, and by Star Trek’s John De Lancie in the live show) who teleports eight humans from different time periods into a strange alternate dimension, and tasks them with making their way to the Electric Castle and freeing themselves. It is a very simple plot, but it allows for some amazing songs. Catchy rock tunes like Across the Rainbow Bridge and The Two Gates, together with slower songs like Tunnel of Light and the absolutely beautiful Valley of the Queens. I will never get The Castle Hall out of my head.
Due to the nature of the songs, and the complexity of the music, it was thought for a long time that Ayreon could not be performed live. In 2016 Lucassan’s former manager Yvette Boertje directed a live performance of the 2004 album The Human Equation with Lucassan’s blessing. The show was a full performance featuring many of the original vocalists reprising their roles, a choir, a small orchestra, and a full stage show with multiple set pieces. The performance was dubbed The Theater Equation and yes, I wish I had a time machine to go see that one too. It has been released on DVD, and even though it’s been some years since I watched the whole show, it’s definitely worth a watch. I loved hearing these songs with a choir added.
The trailer for The Theater Equation can be viewed here.
Whilst The Theater Equation was endorsed by Lucassan and the DVDs sold as an official Ayreon product, the concerts were not official Ayreon shows. The first official Ayreon live shows were the Ayreon Universe shows in 2017. Unlike The Theater Equation, Universe was a traditional concert rather than a stage performance. Ayreon Universe – or more properly, Ayreon Universe – The Best of Ayreon Live – features twenty-six songs from across the Ayreon discography, plus two songs from Lucassan’s other project, Star One. Which deserves it’s own post at some point; Space Metal is the best name for a music album ever, and Intergalactic Space Crusaders is the best song title ever.
And yes, I’d love to have been at the Ayreon Universe show. Maybe if there’s a Universe II in a few years. I still haven’t watched the entire Universe concert DVD, but I have seen many of the songs performed individually. There’s really not many places where you can see a violinist and a flutist headbanging while playing live on stage in front of a mosh pit. Except maybe any folk metal gig I suppose. Again The Castle Hall is a standout track in this show. The difference between this The Castle Hall and the Castle Hall in Electric Castle Live is a good example of why each Ayreon show is something unique and special.
The trailer for Ayreon Universe – The Best of Ayreon Live can be viewed here.
It seems that after Universe, Arjen Lucassan has caught the live performance bug. In 2019 the entire Into the Electric Castle album was played live, along with songs from other Lucassan projects. I originally intended to do a full review of the DVD of this show, but as I said before, I have trouble putting into words why music appeals to me. Writing a history of Ayreon live performances seemed easier.
Okay, here’s why the concert was awesome. Firstly, it is based off of an exceptional album full with a variety of songs and exceptional talent. I started writing the full cast, but that will take way too long. Wikipedia time! The musicians performing are also extremely talented and passionate about the project. The dedication really shone through. Also, there is a huge castle on the stage. Footage of the audience did a fair job of conveying the magic of the night, but of course no recording of a live show can ever beat being there in person.
Oh yeah, trailer for Electric Castle Live is here.
Ayreon was going to perform Into the Electric Castle again during a one off show for the Night of Prog festival in Loreley Germany this year (Last weekend actually), but that unfortunately got cancelled due to Covid-19. Hopefully it won’t be too long until the world is healed enough for live performances like this to come back.
Until then, there is a new Ayreon album coming out in September titled Transitus. It’ll be an entirely new story without the Foreveres (I assume) and there will be a comic book to go with it. This album will feature five female vocalists, which I’m really looking forward to. Previous Ayreon albums have unfortunately not had the most balanced gender ratio in the past, and I’m always happy to hear more women in metal. Also, Dee Snider from Twisted Sister will be playing the strict father character, who sings ‘You disobey my rules/you don’t care at all/you don’t give a damn about protocol’ which is the sort of irony that I love.
Rock on Everyone,