– The Theory of EverythingGenre:
Progressive Rock/MetalRelease Date:
October 28th 2013Label:
Posted by adg211288
The Theory of Everything (2013) is the eighth studio album by Dutch progressive rock/metal project Ayreon. The return of Ayreon has been several years coming since the release of 01011001 (2008) as mastermind Arjen Anthony Lucassen has spent the last few years making albums with other projects, the most recent being the solo album Lost in the New Real (2012). The album brings some changes to the project as the original sci-fi story of the minstrel Ayreon and the race of aliens called the Forever is over. The lyrics are now more grounded in reality, although are still pretty complex at times. Comparisons to The Human Equation (2004) would be justified, although this time we’re dealing with a cast that are strictly portraying human characters rather than different emotions of a single man. It somehow comes across as rather geekier than Arjen's sci-fi stuff though.
The vocal cast is also much smaller this time around, featuring just seven vocalists. It’s not the smallest group of singers Arjen has ever had for an Ayreon album, Actual Fantasy (1996) had just three main vocalists, but compared to the eighteen strong 01011001 the amount has more than halved. That said unlike on 01011001 we're dealing with more of an ensemble cast where some singers don't just show up for a single song. Arjen himself did not take a vocal role on The Theory of Everything, making this the second Ayreon album where he didn’t at least have a small vocal part, the other being Flight of the Migrator (2000). I kind of miss his voice because I’ve always thought Arjen sells himself short as a vocalist, but we did get him taking the lead full time on Lost in the New Real, so perhaps this was to be expected.
He’s got some quite well known and talented names this time though with Tommy Karevik (Kamelot, Seventh Wonder) taking the role of The Prodigy, the protagonist of the story who appears to be out to solve the titular theory of everything. Michael Mills (Toehider) and Cristina Scabbia (Lacuna Coil) play The Father and The Mother of The Prodigy respectively. Scabbia is very well known but Mills is one of the lesser known vocalists to appear on the album. The other relatively unknown vocalist here is Sara Squadrani (Ancient Bards), who portrays The Girl, the love interest that any good story has. Marco Hietala (Nightwish, Tarot) is The Rival of The Prodigy, while John Wetton (Asia) plays The Psychiatrist. The cast is completed by Janne "JB" Christoffersson (Grand Magus) who plays The Teacher. He additionally has Wilmer Waarbroek on backing vocals, who also appeared on Lost in the New Real. I've actually heard one of Wilmer's own songs and am actually a bit disappointed that he didn't get a lead role on this album. I'm not sure I'd call it my favourite cast Arjen's ever put together for an Ayreon album but it's a very strong group that really bring out the melodic aspects of Arjen's music.
For The Theory of Everything Arjen structured the music differently than usual. The album is double disc as per his normal standard but made up of just four twenty plus minute songs (or phases, as they are known here) of multiple short segments, for a total of 42 tracks across about an hour and a half’s worth of music. I typically prefer my long tracks to generally be one track, not broken up like this, unless it's something really long like Transatlantic's The Whirlwind, a near seventy-eight minute track. But in most cases such as this it isn't really noticeable when listening to the album.
The usual sounds of an Ayreon album such as folk and symphonic elements are all present and correct on The Theory of Everything, although the album is much more noticeably lighter on the metal elements than most other releases in the Ayreon discography although it's still got enough metal in it to be considered at least as much progressive metal as it is progressive rock, a marked difference to a release such as The Dream Sequencer which was intentionally devoid of metal elements. The music has a high focus on instrumental breaks between the vocal parts, and as always there's some pretty creative and captivating stuff in this department.
Arjen plays most of the instruments on the album but has regular collaborators with him including drummer Ed Warby and violinist Ben Mathot. As is quite typical of his music there are also several guest solo spots, mostly for keyboardists and this time around he has none other than Rick Wakeman, Keith Emerson and Jordan Rudess (so quite the prog all-star trio here) as well as Steve Hackett on guest guitar. The overall sound, like the concept, puts me in mind of The Human Equation so fans of that album are sure to lap The Theory of Everything up. Not that it’s unsatisfying to other listens whose favourites may lie with heavier albums like 0101101, in fact it’s a nice change of pace between the two, sitting somewhere between the sounds of those heavier Ayreon releases as well as the Star One albums, and lighter releases such as Lost in the New Real or Guilt Machine's On This Perfect Day (2009).
Arjen Lucassen is such a versatile musician and you never know what direction he’ll take an album in, especially an Ayreon album. His versatile nature means that new albums from him always have a high level of excitement attached to them that other more predictable artists, even with the progressive genre, can never hope to match. Although The Theory of Everything doesn’t quite displace releases like Into the Electric Castle (1998), 01011001 or Star One's Victims of the Modern Age (2010) as Arjen's best efforts for me, it’s undeniable for me that this is, once again, a top tier work from the man and it's pretty damn close to being in his top three albums. There's no doubt in my mind that Arjen is the best in this business, and albums like The Theory of Everything are just another piece of evidence to prove it.
Buy the album at:Amazon UKAmazon USA