The Source - Ayreon
Album: The Source
Review by Steve Jenkins
Masterminded by Arjen Anthony Lucassen, a Dutch multi-instrumentalist who in 1995 released an album called Ayreon, the first of a very successful series of rock operas featuring many international guest-musicians. Ayreon is Arjen's main project, but he also works on various side-projects. This writer is virtually unfamiliar with Arjen as an artist and has never heard the albums of Ayreon before, so I was pleasantly surprised when hearing The Source for the very first time.
Straight away on the opening track "The Day That The World Break Down" the recognizable vocals of James LaBrie from Dream Theater begin this prog-rock monument. There extraordinary array of numerous vocalists is definitely the most prominent feature on this album, as well as the keyboards, flutes, and strings that have their shining moments. The project’s softer side even gets to exercise itself on occasion with “All That Was,” “Condemned to Live,” and “The Source Will Flow” in particular showing off the historical and spellbinding atmosphere that Ayreon sets out to create visually and musically.
The Source features an unusual blend of prog, metal, folk and electronics over the course of its lengthy two-disc run-time but it stands out for being one of the most “metal” sounding albums that I've heard from this kind of genre. The songs show more riffs than you can poke a stick at and there's a certain crunchiness with the guitar which is strong and powerful throughout the whole entire offering. The first disc also has some speedier tracks like “Everybody Dies” and “Run! Apocalypse! Run!” which sound like they could’ve come straight from a power metal band. An entire review could probably be written just purely about the cast of incredible singers on this album, including Simone Simons (Epica), Floor Jansen (Nightwish), Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian), Tobias Sammet (Edguy, Avantasia), Tommy Karevik (Kamelot, Seventh Wonder), and Russell Allen (Symphony X), The twelve main vocalists are some of the best and brightest in metal and every line is passionately composed and executed whether the characters sing to themselves, harmonize in groups, or engage one another in rock opera combat.
On Disc 2, things get a little more clear and precise with a much more accessible prog-rock sound taking control. From the get-go, you can feel the confidence oozing out of "Aquatic Race" and "The Dream Dissolves". The symphonic overload is still there, but it seems to have been restrained, and suddenly the overblown cheese which can be heard sometimes when you've got so much going on doesn't seem to be force-fed down your throat. The heaviness of both of these songs appears in all the right places, providing a consistent flow which reflects Arjen's seemingly never-ending energy. That said, Disc 2 still has its nerdy and cheesy moments. "Into the Ocean" sounds like a homage to the legendary Ronnie James Dio and his hard-rock Rainbow during the 70's, and the last three tracks seem to be just thrown in there for no particular reason. It's almost like things were a bit forced or rushed at the end of the recording for the sake of it, especially as the wonderful "Planet Y is Alive!" could have been an epic and very fitting close to the album.
In conclusion, The Source was certainly a lot to take in and I will definitely need a few more listens to appreciate every elements that is on offer here. As a 2-disc album, it's incredibly well executed and the concept is extremely grandiose on all levels, but still epic and formulated brilliantly nonetheless. It's a rock opera with a plethora of instrumental and vocal arrangements that are world class, it is sure to excite prog-metal/rock fans everywhere.
8 out of 10 stars.
The Source is available now on iTunes and Spotify or by visiting here.
Watch the official video for "The Day That The World Breaks Down" below: