A review of Ayreon, THE SOURCE (Mascot, 2017). Summation: Arjen Lucassen climbs ever higher in the prog pantheon.
On April 28, 2017, Arjen Lucassen releases the ninth studio album of his progressive rock space opera project, Ayreon. Entitled THE SOURCE, Lucassen’s latest–to no one’s surprise–throws everything the great man possesses into it. From heavy guitar riffs to Queen-inspired vocal melodies to Celtic folk, the album comes in at over 88 minutes long. Quite an amazing feat, even for Arjen Anthony Lucassen.
After all, what can’t the man do?
If I tried to pretend objectivity, I’d be readily and truly accused of dishonesty. Since I first listened to Ayreon–well over a decade ago–I was quite taken with it. Since then, I have collected every thing that Lucassen has done–from Star One to Guilt Machine to The Gentle Storm to Ambeon to Stream of Passion to his solo work.
As much as I cherish and admire everything Lucassen does, I will always hold a special love for all things Aryeon–as do several of my kids, but especially my oldest, Nathaniel (just having turned 18). For his most recent birthday, he admitted that what he wanted more than anything else was “anything written by Arjen Lucassen, but especially Ayreon.” It’s the kind of thing that makes a father feel he’s done at least one thing right when raising his son.
And, as my students can attest, whenever I talk about modern science fiction, I always introduce them to the work of Ayreon.
“Ayreon,” as the blind bard from Arthurian Britain, has even appeared in several of our Dungeons and Dragons campaigns as a character.
And, my oldest son and I have even spent a considerable amount of time poring over the lyrics of the first eight albums, looking at the timeline poster from TIMELINE, and plotting a science-fiction-fantasy story about Ayreon. How some real science-fiction writer hasn’t already approached Lucassen for novelization of the character is beyond me. Frankly, the first eight Aryeon albums are a triumph of science-fiction story telling, even when compared to the works of Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, and Kevin J. Anderson. I’m also surprised that a DC or a Dark Horse or an IDW hasn’t asked Lucassen for permission to make graphic novels about the character. The grand story is already there, and the possibilities for travel in the Ayreon universe—in time and space—are endless.
So, what about THE SOURCE? Does it live up to the legacy of Ayreon? Is it a worthy album no. 9?
Yes, yes, and yes. THE SOURCE is simply outstanding. Unlike the earlier Ayreon outings, this one has a much more apocalyptic feel. Indeed, thematically, it feels much more like Guilt Machine or Star One’s second album, VICTIMS OF THE MODERN AGE, than it does the first four or five Aryreon albums.
Additionally, it’s more driving and more metal than those first several albums. THE HUMAN EQUATION was really the last radically varied Ayreon album in terms of musical style. THE SOURCE is varied as well, but even the varied styles always come back to a metal sensibility. While I love the entire album, my favorite track is “Bay of Dreams,” a gorgeous song with a U2-esque guitar and some experimental electronics.
While I’m not sure my perception of this is accurate factually, it seems the case that as Ayreon grows in story, the list of singers (everyone, impressive, by the way) grows and grows. The liner notes (at least as I found online at wikipedia) list sixteen separate vocalists on THE SOURCE. My only complaint with Lucassen’s work–as it’s a complaint I’ve voiced several times–is that I really, really love his voice, but he seems not to. Or, at the very least, he doesn’t seem to enjoy having vocal responsibilities. No matter what, though, his voice always roots me and gives me a center to his universe. The first thing I did when getting a review copy of THE SOURCE was look (and listen) for his voice. He plays guitars, bass, mandolin, synths, and some other unlisted instruments, and he recorded, mixed, and produced the album. But, he doesn’t list himself as a singer. Come on, Lucassen!
As with all of his albums, Lucassen’s THE SOURCE is growing from excellent (first listen) to even more and more excellent with each subsequent lesson. It’s so dense that I’m hearing things on the thirteenth listen that I missed on the first 12. I would guess that however laudatory I am now or a year from now, I would still be discovering new things on the album. This is always true with his music, however. I can still pop INTO THE ELECTRIC CASTLE or THE FINAL EXPERIMENT into the stereo system and notice things never before noticed (at least by this dense American!). It’s one of the many great joys of the music of Arjen Anthony Lucassen.
2017 has already been extraordinary–with releases from Big Big Train and with upcoming releases from The Tangent, newspaperflyhunting, Mew, Nad Sylvan, Bjorn Riis, Dave Kerzner, and others. Whatever you do, don’t think that the new Ayreon is just one more album in the long list of releases. THE SOURCE is an extraordinary album, and when I listen to it next to Big Big Train’s GRIMSPOUND, I’m reminded that I live in a time that is as alive and creative as that in which those who first heard CLOSE TO THE EDGE and SELLING ENGLAND. Whatever hell the world is experiencing, art, humanity, and creativity are thriving—at least in a remote windmill studio in The Netherlands.
Long live, Lucassen!!!