Ayreon - Through the Years

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Sir Exar Kun
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Ayreon - Through the Years

Postby Sir Exar Kun » Tue May 30, 2017 3:58 pm

I've been on a major Ayreon kick lately in anticipation of the new album, and went through and listened to all the older material prior to spinning "The Source" for the first time. Here are my thoughts..... For what it's worth....

Final Experiment - Where the magic all began. This seemed like a ludicrous idea at the time, but the idea of a concept album involving all-stars like Lenny Wolf was irresistable even without hearing a single note. If I recall correctly, my buddy Mid bought this one, and I bought Actual Fantasy both at about the same time to sample each. Final Experiment was definitely the stronger of the two, and still holds up well today. Only knock is that it starts very strong, but ends up jumping around quite a bit on the second half with much shorter songs. Still, this is the cornerstone of almost everything that followed.

Actual Fantasy - It's hard to listen to this as a true Ayreon album, as the lack of diversity in the singers and the more uniform styled songwriting doesn't really fit the Ayreon mold. All that being said, and knowing how Arjen has operated over the last 15 years, this really does fit well into his "every other" model mixing up Ayreon albums with other side projects..... This just sounds more like a side project. That being said, it's still a really good, really enjoyable album.

Into the Electric Castle - This is where it all comes together for me. The songwriting on this disc and the varied performances (Damian Wilson! Anneke! Sharon den Adel!), added to a double disc format, made this a must-have right away. This builds on everything he did on Final Experiment, but pulls it all together. I can't say that this is my single favorite Ayreon disc, but it's the most SIGNIFICANT Ayreon disc.

Dream Sequencer / Flight of the Migrator - Never cared for the concept of two discs being released simultaneously, rather than just putting them together into a single package. This one is no different. Both discs are solid in their own way, but I'd like to hear them married up to mix up the styles a little bit. "Sequencer" seems to really wander around at times, beautiful though it be, and could use a little energy interjected, whereas "Migrator" feels like one monster song after the next. Intersperse those two and both could benefit. Whereas "Into the Electric Castle" felt like the writing came together 100%, this is the period where it felt like the overall "star power" of the cast of singers came together fully for the first time. Not that the other albums lacked, but here it felt like an all-star lineup from across the genre all pulled into a single project.

The Human Equation - To date, this may still be my favorite Ayreon album. The diversity of songs, the diversity of singers, all come together beautifully. Its not the most complex, or over the top of his efforts, but it hits just the right musical chords for me. While I had hopes for the live version "Theater Equation", the performance simply cannot match what was put together in the studio.

01011001 (yes, I had to look that up) - Oddly, I bet I have not listened to this disc more than 5 or 6 times in the almost 10 years since it came out. All the right pieces are here, but the writing take a slightly darker, more subtle turn and doesn't engage me the same way. There is absolutely nothing wrong with anything on this album, but even now when I listen to it nothing really mesmerizes me like I expect from Arjen. Had any other band put this out, I'd be singing its praises but for Ayreon it just has never measure up.

Theory of Everything - This is the one album Arjen has done (including all the side projects) that he really just plain lost me on it. There are enjoyable moments in here, but the very nature of the way he wrote this album does absolutely nothing for me. I'd say it's a disjointed mess, but that's not even it. For an album with 42 tracks, broken up over 4 "songs", it actually flows fairly smoothly..... However, when listening to it all I hear are parts of ideas that, instead of fleshing out properly, all just got strung together into a single disc. Beyond Twilight did the same thing, and I had the same reaction..... I need something that resembles a chorus, something to come back to once in awhile, and aside from the main instrumental melody repeated three times, it doesn't have any..... Points for creativity and all, but simply not my cup of tea.

The Source - I've only gotten to listen to this one, but this is much more what I want to hear from Ayreon. Possibly more than any of his previous albums, he does a great job incorporating all the singers (once again a ridiculous all-star cast) into most of the songs, with a lot more singer interplay throughout. The melodies are back... the SONGS are back. It's heavy, but not so dark as 0101..... It's memorable right away, and while still maintaining the requisite Ayreon SOUND it comes across as fresh and energetic again. I don't see this as a top tier Ayreon album (Electric Castle, Human Equation) but it is definitely only a small notch behind those (alongside Migrator perhaps).

Thoughts / dissents always welcome.
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LarryD
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Re: Ayreon - Through the Years

Postby LarryD » Wed May 31, 2017 6:28 am

An excellent post, and one that will require some thought to respond to it. As I read through it, I see how many similar thoughts we have on the Ayreon discs, and I also see lots of differences in favorites......

This will make for some great discussion .........

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Re: Ayreon - Through the Years

Postby GaetanL » Wed May 31, 2017 5:41 pm

Excellent post indeed...

I need to revisit but what I currently think is that for me, the album that pass the test of time the better is Actual Fantasy. Maybe less special because there is not a lot of invited singers, but very special for the music...
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Re: Ayreon - Through the Years

Postby Judas » Thu Jun 01, 2017 3:05 am

As I wait for the new one to arrive and listening to some of the older ones I had similar thoughts about Ayreon releases.

The Final Experiment was really a new sound I liked a lot (minus the barking) and was surprising for me considering the source of Vengence Arjen came from.

Actualy Fantasy never really sticked with me.

Into The Electric Castle was a big wow for me , it's almost a perfect album combing all the prog elements and diversity I love, and the excellent productin gives it a real punch, for me this is the best prog (rock/metal/otherwise) album ever released.

Dream Sequencer / Flight of the Migrator are both albums I enjoy.

Star One is his best work after ITEC, I love it.

For me The Human Equation , 01011001, Theory of Everything are all flops , he repeats himself over and over, nothing of interest and they are a total miss for me.

Victim of the Modern Age is the weakest after the 3 flops , Guilt machine is also weak.

Lost In The New Real - I love this one , love the music combos , the vibe and it always makes me smile.


Hope that with the Source it will be back to the old punch otherwise I'll be lost to future releases.


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Re: Ayreon - Through the Years

Postby LarryD » Thu Jun 01, 2017 10:40 am

Ok, my thoughts to yours .......


Final Experiment - Where the magic all began. This seemed like a ludicrous idea at the time, but the idea of a concept album involving all-stars like Lenny Wolf was irresistable even without hearing a single note. If I recall correctly, my buddy Mid bought this one, and I bought Actual Fantasy both at about the same time to sample each. Final Experiment was definitely the stronger of the two, and still holds up well today. Only knock is that it starts very strong, but ends up jumping around quite a bit on the second half with much shorter songs. Still, this is the cornerstone of almost everything that followed.


***This is without a doubt, my favorite Ayreon disc. It has a special meaning for me as well, as it's the 1st disc that Ken ever recommended to me back when I met him in 1996 or so ....... He asked me what I liked, I told him - he recommended this one, the rest is history. Since I had nothing to compare it to - it was monumental to me in the fact that it was so grandiose, a concept disc, and had all of these great singers on it. This disc remains a desert island disc for me.



Actual Fantasy - It's hard to listen to this as a true Ayreon album, as the lack of diversity in the singers and the more uniform styled songwriting doesn't really fit the Ayreon mold. All that being said, and knowing how Arjen has operated over the last 15 years, this really does fit well into his "every other" model mixing up Ayreon albums with other side projects..... This just sounds more like a side project. That being said, it's still a really good, really enjoyable album.


***Now see, after TFE with all of the various singers, this disc was refreshing because in my mind, a band had only one singer and this disc was the norm. I thought that TFE was one of a kind, not knowing Arjen at the time - and I thought this type of disc was a one-off and he got back to the "normal" way of creating a disc. That said, I love the heaviness of Actual Fantasy. "Computer Eyes" remains one of my favorite Ayreon songs of all time, and the sci-fi / fantasy theme just pulled me big time.



Into the Electric Castle - This is where it all comes together for me. The songwriting on this disc and the varied performances (Damian Wilson! Anneke! Sharon den Adel!), added to a double disc format, made this a must-have right away. This builds on everything he did on Final Experiment, but pulls it all together. I can't say that this is my single favorite Ayreon disc, but it's the most SIGNIFICANT Ayreon disc.


***I remember when this came out and Ken called me to tell me about it. Needless to say, I agree with you in saying that it's the most significant Ayreon disc, as this is the one that I think made him a household name. The production is magnificent, the playing is more Prog Rockier than his previous discs, and the various singer method comes back into play ( little did I know this would be the norm for him forever ).



Dream Sequencer / Flight of the Migrator - Never cared for the concept of two discs being released simultaneously, rather than just putting them together into a single package. This one is no different. Both discs are solid in their own way, but I'd like to hear them married up to mix up the styles a little bit. "Sequencer" seems to really wander around at times, beautiful though it be, and could use a little energy interjected, whereas "Migrator" feels like one monster song after the next. Intersperse those two and both could benefit. Whereas "Into the Electric Castle" felt like the writing came together 100%, this is the period where it felt like the overall "star power" of the cast of singers came together fully for the first time. Not that the other albums lacked, but here it felt like an all-star lineup from across the genre all pulled into a single project.


***I will agree with yo 100% in your assessment. I will say that I think I preferred Dream Sequencer more because of the "dreamier" feel to it that I really love.... Ask me to name a song of either of these discs and I cannot ..... but when I go back and play them, I know each one....... this post will make me re-visit the whole Ayreon catalog soon.


The Human Equation - To date, this may still be my favorite Ayreon album. The diversity of songs, the diversity of singers, all come together beautifully. Its not the most complex, or over the top of his efforts, but it hits just the right musical chords for me. While I had hopes for the live version "Theater Equation", the performance simply cannot match what was put together in the studio.

01011001 (yes, I had to look that up) - Oddly, I bet I have not listened to this disc more than 5 or 6 times in the almost 10 years since it came out. All the right pieces are here, but the writing take a slightly darker, more subtle turn and doesn't engage me the same way. There is absolutely nothing wrong with anything on this album, but even now when I listen to it nothing really mesmerizes me like I expect from Arjen. Had any other band put this out, I'd be singing its praises but for Ayreon it just has never measure up.

Theory of Everything - This is the one album Arjen has done (including all the side projects) that he really just plain lost me on it. There are enjoyable moments in here, but the very nature of the way he wrote this album does absolutely nothing for me. I'd say it's a disjointed mess, but that's not even it. For an album with 42 tracks, broken up over 4 "songs", it actually flows fairly smoothly..... However, when listening to it all I hear are parts of ideas that, instead of fleshing out properly, all just got strung together into a single disc. Beyond Twilight did the same thing, and I had the same reaction..... I need something that resembles a chorus, something to come back to once in awhile, and aside from the main instrumental melody repeated three times, it doesn't have any..... Points for creativity and all, but simply not my cup of tea.


***Here is where I started to fall off the bandwagon with Ayreon. I lumped all 3 into one quote as I don't like any of them. I started to feel that the all-star singer lineup became the focal point of the project, and anytime people talked about the discs, only the singers would come up in discussion. It was like the music was either a given or no one cared because of the cast of singers on display. Arjen had to match or out-do himself with each release, and I think having to put together such a cast made the music take a back seat. 01011001 was the hardest Ayreon disc for me to listen to, meaning I couldn't get through it all. I had to struggle through what I listened to and I knew this love affair was coming to an end. I was hoping that 'The Theater Equation" show would bring me back into the fold, but alas, I didn't care for the show either. I admitted to myself that it was over, and I had a good amount of Ayreon to love (not to mention the great Star One), so I was good with it.......
I have bought every single Ayreon disc to come out, and I did give away my Human Equation CD, Theater of Equation DVD, and Theory of Everything CD........


The Source - I've only gotten to listen to this one, but this is much more what I want to hear from Ayreon. Possibly more than any of his previous albums, he does a great job incorporating all the singers (once again a ridiculous all-star cast) into most of the songs, with a lot more singer interplay throughout. The melodies are back... the SONGS are back. It's heavy, but not so dark as 0101..... It's memorable right away, and while still maintaining the requisite Ayreon SOUND it comes across as fresh and energetic again. I don't see this as a top tier Ayreon album (Electric Castle, Human Equation) but it is definitely only a small notch behind those (alongside Migrator perhaps).



***This is the best thing he has done since Dream Sequencer imo ..... he is back in music form, still has the all-star singing cast, but this time it's with more conviction and power. I can't explain what the difference is - but it has to be in the music as the singers here are still top notch and a given for high standards....... I still think that my pure love affair with Ayreon is pretty much over....... I don't think that anything he has done has equaled the brilliance of first 3 discs, but then most bands fall into that category as well - but with Arjen, I think we expect greatness out of him each and every time, and I don't think it's fair to put him at a higher standard than we do others ..... I think what happens is his creations are so grandiose, that even he has a hard time trying to top his own material. He has set a bar so high for himself that I think it actually worked against him at some point. I will continue to buy everything he puts out because he is such a special musician and has played an important role in my musical life - but the difference now is that I used to run to The Lasers Edge for his discs, now I just walk ....... I just pace myself now .......

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Re: Ayreon - Through the Years

Postby Sir Exar Kun » Thu Jun 01, 2017 11:47 am

I don't think that anything he has done has equaled the brilliance of first 3 discs, but then most bands fall into that category as well - but with Arjen, I think we expect greatness out of him each and every time, and I don't think it's fair to put him at a higher standard than we do others ..... I think what happens is his creations are so grandiose, that even he has a hard time trying to top his own material. He has set a bar so high for himself that I think it actually worked against him at some point.


That's ultimately the rub..... Much like the criticism of Epica, it's very difficult once you achieve a pinnacle in any art form to not get criticized for staying in a rut.... Epica has nowhere to go but down, and really has been stuck there since their third album. Anything they do to change things up will end up taking away from the brilliance they have achieved. See Within Temptation as a prime example, who wanted to stay fresh and changed up their model, to much (deserved) criticism. Ayreon fits that mold also. "Final Experiment" set the model, with the diversity of singers and musical stylings, even though the singers (by comparison) are more of a C-list than he currently works with. With the Migrator discs, the bar became set impossibly high. The next few (understandably) continued to employ the all-star casts, and as much as he may try to change up the stylings a bit to stay fresh, something has to end up being sacrificed as a result. "Human Equation" is written very much with a theatrical sensibility to it, which is why I'm surprised you DON'T care for it.... 011 seemed to want to go in a darker, more "serious" direction, but lacked the diversity of the early albums.... And "Everything" just went way out into left field completely. "The Source" settles back into a more song-oriented, yet still clearly concept centered, front ala the early material. I hear what you say about the MUSIC coming back into the fold, but I don't entirely think it left; it just took a subtle backseat.

I know the idea is he uses his "side" projects to release his different ideas, rather than have Ayreon wander all over the place from album to album, and that works for me. Like you said, every Arjen album is a blind buy regardless, but with his side albums I never quite know what to expect. Unlike you, I do still think all of them work on different levels. Stream of Passion was 100% enjoyable, catchy metal at its best (and stands head and shoulders above anything they did without Arjen). Star One had a brilliant debut, and the follow-up really was only sub-par when compared to the debut. If released first I wouldn't have been nearly as disappointed in it. Guilt Machine is VERY different, but I love that for the atmospheric, darker overtones he used. It's a great album to play loud while driving late at night on a rainy night. Gentle Storm was another like Stream of Passion..... Very solid, enjoyable, and yet conventional all at once. The solo album is the one I am least familiar with, as it definitely veers off the normal path and gets more into a sixties influence that I don't relate to. Much like Jon Oliva's solo album, it simply brings in influences which clearly impacted them, but to which I don't much relate. It's an album I respect without fully understanding.
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Re: Ayreon - Through the Years

Postby ElegyFan » Sat Jul 01, 2017 12:51 am

I like the heaviness of "The Source". The last three I don't think I listened to more than a few times. I still listen to "Final Experiment" and "Electric Castle". I love to put on the headphones, relax and turn the lights off when listening to "Electric Castle". I seem to hear something new every time.


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