Ayreon - The Human Equation

Year of Release: 2004
Label: InsideOut Music
Catalog Number: IOMCD 168 / SPV 092-60702
Format: CD
Total Time: 102:14:00

The Human Equation is the sixth proper Ayreon release (counting the Universal Migrator pair as two). As the title suggests, the focus of this chapter in the Ayreon saga is a departure of sorts from past releases, as this concerns not otherworldly, or outerworldly, themes, but this time innerworldly - the psyche, what makes us human. Musically it is still very identifiable as Ayreon, the same mix of progressive rock and metal. The music is informed by mainman Arjen Lucassen's interest not only in a diverse mix of musical styles, but also drawing upon his musical influences, The Beatles and Pink Floyd being the most prominent, to help define the characters in the story. Conceptually, it is different, as the story and characters are more down to earth, they are us in a non-science fictional setting ... though there is a twist that I leave to you to discover. In fact, I'll say very little about the story itself - that is, the details - except to say that the protagonist is forced to face and deal with his emotions - thus that which gives us the human equation, the sum of what we are. In a way, we've seen a similar story with Arena's The Visitor, but, of course, Ayreon plays the story differently. The canvas is both larger and smaller at the same time. There are moments, as we work through the main character's internal dialog between his various aspects of self, that you might see yourself in to some degree or another.

Like all good stories, there are plot turns and twists - and, in a non-linear fashion, a beginning, middle and end. Something a character expresses in one passage may have resonance later in the album. All of which means that it is not an album to put on and play as background music. It is meant to be an immersive experience. Since the music is dealing with the wide range of emotions, literally, a wide ranging style palette is also being used, and really within tracks rather than between tracks. As there are a total of 20 tracks, it might seem a little daunting, especially as this is a two-disk set. But the flow and energy of the story sustains itself through the two CDs, which isn't easy to do. And as intense emotionally as the album is, you do not come out of it drained, but rather renewed ... but I'm not going to tell you why. Well, I will in telling you that Lucassen designed it that way, but ... in terms of plot? Well, you'd not want to know the ending to a film before you saw it, would you?

Quite a bit goes on, both musically and storywise, and it would be impossible to talk about every track. Though I cover many of them, I must admit, not necessarily in a linear fashion ... but easier to follow than Tristram Shandy or Slaughterhouse Five, I'd reckon. Nor should I really give you a "track by track," because I'm hoping you'll discover this album for yourself. If you already area an Ayreon fan, you won't be disappointed. Everything we've come to love about Ayreon (and thus Arjen) is here: it's epic, it's intimate, it rocks, it gently sways you, it yells, it whispers. There are guitar solos, keyboard solos, big drums ... and quite a bit more than that; flutes, bassoon, violins, metal, rock, Celtic influences, pop influences (don't fret)... and often all in the same track. Sound exhausting? No, no, remember I said you feel renewed at the end? The time flies by like ... erm, nope, can't make that analogy...

Helping to give voice to the cast of characters in this tale are James LaBrie (Dream Theater) as the main character "Me," who sounds great; Eric Clayton (Savior Machine) as "Reason;" Heather Findlay (Mostly Autumn) as "Love;" Mikael ?kerfeldt (Opeth) as "Fear;" Magnus Ekwall (The Quill) as "Pride;" Marcela Bovio (Elfonia) as "Wife;" Irene Jansen (Karma) as "Passion;" Devon Graves (Dead Soul Tribe) as "Agony;" and Devin Townsend (Strapping Young Lad) as "Rage." Oh, and they all sound great, too. Mike Baker (Shadow Gallery) makes a brief appearance as "Father," (and sounds great) while the character of "Best Friend" is played/sung by Arjen himself (who sounds great). Musician guests include Martin Orford (IQ), Joost Van De Broek, Ken Hensley (Uriah Heep), and Oliver Wakeman, all playing additional keyboards or solos. Robert Baba (violins), Marieke Van Der Heyden (cellos), John McManus (flutes), and Jeroen Goossens (flutes, recorder, didgeridoo, bassoon) also help to enrich Arjen's music. And, of course, mainstay Ed Warby is on hand playing drums. Lucassen plays all the guitars, majority of the keyboards along with bass and mandolin.

Yes, that fan-girl-itis has crept in again...

Lucassen has pulled some very fine performances out of all involved, leaving never a moment when you think "oh, he should have..." No, one can tell that some very fine attention has been paid to this release, giving it just the right tenor. Those prog folks who are worried about the metal aspects needn't, it just adds another colour to Lucassen's palette, as do the folk elements. Although Findlay, Jansen and Bovio all have similar kinds of voices - lovely, sweet and very kind to the ears - they also bring a distinctiveness to their characters. Where as Love is given the "sweeter," more lyrical passages to sing (Findlay), Jansen, as "Passion" gets the more impassioned passages. Bovio embodies both (and, of course, for "Me," more than likely the two voices of "Love" and "Passion" are both his own and that of his wife's in his head ... oops, don't want to say too much). There is a very light moment - intentional or not - that reminds me very much of the forced way actors in film used to speak. It comes toward the end of "Day Thirteen: Sign," where Arjen as "Best Friend" sings/speaks in such a super-cheerful manner that he sounds like he could be Jimmy Olsen or some other clean cut, fresh faced young adult of the 50s. And the "Father" (Baker) who appears in the Celtic reel-like (and mainly the metal-Celtic reel), "Day Sixteen: Loser," does sound a little petulant as he calls his son ("Me") "loser!" But there's enough of a sneer in the rest of his lines that he does come across as a nasty character (I love the sound of didgeridoo in this piece). And, uh, a bit like a pirate at times, too. No "aye, mateys" of course, but given the cadence of the music and Baker matching that vocally, well ... you'll just have to hear it yourself to see what I mean. It ends with "Rage" (Townsend) responding, reminding me of Kalmah (who, having just reviewed their at present most recent album, are still fresh in my mind), in a circular death-howl - there are words, but rhythmically they are circular. An interesting though, given how a didgeridoo is played...

"Day Three: Pain" is a good microcosm of the whole album, as it begins with a darker, moodier section, mostly rumbling, tribal-like drums, exploding into an intense progressive rock come metal section that combines beautifully soaring vocals of LaBrie played against the snarled and rage-filled death-like vocals of Townsend. It's actually one of my favorite moments of the album because the emotions are so intense. But, it is a piece that also has a light and lyrical, folk-like section that comes in between these sonic explosions. The contrast on "Day Three: Pain" between the metal and the folk is stark and may not work for all immediately. But once you realize that this lighter texture will recur later, during "Day Five: Voices," and in the lighter flute and acoustic guitar that come halfway through "Day Six: Childhood," and in the Celtic feel of the lone instrumental "Day Nine: Playground," you see how it's a bit of foreshadowing.

But on this album we also go from the 60s-reminicent section in "Day Seven: Hope" (think The Byrds and upbeat 60s rock, with a lot more twiddly keyboards) to the bubbly, spacey, Floyd-esque keyboards of "Day Two: Isolation." Despite these diverse textures, it all flows together. "Voices" is another track with varying textures, darker than some that come have before, but again Pink Floyd will come to mind about two-thirds of the way through, Porcupine Tree, too, at times in terms of style and feel. "Day Four: Mystery" is a mellower, mostly acoustic guitar lead piece (with treated, spacey vocal effects, as Best Friend and Wife wonder about Me's fate) - before the song explodes into in a mix of parpy (may I say "proggy") keyboards, churning guitars, quick yet subtle jabs of percussion. There are plenty of opportunities for soloing - whether it is Lucassen with a guitar solo or one of the guests with a keyboard solo. A classic element comes in with "Day Eight: School" with a bit of orchestration, adding yet another element to the mix. "Day Ten: Memories" has sometimes a 70s sound (I thought a bit of classic Boston, actually, during the electric guitar solo - read that both as the "electric guitar" solo and "electric" guitar solo.)

A classic Ayreon moment comes during "Day Eleven: Love," especially during the chorus. Hearing this leaves no doubt - it's a big, epic sound, bold; an exalted mix of male and female vocals. Most of the cast appears on this track, making it very sonically rich. No wonder it was chosen as the first single.

Now, I'll admit I was little worried when disk two began and cycled quickly through the first few tracks. It took three restarts before I figured it out (listening at work, I had the volume low, or I would have "got it" sooner). So don't fret. A churning guitar, bass and keyboard passage here that carries across the first eleven tracks, the story picking up with Track 12, "Day Twelve: Trauma," another one of my favourites ... of the 20 favourites, of course.

I've covered a bit of disk two, but I need to say you get more of the same here, but not more of the same. With disk two, "Me" begins to face some of the more recent things in his life that have led him to the moment he is now in, though he still is fighting with all the same emotions. He's getting closer to his epiphany, and coming to understand more his ... erm ... predicament ... and how to get out of it.

Bottom line? Another winner. Thumbs up. Great stuff that I've quite enjoyed listening to and discovering. And I love albums, whether song to song or as a complete concept, that make you think and make you feel. And that's what we get here. You feel for and with the main characters - Me, Best Friend and Wife, and identify with the roiling emotions that Me deals with, Fear, Anger, Love, Passion, Rage... Once you dive behind the story, you begin to think about the truths of these various emotions, and how they fit into your life, what makes up the human equation. And any album that makes you think in this age of shallow corporate product ought to get high marks for that alone. That Arjen packs it all with compelling characters and voices and music just makes the whole experience that much richer.

Disc One: Day One: Vigil (1:33) / Day Two: Isolation (8:42) / Day Three: Pain (4:58) / Day Four: Mystery (5:37) / Day Five: Voices (7:09) / Day Six: Childhood (5:05) / Day Seven: Hope (2:47) / Day Eight: School (4:22) / Day Nine: Playground (2:15) / Day Ten: Memories (3:57) / Day Eleven: Love (4:18)

Disc Two: Day Twelve: Trauma (8:59) / Day Thirteen: Sign (4:47) / Day Fourteen: Pride (4:42) / Day Fifteen: Betrayal (5:24) / Day Sixteen: Loser (4;46) / Day Seventeen: Accident? (5:42) / Day Eighteen: Realization (4:31) / Day Nineteen: Disclosure (4:42) / Day Twenty: Confrontation (7:03)

Arjen 'Ayreon' Lucassen - electric and acoustic guitars, bass guitar, analogue synthesizers, Hammond organ, Mellotron, additional keyboards; vocals (as 'Best Friend')
Devon Graves (Dead Soul Tribe) as 'Agony' - vocals
Devin Townsend (SYL) as 'Rage' - vocals
Eric Clayton (Saviour Machine) as 'Reason' - vocals
Mikael ?kerfeldt (Opeth) as 'Fear' - vocals
Magnus Ekwall (The Quill) as 'Pride' - vocals
Heather Findlay (Mostly Autumn) as 'Love' - vocals
Irene Jansen (Karma) as 'Passion' - vocals
James LaBrie (Dream Theater) as 'Me' - vocals
Marcela Bovio (Elfonia) as 'Wife' - vocals
Mike Baker (Shadow Gallery) as 'Father' - vocals
Ken Hensley (Uriah Heep, Various) - Hammond organ
Oliver Wakeman (Nolan & Wakeman) - keyboards
Martin Orford (IQ, Jadis) - keyboards
Ed Warby (Gorefest, Various) ? drums
Joost van den Broek (Ayreon) ? keyboards
John McManus - low-flute, tin-whistle
Jeroen Goossens ? flute
Robert Baba ? violins
Marieke van der Heyden - cello

Ayreon - The Final Experiment (1995)
Ayreon - Actual Fantasy (1996)
Ayreon - Into The Electric Castle (1998)
Ayreon - The Univeral Migrator Part 1: The Dream Sequencer (2000)
Ayreon - The Universal Migrator Part 2: Flight Of The Migrator (2000)
Ayreon - Ayreonnauts Only (2000)
Ambeon - Fate Of A Dreamer (2001)
Arjen Anthony Lucassen's Star One - Space Metal (2002)
Arjen Anthony Lucassen's Star One - Live On Earth (2003)
Ayreon - The Human Equation (2004)
Ayreon - Actual Fantasy Revisited (2004)
Ayreon - The Final Experiment - Special Edition (2005)
Ayreon - 01011001 (2008)
Ayreon - Timeline (2008)
Arjen Lucassen's Guilt Machine - Arjen Lucassen's Guilt Machine (2009)
Arjen Anthony Lucassen's Star One - Victims Of The Modern Age (2010)
Arjen Anthony Lucassen - Lost In The New Real (2012)
Ayreon - The Theory Of Everything (2013)
Ayreon - The Theater Equation (CD/DVD) (2016)
Ayreon - The Source (CD/DVD) (2017)
Ayreon - Ayreon Universe - Best Of Ayreon Live (2018)

Ayreon - The Theater Equation (BR) (2016) Ayreon - Ayreon Universe - Best Of Ayreon Live (DVD/BR) (2018)

Genre: Progressive/Power Metal

Origin NL

Added: July 25th 2004
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website: www.ayreon.com
Hits: 1252
Language: english


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