It’s the apocalypse. Best send for Arjen Lucassen
The onset of a new Ayreon album is both a cause for celebration and trepidation.
Celebration because Arjen Lucassen has for more than 20 years done things in the band that no one else would dare to do. But with that comes the expectation and the nagging feeling that he can’t keep making such wonderfully ambitious music.
It turns out he can.
“The Source” is even more of a reason to get very excited indeed. Given that is a continuation – but considering the ending not a conclusion – of the Planet Y saga. It had seemed that he had put this to bed in 2008 and 2013’s “The Theory Of Everything” album dealt with another story altogether, but not a bit of it.
In fact, over 90 odd minutes here there is much to discuss.
Anyone who knows Ayreon knows they don’t deal in the type of records anyone else does. Vocalists here are characters and this – like all their other work – is effectively a story set to music. It revels in the fact that it has a cohesive narrative, a beginning, a middle and end.
And there’s the usual cast of thousands here too. Joining Lucassen here are (amongst others) James LaBrie (Dream Theater), Tommy Giles Rogers (Between the Buried and Me), Simone Simons (Epica), Mike Mills (Toehider), Floor Jansen (Nightwish), Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian), Michael Eriksen (Circus Maximus), Tobias Sammet (Edguy, Avantasia), Nils K. Rue (Pagan’s Mind), Zaher Zorgati (Myrath), Tommy Karevik (Kamelot) and Russell Allen (Symphony X). Special contributions were offered by guitarists Paul Gilbert (Mr. Big), Guthrie Govan (The Aristocrats, Asia, Steven Wilson), Marcel Coenen and keyboard player Mark Kelly (Marillion).
“The Source” is a little different, though. Lucassen himself has called it is “rock album” and where – although they’ve all been brilliant – his other records might have lacked the stand-out single song to make it onto your album of the year thing, this boasts plenty.
It begins with one, actually. The 12 minute “The Day That The World Breaks Down” is more than just a scene setter, it is a wonderful stand-alone track, walking some mythical tightrope between the tech wizardry of Dream Theater and the out and out grandiosity of Avantasia.
This rock n roll sentiment sees the insanely catchy “Everybody Dies” with all its industrial touches take centre stage and “Run Apocalypse Run” move into heavy metal gallop territory as the collection – it weighs in at 17 songs – is allowed to go where it wants.
There is some mighty balladry here too, “Star Of Sirrah” is built on lilting acoustics, and “All That Was”, which ushers itself in on the back of a flute riff has a real folk edge.
It’s the sense of glee that hits you more than anything else throughout “The Source”. “Aquatic Race” is wantonly bombastic power metal, and there is something of the soundtrack about “The Dream Dissolves”.
As things get bleak for the Alpha people (and if usually the story of a concept album is rather pointless then the glory of Lucassen’s work is that it is integral and adds to the songs) the huge Power Ballad “Deathcry Of Race” brings you right into the maelstrom.
Then, just to surprise you even more, hope is along with “Into The Ocean” with all its Deep Purple stylings, which is closely followed by the stark electronica of “Bay Of Dreams” as if to prove that even for Lucassen, this was the album where the shackles truly came off.
Things reach a kind of a conclusion – if this was a play we would be well into the third act by now – with the dark chugger “Planet Y Is Alive!” which is counterbalanced beautifully by “The Source Will Flow.”
There is even a bombshell of Broadchurch-esque proportions too. “March Of The Machines” is all you need to know and this ain’t over yet.
That’s for the future. For now, however, glory in this. Because, whilst April is too early to proclaim a record as the best of 2017, what we will say is this: anything that ends up being better than “The Source” is going to have to be extremely special, because this is truly magnificent.