If the bedrock of progressive rock is to throw caution to the wind and to indulge your wildest musical flights of fancy, then Arjen Anthony Lucassen is a modern day titan of the genre.
On March 27 Music Theories Recordings/Mascot Label Group release Ayreon – Electric Castle Live, a 3 LP/2CD+DVD set of last year’s live spectacular performance of the third Ayreon album Into The Electric Castle. Over four nights at Tilburg’s 013 venue (scene of Lucassen’s Ayreon Universe series of live shows in 2017) Lucassen, his band and one of modern progressive music’s most emphatic of casts celebrated the 20th anniversary of the third Ayreon album in front of thousands of adoring fans who had flown in from around the world.
“Because it was the 20th anniversary of the album, and we’d just remixed and re-released it, we figured it was the perfect moment to do this,” says Lucassen. “The Ayreon Universe shows were such a fantastic experience for everyone involved, and I’d had loads of requests for more live shows, so we decided to perform the entire Electric Castle album back at the 013.”
Released in 1998, Into The Electric Castle is your classic tale of an epic quest. Set in “no time and no space”, it tells the story of eight individuals who are guided by a mysterious voice and tasked with finding the mysterious Electric Castle and discover what’s inside. On record, Fish (the highlander), Lucasen (the hippie). Edwin Balogh (the roman), Jay van Feggelen (the barbarian), Anneke van Giersbergen (the Egyptian), Damian Wilson (the knight) and Edward Reekers (the futureman), many of whom repeated their performances for the live spectacular.
Also among the 22 musicians and singers who made up the impressive cast list were long-time Lucassen collaborators Thijs Van Leer (Focus), Simone Simons (Epica), John Jaycee Cuipers (Praying Mantis), Marcelo Bovio and musicians Joost van den Broek, Johan van Stratum, Marcel Singor, Ferry Duijsens, Bob Wijtsma and Ben Mathot.
Having made a name for himself in the 1980s in Dutch hard rock bands Bodine and Vengeance, and released his first solo album in 1994, it is with Ayreon that Lucassen has truly made a name for himself as a composer of unbridled imagination and creativity.
Having set out his stall with the first two Ayreon albums The Final Experiment (1994) and Actual Fantasy (1995), as a creator of vivid musical works built around some of the finest talent in the prog and rock worlds, everything seemed to align perfectly with 1998’s Into The Electric Castle.
“I poured my heart and soul into it,” says Lucassen of the original album. “Investing everything I had both financially and creatively, and enlisted the best instrumentalists and singers I could find in the world at that time. When making the album I was unconstrained by any musical or stylistic boundaries and incorporated many of my favourite musical styles. ‘Into The Electric Castle’ received an overwhelmingly positive reception from both the press and the fans. This firmly established the Ayreon name, making Ayreon the perfect project to pour all of my time and creative energy into.”
Although best known as a studio-based musician, Lucassen slowly countered his fear of performing when he first performed some live dates with long-time collaborator Anneke van Giersbergen in 2015, before tackling the more elaborate live staging of his 2004 Ayreon album The Human Equation in Rotterdam over four nights the same year (on which he served as special advisor). He went even further in 2017 when he appeared on stage with his star-studded Ayreon Universe shows at Tilbug’s 013.
"I get absolutely crippling stage fright,” he says. “Up to the night before the Tilburg shows, I was having dreadful panic attacks. I honestly didn’t know if I was going to make it on stage.
Creating alive show for Into The Electric Castle seemed like the logical next step, and the four 2019 shows were a resounding success, captured for prosperity in Ayreon – Electric Castle Live. In fact, it all went so well, that Lucassen is taking the show to headline the prestigious German progressive rock festival Night Of The Prog in June of this year.
“I just love recording my various projects in the studio,” he concurs. “To me, it’s another way of performing. But I’m not a live performer. I’m the guy who comes up with the ideas, sees the big picture, and puts it all together. So I’m glad that so many incredible musicians helped me bring my music to the stage.”