A prog rock concept album narrated by one of sci-fi's biggest names? We're in.
This is exactly what Ayreon have achieved with their latest album Transitus. A gothic ghost story set in a distant but familiar past, it's infused with elements of classic horror and the supernatural. Oh – and it's narrated by former Doctor Who star Tom Baker.
“The year is 1884, these are dark, troubled times, fraught with greed, envy and prejudice,” Baker tells us on the album's opening. And from there, it only gets worse...
“I was looking for a real storyteller with a mature, deep, warm voice," Ayreon's Arjen Lucassen tells us. "As a kid, I was a huge Doctor Who fan and my favourite doctor was Tom Baker.
"I couldn’t believe my luck when he agreed to do it! We went to the UK to record him, and it was one of those unforgettable experiences."
But it's not just Doctor Who that provided cultural inspiration for the album. Transitus is also inspired by supernatural movies such as The Others, The Changeling and Ghost, as well as the music of soundtrack composers John Carpenter, Ennio Morricone and Jerry Goldsmith.
"And of course I revisited all my favourite rock operas such as JC Superstar, Tommy, War Of The Worlds and The Wall," says Lucassen.
Similarly, Baker isn't the only star making an appearance on the album. Transitus also features turns from Tommy Karevik (Kamelot) as Daniel and Cammie Gilbert (Oceans of Slumber) as Abby. They are joined by Simone Simons (Epica), Dee Snider (Twisted Sister), Joe Satriani and Marty Friedman among others.
“When I started this I just had no idea that it was going to take me this long," says Lucassen "It took about 3 years from start to finish, and it pushed me out of my comfort zone musically and creatively. But I always need that challenge, the harder it is, the more fun for me to work on it!”
“This is without a doubt the most cinematic and outrageous album I’ve ever done."
Transitus is accompanied by a graphic novel drawn by renowned artist Felix Vega. “Because Ayreon’s music is so visual, I’ve always wanted to do an Ayreon graphic novel/comic book,” Lucassen says.
Speaking on the new direction and the storytelling on the album, Lucassen says: "I love my last Ayreon album The Source. I often say that it sounds so much like Ayreon... if someone else would have released it I could have sued them for copyright infringement and won easily!
"But 'our genre' is called progressive, which for me means breaking new ground and experimenting musically. So in the true prog spirit, I set out to try something entirely different than a 'typical Ayreon,' I wanted to do something more theatrical, almost like a musical."
Transitus is released on 25 September via Music Theories Recordings. The album will be available on double CD and double LP gatefold red transparent vinyl, and a 40-page Earbook which includes 5 discs; a double CD album, a CD of instrumental versions, a CD of guide vocal versions, and a DVD with bonus footage which includes a behind the scenes video, a videoclip, trailer and a 5.1 audio and hi-def stereo mix of the album.
The release will be accompanied by a 28-page graphic novel which will be included in the Earbook as well as the double LP.