Ayreon - The Source album review

Ayreon’s Forever/Planet Y saga: big and clever.

Ayreon - The Source album artwork

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For a man who rarely leaves the house and plays less live shows than the Queen has birthdays, Arjen Lucassen stays busy. The Prog radio show once interviewed him and singer Anneke Van Giersbergen for their The Gentle Storm project and Anneke talked delightedly about how she had managed to entice Arjen out of the studio to play a few select shows to launch their double album of the same name. She recalled, as both of them laughed, “He turned to me afterwards and said, ‘That was great, I am never doing that again!’”

Not quite true, as Arjen has announced that there will be a few select live dates to promote The Source, but don’t look online, they’ve already sold out. Anneke will be joining him for those shows, though she’s missing from this sprawling double disc set, but appears to be the only one in Arjen’s Rolodex who is.

A big concept demands a big sound, a big cast, a big ensemble of players, and Ayreon’s story, set six billion years in the past in a parallel solar system where machines rule a planet that is in terrible crisis, is all encompassing enough to take most anything Arjen and his extended band might choose to throw at it. Billed as the next chapter in the Forever/Planet Y saga and set across four Chronicles, The Source is a genre-hopping, mind-boggling insight into Arjen’s always-inspiring psyche. Like some benign puppet master, he sits back and lets the story play out utilising a cast that reads like a who’s who of progressive rock: Dream Theater’s James LaBrie, Floor Jansen of Nightwish, Between The Buried And Me’s Tommy Giles Rodgers, as well as the occasional sparkling cameo from Mark Kelly and Guthrie Govan, among others.

As the old adage goes, what can they play? They can play whatever they want. Typified by the ambitious 12-minute opener, The Day That The World Breaks Down, a song that both thunders and crashes as much as it soars, lush symphonic notes, ragged guitar refrains and a chorus of voices, it could probably best be described as dazzling. And that’s just the starting point, Deathcry Of A Race echoes Arjen’s work with The Gentle Storm, with a folky, acoustic bent but still full of fire. Aquatic Race (the fate of mankind/the human race is a recurring theme, clearly) echoes 70s Yes: lush vocals, pure pomp. It’s another wave crashing in, part of the double album’s undertow. Prepare to be overwhelmed, to be dragged away.

Philip Wilding

Philip Wilding is a novelist, journalist, scriptwriter, biographer and radio producer. As a young journalist he criss-crossed most of the United States with bands like Motley Crue, Kiss and Poison (think the Almost Famous movie but with more hairspray). More latterly, he’s sat down to chat with bands like the slightly more erudite Manic Street Preachers, Afghan Whigs, Rush and Marillion.