Ayreon – The Source
Set your controls – the new Ayreon is upon us, and it comes with full force. “The Source” is packed with everything that makes Arjen Anthony Lucassen’s long time prog metal opera project so popular among its fans: heavy melodic metal parts, folk and electronic elements, a science fiction storyline and about every musician one could wish for – James LaBrie (Dream Theater) is back, Floor Jansen (Nightwish) is back, Guthrie Govan and Paul Gilbert are each playing a solo, to name a few.
Once again, Arjen takes us on a (90 minute) journey through space, with the story setting in around six billion years before the 2008 release “01011001”: On planet Alpha things look pretty messy: People are dependent on machines, namely The Frame. This highly intelligent computer system decides to exterminate the Alphans, in a desperate try to save the planet, which is heavily hit by pollution, corruption and other man made disasters. A small group of experts tries to escape the inevitable apocalypse and gather aboard the spaceship Starblade (with captain Tobias Sammet from Edguy, assisted by the incomparable Mike Mills as assistant robot TH-1) to fly to the nearest inhabitable planet – Planet Y, a world covered entirely by water. Their travel is the framework for the musical trip through space, with the crew having to give themselves in to The Source – this will let them adapt to the waterworld of Planet Y and become the telepathically connected Forever race, which might be familiar to long time Ayreon fans. As for the friendly robot TH-1? Well, he has his own plans…
Musically, “The Source” has some of the finest Ayreon moments, starting with one of the most epic openers of the series, the 12 minute song “The Day That The World Breaks Down”. Roaring guitar riffs, sweet flutes and almost all 12 singers present. Overall, “The Source” offers a much more straight forward and accessible approach than the proggy, keyboard centered “The Theory Of Everything” with it’s four long meandering songs. “The Source” goes the opposite direction, focused on guitars, with (mostly) shorter songs. It is a metal album no doubt, and towards the second part it becomes clear that this could well have been the next Star One album as well – no wonder, with great metal (and Star One) voices like Floor Jansen and Russel Allen (Symphony X). Still, as Arjen said, suddenly those cellos and flutes appeared in his compositions and another Ayreon record was born. It is packed with references to the previous Ayreon releases (there even is a bluesy moment in “The Day That The World Breaks Down”, that takes us all the way back to “The Electric Castle”). Prog metal epics as the opener or “Aquatic Race” change with straight rockers such as “Run! Apocalypse! Run!” (with another genius part courtesy of Mike Mills from Toehider) or “The Star Of Syrah”, which has just been released as a lyric video on Arjen’s Youtube channel. Ballads as “The Dream Dissolves” or “The Source Will Flow”, which full of strings and a wonderful duet sung by Floor Jansen and Simone Simons (Epica), are the salt in the constantly contrasting mix.
Either way, it’s pure Lucassen music, and if you come to discover something completely new or some challenging philosophical lyrics you might want to look elsewhere – but that doesn’t make “The Source” anything less listenable, mostly because of the excellent vocal performances. It is pure fun, and when Blind Guardian’s Hansi Kürsch, Michael Eriksen (Circus Maximus), Tommy Karevik (Kamelot) and Tommy Rogers (Between The Buried And Me) – a great example how Arjen gets the best out of his singers! – describe the gruesome fate of the Alphan race in the jamming “Everybody Dies” it is hard to keep the feet still.