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Ayreon - The Source CD (album) cover

THE SOURCE

Ayreon

 

Progressive Metal

3.85 | 183 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Aussie-Byrd-Brother
Special Collaborator
Rock Progressivo Italiano Team
4 stars Modern progressive music icon Arjen Anthony Lucassen returns in 2017 with `The Source', the ninth studio album under his Ayreon project banner. Another double CD sci-fi concept work that has the Dutch multi-instrumentalist joined by a range of vocalists and guest musicians, `The Source' is a return to the stronger heavy metal sound of most previous Ayreon works after 2013's `The Theory of Everything' removed much of the harder riffing (it's certainly a heavy rock opera, but definitely not a `prog-metal' album at all!), but like that same album, Lucasssen has gone all `Tales from Topographic Oceans' again and served up four side-long multi-suite pieces of twenty-plus minutes in length (labelled as `Chronicles' here), and it's one of his most ambitious and varied works to date.

Everyone loves prequels, right?! Well, sarcasm aside, with `The Source', Arjen offers a tale set before all the previous albums, detailing a planet overrun by a computer given artificial intelligence and the protagonists of this apocalyptic story fleeing to start a new life on strange alien worlds, and the challenges that come with that. It's a little silly, but admirably richly realised by ambitious lyrics presented through a range of characters given voice by vocalists from various prog and metal-related acts such as Nightwish, Epica, Edguy, Blind Guardian, Mr Big, Dream Theater and others, as well as boasting musical contributions from players in Marillion, the Aristocrats, After Forever and more. But front and center is multi-instrumentalist Lucassen, a performer of immense skill and variety, and he and his musical companions have delivered another sterling musical and artistic statement.

For `Chronicle 1: The 'Frame', a moody scene-setting premonition delivered by Jamie Labrie introduces the first three track arc. The twelve and a half minute proper opener `The Day the World Breaks Down' is frantic and pounding, a crash of fancy violin-lifted orchestral-like overtures obliterated by relentless heavy-metal riffing, dazzling synth runs and breathless vocal histrionics. The second half coasts into a reflective interlude of bluesy guitar and sparkling piano, that also reminds that the best Ayreon moments are when the various fragments hold tight compact tunes with recurring choruses that serve as stand- alone songs in their own right. Folk-tinged prettiness weaves in and out of `Sea of Machines' gutsy crunch, and the malevolently over-dramatic `Everybody Dies' mixes in everything from Dream Theater-like bombast given a touch of retro- prog keyboards and playful back-and-forth vocal responses (there's definitely a touch of Queen buried in there too), and it sounds like Arjen might have been listening to those rollicking symphonic fanfares of the classic early Italian prog PFM albums!

Despite its bludgeoning mud-thick riffing and rousing repeated chorus, the chiming guitars throughout the opening movement of the Second Chronicle's `Star Of Sirrah' remind of both Pink Floyd's `Sheep' and Porcupine Tree's `Time Flies'. `All That Was' is a swooning violin female-fronted folk ballad with heavier bursts that wouldn't have sounded out of place on Lucassen's Gentle Storm album `The Diary' from 2015, and unsurprisingly with its title, `Run! Apocalypse! Run!' (just look at all those exclamation marks!) is a dizzying maddening sprint of runaway break-neck keyboard soloing, crushing guitars and wailing frantic vocals. This first disc concludes with `Condemned To Live' that mixes in everything from stark vocal contemplations, moody cello and violin backings to its heavy drama.

`Chronicle 3 - The Transmigration' and its opening passage `Aquatic Race' kick off with some hilariously shrieking boisterous multi-vocal choruses frequently reprised throughout, and some snarling metal riffs that remind of Black Sabbath are broken up by dreamier interludes. While `The Dream Dissolves' is mostly a luxurious folk-flecked ballad, it culminates in a glorious synth solo from Mark Kelly that harkens back to the early years of his own band Marillion, and alongside a sleek electric guitar solo from Suncaged's Marcel Coenen, the duo deliver a classic sounding pure Neo Prog climax. Eastern-flavoured vocal drones, operatic purrs and a pinch of Jethro Tull-like flute weave throughout `Deathcry Of A Race', and `Into The Ocean' is a ballsy Hammond-dominated pounding arena rocker that falls somewhere between Deep Purple and the Dio-fronted era of Black Sabbath!

`Chronicle 4 - The Rebirth', `Bay Of Dreams' creeps with pulsing electronic programming and glistening guitars as it grows in power, and `Planet Y Is Alive!' is one of the most amusing moments of the disc, a thrashing blast of crunching drumming and an absurdly delirious chorus (and a spacey guitar solo in the instrumental break from The Aristocrats' Guthrie Govan is lovely)! The reflective ballad `The Source Will Flow' floats with a multitude of dreamy harmonies from several of the singers, the joyous and vocally gospel-tinged `Journey To Forever' is tinged with ringing mandolin among its chugging riffing, and `The Human Compulsion' is a final heavy curtain call for all the performers before the gloomy electronic fragment `March Of The Machines' and its eerie spoken word finale wrap the disc in a surprisingly dark and intense manner.

As always with the Ayreon works, there's a touch of kitsch and amusing over-seriousness that sometimes renders parts of the music a little overwrought and hammy (yet Arjen himself is very amusing and self-deprecating!), but there's such a conviction and attention to detail to the material here, and it's also extremely admirable that Lucassen is so proud of his prog-rock self- indulgences! The reliance on metal elements means that `The Source' perhaps doesn't have the versatility or crossover appeal that `The Theory of Everything' might have had for a wider audience, and on the surface it looks a little intimidating trying to approach its eighty-eight minute length, but constant replays reveal a sweeping, grand work that successfully flows between passages and belts you around the head with its attacking heaviness. Ayreon fans are sure to love it, and its another very accomplished, slick and bombastic masterwork from the reigning king of grandiose metal storytelling.

Four and a half stars.

Aussie-Byrd-Brother | 4/5 |

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