I find it a bit disconcerting that very few people are as excited about Arjen Lucassen‘s newest release as much as I am. So in order to help drum up a bit more enthusiasm, I thought I would discuss the first album I heard from the mind of Mr. Lucassen. For those unaware Ayreon is the epic saga of rock-operas penned by Arjen Lucassen. Each album in the discography, with the exception of Actual Fantasy, follows a loose narrative that is interconnected to the previous albums. It’s very tenuous at times, and not always that well fleshed out, but these discs hold a special place in my heart, especially The Human Equation. Not only was this the first release from Lucassen that I had heard, it was also my first foray into progressive music. It’s a sprawling, epic, evolving sort of musical landscape that spans the course of nearly two hours, across twenty tracks. Each song represents an individual day in a consecutive narrative that all builds and culminates into a beautiful story of struggle and emotional perseverance.
The variety on display here is something that has and will continually amaze me as I keep coming back to this record. Each and every song feels distinct, with layers of beautiful and exotic instrumental arrangements and vocal melodies that soar and rip through any given song. It’s a masterpiece that features 10 various instrumentalists, and 12 vocalists, each one unique, honest, and epic. I will be using that word quite a bit with this record. Epic. From cellos and violins all the way to didgeridoos, panpipes, and flutes, the music on here runs the gamut of folk, and progressive styles, and nothing feels bloated or pretentious. It feels lighthearted and purposeful, and it’s all so well done. Almost every instance is memorable and distinctly recognizable, no matter how small or fleeting it may seem.
This album features some of the most amazing vocal performances you will ever find in a metal or hard rock album. With a cast that includes James LaBrie, Mikael Åkerfeldt, Devin Townsend, and many others, the variety of voices on display here is commendable in of itself, but it’s not just a numbers game, each vocal performance is wholly unique, authentic, and often times some of the best work these men and women have contributed to music. The main character in this story is [Me], who is voiced by James LaBrie. Now, a lot of people are turned off by LaBrie’s voice, which is fair, he’s not always the strongest vocalist, but I think I was able to avoid that sheer hatred for him because my very first experience with him was on this album, and I have to say his performance on this album is without a doubt the most beautiful and stunning thing he has done to date. With so many voices on this album, and with all if them being so dynamic, it’s hard to pick a favorite or most commendable performance, but LaBrie just out does himself on this album. Though, as I said, each voice is unique and complimentary to the feel of the album, the emotions they depict are real and they all create a dynamic sort of contrast with one another. It’s impeccable.
As I said, this was my first progressive album, it’s important to me for that reason, but not just that reason. This record introduced me to all the bands that would later make up my listening experience. It’s not that hard to realize that I’m a fan of Devin Townsend, just look through my posts on this site, or my pseudonym. Well, The Human Equation was my first experience with this man, and I’ve been thankful to Lucassen for introducing me to him ever since. Though, it’s not just Townsend. I would never have fallen in love with the likes of Opeth, Dream Theater or Ed Warby. It’s the album that got me into the music that I hold so dear to my heart. I would probably still be listening to whatever terrible music I listened to in middle school if it wasn’t for Ayreon, and I hold it on a pedestal for that reason. Well, and because it’s amazing in of itself.
I’ve been talking a lot about the vocals on this record, and it’s hard not to, seeing as they’re the most important part of the album. Each voice represents a different character and most of those characters are specific emotions within the mind of the main character. It may seem a little hokey at times, but for this album it works. Even with this concept, it’s the most grounded and personal record in the Ayreon saga, and as the title suggests it’s all about us, Humans, and the way we feel as a people; how our emotions predict and inform the way we think and the things we do. It’s also about overcoming our negative emotions, and finding a balance in ourselves, and feeling okay with what’s inside of us. I would also say it’s about the way we interact with others, and I think that idea is expressed not only in the music, but also outside of the music, in the lineup. With so many people featured on this thing, you know there had to be a constant give and take going on, and I don’t think it would have come together nearly as well as it did if it wasn’t for the positive and beautiful nature of this record. It’s a powerful ride, and an album that, if given the chance, can really change the way you think and view music. That’s what it did for me. Cheers!