The Theory of Everything
01. Phase I: Singularity
02. Phase II: Symmetry
03. Phase III: Entanglement
04. Phase IV: Unity
Arjen Lucassen’s flagship musical project Ayreon has been a mainstay for progressive music fans for almost two decades. With seven prior albums, all of which except for one falling under a massive album-to-album concept, Ayreon has excelled at projecting a grandiose and epic (in a classical sense) feel, giving true meaning to the term “rock-opera”. However, after 2008’s 01011001, Arjen and his fans grew a bit accustomed to the familiar sounds of Ayreon, and a hiatus ensued. After a five years to dabble into different sounds and methods of emotional exploration, Lucassen returns to the fold with what is arguably his most ambitious project to date. Branching away from the now finished “Forever” story-line, The Theory of Everything sees the Ayreon brand venturing into what is undoubtedly the first in a new concept, and with an array of musicians that Lucassen has never worked with before, the new record sails to new and familiar lands alike.
The key factor to the Ayreon project is it’s bombastic and huge feel. Many bands have tried it to varying effect, but the Ayreon project has always excelled at creating a very cinematic approach to songwriting. With lush keyboards, effective utilization of guitar solos, and the always impressive operatic approach to vocals, the feel of an Ayreon album is unmistakable, unerring, and inimitable.
With the The Theory of Everything, Lucassen pushes this to new heights, with the greatest show of flow in any Ayreon record to date. The album consists of four twenty minute songs that are in turn split into forty-two individual tracks (a reference that almost anyone should understand) that effortlessly glide into one another. Listeners who prefer to listen to full albums at a time will undoubtedly appreciate the gapless feel to the songwriting, as one movement of a track runs into another without feeling like a mastubatory effort of droning song fragments, as is often the case with “epic” albums.
However, this approach to tracklisting does present a few problems for the album. The artist’s intent isn’t the only way to listen to an album, and discovering the best way to enjoy specific moments from an album is part of the joy of listening to music, but due to the amount of tracks on this release, a lot of them leave the listening wanting, as they are little more than snippets of actual songs. There are longer tracks, ranging from three to four minutes, but they lack the almost majestic feeling that the eight to ten minute Ayreon songs of old had. Of course, when listened consecutively, the 42 tracks compose four utterly brilliant songs, but with the way the songs are broken up for this album, it loses some of the grandeur.
That aside, The Theory of Everything excels in it’s songwriting, clarity of story, and overall performances. The album boasts one of the most impressive cast of supporting artists to date, with keyboard solos being contributed by legendary performers Rick Wakeman, Jordan Rudess, and Keith Emerson. Steve Hackett performs a wonderful guitar solo, while Troy Donockley handles pipes and whistles for added folky prog goodness. Arjen himself handles much of the other instrumentation, and he shows off some serious guitar wizardry on multiple tracks throughout this album.
This record also features an array of vocalists that have never appeared on an Ayreon album before, most notably Tommy Karevik of Seventh Wonder and Kamelot fame. Playing the “starring” role as ‘The Prodigy’, Karevik is the central character to this albums particular story. As always he shines above any of his peers, with one of the most organic and mystical approaches to singing in progressive music, capable of commanding the stage whenever the challenge presents itself,. But that’s not to say the other vocalists don’t shine through, as the entire male cast presents unique variations to the operatic feel of the albums sung dialogue. The only downside to the vocals would be the two female vocalists, while talented in their own right, sound far too similar, and lack the character and uniqueness that the male singers offer.
The Theory of Everything is an album that mostly forgoes heaviness for the sake of breadth and depth. Like much of his music, Lucassen explores new ways to combine the prog elements of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s into a modern age. Genres and moods shift at the drop of a hat, but it never feels jarring or misplaced. Folky instrumentation transitions into waves of Floydian soundscapes, as electro-dance melodies pop out and punctuate a plethora of vocal melodies. Cheesiness abounds on the record, as one would expect when venturing into an eighty minute rock opera, but with the impressive line-up, performances, and overall clarity in storytelling, The Theory of Everything shines through as a nearly pristine example of how to craft a concept album.
Ayreon – The Theory of Everything gets…