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Album Review: Ayreon – The Source

When Arjen Lucassen resurrected Ayreon with 2013’s The Theory of Everything, a new direction seemed feasible for the legendary prog project. It was as over the top as their other releases, but its suite-oriented song composition and more psychological themes raised the possibility for perhaps adopting an anthology method of storytelling. But like the transition from Halloween III to Halloween IV, The Source sees Lucassen taking Ayreon back to its original extraterrestrial storyline. Fortunately, it’s hard to be cynical when the resulting album just reeks of prog nerd enthusiasm.

The Source features Ayreon’s usual blend of prog, metal, folk and electronics over the course of its usual two-disc runtime but it stands out for being one of the most “metal” albums that Arjen has ever recorded. The songs show more riffs than usual and have a guitar crunch hasn’t been this dominant since 2000’s Flight of the Migrator. In fact, the speedier tracks like “Everybody Dies” and “Run! Apocalypse! Run!” sound like they could’ve come straight out of Arjen’s more blatantly power metal Star One project.

Of course, the numerous vocalists are still the most prominent feature and the keyboards, flutes, and strings have their flourishes. The project’s softer side even gets to exercise itself on occasion with “All That Was,” “Condemned to Live,” and “The Source Will Flow” in particular showing off the Ren faire atmosphere that last popped up on The Gentle Storm.

Like any Ayreon album, an entire review could just be devoted to talking about the cast of singers. The twelve main vocalists are some of the best and brightest in metal and every line is passionately composed and executed whether the characters sing to themselves, harmonize in groups, or engage one another in rock opera combat.

However, The Source is full of “celebrity” vocalists, almost all of whom have previously worked with Arjen on at least one occasion. It’s a shame since albums like Into the Electric Castle and The Human Equation highlighted many otherwise unknown singers, but it’s not really a deal-breaker when hearing Hansi Kursch and Tobias Sammet howl after each other feels like the musical equivalent of having your army men fight your dinosaur models.

But with all this said, listeners who had problems with Ayreon’s lyrics before won’t find any relief here. The Source is a prequel to 2008’s 01001011, which was in itself a prequel to the albums before it (Prequelception?). The storyline of an alien race trying to survive after their homeworld has been destroyed is full of cheesy lines and heavy handed social commentary. I can’t help but find it funny how Arjen has an anti-technology song on every single album he makes while being very interactive with fans online and having the synthesizer be his go-to instrument…

Overall, The Source is a safe variation of the established Ayreon formula but it is also comforting to see how well said formula is still able to be pulled off. The concept is as bombastic as ever and its tropes are properly secured, though the emphasis on the project’s heavier side may make this album a highlight for fans of Star One and Stream of Passion. Think the next one will be a prequel, too?

“The Day That the World Breaks Down”
“Everybody Dies”
“Run! Apocalypse! Run!”
“Into the Ocean”
“Planet Y Is Alive!”

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