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Are you kidding me? Is this a fucking joke? THIS is the world-reknown Ayreon project? I can't believe my ears! Jesus christ. I mean, I'm not really a fan of prog rock/metal anyway, but I appreciate artistry when it's done well. I like old Rush, some old Pink Floyd, I love 'Images and Words' etc. 'Into the Electric Castle' is just hilarious though, my iPod died one day so I borrowed my brothers to take to work and decided to check up on some albums he'd been bugging me about, and this was the first one I came across. I've been meaning to check this out for a while but couldn't be bothered as it's too fucking long, and I'm certain that's why this doesn't have many negative reviews. All the people that would hate this can't be assed to take the time out and listen to the damn thing.
Okay, so the story is that seven people from different cultures (an Indian, a junkie/hippie, a barbarian, and I forget who else) get selected to go on this mad crazy adventure to the electric castle for no reason at all. The 'voice' that narrates the whole thing (along with the characters) is ridiculous. I used to have a tape when I was a kid called nursery rhyme time, and the dude sounds exactly the same as that. He talks all deep and metaphorical, but really cliche and silly..."you must meander through the verdant vines of the garden of emotions, succumb to it's lure, breathe deep the intoxication aroma of endless, entwined emotions"...he just introduces each new environment (tunnel of light, rainbow bridge, mirror maze...eugh) like the host of Knightmare, and the cast reluctantly follow. They don't quite seem to care very much about it though, coming to terms with their situation quicker than Leo Davidson in the Planet of the Apes 2001 remake. They don't really discuss much about what's going on either, they just talk about their insecurities and what's going on inside them..."please do not bring light to my soul, as it is only darkness I know" or whatever the hell he says, jesus man just go through the fucking tunnel already. Also, their vocals are pretty awful. They sing, but in a really clear, innunciated, story-telling voice, like it's very important for you to not miss a single world. The whole album comes across like Jesus Christ Superstar, except even more fixated on telling you the story.
Oh, and are you looking for metal? There's no metal here, look somewhere else. There are some metalish riffs every now and then, and funnily enough they happen to be the most annoying songs. One has two of the main characters arguing about who will lead the way, and they have this rockish/metalish riff presumably symbolising the conflict. It's weak and laughable to people that actually listen to metal, though. And besides that, most of this stuff just sounds like modern "progressive" rock like Porcupine Tree or The Flower Kings. There are electric flute solos all over the show, but hardly anything metal at all. No metal at all in the vocals, all just theatre voices, barely any metal riffs, the leads only occasionally come from the guitars and are mostly composed by all of the classical instruments that take turns playing a bit of improv, there's just nothing here with any heavy metal essence whatsoever.
After 'the voice' tells us the story's opening (seven people gathered to enter the electric castle or something) we get a long, epic intro. Let me tell you now that you'd better be really into epic music to like this album. Every melody, every segment is designed to be epic, and the first main songs 'Isis and Orisis' and 'Amazing Flight' demonstrate this well. They lead you on to think that you're going to go on this big crazy fucking life-affirming, mind-blowing mission through space and dimensions and shit, and they spend about twenty minutes between them with lots of build up. Very epic, I guess. We also have some commentary from the stoner, who has a horribley annoying (possibly fake) British accent, and every time he sings his lyrics are filled with tangerine-dreams-and-marmalade-skies type imagery while psychedelic Beatles worship plays in the background. The general formula is that one character sings a vague verse about their surroundings and events, then lots of solos on all different instruments play featuring arpeggios and what not, and then another character sings about their environment and feelings, then more solos, then the first character repeats their original verse, then solos, then the second character etc. and they manage to make the songs about ten minutes long just using this method. There are shorter songs, and they're awful. 'The Decision Tree' and 'Tunnel of Light' are sickly, sappy pop songs full of happy synths and joyful strumming, as the narrator congratulates the characters for passing through the last area into this one. I don't know why, nothing happens to them in each environment. WE'RE IN THE GARDEN OF EMOTIONS and then they pass through without any conflict or events and then FUCK YEAH WE'RE IN THE CASTLE HALL where nothing happens at all again.
I guess what bugs me the most about this album though, other than the annoying theatre vocals, the constant noodling on every instrument known to man, the Asia-style riffs, the fact that the one good riff is bastardized from a recurring riff used on W.A.S.P.'s 'The Crimson Idol' (now that's a real metal opera!), the fact that the music used to represent each character (60s psychedelia for the British stoner, Indian music for the Indian etc.) are ridiculously cliche etc., is the fact that the story and concept is just so stupid. There are no childrens books this ridiculous. Heck, I have friends that are really into RPGs and there's nothing this silly there too. Just the fact that the story opens with an onmipotent voice telling these characters that they must enter this giant electric castle, and then the story consists of said token characters going through all these sickeningly cliche space-fantasy environments...I mean just look at the song titles, I've listed some already but they're all really, really silly...'Tower of Hope', 'The Two Gates', 'Forever of the Stars', 'Welcome to the New Dimension', how can anybody, sci-fi/fantasy fan or not, actually get excited by this shit? It's like Star Wars meets Labyrinth meets The Crystal Maze meets Narnia meets Naruto meets Final Fantasy meets Fort Boyard. Sounds like a childish insult, but this album is simply meant for geeks. And not just any kind of geeks, oh no. I'm talking trading card geeks, warcraft geeks, star trek geeks. Except it takes all of those themes to new levels of absurd, mixing them all in and then some. If this sounds like you, you'll love this album. Where else can you find a musical epic regarding dimension-hopping, space travel and magic, where even Merlin and Death make guest appearances.
To the rest of you, don't be so fucking stupid. Quit kidding yourself, this is not cool music. It's not intellectual, it's a stupid, over-ambitious, plotless story with weak music to back it. Yes, there are lots of instruments, lots of noodling, lots of musicians. Is any of it good? No. I actually like Rush and I&W-era Dream Theater because they wrote fantastic songs, with melodies and hooks that really drew you in. A simple concept like 'A Passage to Bangkok' was easily transferred into music, you actually felt the emotions of going on this journey, it hits a spot inside you, almost makes you feel excited. There's none of that here. They put in every element of fantasy and sci-fi ever invented, and then put in every element of prog, pop and rock in and hoped that it would be enough to make the "story" come to life. It wasn't enough. And if you are a geek turned on by the idea of every fantasy you've ever been interested in coming to life on one 2-disc album, then you'll like this. For the rest of you, you'll laugh. Hard. But it's just not worth wasting your time over. Don't bother with Ayreon.