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If there’s one thing I can count on in my existence, it can be an ability to find amazing music through plain old curiousity, never hearing a sample track and going by my gut; going to my local music store, grabbing some random album by some random band, bringing it home and loving every minute of it. Granted, that ability isn’t perfect (I learned the hard way the prevalent untalentedness of bands like VASARIA and ENTWINE), but I’ve had more victories than losses, like SOILWORK, CHILDREN OF BODOM, CRADLE OF FILTH, OPETH, and MORBID ANGEL, among plentiful others. So that gut-check was needed when I went to said music store for a new album and came face-to-face with “Into the Electric Castle” by a group called “AYREON”. I didn’t know what to expect, but bought it anyway.
My views of music were forever changed that day...
This is, by and large, my absolute favourite album, and I’d go so far as to call it the best album ever made. This was my first entry into the wonderful, brilliant world of Arjen Anthony Lucassen, he of unparalleled musical genius, and over the years I’ve owned this, I’ve never grown tired of listening to it. Many bands and musicians attempt to meld different styles together, and only on rare occasion does such an experiment pay off; other times, they come off as a complete mess of half-baked ideas. Not so in this case. Mr. Lucassen takes metal, prog rock, electronica, folk music, bits of blues and a little jazz, threw them into a blender and serves up a delicious dose of intentional rock opera cheese that sticks to your ribs. What makes this such a great album is mostly in the music as well as the obviously incredible talents of the singers he got to perform their parts, both singers I’ve heard of (Anneke von Giersburgen, Sharon den Adel) and singers new to me (Damien Wilson, Edward Reekers). There is not ONE singer on this album who performs his or her part half-assedly or at a lack of talent; everyone is a cog working in a well-oiled machine, helping deliver two discs of prime musical amazement that never grows stale over time.
Speaking of the music, up til this point I've never owned a disc that has wowed me as much as this (there have been a number that I found quite exciting, but NOTHING like this), and each successive listen makes me stand up and notice little parts I hadn't noticed before. A world where metal guitars, woodwinds, techno synths, and massive Hammon organ abuse mold together, all having their own, clear voice amidst the clamour of percussion and singing. The music is less of a "wall of sound" and more like an amorphous blanket that surrounds and embraces you, swallowing you whole in the process...but dammit if you don't want it to let you go. It's also one of those albums in which you get so absorbed in the music that time flies by as if it were nothing (this is versus, say, bands that can perform what feels like ten minutes, only to look and see that only three have passed), and before I knew it, I had to change discs...but that's ok, as I was really swept up and was dying to see how the story ends. And obviously, the story isn't NEARLY as serious as other AYREON outputs (intentionally, of course), but that only adds to the charm of the seer...er, album.
So, in the end, I know this isn't everyone's cup of tea (I recall one review title fitting it best; "Special music for special people"), as not everyone would enjoy, or rather "get", it...but for all of us who do love every second of it, including me. And I doubt I'll ever find another album as perfect as this.