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I love Ayreon as a band. A number of Arjen's albums already captivate and continue to even inspire me as of today, this album being one of them. That being said... it was not my first Ayreon album I'd listened to, and most certainly is not my favorite out of all of them. Most of those honors are held to albums as of which I will be trying to write a review for on a later date. Today, though, I was thinking it would be best to try to start at the beginning of the Ayreon discography.
For starters, I do like this album. The narrative that follows the blind minstrel, Ayreon, through his travels to Avalon and his ultimate demise via Merlin is wondrous and spectacular to listen to. I was always a sucker for captivating concepts within concept albums, and this album has surely done so. I mean, I've heard albums talk plenty on the demise of man (Iced Earth) and the likes of an alien attacking just because of coffee (Devin Townsend), but I admire when an album can take its basis on literature and even the likes of historical events. Through 'The Final Experiment', it would be safer than not to say I got to hear exactly that, and I adore it for doing that.
As for the music and lyricism within it... well, it's odd for me to place my finger on. I like plenty of the songs on this album - "The Banishment", "Eyes of Time" and "Computer Reign/Game Over" are among some of my favorite Ayreon songs of all time, and yet plenty of other songs I hear from this album, while still very good at its core, are skipped over on replay. That, I feel, is a problem I find within this album. A problem that constantly happens and will inevitably happen sooner or later - it lost replayability. Sure, I will, on occasion, listen to the entirety of the album (as, I enjoy it nonetheless), but most of the time I just sift through to find songs I want to hear the most.
That all being said... the overall composition of each song is great for its time. Albeit VERY minor confusion about the numerous few voices that sang as Ayreon, or the likes of Merlin, I found that each song still presented the same world it aimed for, and that each song was dynamic when it needed to be - "Listen to the Waves" genuinely felt like a plea for change of our ways to the environment, "Waracle" genuinely felt malevolent and jarring in its portrayal of what sounds like a hell on earth.
In any case, 'The Final Experiment' is a stellar album. It sets up the future more than anything, but on its own it stands well on its own stilts. While it is not the best album to come out of Ayreon, it is certainly the start of something great. The sheer dynamic and narrative the album intends to follow is both captivating and interesting, and the music makes it ever more like so. If you're an Ayreon fan and you haven't attempted to listen to this album, I have no idea what you think you're doing - go ahead and listen to it! You won't be displeased.
Ayreon is a very unique and unusual band in the metal universe that seems sometimes too abstract to be easy to digest or to approach. It took some time and patience to get deeper into this project that takes its main influences from the progressive music of the seventies that can include electronic and folk sounds rather than heavy metal touches. This first album already establishes a sound that is proper and unique to the band even though there are so many guest musicians working on the project. The way the mastermind Arjen Lucassen writes, composes and structures its music is one of a kind. The project has the same concept as "Avantasia" but focuses on science-fiction topics and sounds. The members of the project are well chosen and have technical skills comparable to progressive acts such as "Dream Theater". The sound of this first album of the project has the epic structures and majesty of a mixture of "Falkenbach" and "King Crimson" and the sound and atmosphere of a mixture of "Rush" and "Tangerine Dream".
The whole first album is full of diversity and well arranged details. The record covers a big spectre from acoustic guitars to flutes and from epic female choirs to heavier growls. The enjoyable fact is that Ayreon takes the time to establish an intriguing atmosphere that fits with the story line instead of heading for the technical perfection and complexity. That's an error many progressive bands commit including Ayreon himself with some of his future works. This album here is smooth and has an enjoyable flow. It focuses on the right melodies and coherent structures and that sounds vivid, human and authentic to me. Don't expect three minute long keyboard solos. Arjen Lucassen doesn't want to be the center of the own universe he created. He rather let his guests be part of it and shares the stage with them on almost equal levels.
It’s difficult to point out any songs on the record because it works as a whole. Let’s mention that the first couple of songs are quite huge and complicated and not easy to digest. I didn’t immediately fell in love with them and rather began to appreciate the album towards the second and especially the last third. In the end, the only problem of the album is that after a promising beginning the less impressing and memorable tracks are right in the beginning of the record and it still takes me some time to get into it. But the further the record goes the more interesting the pieces get and the more I get into the whole concept even if there is a clear lack of a truly memorable hit on this album. The powerful and yet quite diversified orchestral single "Sail away to Avalon" is the closest one to in this kind of category.
Nevertheless, the true highlights can be found in the smoother songs and mostly in the middle or second half of the record. First of all, there are some really calm songs influenced by natural sounds. I could mention the very ethereal atmosphere of the relaxing "Nature's dance". Another highlight is without a doubt the dreamy progressive rock killer "Listen to the waves".
Second, there are some more bombastic and fast paced tracks that present another side of Ayreon’s universe. The harmonies and the energy of "Merlin's will" and the majestic closing finale "Ayreon's fate" are the highlights I want to mention concerning this concrete style of the album.
In third place, there are also some truly experimental tracks on the record that give a hint of what the band would try to install on later releases. The best example on this record is the quite modern and electronic approach that is used in the visionary “Computer-Reign”.
In the end, anybody that likes calm and inspiring metal albums, conceptual projects or the whole spectre of progressive music from “Amon Düül” to “Frank Zappa” should check out the entire discography of this diversified composer and this record is a pretty great start to it. It’s actually amongst the best Ayreon releases and establishes the basis of what would come later with “Into the electric castle” and the other parts of the same saga that begins in here.
As we all know, every group has humble and rough beginnings...it's not uncommon for even the most intuitively talented bands to get their bearings together a few albums into their career, and their first couple to be mere blueprints of what they hope to accomplish. That's the beauty of evolution, after all (fuck what the Creationists are preaching). Anyone from MEGADETH to CRADLE OF FILTH to MORBID ANGEL to OPETH, and hundreds above and beyond, started out with patchwork ideas that morphed into the quilts of musicality they now drape over prospective listeners two or three albums in. And AYREON is of the same ilk, in its own way.
This wasn't my first entry into the world of AYREON (that glory goes to the pitch-perfect "Into the Electric Castle"); actually, I got this album fourth in my collection, and, like other successive AYREON released, I was spellbound by the music therein...but also a little confused. All the AYREON releases are "adventures in music", but this would have to be the most adventurous, as well as the most cavalier and brazen. The melding of musical styles that is now the staple are presented here in a sort of hyper-active massacre not unlike a throng of kids at a birthday party. Yes, they mix, but each style has too much of its own identity to fit in cleanly, and each song is presented in almost a completely different genre (one song is electronic, one is folk, one is metal, one is symphonic, etc.) Needless to say, this is HIGHLY experimental.
But is it a bad album? No, not at all. If anything, this showcases some of Arjen Lucassen's more talented compositions, with plentiful tempo and time signature changes to dizzify an average listener. Take songs like "Eyes of Time", "Computer Reign (Game Over)", "Sail Away to Avalon", and "Merlin's Will" and you'll encounter the catchy, thought-provoking music you'll find on future recordings, albeit in a more infantile stage. Around this time, Arjen wasn't working with the A-List singers he'd employ later, but as it stands each singer has his or her own individual talent and style that shines quite well on each track.
So at the end of the day, AYREON's humble beginnings act on their own personality, like every other album, but still comes off as a well put-together, cohesive collection of musical genius. A very impressive debut.
Ayreon's first album "The Final Experiment" is amazing in every aspect. From the intricate guitar melodies, to the meaningful spoken word vocals, every part of this cd comes together as the story of Ayreon enfolds. Also, the amazing power metal vocals support the epic tale of Ayreon, who is a blind minstel in sixth century Britain. Arjen Anthony Lucassen is the mastermind behind this musical tale; he wrote almost every song on the release. He also appears doing guitars and percussion on most of the songs on the disk.
The songs range in length from the less than three minute "Nature's Dance," to the eleven minute "The Banishment." Most of the songs have very complex melodies that are performed by a variety of instruments. Unlike most bands who just have guitar, bass, drums, and perhaps keyboards, Ayreon has all of those, and also violins, cellos, and flutes that perform. Therefore, I never got bored listening to this cd, because there are so many different elements going on in every song. No two songs sound alike on this disk. Every song tells a different part of the journey of Ayreon.
In the song "Computer Reign (Game Over)" there is a society in the future being described that is based on technology over passion. The message says that if nothing will be done to stop the computer reign, then the "serving computers" will gradually gain control over society, and cause destruction for mankind. The opposite of that song would be "Listen to the Waves" which is about simplicity and nature. It tells about how mankind is destroying nature, and how everyone should enjoy the simple things in life. The message in this song references to the hole in the ozone layer, saying "we befoul the air, and burn a hole in the sky."
Overall, the cd is very well written, and the complex lyrical themes echo the futuristic melodies in the music. The global messages in the lyrics are very easy to spot and interpret as well as the meanings behind the songs. "The Final Experiment" by Ayreon is an excellent choice for any metal lover, and I highly reccomend it.
Once 'Into The Electric Castle' gained me as an Ayreon-fan, I checked out the back-catalogue, starting with this one. I was dissapointed of course, how could the first attempt match the awesome ITEC? Doesn't mean it's a bad attempt though!
'The Final Experiment - A Rock Opera' is mostly symphonic rock, not yet the mix of genres including metal heard on later work. This means a warmer more gentle sound than what one might used to from Ayreon, but also less variation.
Of course, like most of Ayreon's later works, this is a ....-opera, meaning a story is told using a wide array of singers. Ayreon wasn't that famous yet, yet he still managed to get an impressive list of vocalists. Some names that would be familiar with later releases, like Edward Reekers (ex-Kayak), Ian Parry (Elegy, Hammerhead), Jay van Feggelen (ex-Bodine) and Robert Soeterbroek. But this time, these are also the biggest names that appear on the record, with three exceptions. The first of these exceptions is Barry Hay, from Dutch rock legends Golden Earring; I was quite surprised by his appearance on one song. Then there's Jan-Chris de Koeijer from Gorefest fame. He's the only grunter on here, and it's a bit odd to hear him in the context of this album. Finally, there's Ernst van Ee on drums, and he's a minor drumlegend.
That said, when comparing this to Ayreon's later work, it can be summed up as: 'It's good, just not as good as the rest'. There's the same impressive line-up, and story-telling ambition, but that ambition isn't totally covered by the execution, leaving a bit of pretentiousness lingering around.
The story is about a blind minstrel bard from the 14th century named Ayreon, who receives visions of a grim future (one last attempt by 21th century humanity to change the course of history now the planet is doomed). Foretelling of this future he barely comprehends, he is confronted by Merlin. Merlin is, for a change, like all medieval people: a xenophobic bastard, only with power. ***minor spoiler alert*** Merlin silences him because he doesn't like what Ayreon says, and realizing his error, sends the message Ayreon received to other bards, living in the 20th century (that's you and me Bubba).
So the record ends on a slightly preachy note. With that in mind, it's still a good album however. The singers have very pleasant voices (with the exception of perhaps Jan-Chris de Koeijer from Gorefest), and the few characters are done by various singers, which is an interesting difference with later albums.
The music is bombastic sympho-rock, only this time each (sub-)song seems to be built around a single melody/theme. This means there's less variation, albethere more unity of sound. Since Ayreon wasn't going all space metal-opera on us yet, there's also less variation between songs. Still, there's a couple of very memorable songs in here (for example 'The Charm of the Seer' with added operatic vocals, and 'Sail Away To Avalon' with Barry Hay).
End result: 78. Very above average, just not among the greats. Recommended buy for Ayreon fans, but don't expect another ITEC.