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Usually when one thinks of progressive music, or specifically metal, one of the names they come up with is Dream Theater, a band with a reputation of being pretentious because they are overly technical. Well, Ayreon manages to be even more pretentious, and far less technical, with prog-sounding moments but not whole songs. Their style is not exactly what comes to mind upon hearing the words “progressive metal.” But what could be more prog than a concept album? The element of a storyline (and Akerfeldt) is the only thing keeping me from drifting off near the latter portion of this 100+ minute ordeal. At least the plot prevents the album from being boring. Few of The Human Equation’s plentiful twenty songs have a hard edge to them either, and the ones that do are balanced out by agonizingly soft, cheesy ballads and pop-influenced songs.
So what is The Human Equation? Isn’t it classified as progressive metal? No, that hardly seems accurate: it’s a rock opera, highly vocal-based and completely annoying. Arjen Lucassen has recruited some high-profile vocalists for this effort; James LaBrie (Dream Theater), Devin Townsend, and Mikael Akerfeldt (Opeth) stand out on the list of no less than eleven singers. This vocal domination would be a bigger problem than it is if the singers didn’t usually perform well. The exceptions to the general quality of vocal delivery are Irene Jansen (singing as Passion), who utilizes awful Styx-like harmonies (which, I might add, is another incredibly cheesy band), and Eric Clayton, singing as Reason, who just has a really fucking annoying voice. But these two are exceptions to the rule, and everyone else performs well enough. The major issue with the vocals is that you don’t need a choir to play on a (supposedly) metal album. Each vocalist sings overly dramatically and “in front” of the rest of the music, putting the focus on them – needed for this album but awful and irritating all the same. The Human Equation is simply overcrowded with guest vocalists, and this is the main source of its pretentiousness. It sounds like a musical. Like show tunes.
The over-abundance of singers leaves little room for the rest of the music to develop. The instrumental portions are forgettable and, while eclectic, strikingly not metal. There is little technicality, much of the album devoted to cheesy balladry or acoustic and slow parts (Love, Memories, Sign, Disclosure). Transitions between parts of the songs are sometimes jarring and poorly done; good riffs are few and far between. Some of the songs have a folk edge, bringing in flutes and similar instruments, and spacey keyboards are used frequently and well. When it sounds like a song’s instrumental break is actually starting to go somewhere entertaining, the tracks disappointingly end or revert to vocals. Overall, the musical composition is mediocre, though the album has its moments in the rare instrumental breaks when someone will spit out a passable solo -- which tend to be the album’s highlights (see Day Two: Isolation and Day Four: Mystery). The song Day Sixteen: Loser has to be mentioned -- it’s not necessarily good, but it’s an interesting piece. The Father sounds like a theatrical villain… it’s not surprising Arjen is adapting The Human Equation for the stage. Loser has strongly Irish vibe, followed by Devin Townsend screaming over the song’s folksy riff, juxtaposition if there ever was such a thing.
As much as I’ve bashed the composition of the songs, The Human Equation’s conceptual and plot-based elements redeem it somewhat, saving it from being a heap of steaming horse shit. Is the album completely overblown and pretentious, and does the “concept album” idea contribute? Yes. Is the plot mildly entertaining? Also yes. Ayreon’s only non-sci-fi album, The Human Equation revolves around James LaBrie, playing the role of “Me.” He has experienced an accident under mysterious circumstances, causing him to fall into a coma. He journeys through his past, each song representing one day, until he realizes that he witnessed his wife cheating on him with his best friend. He had crashed his car in anger and despair, the reason for his coma. Not the most original thing ever… the coma idea is one that sounds suspiciously familiar.
Contrarily, the story is told very clearly relative to some other concept albums, as long as you keep track of the characters and pay attention to the lyrics (lyrics shouldn’t be difficult considering most delivery is clean singing). As pretentious as the vocals are, it is doubtful that the story could have been told the way it was without all eleven singers involved. In general, the intensity of the music and the subject matter of the lyrics fit together well enough (Love is an incredibly cheesy and cringeworthy ballad and the lyrics are about exactly what the title suggests; Pride is a stormy, heavier piece and the lyrics reflect an angry argument between LaBrie and Pride). The “plot twist” of LaBrie’s wife and best friend’s affair is hinted at (“I don’t think he knows”), and as LaBrie’s internal struggles and the dialogue of the wife and best friend combine, the two plot lines are woven together, ending with forgiveness on all parts. A much more metal thing to do would be to have a Human Equation Part Two based around LaBrie seeking revenge, but obviously that’s not happening. Not that I would want to listen to a potential part two of this piece of crap anyway.
To put it quite simply, The Human Equation is overrated. The effort and ambition put into this is respectable and appreciable, but in the end, it’s really not a masterpiece. It is musically weak, though not without some good instrumental breaks, and too vocally dominated. While the storyline saves the album to a degree, it is not exactly genius, though told creatively and clearly. I would not recommend this to a fan of progressive metal, but maybe a fan of the rock opera could find some value in this. I dub Ayreon “cheese rock.”
Arjen Anthony Lucassen (the leader of Ayreon, present in every album) should be a goddamn science fiction movie director or author. He is a GENIUS. He is creative like nobody I have ever seen, a damn fine songwriter, and can shred something fierce on the guitar.
The Human Equation is a strange album. Currently, it is my favorite album of all time in a stranger sense than what I normally do. First off, i can perfectly understand 90% of the vocals. That is a huge change than what I normally listen to, and now that I was actually listening to what they were saying, I was thrown into a beautiful and heart breaking story.
Me, the character sung by James LaBrie, was in a car accident and is bedridden in a coma. The album structure is in days, each day being another day in his life, and in each day, more is revealed to us, whether it be info as to how or why the crash happened, or the things his emotions (Agony, Fear, Reason, Love, Pride, Rage, Passion) tell him. Ayreon is known well for the lyrics being dialogue between characters, and this album is that in SPADES. And it is awesome. Incredible singers like Mikael Akerfeldt from Opeth and Devin Townsend from The Devin Townsend project are all here, and others like Mike Baker and Magnus Ekwall.
Now, the important thing about this is that the lyrics is where the album really shines. Don't get me wrong, the guitar, drums, keyboards are all incredible, keyboards especially, but you can't listen to the album as if it was an instrumental album, that isn't where the beauty of Ayreon is. In retrospect, you can listen to it however you want, you might find the music itself the best you've ever heard and the lyrics to be stupid. But this album is truly best heard when you understand the mood. The words is where the thought comes from in this case, I know instrumental albums that are very thought provoking, but this is an album that encourages understanding the plot, because it makes the music so much more fitting. The happy little sounds of Day Six, Childhood, seem so much more fitting when you understand that the song is about Me's childhood, it gives you the sense of the innocence and exploratory spirit. The low key of Day Twelve, Trauma, is so incredibly reinforced by Fear and Reason battling eachother about Me's past.
Now then, the tone of the lyrics is a whole other matter, and still a great one. There are a few times like in Day Twelve, Three, and Sixteen that there is some screamo lyrics integrated, and while they aren't bad at all, they seem odd. They make sense in those songs, but they sound funny sometimes, like in Day Sixteen, after the speech Father gives, Rage just starts howling, and while it is very fitting, I couldn't help but laugh, because it sounded so hilariously awesome.
Ayreon isn't a band that follows most metal song structures; it doesnt' have verse-chorus-verse-chorus-solo-outro, but Ayreon still does that sometimes, but never a real solo. Maybe a new part where the story is developed in a new direction: only in Day Fourteen, Pride, is there ever a real guitar solo. And that's fine. Alot of the music comes from the incredible keyboards, and the AWESOME effects they can make, almost always played by Arjen. The drums are always nice, and the guitar can rip some lovely riffs.
This is the best album i have ever heard (so far) because of how it makes you want to understand what Me is feeling, because it only helps the music be better.
Also, that is one sick album cover.
The Human Equation is not easy to score. If i based it solely on how much I liked the music, I couldn't have scored it higher than an 80. However, there are other contributing factors to my love of this album. Having seen and read all about how it was made, my love of all the guest vocalists and respect for Arjen Lucassen as a person and an artist, and more than anything the story told by the album. The Human Equation is a concept album telling the story of a man who falls into a coma and with his wife and best friend at his bedside, he sinks into his own mind and is confronted with each of his emotions who has their own theories of why he is here and how he should get out. Our main character must look through his own past and sort out his feelings to try to figure out how he ended up in this coma and how to awaken. Each of the emotions is represented by a different guest singer (most notably my favorite vocalist Mikeal Akderfelt of Opeth) and the story is told through an opera-style script. I have been in love with this album's story since I first heard it and have pondered different ways to make it into a play/movie/comic/something. The different vocalists all do superb jobs of making the characters truly come to life and all deliver exceptional emotional performances that could be considered the highlight of the album. The vocal dialogue exchanges between characters Pride and Reason on tracks Day 8: School and Day 14: Pride are especially notable.
Musically, the Human Equation is pretty much the ultimate culmination of genres into a prog album like no other. I want to point out that if your opinion of prog-metal is pretentious shit like Dream Theater this album could change your mind. The amount of emotion placed into the music and lyrics on most of the album's songs are flat-out contradictory to the robotic technicality of most prog music, even including most of Ayreon's other releases. As such, The Human Equation is probably the most accessible prog-metal album ever because it is just so easy to like. It's an album that I play around my friends and family and everyone enjoys. It's heavy and technical enough that music aficionados and metal-heads can find something to like but it's calm and soft-sung enough for regular folks as well.
In his quest to bridge genres as much as possible, Arjen Lucassen has pretty much made a point to use every instrument known to god on his album. String and woodwind instruments are a given with that statement, but he pulled all the stops to include obscure instruments like the didjeridoo and he also crammed pretty much every setting on his keyboard into the music at some point. As over-reaching as that sounds, though, the culmination of all these sounds is done carefully and to great results. The music is never compromised - only enhanced, as it should be.
However, this also contributes to what is both the biggest weakness and perhaps greatest strength of The Human Equation - there are twenty motherfucking songs. Needless to say, if you have twenty songs that, while all definitely prog-rock, are all different styles of sound, you are bound to get pretty hit-and-miss. There are songs that focus on the vocals telling the story, songs that focus on the music with vocals only coming in at small parts, fast and fun songs, slow and somber song - a little bit of everything. It goes without saying that you'll have a hard time finding two people who have the exact same top ten favorite songs from the pack.
As a fan of all styles of music, I managed to like songs of all the different kinds on the album, but there are certain slow songs on there that I think were more or less failures in that they were made to be full songs that stand on their own instead of more brief interludes. The biggest of these mistakes is Day 13: Signs which is an outright piece of shit. The song doesn't contribute much to the story, has little to show in terms of music, and isn't very emotional. It could have been a minute-long blip on the album's journey, but as a 4-minute suckfest I have almost never made it through the entire song before hitting the skip button. Other would-be fine songs like Day 5: Voices or Day 17: Accident? could have easily done with a minute or two shaved off of them for the sake of attention span. Most of the album's best songs are the ones under the five minute mark with the exception of the album's three longest songs, all of which are that length for significant reasons.
But of course when you have twenty tracks you're also likely to have some absolutely gold pieces buried in there as well. Arguably the best section of the double-album is the later third of disk one, days 7-11. Day 8: School and Day 11: Love are easily the album highlights for me, both featuring amazing vocal exchanges and an undeniable emotional atmosphere that makes them unforgettable.
All in all, The Human Equation is a very good and fun rock opera that is great for reasons far beyond just it's music and the kind of incomparable music experience that never really grows old. If you are the kind of metal-head who needs to take things very seriously and needs dark themes and harsh vocals to enjoy your music, The Human Equation will go right over your head. However, if you have an open mind toward music and want to hear something wholly unique and interesting, you can't turn away from The Human Equation.
There are a lot of Progressive Metal bands floating around these days, ranging from cleaner, more straightforward Prog like Anubis Gate or Circus Maximus, to heavier, riff-oriented stuff like Communic and Scariot, more Power Metallish types such as Pagan's Mind and Dragonland and even a few odd extreme metal/prog combinations. It's all prog though, whichever side-dish you might happen to lean toward, and whatever your opinion on the genre as a whole, you've most likely heard of Ayreon, at least in passing. This is the main project of mastermind Arjen Lucassen, and if you dislike prog, you will fucking hate this stuff. However, if this genre of music strikes your fancy, then The Human Equation is your Golden Corral dinner buffet. If you can't get enough of Prog, and your mouth is watering at the thought of a new Circus Maximus or Anubis Gate album, then this album will satisfy your hunger - three times over.
Let us just get it out on the table first: Ayreon is really prog. I don't mean they've progressed further in the genre than any other band, because they haven't. This is a pretty standard prog formula in the style of Pain of Salvation, except without most of the pessimistic dirge sort of feeling present underneath the top layer of that band's music. No, the stuff here is lightweight, as is the production, leaving a lot of room for every instrument to shine when needed. Everything here is done to ridiculous excess (over 100 minutes, on two discs, etc.), with ridiculous amounts of effort and passion put into it, and while I don't worship at the altar of this album as others do, even I can admit that it's pretty damned good. Ayreon just make classy music, and they execute it with pomp and pride.
As expected, this is a concept album, and it's actually done extremely well - although the story is pretty much shoved down your throat. This is not like one of Kamelot's or Pagan's Mind's albums, where the story is only there if you want to get into it. It's all very involving, complex, deep stuff; centering around a young man who enters a coma only to be drawn into conflict with multiple elements of his personality, including Fear, Anger, Reason, Pride and several others. For a Prog concept album, this is ridiculously well done and meticulously planned, with little room for error, as is expected of this kind of music. We can't have any error here, it's Prog! Error is punishable by death!
There are a whole bunch of vocalists here, all adding their own personal and unique touch to the music, and the music wanders its way through large, spacious catacombs of aural enlightenment, with a cornucopia of styles on display, from the heavy, grooving riffs of opener "Isolation" to light, fluffy Prog Rock on "Love," uplifting, sweeping choirs on "Childhood" and soulful folk balladry on the fantastic "Signs." Other good songs include the propulsive, compelling "Voices," the fun romp "Loser" and especially the horrific stomp of the 9 minute exercise in Prog mastery, "Trauma." Not every song here is good, but there are SO MANY SONGS that you barely even notice, anyway.
This is very, very ambitious music (and it wholly succeeds), and I can't recommend this album to anyone with a short attention span or an intolerance for Prog. I'd love to give this a higher score, but it's still almost two hours long, and that is too long for any music album, no matter the genre or the quality, and I don't play it very often due to that. The Human Equation is definitely not something for everyone, and it isn't the most "metal" album out there, but for the metalhead who doesn't mind a bit of a stretch from their usual diet and is looking for an interesting journey, look no further than Ayreon.
Originally written for http://www.metalcrypt.com
This album will receive the lowest score I have ever given out. A fucking minuscule single digit. Why? When the album is so highly lauded as a masterpiece, why must one dickhead always come in and shit on it? Frankly, this album is one of the most overblown, self indulgent, overhyped, overpraised, and all around shittiest albums I've ever heard. There are no less than 11 vocalists on display here, with a grand total of 1 3/4 that are worth anything (Devin Townsend is worth the full point, the guy from Shadow Gallery gets the half, and Akerfeldt (as much as I loathe Opeth) is honestly a good vocalist, so he earns the other quarter point).
For those following this series of reviews, you'll notice that all of them so far have been concept albums with an ungodly number of tracks, this is no coincidence. It's not that I hate concept albums (I'll admit, I'm a huge Nevermore fan, and therefore love Dreaming Neon Black), but when they are done in this piss all annoying "epic" fashion, it just makes me want to spread my cheeks and sodomize myself with a loaded rifle.
The weirdest part about this one, is that a lot of my criticisms for Nightfall and Framing Armageddon aren't present here. It's actually a decent concept to me, it's executed well enough in theory, and I can follow the story without prior knowledge of random literature. Why do I hate this album so much then? Because this album is more of a lullaby soundtrack. I have never heard a more boring record than this. Only one song throughout the entirety of this pile of smoldering anus is Day Sixteen: Loser, and that's probably because only features two vocalists, thankfully the only two here that are any good. It's a catchy song and doesn't get boring or pretentious to the point of vomitous. (side note: I never knew that "vomitous" wasn't a word until right now... strange) And now that I think about it, Day Three: Pain isn't completely atrocious either. The main theme is catchy enough, and as long as you ignore that grating chorus, it isn't terrible.
The rest of the album is punch worthy though. If I ever met this Arjen asshole.... *thinks murderous thoughts* Day Seven is disgustingly poppy enough to warrant a buzzsaw to the forehead. There are 20 fucking tracks, almost none of which are catchy, memorable, or good by any standards by which I measure a song by. Virtuosity, technicality, and good singing, do not make a great song. Listen to Eternal Nightmare, Sean Killian is one of the worst vocalists in metal history, but who in their right mind would ever say that that isn't one of the finest thrash records of all time? Same deal with Heathen. Everybody here on the other hand, actually ranks as a technically wonderful vocalist (barring LaBrie, I know maybe six people and one dog who thinks he has a good voice), but they don't stand out at all. Nobody does anything that doesn't sound like they are just going through the motions, which is a shame. And also, the best vocalists enlisted on this project get the least amount of time!
Unlike the first two in the series, I can't go into horridly vivid detail about everything, because this isn't like the first two. Only one track stands out as a heavenly oasis of awesome in an otherwise barren desert of ass, every other song sucks a fat one (in case you haven't picked up on it, Loser is the only good thing here). It's all extremely generic prog metal wankery with goofy instruments and weird time signatures just to prove how insidiously "progressive" the whole thing is. It's akin to the whole raw black metal garbage, where each band tries to sound rawer and more evil than the previous; prog does the same thing in the sense that it has to be more and more "out there" with bizarre time signatures whatnot.
In conclusion, the album = overindulgent and dull, the vision = good in theory, but proves to big of a project for even this Arjen backpfeifengesicht (German word meaning "a face that's just begging for somebody to put their fist through it"), the individual songs, all completely boring and plodding.
I can think of a rather long list of things I'd rather shove up my ass than ever hear any of the 19 tracks that aren't "Loser" again.
I first heard about Ayreon through iTunes suggestions but paid no attention until I stumbled upon the web site progarchives.com. I downloaded a few songs off of some albums and was impressed, but not wowed. Then, I got most of Ayreon's albums for Xmas. I listened to this album first and almost never got to my other CD gifts.
The Human Equation follows the story of a man who falls in a coma after plowing his car into a tree. While in a coma, he unlocks some hidden region of his mind where he confronts his emotions and and memories. Meanwhile, his best friend and wife sit at his hospital bed waiting for a sign of life. As usual, Arjen manages to pick out each vocalist perfectly. Though most of the voices on this and his other albums were new to me, some big names stood out. He roped in Mikael Akerfeldt, Devin Townsend, Mike Baker, and James LaBrie, some of my favorite metal vocalists for this extravanganza.
Everything about this album screams perfection. Arjen's compositional skills have fully blossomed, resulting in the most musical album in the Ayreon catalogue. His lyrics also fully capture emotions. Passion, Love, and Agony often are together; Reason can be swayed by Passion, etc. You come to truly feel this album; I cried as the man revisits his abusive and lonely childhood. When the wife and best friend tell anecdotes on "Memories," I smiled in the same way I do for real anecdotes; it's not a joke, so you don't laugh, but you smile because it's amusing. At other points I was downright terrified; Arjen's slim but powerful acoustic arrangements crate the eeirest atmosphere. Ed Warby rejoins Arjen as apparently Ayreon's permanent drummer, if Arjen's interview on the special edition DVD is any hint.
Now, on to the vocalists. Fans of Opeth who prefer Mikael's clean vocals will love this album as most of his vox are clean, though he does some growls on Day Twelve. James LaBrie gives what may be his most impassioned performance to date. Those who do like his vocals are encouraged to check this out; it beats a good portion of DT vocals, which I happen to love. Arjen once again uses beautiful yet upsetting female vocals. I was initially dismayed to hear Devin Townsend essentially phoned in his performance, as he did not want to sing other people's lyrics. However, Arjen allowed him to write his own lyrics for Rage, and they fit perfectly to the story while still retaining that unique Townsend approach. The real suprise for me was ex-Psyhcotic waltz vocalist Devon Graves. I have yet to hear Psychotic Waltz or Devon's new project Dead Soul Tribe, but I'm going to get anything he's been a part of. Arjen is right on the mark when he says that you'll be reading the lyrics booklet every time Devon comes on, not because you can't understand him, but you are trying to determine who the new vocalist is. He is all over the place on this record; his versatility here could match Daniel Gildenlow's on Pain of Salvation releases.
For the longest time, DT's Scenes From a Memory held my top spot for greatest prog metal release and Queensryche's Operation Mindcrime was my personal favorite. The Human Equation managed to supplant both. The production, the arrangement, the vocals, everything is perfect. As with all Ayreon albums I read along to the album with the booklet to see which vocalist was where. I usually start with the album and keep reading even if I get ahead. Yet, as the story progressed, I stopped because I did not want to ruin the story. I was that engaged to the concept. I cannot recommend this album enough and to those who believe a good prog metal collection is nothing but Dream Theater, Queensryche, Opeth, Fates Warning, and Symphony X (I was in that boat not too long ago), you haven't even started if you don't have this album.
My recommendation: put this album on somewhere you won't be disturbed, have your lyric booklet ready, and enjoy. The album must be listened to as a whole.
After a couple of strange (but no less great) efforts over the last few years with Ayreon’s 2-CD UNIVERSAL MIGRATOR and the Star One Project, Ayreon mastermind Arjen Lucassen has returned with a powerful doozy of an album. Spanning two discs and featuring a bevy of vocal talents (including his own voice!), Lucassen’s newest Ayreon effort is a true tour-de-force for prog-metal fans worldwide.
The story of THE HUMAN EQUATION is the newest step for Ayreon, looking inward, rather than to the stars or some other fantasy realm. Without giving too much away, the narrative involves a man in a coma who is forced to come to grips with a variety of issues in his life (good and bad) in an attempt to wake up. It’s an extremely well done story that, well somewhat cliché at times, is both engaging and thought-provoking.
As for the music, without saying that it is typical Ayreon fare, it is typically great and matches the high standards that fans expect from Lucassen. Perhaps reaching back to the classic INSIDE THE ELECTRIC CASTLE for inspiration, the music covers a wide range of sounds, mostly melding everything into a distinctly 70’s prog-rock sound, what with the washes of acoustics, atmospherics, and Moog-ian keyboard sounds. Key cuts include the smooth rockin’ “Memories” and the following “Love” with all its manic sincerity. Disc 2 has a number of highlights, best of which are the smarmy vocals of Mike Baker (his only appearance) on the utterly vicious “Loser” (GREAT vocals by Devin Townsend on this one as well).
In all, this is a painstakingly constructed album by one of heavy metal’s best musical minds. The vocal contributions are equally well chosen and flawlessly executed, making THE HUMAN EQUATION a completely engrossing listen, and surely one of the top albums of 2004.
-------Originally posted on Metal-Rules.com-------
This double album is a heavy metal opera. And no, I'm not saying that in a form of exaggerated praise, I'm stating what it simply is. It has eleven vocalists, and all are simply superb. I've always been a fan of James LaBrie's singing, and his work is as good as it has ever been on this album. Mikael Åkerfeldt mainly showcases his proficiency for clean vocals as Fear, but they even let him throw in a few death growls, and these are some of the most intimidating I've heard from him.
Eric Clayton (Reason) is very appropriate for what Arjen Lucassen (the mastermind of the whole project) was shooting for. His voice is very operatic, and although some might find it an acquired taste, I find I quite like it, even if it's a little jarring to go from "normal" vocals to his. It's an extremely pleasant contrast, all in all. Heather Findlay and Irene Jansen, two of the three total female vocalists are both quite good, with the former playing Love and the latter Passion. Findlay sings very sweetly and melodically, while Jansen's vocals are filled with energy and theatrics.
Magnus Ekwall and Devon Graves (as Pride and Agony respectively) are both good as well, especially when Pride and Reason sing back and forth to each other. Marcela Bovio (who sings in another of Arjen Lucassen's projects, Stream of Passion) plays the main character's Wife, and her vocals quite appropriately mirror those of Love.
Even the organizer of the Ayreon project, Arjen Lucassen (Best Friend) has a singing part. He has a somewhat reedy timbre to his voice that I liked a lot after a bit of listening. Mike Baker has only one singing part on the album as Father. He sings a cocky diatribe to Me on track 16, "Day Sixteen: Loser," which closes with Devin Townsend's second and final singing part as Rage. This guy is pretty insane, with his furious shrieking vocals.
This album certainly isn't just about vocals, however. There's a stunning amount of instrumental variety to go along with the excellent cast of characters. Arjen Lucasson himself plays all electric and acoustic guitars, bass guitars, mandolin, lap steel guitar, keyboards, and synthesizers. Ed Warby (of Gorefest) plays some excellent drums, while Robert Baba contributes violins and Marieke van den Broek cellos. John McManus and Jeroen Goossens play a variety of woodwind instruments, and there's even a didgeridoo on "Day Sixteen: Loser."
The music is arranged excellently. Even at an hour and forty-two minutes, I never want to interrupt my listening.
The Human Equation tells the story of Me, a man who gets into a car accident and subsequently slips into a comataose state. Me recalls his life and battles his inner demons while lying in a hospital bed, recalling his days of school, his father's abuse, and attempts to overcome his pride and fear while learning that his best friend and wife have seemingly come together romantically, despite Me's state.
Every song on this album is great. I can't really find a single thing wrong with it on the whole, so that's why I'm giving it a perfect score. Buy this album.
The latest Ayreon project from eclectic Dutchman Arjen Lucassen is quite simply, a thing of absolute beauty. A hundred-minute-plus epic of an album is a prog fan's wet dream, and Arjen does not disappoint on this one.
'The Human Equation' is a concept album that tells a story. To quickly provide a synopsis, the story is a simple one: the main character (known plainly as "Me") is invovled in a freak automobile accident and finds himself in a coma inside a hospital. Watching over him are his best friend and his wife. Each song on 'THE' is a day during the main character's coma, and during each day, the man's emotions (Reason, Love, Fear, Pride, Passion, Agony, and Rage) speak to him and among each other in an internal dialogue played out through the guest singers.
The lyrics are simple, yet highly effective. Through a succinct, yet vivid style, Arjen manages to depict his main character as a well-rounded, real human being. This is an album that truly deserves its title; 'The Human Equation' is a HUMAN album. I don't want to dwell TOO much on the lyrics, but I would like to say that the concept of 'THE' really could stand alone as the plot of a movie, and I would have no qualms if said motion picture were to receive an Academy Award--the lyrcs really are THAT good.
Yet more so than the lyrics, the real star on this album is the MUSIC. And the music is expected to be good, as there are twenty separate musicians on this album! The album's cover proudly marquees the guest singers as the stars on the album, and indeed they are, but there are amazing performances
an here from a purely musical aspect. One simply cannot ignore the music of this album. There are synth solos galore, providing just enough psychadelia to make this a trippy experience. The synths all fit perfectly, and the music is almost reminiscent of early Pink Floyd at times, especially Day Two's synth solo performed by Joost van den Broek (of Suncaged) that spaces the listener's mind completely out and culminates in a hugely climactic chromatic run that explodes into the powerful ending of the song.
There are amazing small performances on this album that give it such a boost of character. There are flutes and violins and cellos--even a didgeridoo, and they are all so lighthearted and subtle that these classical style instrumetals fit and don't seem thrown in as pretentious clutter. Ed Warby's
performances behind the drum kit is nothing short of spectacular providing thundering, epic rhythms during the many powerful sections and a steady, bouncycontrol during passages of light-hearted musical brilliance.
Now I shall assess the performers that the Ayreon project is famous for--its guest singers. We have a whole new batch of guests, different from the other Ayreon albums (as is tradition), and they are all very good in their own way. I'll go one by one on each vocalist with quick notes on each one:
James LaBrie ("Me") - Love him or hate him, LaBrie's job as the main character is very well done. LaBrie brings every bit of emotion in his voice straight from Dream Theater to creat the meek, sometimes tortured "Me," and truly illustrates a whole human being through his voice. This is quite a stellar job by James LaBrie.
Arjen Lucassen ("Best Friend") - Arjen is the mastermind of this whole project and his musical contribution is massive to say the least. He wrote all the songs--genius. He performed ALL guitars (electric, acoustic, and bass), and did a wonderful job at all of them. He also performed a hefty portion of the synthesizers and did a great job there too. Aren't you exhausted yet, Arjen? His voice on the album is nothing amazing (he admits he's no singer), but the job is done well and the melodies are carried professionally and well done.
Marcella Bovio ("Wife") - From Mexico, this newcomer is no mere amateur and is my favorite female vocalist on this album. Her highlight is on Day 13 with the middle verse. Her voice is filled with so much emotion and passion, I find myself blown away and wondering where I can find more from this tremendous talent.
Heather Findlay ("Love") - Another tremendous female voice is the lovely British vocalist Heather Findlay. She grasps the quaint sweetness of her character in such an effortless way. Her vocals on the first half 'The Human Equation' are magnificent.
Irene Jansen ("Passion") - Her voice embodies her character and she puts every bit of Passion in her operatic voice to portray her character in all its glory. Her best performances are on Day Two and Day Eleven.
Devon Graves ("Agony") - An interesting choice for Agony, yet his performance fits perfectly. Devon Graves looks like he'll have this deep bellowing voice, but it's mid-range and powerful, and his performance does his character justice and is overall quite enjoyable.
Eric Clayton ("Reason") - This is the deep voice I love that makes Saviour Machine kick so much ass. I love his voice on this album, and his best performances are on the haunting Day Twelve, and on Day Five.
Magnus Ekwall ("Pride") - This performance is filled with emotion and comes out sounding almost bluesy (with vocal bends and sometimes outright screams). I like his voice very much, but I didn't find it too outstanding.
Mike Baker ("Father") - He only appears in one song, and is extremely effective as the rude, alcoholic father of the main character. Baker's voice is half-pirate, half-Alice Cooper, yet wholly awesome. Bit parts are usually wonderful and Baker's is not an exception.
Devin Townsend ("Rage") - A bit pretentious, Hevy Devy wrote his own lyrics for 'THE.' His performance remains the most unique on the whole album. Fitting for Devin Townsend; he is professional to the core, and I love his contribution to this album just as I love all of the stuff he's done with his own projects.
Mikael Akerfeldt ("Fear") - This Swedish heavyweight is my favorite vocalist on the album, and he provides his trademark clean vocals that would easily fit the best Opeth album. It seems Arjen wrote the part for Mikael, as the melodies appear to be written exactly for Akerfeldt's singing style (as if they were composed for some unreleased Opeth cuts). And of course, even Ayreon cannot escape from the clutches of Mikael's deep, brutal death metal grunts that totally slay and bring goosebumps to the back of your neck. Day Twelve is one of the heaviest songs from any 2004 release and is carried by the haunting voices of both Eric Clayton and Mikael Akerfeldt.
If you haven't bought this album already, do yourself a favor, and find the dough, because you won't be let down at all. If you're a prog fan and you don't own this record with the bonus DVD and the whole shebang the you need to be sent home with no recess. This is an absolutely incredible
EXPERIENCE, from beginning to end. Thank you Arjen Lucassen for amazing me with such an outstanding album!
If there is an absolute certainty when speaking of Arjen Anthony Lucassen, it is that the man refuses do anything by half measures. AAL loves a challenge and making a regular ten track disc every 12-18 months is just too damn easy. Nope, AAL works in an entirely different headspace, conjuring up some of the most over the top, grandiose prog rock opera’s you’ll ever hear. If ‘Inside the Electric Castle’ impressed you or like me, you were left astounded by the ‘Star One - Space Metal/Live on Earth’ double he threw at us in 2003, then wait until you wrap your head around this 101-minute progressive rock extravaganza.
Quite simply, if you are a major fan of progressive rock/metal encompassing everything from Dream Theater to Rush, Opeth to Uriah Heep, Dead Soul Tribe to Jethro Tull then Ayreon’s ‘The Human Equation’ is essential listening. At 101 minutes, it is suffice to say that you’ll need to dedicate more than a few uninterrupted listening sessions to grasp the multitude of musical ideas going on here, let alone the lyrical concept. Everything that has been written, played, recorded and produced on this double disc affair is utterly mind-blowing. Describing it here will only touch the surface of the genius within this package. It is, without a shadow of a doubt, an album that must be listened to and absorbed over many, many sessions to understand it.
‘The Human Equation’ is somewhat of a departure for AAL in terms of its lyrical concept. Rather than dealing with a typical science fiction fantasy AAL has opted for an equally imaginative story revolving around a man that lies in coma due to a tragic car accident. The most ingenious aspect about this concept is how AAL has told the story not only via different characters (not a new thing for AAL, ‘Electric Castle’ did the same thing), but also by giving different human emotions a voice and using various vocalists to portray their parts. This fascinating story gets told in twenty days in which the man stays in coma divided over an equal amount of songs.
I’ll touch on the musical content a bit later, but upon listening to ‘THE’ one is automatically drawn to the plethora of vocalists that AAL has employed for this album.
As is his policy, there is no one on ‘THE’ that has appeared on an Ayeron album before (what a great way to keep his work interesting). AAL knows his shit folks and as good as his selections of James LaBrie (who play the central coma victim character -‘Me’) and Akerfeldt (the emotion of Fear) are it is the work of the slightly lesser known (but just as breathtaking) vocalists that make such an impact here. The male vocal parts of Magnus Ekwall (The Quill) – ‘Pride’, Devon Graves (Dead Soul Tribe) – ‘Agony’ and Eric Clayton (Saviour Machine) – ‘Reason’ are major highlights of this album. No less important are the performance of Irene Jansen (‘Passion’) and the silky folk laden tones of Heather Findlay (Mostly Autumn – ‘Love’) and Marcela Bovio – ‘Wife’. Each and every individual performance (including AAL’s own psychedelic 60’s vocal vibe) has be delivered with the utmost honesty, intensity and passion; the placement of each, simply perfect in my eyes. Furthermore, others like Devin Townsend (who is used sparingly as ‘Rage’) and Mike Barker (Shadow Gallery – ‘Father’) didn’t even record their parts in the presence of AAL. AAL even let Townsend come up with his own vision and melody of what was required of his part. What belief, what trust!!
Musically, I cannot see any reason why any self respecting prog rock fan would complain about ‘THE’. If you were first exposed to AAL via his ‘Star One - Space Metal’ disc, then you might find this a tad more daunting in terms of its complexity and musical variation. There is a lot of light and shade on this album. Heavy riff oriented parts are full and grand with soaring vocal parts, only to be followed by gentle folk like acoustics and fragile female vocalization. In between, you’ve got everything else from prog, symphonic metal, searing lead solos, space-like keyboard interludes, hammond organ, analogue synthesizers, cello, violin and Jethro Tull like flute segments. Hell, drummer extraordinaire Ed Warby even breaks into blast beat mode on the final track ‘Confrontation’.
‘The Human Equation’ is available in various forms. However, if you truly want to appreciate what has been laid down here, I suggest you try and find a copy of the Limited Edition 2 x CD 1x DVD booklet package (I have one of only fifteen that were imported into Australia). The DVD is the essential part of this – it includes a 45-minute ‘in the studio’ section featuring AAL talking about all of his vocal and musical players (all of which you get to see in action!). Furthermore, you get a run down of the lyrical concept from AAL, the video for ‘Love’ (with the brilliant Irene Jansen in major form) plus the recording of Ed Warby’s drum tracks (which unbelievably is the first thing AAL records for Ayeron albums). The packaging is simply incredible and looks more like a 100 page Hard cover novel than something holding three CDS. It has to go in my bookshelf rather than my CD racks.
There is nothing much in the prog rock world that is going to touch this one in 2004. The whole thing just reeks of grandeur and utter breathtaking professionalism. The vision is truly inspired and one that really sits unmatched at this stage. Prog Rock gems like this don’t come around very often. The only problem is, is how will AAL top it?
Honestly I wasn't into Ayreon but when I saw that the new album had Mikael Akerfelt (Opeth) and Devin Townsend (Strapping Young Lad) I got curious, so I bought it and what a surprise, it's a killer!
It has a really cool story where a guy (played by LaBrie of Dream Theater) crashes and goes into coma. Each track is a day (in total 20 days). While in coma he goes in a journey inside of him in which he comunicates & fights his feelings, and explores his inner-self while his wife and his best friend wait for him to return. Each singer represents a different feeling (except for LaBrie, Marcela Bovio and Arjen which are the guy, his wife and his best friend); Arjen Lucassen did an excelent job choosing which singer would fit in each feeling, for example Mikael Akerfelt is the voice of fear.
The music is incredible with a lot of progressions (which is the logical thing due to the fact that it's a prog metal album) but it manages to be prog without getting boring because it's really varied and has some really epic moments as well as some killer riffs. Also it expresses perfectly the emotions that the main character is going through.
I must say that the parts in which Devin Townsend sings are incredible, specially on track 3 (to bad he's in only 3 tracks... oh well). Also Irene Jansen (Star One) has a killer voice and does some awesome singing in the album (she is the voice of passion), and Akerfelt... well let's just say I love the guy.
I think Arjen A. Lucassen (who writes all the music and lyrics) is quite a musician, and I do believe he has created a masterpiece.
Anyway I think it's an incredible experience any person who loves any kind of metal would enjoy (a lot).
Arjen Anthony Lucassen is the master of the concept album, a man seemingly incapable of creating anything mundane, and lord of the over-the-top music project. Over the years he’s given us such great albums as Into The Electric Castle, The 2 Universal Migrator albums, and of course his most recent masterpiece Star One. In the tradition of his previous works, and like he always does, Lucassen takes everything one step further, and with The Human Equation has released his most ambitious and daring indulgence to date.
Musically it’s your standard Ayreon fare, and when I say standard I am using the term quite loosely as there is nothing standard, or run of the mill about an album like this. Lucassen melds together elements of folk, psychedelia, neo-classical, classical, progressive and traditional metal… and a partridge in a pear tree? To create music that is first an experience in itself, and second one should know what to expect when popping in a new Ayreon record, and that is of course to expect the unexpected, to expect to be amazed, and quite possibly even confused, but in a good way.
Trust me that will make sense in a minute.
The real strength of the Equation is found within the 11 very distinctive vocalists that act as Lucassen’s accomplices in this endeavor, they range from Devin Townsen… you know what here let’s do it this way instead.
The Accomplices of Arjen Lucassen:
Mikael Åkerfeldt (Opeth) as Fear
Mike Baker (Shadow Gallery) as Father
Marcela Bovio (Elfonia) as Wife
Eric Clayton (Saviour Machine) as Reason
Magnus Ekwall (The Quill) as Pride
Heather Findlay (Mostly Autumn) as Love
Devon Graves (Dead Soul Tribe, Aslan) as Agony
Irene Jansen (Karma) as Passion
James LaBrie (Dream Theater, Mullmuzzler) as Me
Devin Townsend (Strapping Young Lad, The Devin Townsend Band) as Rage
Arjen Lucassen (Duh...) as Best Friend
So there as you can see vocalists, featuring ranges quite literally all over the spectrum, from Townsend’s demonic screams to Clayton’s baritone bass heavy voice, to the angelic voice of Irene Jansen, it’s just all over the place.
One of the most common aspects of Lucassen’s works I find is his albums seem more like plays in the makeup, or the song structures resemble those of a musical than your standard metal album. In this album Luccassen took that idea to a whole new level in his attempt to explore and convey the human condition. Each song is a story, the view through the mind of a man in a coma, and of course a look inside Lucassen’s mind, which isn’t as scary as you’d think that trip would be.
If I had to make a complaint about the album it’s that at first listen it is a tremendous amount of things to take in, almost to the point where it overwhelms the listener, it’s one of those all encompassing albums that you demands you full attention, this isn’t a casual listen in any way shape or form. It’s another strength of the record that it has the ability to take and maintain your attention throughout the entire tale Lucassen. It’s just at over an hour and 42 minutes long, it’s not something you will comprehend the first time around, it’ll take a few listens to completely grasp just what the heck is going on here.
Luckily the album is good enough that you are going to want to listen to it as many times as it will take for you to fully “get” the album, I’ve gone through it at least 10 times and I am still discovering aspects I hadn’t previously noticed, although “Day 11: Love” was released as a single there are no singles to the album in the strictest sense of the word, there is no filler here, every single song on the album is crucial to the story that unfolds. Also though at the same time the song are good enough that if they had to they could stand on their own quite easily.
Alright I’ve babbled on long enough, in a nutshell it’s an incredibly strong record that tells a fascinating story. It stays true to the concept from beginning to end, which is what a concept album should do, it’s self indulgent to the point of insanity, but unlike some bands out there the self indulgence doesn’t turn into flat out mindless wankery. It’s another triumph for Ayreon, and in the end he gives a nod to his previous albums when the words dream sequencer are uttered, the perfect ending to a story, it makes me wonder what he’ll do to top this album.
Actually, wait that’s a scary thought.
(Originally composed by myself for Ubermetal.com)
This album is great! I am a big fan of the "Into the Electric Castle"-album, but didn't ever really like the other Ayreon-material, but finally Arjen has shown me that he still can make really great music. And it just gets better and better every time I listen to it. This album has orderly variation from really heavy progressive metal-parties to harmonic parts with violin (by Robert Baba), cello (Marieke van der Heyden) and flute (Jeroen Goossens and John McManus) which alltogether makes this a masterpiece. This album is overall a little bit softer than "Electric Castle". And there is nothing I do NOT like, the musicial performance is great, the variation is also great, and not too large, the theme of the album is intresting and overall the album is really great. Maybe my opinion of this album is as positive as it is because that two of my favourite vocalists also appears on it, Mikael Åkerfeldt (from Opeth) and Devin Townsend (Strapping Young Lad), but also James LaBries (Dream Theater) performance I acctually think is quiet good, better than in Dream Theater, where I didn't really like him. But this album kicks ass, I don't even remeber when I heard something this good. I'm just wondering if I can manage myself to give this a 10 for rating, I always used to say that everything CAN get better and I've really tried to find something to complain about on this album, and at last I can say that Marcela Bovio's singing can get into too high tunes for me at some parts, but other than that, there is nothing at all I don't think is great about this album!
(To metal-archives-crew, this rewiev are originally published at www.missingpiece.net, but I am the one who wrote it, I work at the musicstore the missing piece and writes the metal rewievs.)