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Several months ago I had been hearing a lot of good things about Ayreon's "The Human Equation" and picked it up. Although it took awhile to fully appreciate, it became in my eyes one of the best albums ever to be released. Project mastermind Arjen Lucassen doesn't just write music, his work transcends that and becomes more of an all-around experience. However, either The Human Equation was too good or I was just a fool, because I somehow neglected to get Ayreon's previous works afterwards! I've only now found out what I was missing out on.
"The Dream Sequencer" is Ayreon's fourth album and part one of Arjen Lucassen's "Universal Migrator" concept. Basically it deals with the last living human travelling back in time and seeing the first man on Earth. The music reflects this, as it starts out with a dreary post-apocalyptic atmosphere and gradually becomes warmer and more folk influenced. This seems like an odd progression but it works well enough. The songs all are linked (somewhat) by a very slow, atmospheric approach, some similar synth sounds and the occasional lyrics referring "back" to the future. There is not one metal song on here, rather the music seems mostly influenced by Pink Floyd and various other progressive rock bands. A couple songs remind me of The Guess Who or The Beatles as well, and although I'm not a big fan of classic rock it's all just so freaking GOOD here. I definitely consider myself a metal listener, and the album was even meant to be a "prog" album as opposed to the "metal" second part, but it has really grabbed me and I recommend you check it out--even if it doesn't sound appealing right now.
My House on Mars - I literally couldn't get myself to listen to the album at first because I kept playing this song for 3 days. It's melancholy, bleak, and perfectly conveys the main character's feelings of loneliness and resignation stranded on Mars. At the same time it's catchy and incredibly epic, thus somehow making a perfect opening song based around the end of the human race.
2084 - Goes back in time from the end of mankind in the previous track, to simply the end of Earth a few years before that. It's not perfect like My House, some of the vocal lines could've been written better in particular, but amazing nonetheless. A laid-back but at the same time very desperate song, with a chilling end.
Temple of the Cat - A light, strange and highly enjoyable track. As it's further down the tracklist than the last two I mentioned, it sounds like the complete opposite of those. One minor problem with the album is that these songs in the middle end up as "filler" concept wise, while the songs at the beginning and end tell all the story. Still, it's amazing music.
The First Man on Earth - Simply too beautiful for words. Our solitary colonist from Mars is seeing Earth as it was a million years ago, when things were still green and bright, and is amazed by it all. The music is peaceful with some absolutely great acoustic parts and vocals, but also epic and edgy at times. The song reaches a massive climax and the journey ends, leading back into The Dream Sequencer (Reprise) - a return to the theme from the album's intro. After everything the main character has experienced, he must go back and face reality. This final track is very solemn with a heartwrenching guitar solo, and brings the album to a fantastic close.
Final rating: 90/100
Having already experienced Ayreon's more well known album Into the Electric Castle and loving the hell out of it, I was eagerly anticipating this epic-sounding release. What I got was far below my expectations, even the much better second part, but this review will stick to the first. The Dream Sequencer is just not the masterpiece it could have been and it fails to deliver either musically or lyrically.
First off, the lyrics. The album describes the last living human's vicarious journey back in time through various periods until eventually witnessing the earth through the eyes of the first man on earth. An interesting concept, especially for science fiction fans, but I find the lyrics pretty much descriptive and empty. The lyrics are basically objective accounts of the different time periods that the last human happens to visit. There's a certain moody quality to them, considering the impending extinction of the human race, but they lack the emotional implications of Ayreon's other albums, namely the masterful Human Equation. But even Into the Electric Castle allows you to identify with the variety of emotions felt by the astral travelers. This album just seems devoid of feeling in the lyrical department.
As for the music, it's much better than my critique of the lyrical content might imply. It's very slow, drawn out, atmospheric progressive rock. At least generally. The muscianship cannot be denied here, all the performances are top-notch. What can be denied is the innovation. The music is pretty much lifeless for the first half of the album, gradually picking up steam as it nears the end. I've thought of this as a possible allegory, that the music is returning to life as mankind travels back in time further and further before its own end, but as ingenious as that seems, it basically means the first half of the album is meant to suffer. Not a good concept for an album, despite its inherent progressivism as a 'musical experience.' Regardless, the first half is pretty boring, featuring long drawn out movements with a ton of synthesizer layerings and effects on the instruments. Again, possibly symbolic of 'futuristic' music, with the later stuff being warmer, more folk based music as time travels backwards, but that basically justifies the first half as royally fucked.
After being dragged through six tracks of atmospheric artsiness, the album is marked by an incredible shift in tone. The brighter, uplifting, hauntingly elegant "Temple of the Cat" enters the airwaves. It's no surprise that this was the only single off of the album. It's incredible, with one of the best female vocalists I've ever heard singing a brilliant melody line over beautiful synth tones. Absolutely lovely. The rest of the album from this point is quite better than the first half. "Carried by the WInd" keeps up with the emotional involvement in the album and that mood carries through until the last track. Unfortunately, the nice turn of mood at the end does not justify the earlier unambitious drudgery, and its a damn shame the first half of the album wasn't like the second.
So what we have here is a rare inconsistant album from Arjen Lucassen. The talent is quality, but somehow the music isn't up to snuff. It's not really epic or interesting, though it doesn't end up sounding overly pretentious or too cheesy (which it certainly is to a degree). A mixed bag indeed, and a risky purchase. It's worth hearing maybe once, but I just can't get into it like I can his other work. If you like atmospheric or folk metal, this might be for you. Otherwise, you've been sufficiently warned.
After listening to Ayreon's previous effort Into The Electric Castle, I already knew his next album was going to be dissapointing; there was simply no way he could repeat that performance. And I was't dissapointed in that expectation alas.
Arjen 'Ayreon' Lucassen wanted to do two things: he wanted to take it easier, make it less ambitious, and he wanted to try something different after ITEC, namely do one softer album and one album focussing on the straight on metal.
Those are also the two points where it went wrong.
Instead of the mix of stomping metal bombasto and gentler elements, we only get the softer parts this time around (Universal Migrator part 2 is the heavier one). You could say this is like an album full of balads, except they're not balads, they're a step up from that, but still it doesn't do much for dynamism in the album as a whole.
The lack of ambition is also killing for this album. We still get a central theme, accompanied with the really cheesy intro's and stuff, namely a story about the last human, on Mars, spending his final days in a Dream Sequencer, a device for entertainment purposes allowing a person to relive past lives. Then track by track, we get a different time and setting in history worked into a track (starting off with two set in the future), sung by a single singer. Yup, no duet's, only backing chorus by Ayreon veteran Lana Lane and a guy named Mark McCrite. The songs themselves suffer from the lack of ambition. There's a distinct lack of spark. It's not often that you can say that an album lacks direction without abusing the cliché.
For example there's a song about the shooting company of France B. Cocq, the shooting company featured on Rembrand van Rijn's famous Nachtwakers painting. Original concept..but it doesn't go much beyond a description of their attire and vagueries about a mystic sky etc. And to talk about the music for a bit: I have to admit that the musical quality is high as ever, with well-laid out guitar structures consisting of marriages of acoustic and electric guitar, and supported with just enough synths, hammonds, mellotron and keyboard as is custom with Ayreon songs. The drums on the other hand are some times muffled in the background to fit the album's overal sound better, and more importantly: there's a distinct lack of build-up, of dynamism in the vocal melodies.
Temple of the Cat for example has Jacqueline Govaer, from the in Holland wildly popular (at the time at the least) pop-rock band Krezip, singing a beautiful vocal line, on an up-beat tune about a girl at a Mayan temple; it's wonderful, except that it's 'jogging in place'. Very minimal build-up, very little progression, more like going through the motions.
Most of the songs are like that, except for two notable exceptions: Carried By The Wind and The First Man On Earth. The latter song could easily stand on it's own, recreating a typical Alan Parson's Project sound, with Spock's Beard's Neal Morse on vocals. In contrast with some of the other songs it builds up tension in the verses, sufficiently venting it int he choruses, all the while building up momentum. A great song reminding me of some of the better work of British 70s radio-rock. Neal Morse puts a lot of feeling in his performance, and shows off various vocal styles.
The other notable song is sung by Arjen Lucassen himself: Carried By The Wind. Surprisingly(?) it harkens back to his first album, which told the tale of a blind bard called Ayreon who had a vision of a bleak future, and vainly tried to warn his contemporaries of what was to come. It's one of the few songs that seems to have that spark of passion, or perhaps ambition, that most of the other songs lack, and really showcases Mr Lucassen his song-writing talent.
It starts with a somewhat ominous sounding morphing synthline (mellotron-line? He's used such before), that evolves into the main guitar-theme, which is a more sophisticated form of the guitar-melody he actually used on his first album a number of times. The playful melody merges into a hopeful sounding vocal line, and after the verse, takes on a prominant forward role again, while chased by a rugged bassline and accompanied by an acoustic guitar playing along. The song evolves and flows as one whole, instead of the morose verse-chorus-verse-chorus work in for example the following song, 'And The Druids Turn To Stone'.
However, it must be said, and my score up there is there to indicate it: this is not a bad album. It's above average (or at least severely above bland), and for metal fans who have a soft spot for seventies rock and hearing moogs and mellotrons over their music, this is an appreciatable album (one could consider Ayreon as a 70s rock andearly 80s guitar heroism-inspired band).
And it must also be said: the line-up on this album is as great as ever: Floor Jansen from After Forever, Jacqueline Govaert from Krezip, Johan Edlund from Tiamat, and a couple Ayreon veterans like Lana Lane, Edward Reekers, Damian Wilson; all great voices and great talent.
But well...too bad that talent is a bit wasted. One could say that a lack of ambition was bad for Ayreon. One could also say that intending to do a softer album was what was wrong with this album in the first place. All in all, it's an album I don't dislike after I put it on, but there's nothing that really motivates me to put the album on in the first place, except wanting to remember what it sounds like.
Ayreon is one of my favourates, especially for the album "The Dream Sequencer". I personally prefer this one to other releases mainly because it is atmospheric, modern, and delicate. The synth creates a magic ambience which make audience feel they are travelling in space or just in their dreams. What's more, Ayreon has invited a number of artists including guys from Tiamat and Lana Lane, etc. I'm keen on the voice of Lana Lane in that her style suits the works of Ayreon perfectly. They both focus on a very progressive form of art. However, this style is different from what Dream Theater does, or what Pain of Salvation does, because Ayreon is slower, more electronically-influenced, thus making their music leaves sufficient space for audience to think what the music is designed to express and to understand the profound meaning behind the melody and atmosphere.
The story of the album begins with the last day human on the Mars approaching, the last colonist on the Mars has no choice but to end his life in his sweet memory with the help of the machine called "Dream Sequencer". Then the memory develops with the time dating back - 21st century, 20th century, 17th century, ...50000 BC. The music desribes the history of the civilization of human beings in a nice way.
The first song is a decent beginning, and the guitar reminds me of Pink Floyd, creating a passage leading us to the following dreams. The best song I think perhaps is "One Small Step". The song begins with a nice acoustic inro and the sound of the guitar sounds like the flowing of a clean sream. Every instrument and synth is gentle and performs well. The lyrics are about a historic event of human beings that the mighty Apollo prevailed. The rest of the album are also very fascinating. Perhaps Ayreon is not very "metal", but they've established themselves in their own style and told stories where everyone can take a travel. The atmosphere is mixed with some folk influence. It is folk, but I guess it's the folk in the future or in the very past when there is no human beings on the earth, when the sun is shining, when the trees are green against the mighty blue sky, and when the sea can reflect the sunshine to the blue sky like a mirror.
Music is designed to make up for the loss of the reality. The world in the Dream Sequencer is without fear, without sex, without anyting in the modern fucking cities. Listening to the melody of the flute in "Temple of the Cat", just free your imagination and thinke, and you'll soon find that you're lost in the Dream Sequencer and never want to return to the real world. So let's build a harmonious and healthy community where the atmosphere in the dream can come true.
That's what I am thinking about after listening to this album for several times and I definitely wanna recommend it to everyone who is lost in what he is pursuing, you just want a "Dream Sequencer".
In my opinion, this album is quite underrated, and I personally like it a good bit better than Flight of the Migrator. A.A. Lucassen states that Dream Sequencer is meant to be more on the slower, atmospheric, and melodic side, whereas Flight of the Migrator is meant to be heavier and overall more metal than Dream Sequencer. This is so, and apparently I prefer atmospheric over heaviness, or at least when it comes to progressive metal. Anyways, on to the review.
The Dream Sequencer: This song takes place in the 22nd century. It starts off with some strange noises that sound like something from Star Wars. Next, Lane Lane speaks a few sentences and then comes a long, slow guitar solo, followed by a synth solo. This is not too bad of an opening track, but it’s not my favorite song. 7/10
My House on Mars: This song takes place in the end of the 21st century, and is one of my favorite tracks on the album. The lead vocalist, Johan Edlund, has a very deep and mysterious voice, and the backup singer, Floor Jansen, has a very beautiful and uplifting voice. The parts that come in at 1:40 and 3:12 are the main highlights of the track, and they keep the song from being boring. Overall, a very good song. 10/10
2084: This song takes place in the 21st century, most likely in 2084, and is about the war of 2084, which destroys all life on Earth. This is a rather slow song: slow drum beat, slow guitar and synth solo, slow everything. The song finally gets a bit more interesting at 5:36, but not really any faster. This definitely is not a song for die-hard thrash fans, nor is the rest of the album. However, like I said, I enjoy the slower and more atmospheric side of Ayreon, so I do like this song, but it’s still not among my favorites. 8/10
One Small Step: This song takes place at the time of the first lunar landing. The lead vocalist here, Edward Reekers, is without a doubt my favorite vocalist on the album. I agree with A.A. Lucassen in saying that Reekers is a highly professional singer with an uplifting, warming voice. Back to the song: At 3:11 comes another slow guitar solo (no I actually don’t prefer slow solos over blazing fast solos, but I don’t mind slow solos at all), and another slow guitar solo at 5:23. A synth solo comes in at 6:30, and after repeating the chorus a couple more times the song is over. 9.5/10
The Shooting Company of Captain Frans B. Cocq: This song takes place in the 17th century, and is another of my favorites, if not my very favorite song on the album. This song is sung by a guy named "Mouse", who has a "cool" and enjoyable voice in my opinion. At 1:52, you have the main highlight of the song, followed by vocals accompanied by a nice, low synth. Yes, this is a slow song, but not boring (to me), nor is any of the album. It is also a very good song, and a highlight of the album. 10/10
Dragon on the Sea: This song takes place in the 16th century. This song, as well as 2084, are sung by Lana Lane, a female vocalist that I enjoy, but sadly, these two songs she sings are among my least favorites on the album. The synth on this song is kind of annoying at times, and I don’t like the chorus all that much. I don’t hate this song, and I don’t really dislike it, but by Ayreon standards its not anything special. I can’t really name any highlights of this song, so ill go right to the rating. 6.5/10
Temple of the Cat: This song takes place in the 8th century, and is a song I have had to really grow into. On first listen I was thinking "Man, this is even strange for progressive music", but as of now I enjoy the song a good bit. At 2:19 comes what is probably my favorite part of the song: a nice little flute solo (it’s probably keyboard), which leads back into the main verse. I also find it humorous that at about 3:25 Jacqueline Govaert sings "he lies here in the temple of the cat", but it sounds just like "he lies here in the temple of the care bear" Anyways, back to normality. If I were to rate this song after first listen, it would be about a 5/10, but as of now, I’ve taken much more of a liking to the song and therefore, it ill get a much higher rating. 8.5/10
Carried by the Wind: This song takes place in the 6th century, and is another favorite of mine. A.A. Lucassen himself sings lead vocals on this song (which makes me think that he purposely sang on possibly the best song on the album). It starts off with some synth, then at 0:29, in comes what is probably my favorite part of the entire album. The song doesn’t lose any momentum here though, as it stays exciting in its entirety. I cant give this song anything less than a perfect score. 10/10
And the Druids turn to Stone: This song takes place in 2800 B.C., at the creation of Stonehenge. It is among my favorites, and the singer, Damian Wilson, is my 2nd favorite singer on the album, right behind Edward Reekers. Damian is a very emotional and powerful singer, and is definitely worthy of being in the presence of the great A.A.Lucassen. The only real standout part of the song is the verse which starts as "I marvel aaaaaaat this mysterryyyyyyyyy!!". Very powerful and impressive performance by Damian Wilson, and an excellent song overall. 9.5/10
The First Man on Earth: This song takes place way back in 50,000 B.C. This isn’t the best song here, but also not the worst. At 0:36, a part comes in that reminds me of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" by the Beatles (which, in my opinion, isn’t exactly a good thing). The best part of this song is the chorus, whereas the rest of the song is all just slow and semi-boring aside from a guitar solo at 5:26 THAT IS ACTUALLY FAST half of the time. And for the rating: 7/10
The Dream Sequencer Reprise: This song brings you back the 22nd century. It is a lot like the title track, differing mainly in that there is no star wars noises, words, or synth solo in this song. It’s hard to give this song a rating, as there’s not much to it, but feeling as though it needs a rating, it will get one. The same rating as the title track, that is. 7/10