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Atmospheric but Dense - 72%

DawnoftheShred, November 20th, 2006

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.