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I'd stated in my review of "Universal Migrator pt. 1" that I usually cator to the metal side of the progressive music movement. That taste sadly kept me from loving the first album (though I do find it quite enjoyable as it is), but also drove me right into the second part of his epic opera. Needless to say, the opening guitar/Hammond organ riffery grabbed me by the balls and didn't let go for one second.
Like space itself, the music presented is crushing, chaotic, and mind-blowing, easily the fastest and heaviest material Arjen has presented for his AYREON project. Some parts are even more heavy and metallic than his equally awesome STAR ONE project, accented by massive guitar abuse, interstellar keyboards, and skull-crushing drumwork. As with other AYREON albums, Arjen pours so much into his song-writing that he definately out-composes a lot of other jamokes in both the metal and prog communities, with nary a sense of egotism that permeates in plentiful doses in the latter. Take, for example, epic pieces like "Dawn of a Million Souls", "Into the Black Hole", and "To the Quasar" (which is, by and large, my personal favourite AYREON song), delivered with equalled epicness and class by the likes of Andi Deris, Fabio Leone, and Bruce Dickenson (OF ALL PEOPLE!), and you have a smorgasbord of music that steamrolls you with torrents of riffs and solos that are complete rarities in today's instant-oatmeal music world.
At the end of the day, this is a very satisfying release that has seen a LOT of playtime in my CD player. Arjen is, or should be, well-known for creating unforgettable albums, and this sucker is NO exception. Prepare to rattle your goddamn head.
When Arjen Anthony Lucassen gets around to writing one of his epic sci-fi rock operas for his Ayreon project, he usually writes enough material for a double album. His Universal Migrator saga ended up being a bit different. Arjen released the two parts separately, perhaps to accentuate the opposing compositional focuses of each part: the first part featured music of a subtler, more atmospheric nature, while the second was designed to be heavier and more of a progressive metal album. With part one barely leaving a mark on his listeners, Arjen had to make part two, “Flight of the Migrator,” a world-class exercise in prog-metal dominance. Cranking up the distortion, assembling a better-known cast of characters, and writing lengthy pieces, he figured he couldn’t go wrong.
“The Universal Migrator Pt. 2: Flight of the Migrator,” which is the album’s full title, is astoundingly boring for an album engineered by Lucassen and featuring the plethora of talent that it does. Michael Romeo guest solos. Russell Allen is the primary singer on the album’s lead-off vocal track. There’s Timo Kotipelto, Fabio Lione, hell even Bruce fucking Dickinson sings on here (on the album’s epic “Into the Black Hole”) and it doesn’t make a difference. The beauty of past Ayreon releases was on the fusion of ambient music, progressive rock, folk, and metal. To split these elements up onto separate albums could only prove disastrous, and that’s precisely what happened. Yeah, there’s a few good riffs here and there, “Dawn of a Million Souls” is pretty catchy (the heavy organ sound is classic), and everybody involved delivers a convincing performance, but at the length these songs generally run, there’s just too much superfluity to keep the listener’s attention for long.
Attachment to this album is further hindered by the lyrical concept. Where “Into the Electric Castle” and “The Universal Migrator Pt. 1: The Dream Sequencer” were merely silly, this album comes across as almost purely clinical. In describing the Migrator’s cerebral journey through time and space (traversing quasars and black holes and the like), the lyrics read like a university textbook without pictures. “But Dawnoftheshred…..the music is the pictures. Just think about it, man.” Yeah, and the music is boring, remember? Hell, I’d have rather seen an IMAX film on the cosmos than have listened to this album.
With the exception of some cool tonal voicing during the song “Into the Quasar," there’s not a whole lot of new ground tread by Arjen and company. Ayreon die-hards will probably have a difficult time accepting that this album is sub-par and purchase it anyway, but I ensure everyone else that it lacks the staying power of his other releases. Purchase with care.
Up until this point, Ayreon has made music overly lyric-based. Yes, this is a good idea for concept albums, but I always wanted to hear better music. And then this came out, and I was satisfied. The lyrics are well-written, but shallow compared to normal Ayreon lyrics, but all is made up for with some of the great power metal singers of our time (Ralf Scheepers, Bruce Dickinson-not really power metal but still good, Russel Allen) along with some of the best prog/power music I've heard.
The album starts out with some weird gurgling machinery sound effects, but the real song (Chaos) starts when Lana Lane asks: "Are you sure you want to continue?" And then the song bursts into your ears, an instrumental power metal song that is quick and...well...chaotic. In the middle lies a drum solo, a typical Ed Warby fill extended tenfold, and then it goes back. As the song ends, you really feel how much that was just a small explosion of what's to come.
The second song is my personal favorite, Dawn of a Million Souls. Any power metal fan will love the chorus, and the verse is more soulful than I've ever heard Allen with Symphony X. Combine that with a great, stomping riff to catch on to your mind, and you’ve got the best song on the album.
This is followed by a more mediocre Journey on the Waves of Time, sung by Ralf Scheepers (shrieks included), with a strange riff in some odd time that I don’t care to count out, so it’s just kind of mediocre except for the end of the chorus, as Ralf sings: “Out of the paaaaaaaaaast…AAAAAAAAAAAST!” and shrieks at the top of his lungs. Great moment, only to be followed by more mediocrity. I don’t mind too much, actually, because it really stands out compared to the rest of the song.
Next up is Andi Deris, singing Into the Quasar. Honestly, this and the previous song are why the album doesn’t deserve a 100. Andi just doesn’t really sing. He uses so many flange filters and distortions that his voice is almost unrecognizable, and I don’t like it. Again, it has its good parts. They come, namely, in the form of two great riffs in the later sections of the song. [i]That[/i] is something to headbang to.
And, it’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for: Bruce Dickinson. It looks promising, it’s going to be a great song…and of course it is. All though Into the Black Hole is a bit slow for my tastes, Bruce is as good as always. He was absolutely PERFECT. This song alone gets a 100. The usual was used for actual music material, but it is brought up from the 90 it would have had just from Bruce Dickinson singing over it.
The next three songs aren’t nearly as good as Into the Black Hole, but that’s to be expected. All have their catchy moments, there’s definitely some good singing, and some scattered heavy riffs. All very nice and good. The last song, having to be very fucking epic (that’s how it is with all concept albums), meets most expectations. It starts dully with some classical piece, but that’s what the search button is for. As this little classical excursion builds up to an end, comes VERY FUCKING EPIC. The song is as good as and a little more than the best of most power metal bands, being hard and fast, powerful and heavy, sentimental and emotional all in one. And it’s not even the singing like the rest of my albumly favorites that I like. It’s the song. The best I can describe this as is VFE (VERY FUCKING EPIC), so I’ll leave it at that and let you listen and love for yourself.
Although there are some mediocre moments, I’ve never stopped listening to [i]any[/i] of the songs on this album. I may sound like a slobbering Ayreon fanboy, but I’m actually quite critical of most power metal, and this is a unique Ayreon album that truly completes your collection of power metal. Don’t miss it.
So Arjen 'Ayreon' Lucassen wanted to do two different albums: one up-tempo and one slower. I already expressed my dissapointment at the Part 1, the slower one. So here I am to say: Part 2: Flight of the Migrator is a lot more enjoyable.
Continuing the story from The Dream Sequencer (which you don't actually have to have listened to to understand this one), the person entering the dream sequencer (device to relive past lives) in part 1 continues further back, beyond the first man on earth, to follow the path of the first Soul, the one big Universal Migrator which is the source of all other souls. Ambitious as usual, and slightly corny. What is not slightly corny, is the spoken intro. It's VERY corny. But hey, I'm used to that from Ayreon by now.
In contrast to the other album, this one is a lot more energetic, and actually has a direction: each song follows the path of the Universal Migrator through space from the Big Bang into the Solar System, and it forms one big story..in a way. This album is a good solid metal stomper, energetically blazing through songs with a true all-star vocalist team. I mean: Bruce Dickinson (Iron fucking Maiden), Sir Russel Alan (Symhpony-X), Ralf Scheepers (Gamma Ray), Andi Deris (Helloween), Fabio Lione (Rhapsody), Timo Kotipelto (Stratovarius), Ian Parry (Hammerhead!), and hey, Robert Soeterboek too. All this backed up by Damian Wilson, Lana Lane, and on the instruments the likes of Ed Warby, Michael Romeo (Symphony-X), Clive Noland and more.
Each song stands solidly on it's own, and this album has to appeal to a large number of power, prog and speed/heavy metal fans, not just on the basis of the vocalists. Arjen Lucassen seems to have left out most of his vintage influences for this album; there's very little spacey mellotrons and moogs, although there are of course some typical spacey synths (it's just a lot less hippy/70s sci-fi sounding). Ed Warby shows his skills in rhythm and stomping drum-riffs, and there seems to be a lot of prominent guitar-heroism going on in the songs, from Arjen and his all-star guests, in both the riffing and the soloing and the 'bridging' department. Actually, to describe the music it would be easiest to say it's on a mid-way point between Iron Maiden, Symphony X and Helloween, except that it's mostly up-tempo.
Where the album in my opinion fails in my opinion, is (again) lack of scope and ambition. It's not as bad as I described in the Dream Sequencer review, but the vocalists seem trapped in a meager story. And again the lack of vocalist interaction; everyone's doing their own thing, putting their trademarks on a song Arjen Lucassen wrote, but nothing beyond that. It's again the magic of Into The Electric Castle that I miss. The story of a Universal Migrator going through the universe is nice and all, but when it amounts to 'Going into a black hole', then 'Through a wormhole' and then 'Out of a white hole'..there's not much there, is there? In the end, I don't feel 'fulfilled'; too little substance.
That's why one shouldn't consider this album a typical Ayreon metal opera album; it's just a really solid metal album with a common (but cheesy) theme, that could've been a lot more.
See? When you finally get off your ass and make some actual music, everything looks so much rosier for you and your little one-man band.
Arjen Lucassen, the only permanent member of Ayreon, recorded this album at the same time as The Universal Migrator Part !, which makes me wonder if he didn't just record a big mass of songs, stick all the cool ones on Part II, and put all the rest on Part I. Whatever he did, it is obvious that this album is, forgive the pun, light-years ahead of Part I in both sound quality and the "not-boring-as-a-fucking-history-lecture" factor. The songs in here have actual variety, with beats and rhythms and interesting instrument work and all of that high-class stuff that makes an album actually interesting to listen to. The increase in both overall tempo and variety in sounds (there's a lot more guitar work and interesting keyboard arrangements on this album) make the album an actual treat to listen to and firmly establish Ayreon as Progressive Metal (instead of wanky Prog Rock, as Part I was).
Highlights. Hmm . . . well, the opening track is cheesy as fuck (again), but the music after the little voice part is pretty cool. Journey on the Waves of Time has a few parts that you could even headbang to, and there's a violin solo in the beginning! To the Quasar kind of highlights the contrast between the keyboard work and the heavy guitar sounds, and the result is a really interesting song. Through the Wormhole has a fantastic vocal section matched up with some great keyboard work. The New Migrator sounds a bit like Erotomania, but it is a very cool closing to the album.
There's no continuing story here, so there's nothing to lose buy ditching the first album and only buying the second, which is what I suggest you do here. Unless you think that female voice doing the 'Universal Migrator' thing is sexy. Freak.