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His Darkest Space Opera - 99%

morbert, May 8th, 2012

I shall be honest here. I’ve neglected Arjen and his works for a while. He immediately fascinated me with The Final Experiment which was quite surprising coming from someone I only recalled from his sleezy rocking eighties days with Vengeance. Actual Fantasy was a decent follow up (Abbey of Synn alone is worth it) but Into the Electric Castle his truly shiny moment. Third time was the charm and he really got the hang of it with a marvellous cast of suiting vocalists.

And then I lost track when The Universal Migrator came out. It just didn’t grab me and especially the Dickinson parts, from which I had expected a lot, were… meandering.
There was something missing there which is hard to pinpoint. Working with a lot of vocalists is tricky. It does not make everything ‘great’ automatically. The vocals have to fit the story, the composition and, of course, the interaction with other vocalists. It just isn’t a matter of simple copy-paste to release a space opera which works. The chemistry has to be there.

Fast forward to 2008. 01011001, meaning Y. An album called ‘Why’ and often including songs with Extinction in the title or description. It felt dark. Gloom, eeriness.
What in fact makes this album better than the previous two is that even the non-metal parts, often due to their electronic performance, have a certain ‘Pink Floyd goes Depeche Mode’ atmosphere which adds to the melancholic atmosphere of the concept. Just try ‘Waking Dreams’ which is electronic melancholic pop perfection. The combination of Jonas Renske and Anneke van Giersbergen really shines here and for me these are the two vocalists adding most of the atmosphere to the album. I’ve never listened to much Katatonia but after hearing 01011001 I must honestly admit I will do so in the near future since his voice, timbre and overall timid melancholic creepiness really got to me on 01011001.

It’s pure coincidence that this favourite Ayreon album features van Giersbergen just like my other favourite one, The Electric Castle. But she sure as hell always just adds more to my liking than other (Dutch) female vocalists, who, by the way, also positively surprised me on this album since I normally ignore bands like After Forever. Also the group of vocalist are put in exactly when and where they’re needed. Making the album reach perfection on a level not earlier reached by Ayreon.

Sometimes genius isn’t enough and one needs coincidence/exterior conditions to reach maximum efficiency. And since the material is pretty damn perfect but also the choice of vocalist was his best so far, everything falls into place and doesn’t feel like a project but a true entity on it’s own. Add to that the fact that mr. Lucassen was going through a difficult period in his life, which, painful or not, makes the depression, pain and fear sound much more real than on earlier releases.

Of course it’s not all dark in sound, since it’s an Ayreon album after all, for instance on the Jethro Tull meets Blind Guardian folk song ‘River of Time’ but melancholy shines through pretty much everything here. Don’t expect a ‘grim’ album in the black metal sense of the word. It’s gloomy and melancholic.

Not everything can be described as a great ‘song’ on the album. But a story like this is more than a collection of songs. Often a recitativo is needed or a section of the album not focussing on basic structures but pure story telling which in Ayreon’s case often goes accompanied by soundscapes. So those in search of strong ‘songs’ would do well to leave an album like this alone or first the first learn the basic principles of opera, rockopera and soundscapes in general if they’re to enjoy a 102 minute space opera experience

Honestly, after listening to this album for a few days in a row, I tried playing Universal Migrator and Human Equation and they really fall short compared the dark efficiency of 01011001. Which doesn’t mean they’re bad, but Arjen Lucassen surpassed himself on 01011001. I understand this’ll be the last album under the Ayreon name for a while (or maybe forever) and I can’t imagine how anything in the future, with the name Ayreon on it, can come close to this. And seeing how Arjen Lucassen’s personal life was going through a difficult period, which he himself claimed added to the atmosphere, I hope he won’t release an album like this anymore, ever.

Another great Ayreon release - 96%

DrainedXVI, May 31st, 2011

For me "The Human Equation" is one of the best albums ever made and definitely the release that made me fall head over heals in love with Arjen Lucassen's music. Therefore I had truly high expectations when "01011001" came out. However, the first impression wasn't what I had hoped at all. For one, the title sucks utter crap and the cover art is pretentious at best. Fortunately it so happens that this is a diamond in the ruff, for behind the ugly exterior it lays a true treasure.

There are many reasons why I find this album to be a masterpiece. First of all it is performed by the strongest line-up ever to be seen on a metal album, secondly the song material is pure awesomeness and thirdly it has the purest and most wonderful production. When I first examined the line-up I was very pleased to find names like Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian), Tom S. Englund (Evergrey) and Daniel Gildenlöv (Pain of Salvation) which are all great singers, but the unquestionably best recruit in my book is my own personal favourite Anneke van Giersbergen (ex- The Gathering) who totally owns this album. What wonderful vocals which incidentally fits perfectly with this futuristic progressive metal soundscape!

In the end, one must however admit that the line-up wouldn't have been something to cheer about if it wasn't for the songs, or should I say conceptual journey, this album has to offer. The red thread shines clearer than ever before and makes Tobias Sammet’s attempts to create metal operas seem like something carelessly wrapped together (which they for the record are not). The material is varied but at the same time glued together with perfect execution and if it had contained a few more heavy parts, like on the opener "Age of Shadows", it would have been a full pointer if I've ever seen one.

In the end I would say "01011001" is even better than "The Human Equation", making it one of the best concept albums in the history of metal!

A Good Album, Made Up Of Many Good Parts - 89%

Piratti, April 10th, 2011

01011001 is a very good album. It definitely has a "space rock" sound to its power metal, which Arjen Anthony Lucassen is known for, but it is not overly cheesy as happens with some other attempts at the fusion. The story which takes place in the album is somewhat sad, and if you're in it for the story, there is definitely enough to follow in those terms.

Since this is a "metal opera," there is inevitably a large cast, and I'd say that Lucassen chose the cast for this album very well. The voices are both welcoming and fitting, and they emote exactly as they are supposed to in terms of the story. There are definitely hooks in this album too, as I have wanted to sing out multiple times when listening to it. The harmonizing parts are done very well, which is to be expected, and the effects used on the voices do a good job adding to the effect without sounding obnoxious.

A good thing to note about this album would be the fact that the guitar-work has a lot of variety. There are heavy grooves, excellent clean parts, and even acoustic guitar on pieces such as "Web of Lies," which is a fun little piece concerning internet dating, a dialogue between PX (Phideaux Xavier) and Simone (Simone Simons). The guitar riffs on this album are very catchy, and may induce some heavy body rockin' (be warned).

The guitars are enhanced by the keyboards, which sometimes stretch out over the top of the whole piece to shimmer in their eternal glory. You can't have an Arjen masterpiece without having keyboards! Most of the time the keyboards sound a bit spacy, and the sci-fi sound works just fine with the album as a whole. Some of the best moments are when there is a spacy keyboard phrase over a heavy guitar groove, such as in The Fifth Extinction.

The drums are also excellent and, while they don't stand out, they definitely bring the piece together as a whole and provide a good backdrop for the main instruments. There are also instants of flute, violin, and cello, which are used very well in their sections. The cello part on The Fifth Extinction is very well-done, and a good lead into the keyboard solo.

Overall, the album is very good. The lyrics are well written, and pertain to an interesting story for fans of science fiction. The guitar work and keyboards are excellent. The production on the bass guitar allows it to be heard, and it compliments the album nicely. The drum parts are decently written, and keep a nice groove. And the vocals are decent as well. I'd say that it's a pretty top-notch album, if I had to make a judgement. The only complaint is that, as it is an album made of two discs, it has a tendency to be overlong for listening in one sitting, as it was no doubt intended to be listened.

The meaning of life is to give life meaning... - 80%

doomknocker, November 18th, 2010

It was a dark, cold day when I heard that Arjen Lucassen's Ayreon project would be ending with his 2008 (and at the time, latest) album. After 7 albums of some of the finest, most escapism-inducing music I'd ever heard, my heart sank at the prospect of possibly never hearing anything from this project again, and while the man himself has cryptically hinted at reviving the project sometime in the non-existent future in a far different manner, I still went through a bit of the five stages of death movement, leading up to the eventual acceptance stage (sad, I know, but Ayreon means/meant a lot to me...), and it was with that saddening knowledge that I partook in the final chapter of the doomed, immortal Forever race.

It was quite the fitting finale, I'll give it that...

I knew going in that this would end up being darker and more emotional than any of Arjen's previous albums given the hardships he'd suffered through prior to its composition, and once I started digging into this new album such a premonition truly came true. Compared to previous, more light-hearted albums like "Into the Electric Castle" and "The Human Equation", "01011001" portrays a very bleak and desperate atmosphere, a sort of sadness in its artificiality. All the elements that have made Arjen's earlier works are present (heavy guitar riffs, space-age synthetics, old-school Hammond organ use, and natural, orchestral instrumentation), but this time around the central scheme is tighter and more streamlined (I wouldn't deign to use the term "simpler" as there's no such thing as "simple" Ayreon music), both in composition and performance. Seems as though the music itself was taking a bit of a back seat to the multitude of vocalists, easily the largest group of cohesive talents assembled on one two-disc album I've seen, who give their all in their portrayal of the Forever race...that is, that ones who are easily recognizable. The biggest issue I have with such a large cast is that, for what it's worth, many of the male singers sound a little too similar to one another to know for sure who's singing, and the usage of symbols instead of actual character names makes it more daunting as, when reading along with the dialogue, you're forced to look to the back of the booklet to differentiate each singer ("let's see...who's the yin/yang symbol? Who's the lightning bolt?"), but nevertheless they blend in with the musical score just as seamlessly as before, with the likes of Handi Kursch, Daniel Gildenloew, Simone Simons and Anneke van Giersbergen shining the brightest. The story seems to envelop the singer a bit easier this time with usage of tragic, sympathetic characters that tug at the heart strings more than the stars of earlier recordings, where their stories and tribulations change from song to song, where the softer, more ambient pieces intersperse with the darker, heavier elements to showcase the ever-changing emotional output. Unfortunately, for as great as the album is (and, over time, this really grows on you to the point of addicting), the feel isn't quite as all-encompassing this time around, but not for its lack of trying; the folksy/metallic/electronic thing is still top notch, that's for sure, but the extra usage of synthesizers take much of the humanized feel out (I think that was the intention), which leaves the listener somewhat cold. An unfortunate affair, but still a worthy listen in its own right, as songs like "Connect the Dots", "Newborn Race", "The Truth is in Here" (and its self-deprecating humor) and the epic closer "The Sixth Extinction" are fine examples of that tried-and-true Ayreon sound perfected after years of blood, sweat, and tears.

In the end "01011001" isn't a perfect Ayreon album, but it's still a great listen as it is. More of an epitaph than a final chapter, we bid adieu to the denizens of Planet Y and all who've been connected to their fate through the magical genius of Mr. Lucassen. Remember Forever...

Too much to take in at one time - 65%

chaxster, August 28th, 2008

How does Arjen Lucassen get all these people to come guest on his projects? Discarding for now the possibility that he has a couple of secret identical twins who, in true romantic comedy movie style, chip in with songwriting, arrangement, producing, logistics, and general schmoozing, I'd say he's generally a fairly busy mofo. You'd have to be to secure a star-studded lineup like this:

Jorn Lande, Daniel Gildenlow from Pain of Salvation, Hansi Kursch from Blind Guardian, Tom Englund from Evergrey, Ty Tabor from King's X , Simone Simons from Epica, Jonas Renkse from Katatonia, Michael Romeo from Symphony X , Tomas Bodin from The Flower Kings, Derek Sherinian (who's equally capable at lassoing a bunch of guest heroes for his own albums) and a bunch of other prominent dudes and dudettes. If you don't know at least a few of the above people and bands, I'm guessing you stumbled onto this site by accident.

o in order to accommodate all these people, you'd naturally need some space. No kidding – this album clocks in at over 1 hour and 40 minutes. You know what a person could accomplish in that time? Neither do I, I've never really accomplished anything worth talking about. But it's still a hell of a lot of time! By the time The Sixth Extinction comes around, it's hard not to think, “Sixth? I'm pretty sure a whole lot more has gone extinct since I started listening to this.”

And there's the main problem. This juggernaut dwarfs even Therion's latest effort, boasting a massive intimidating playing length, and it's near impossible to pay attention throughout. Say what you will, there's a great feeling about listening to an album end to end, and you're unlikely to be doing that with this one all that often. It doesn't help that the quality level keeps fluctuating – there are several parts that are total gold, coming together in a perfect blend of operatic pomp, ethereal harmonies and iron-fist-pumping metal. But there's also a load of stuff which leans more towards filler, and you can see songs being unmercifully stretched to lengths over 10 minutes with not much compelling evidence that they justified such inhumane treatment.

Around the time of Flight of the Migrator, Ayreon tended to be a little more fun and to the point, not to mention a lot more boisterous. The Human Equation marked a change to a style of songwriting that was focused on vocals. That sort of worked, since the guest vocalists there were remarkably varied and the contrast of their distinct styles was easier to catch. This new one seems a little less focused in comparison. And while their themes were always goofy (Into the Electric Castle – sheesh!), the rampant technophobia on display here is too much. The worst offender is Connect the Dots, which tries to paint a dismal picture of an average joe whose life revolves around technology. You know, I'd think any household where the dad knows what games his kids are playing, let alone plays them himself, is close to a Utopian setting.

Peeves aside, I'll grudgingly admit that this is a good album. There's just too much talent on board for it not to be. All the vocalists put in expectedly exemplary performances and unless you have a long-standing bias against any of them, there shouldn't be anything to complain about. As for the songwriting and instrumentation, when it clicks, it's quite killer – unfortunately, there's plenty of time when they're either wanking around aimlessly or going through the motions, so that tends to detract from the overall experience. The whole album needs at least a couple of spins from end to end to really start appreciating the good parts and (equally important) figuring out which parts you might want to skip through the next time around. So, while Arjen may have bitten off a bit more than he could chew this time around, you've still got to marvel at the guy's jaws.

Masterpiece from a frozen ark! - 100%

Daniel_2007_Pendulum, August 26th, 2008

Four years... Almost four years passed since the release of the 6th studio album of the greatest of all the music projects led by Arjen A. Lucassen. Of course, I'm talking about Ayreon and the full-length album "The Human Equation". Now, in January 2008, fans of this fabulous project now can stop waiting for another release, because the 7th (and maybe one of the greatest of 2008) studio album of Ayreon is finally here, to put everything in order with the concept this project has presented since 1995.
Before the release of "01011001", all the Ayreon sci-fi concept was missing many important matters of the story (the creation of mankind, the Forevers' tale and, particularly, the war of 2084 and the very beginnings of the last man alive's journey). Well, this is finally over. "01011001" is the final link that fulfills all that was missing until now, so the next Ayreon album can continue the story properly (starting from the birth of the new Universal Migrator narrated in the last song of "Universal Migrator Pt. II: Flight of The Migrator", and the prays and hopes of the Forevers for their lives to be restored by the new Migrator).

Now, as an album alone, "01011001" is probably the best release of the first half of 2008 of all. It's complex, experimental, full with progressive elements and adding symphonic metal elements like never before in any Ayreon previous releases. Because of its total length (it includes 15 songs that last for more than 100 minutes, with a length average of about 6:40 per song) and the structure of the concept, it is divided into two different disc: "Y" and "EARTH", each one including the planet where its own part of the story develops. Between both albums, a total of 17 different vocalists are featured, divided in two categories: Forever and Men. In the Forever category, we can find: Anneke Van Giebsbergen, Jonas Renkse, Floor Jansen, Magali Luyten, Jorn Lande, Tom Englund, Hansi Kürsch, Bob Catley, Steve Lee and Daniel Gildenlöw; and, in the Men category, we can find: Simone Simons, Ty Tabor, Wudstik, Liselotte Hegt, Marian Welman, Phideaux Xavier and Arjen Lucassen. Now, if you're still thinking that "Y" and "EARTH" are only different because of these reasons, you're totally wrong! Both discs are completely different from each other. I'll try to explain you why below.

The first disc "Y", can be considered as the very beginning of the whole Ayreon story. Its name refers to the planet "Y", an imaginary planet located in the Andromeda constelation and supposed to be home for the Forevers, intelligent beings (just like mankind, and this happens because, further on the story, it is said that mankind was actually created by the Forevers) that now try to stay alive by artificial ways because machines have destroyed their planet and their sun, forcing them to live in the darkness and lose their emotions. They moan for an undefined period of time in the shadows until they discover a way to survive in another planet, by sending their DNA to a distant galaxy on a comet to find the perfect planet while they look after them in every moment.
Due to the fact that about 3 or 4 of the 8 songs of the disc are connected with the sadness, darkness, memories and lack of emotions of the Forevers, "Y" is incredibly melancholic (in contrast with the "happiness" found in the other disc), ethereal and, of course, very slow. These elements create a very delicate harmony based on tragedy, loss, grief, greed and a little arrogance (this last aspect being specially showed in the song "Newborn Race"). It may be a little surprising, but this time these "negative" feelings are not mainly supported by the strings (violins and cellos only, because no violas are featured on the album) but are by the synthetizers and keyboards (maybe the songs that include the largest intervention of strings in "Y" are "Liquid Eternity" and "Web of Lies", being this last one an special case because it doesn't follow the concept of the album).
Talking about length, although "Y" includes the 2nd ("Age of Shadows"), 4th ("Liquid Eternity") and 5th ("Beneath The Waves") longest songs of the album, it also includes the two shortest ("Ride The Comet" and "Web of Lies"), resulting in "Y" lasting for a couple of minutes less than "EARTH".

Now, let's talk about disc two, "EARTH". It continues the concept that was told in "Ride The Comet", with the discovering by the Forevers of a planet perfect to breed a new race and live again throght them. That planet was the Earth, back then inhabited by the dinosaurs. The Forevers, sensing danger from those giant reptiles, killed them and placed their seeds on Earth, resulting in the birth of the human race. Next, according to the story, Forevers gave men and women emotions and feelings but, fearing that the humans' evolution moved far too slow, they started giving manking more knowledge than what they could control, leading to overpopulation, massive pollution, nuclear bombs, global warming and misuse of liberty and expression. Wanting to prevent mankind from their eventual destruction, the Forevers started sending them signals, but all efforts were useless: nothing could be done, and mankind was destroyed during a nuclear World War in 2084 (as told before on "Flight of The Migrator Pt. I: The Dream Sequencer"), and forcing the survivors to escpae to Mars: They eventually die until there's only one man alive and, knowing he won't survive, the Forevers send him their last hope in the shape of the artifact called the Dream Sequencer, not before pleading to the Universal Migrator to restore their lives.
Differently from "Y", "EARTH" includes more lively songs, faster tempos and "brighter" atmospheres, giving the sensation of being surrounded by life every time. It's clearly more aggressive than the other disc, including the most aggressive song of the entire album ("The Sixth Extinction") that even includes death grunts (an element very rare to find in Ayreon's music). This time, the atmosphere is not as important as before, losing the leadership of the songs and giving it to the guitars, keyboards and strings, which are more widely used this time.
Now, if we talk about length, although "EARTH" only includes seven songs ("Y" includes 8), it's a little longer, because it includes the 1st ("The Sixth Extinction") and the 3rd ("The Fifth Extinction") longest songs of the entire album, and six of the seven songs are longer than 5 minutes.

There are also four songs (two per disc) that have little or nothing to do with the concept of the album. These songs are "Connect The Dots" (a crappy song, maybe with the worst lyrics in Ayreon's history), "Web of Lies" (a string-based song and the third Ayreon's one to criticize the massive use of computers), "The Truth is in Here" (a folk-style song that has a little to do with the concept becuase it features a man that has dreams related to the Forevers and their actions) and "E=mc2" (a song about two scientists who try to rescue humankind before its destruction). However, these songs are not good enough to be compared to other songs that are actually related to the story.

Almost all the songs (maybe 12 or 13 from the 15 songs featured) are incredibly good. From these, the highlights are: "Liquid Eternity" (an electro-metal song and the most aggressive one of "Y"; it's one of the two songs that feature Magali's Forever), "Beneath The Waves" (the most melancholic song of the entire album, slow but not as a ballad and very beautiful lyrics full of sorrow, loss and memories of old days. One of the Top 3 songs of the entire album), "Ride The Comet" (an electro-rock/metal 3-and-a-half-minutes song and the last chapter of "Y", the second and last song that features Magali's voice), "The Fifth Extinction" (maybe the best song of the album, it includes a very impressive keyboard solo, an amazing string solo led by a cello and the perfect lyrics to begin the "EARTH" part of the story), "Unnatural Selection" (a crucial song of the concept, full of electro-metal elements and five speeches from different people related to the lyrics) and "The Sixth Extinction" (the last and the most aggressive song of the album, with an impressive and blazing atmosphere that remains for a very large part of the 12 minutes of the song's length, with death grunts on its second part, guitar-like sound made by strings on its sixth and final part, and the largest lyrics of the album).

CONCLUSION: This album rocks, no matter where you look it from! It's absolutely great, and one of the best releases of Arjen Lucassen's long-running project (and any other project of Lucassen). So, don't waste more time and go and buy it! You won't regret it, I'm sure!

You don't have to be afraid. - 89%

PriestofSadWings, May 13th, 2008

Before anything else is said about Ayreon’s brand spankin’ new epic, I have to address the increased amount of synthesizers used and featured. The Human Equation was a very folky prog metal album, making use of woodwind player Jeroen Goossens frequently, and on nearly every song. Even the up-tempo thrasher, Day 14, had a beautiful flute break in it. Well, for whatever reason, Mr. Lucassen decided to cut back on the folk parts and focus on the electronic element of Ayreon.

Now this would make sense if Arjen had written the lyrics, a concept about aliens on Planet Y, circling ‘round a star in Sirius’ eye in the constellation M31 (cue riff not quite ripped off from Kansas’ “Carry on Wayward Son”), before he wrote the music. But, being the enormous fan that I am, I know that he wrote the music first. Now I would have loved to hear more folk parts in this album. There is something about folk music that touches people in a way that electronica doesn’t. But Arjen, for whatever reason, decided against it, and this is what we got.

One thing that is somewhat obvious is that Arjen may have bit off more singers than he can chew. The album has 17 singers, ten of them playing alien characters, and seven playing humans. For the most part, the singers are wonderful. There is one exception to this: Tom Englund from Evergrey. His vocal performance is not on level with the other singers. I’m not saying he’s a bad singer, but when you put him up against Jørn Lande, Jørn, with his more powerful style and distinctive voice, is going to win every single time. That is what happens on 01011001. Jørn kicks Englund’s ass on every song that they both appear in, doing vocals that are angrier, more soulful, and just plain better-sounding. He sounds every bit the metal god, and I’m talking about Dio, not Halford. Tom has a few good parts on the album, but every time he comes in, I can’t help but think, “I wish Jørn was doing this part.” Jørn’s crowning moment is his duet with Floor Jansen on “Beneath the Waves”. Yes, this album has Jørn Lande singing duets with Floor Jansen. Yes, it’s just as awesome as you would think. Somewhat similar is the battle between Steve Lee from Gotthard and Bob Catley from Magnum. They have similar voices, but Lee puts more fire into his performance and hits the high notes that Catley doesn’t even try to attempt. Catley doesn’t do as bad as Englund does, though, because he has some very memorable lines.

Not all of the album consists of vocal duels. Hansi Kursch is, well, Hansi Kursch. He is used somewhat sparingly, but he does get to really show off on one of the best-written songs on the album, “River of Time”. Jonas Renkse provides a mellow counterpoint to the other male singers – until the final track, “The Sixth Extinction”, when he unleashes some death vocals. If hearing him bellow “All the world’s a blazing funeral pyre!” accompanied by Floor Jansen in full operatic voice, doesn’t send chills down your spine, you aren’t listening to the song. Anneke Van Giersbergen is back on Ayreon after a decade or so, and “Waking Dreams” and “Comatose are her best songs. Her voice is still soothing, mellow, and beautiful. The album also features Daniel Gildenlöw, who, in a tongue-in-cheek interview, says that he was offered sex to appear on the album. What kind of sex he was offered is not specified. His vocals are good, but nothing to write home about. Now Magali Luyten from Virus IV is restricted to two choruses – “Ride the Comet” and “Liquid Eternity”, but both times she appears are so breathtaking you can’t help but marvel. She has a very rough, masculine voice – many Ayreon fans thought she was a male singer when the first samples were released.

The album seems to be divided into two kinds of songs – story-telling epics and shorter songs. The story-telling epics are the heart of the album – they move it along and keep the plot going. They are all around eight to ten minutes long. The only one that doesn’t really stand out is “Newborn Race”. Its lyrics are redundant – they don’t say anything that hasn’t already been said in the previous songs. The song is a good one, and it's not a bad thing that it was included on the album. The problem is that from a lyrical standpoint, it was unnecessary.

The other eight songs are the accessories that make the album truly interesting. They often feature singers not in the main cast listed above. They can seem silly and irrelevant at times, but there’s a rhyme and a reason for each one of them. One of the most fun is the pounding synth-driven dynamic rocker “Ride the Comet”. Its structure may be a familiar verse/chorus one, but what a verse, and what a chorus! The verse is anchored by a tense, pounding tom rhythm. It's not loud in and of itself, but it builds tension like no other. And when that tension is released, it's through Magali Luyten howling out the chorus over a pounding metal backdrop. And as if it wasn’t enough, they send the whole song speeding into one last chorus at the end with a Star One-like power metal touch.

The other two songs that need to be specifically mentioned are the ones that don’t seem to fit on the album at first – “Connect the Dots” and “Web of Lies”. “Connect the Dots” is seemingly a poppy electronic-sounding song about an average white-collar worker. It has Ty Tabor, the guitarist from King’s X, on vocals, with Arjen singing on the chorus. While it might seem out of place at first, there are two things that tell you something is going on here. The chorus is a catchy, fist-pumping metal one – but also strange and jarring, especially when sung by Arjen and Ty, two people who normally have very mellow voices. What the song is really about is global warming, and the pacification of the average people through mass media. It’s a wake-up call – “We are dying for tomorrow, we are living for today”. The problem with the song is that the verses don’t sound like Ayreon, in terms of lyrics or music.

“Web of Lies” is even weirder. It’s a funny little folk-ish ballad, similar in sound to “Day Thirteen: Sign” off of The Human Equation, but without the emotion that made that song so touching. It’s about internet dating. I wish I was kidding, but I’m not. It casts Simone Simons as a desperate loser who sends creepy emails to a guy, played by Phideaux Xavier and named “PX”, who, oddly enough, doesn’t seem repulsed, and responds with something along the lines of “You’re looking great, baby! I’m a desperate loser, too! Let’s get together!” This is, of course, when Simone forgets about him and starts sending creepy emails to her next victim. I know that Arjen meant for the song to come off differently than I’ve described it, but that’s honestly how the lyrics sound to me. It’s pleasant enough to listen to, and Simone is a good singer, but the lyrics are enough to put all but the most loyal of fanboys off of the song. I think it was supposed to continue the theme of mass media blinding people to the bigger picture from “Connect the Dots”, but it doesn’t work well, even with good music and a talented singer behind it.

As with any Ayreon album, there is a good variety of sound. The balance between the folk melodies and synths may have shifted, but the elements are still unchanged. Ed Warby, Arjen’s army of different instruments that he plays - he’s credited with “electric and acoustic guitars, bass guitars, mandolin, keyboards, synthesizers, Hammond, Solina, and backing vocals”, the classical instruments – he got a violin player, a cellist, and a woodwind player for the album, and the guest soloists – Lori Linstruth, Derek Sherinian, Tomas Bodin, Michael Romeo, and Joost van der Broek – are all there.

Musically, Ayreon has always been a little odd for a prog metal band, placing less emphasis on technical proficiency, sounding nothing like the Fates Warning/Dream Theater norm of the genre, but placing more emphasis on groove. I’m not talking about Pantera’s brand of groove, either. I’m talking about stuff that actually grooves. You can find many examples of it throughout the album – especially on “The Fifth Extinction”, which, once you get past the intro, is eight minutes of groove.

The lyrics are everything that a fan of Ayreon could ask for. At the end of Into the Electric Castle, listeners were treated to a monologue that read in part, “I am of the stars. I am called ‘forever’. Eternity courses through my veins. It is cold beyond your sun where we come from. We seed the universe with the milk of a million moons. You are that seed. Your earth is our experiment. We vanquished the dinosaurs with the careless trajectory of a child's lost meteorite. We peopled your planet to experience your emotions – such feelings lost to us aeons ago. How we envied you your loves and passions, your dangerous desires. The fires of your emotions gleamed like lost beacons in the darkened depths of the fathomless universe.” 01011001 expands on that story, following the team of nine aliens who crash-land the meteorite on earth, wipe out the dinosaurs, and guide the development of humanity.

The album is also heavier than The Human Equation. It doesn’t have that many riffs, but this isn’t Dark Angel’s Time Does Not Heal – it doesn’t need that many riffs. The focus is on the vocals and the overall soundscape – the synths, the folk melodies, and the song structures. The riffs are secondary, and they aren’t the best quality riffs, either. But if it’s thrash metal riffs you want, why are you listening to Ayreon in the first place? It’s not that there aren’t numerous parts that will have you banging your head – there are - but they can’t really be called “riffs”. For example the chorus on “e=mc²” is a simple chord progression, not really a riff, but it’s a great chord progression - brilliant, fist-pumping stuff.

Despite the small slip-ups, the album really delivers as a whole. It kicks ass in many different ways, contexts, and methods. It’s completely unique. And it’s another great achievement for a man whose career is full of them. If you are a fan of Ayreon, you either need this, or you already have it. If you’re not, but you like the idea of a prog metal opera, you’ll still probably like it. And if you’re too cool for prog metal operas, what the hell are you doing reading this review?

Mountains of Cheese - 27%

stefan86, March 17th, 2008

Arjen Lucassen is hailed by many as a genious in progressive music. He definitely has the ability to assemble fantastic musicians for his projects, but does the songwriting and lyrical themes really add up with the quality of the people hired to do his dirty work? On "The Human Equation" we had James LaBrie, who's definitely a singer everyone has a strong opinion on, singing over music he seemed comfortable with.

What we've got here is a trio of hired vocalists that is almost like a depressive elite. Both Jonas Renkse and Daniel Gildenlöw have been singing dark music for their whole careers. Tom Englund is definitely somewhat in that field as well. The collision between these three vocalists and the cheesy, spacy music and concepts is just wrong. Arjen and the female singers have a higher Power Metal factor and suit these songs regardless of quality.

I enjoyed "The Human Equation" as a whole but it had some cringeworthy moments that were almost awkward. Here we're treated to a virtual army of them. Hearing Jonas singing upbeat, triumphant vocal lines in "Waking Dreams" just comes across as paradoxal and wrong. "Connect The Dots" is a flat out embarassing song both lyrically and musically. This is Power Metal/80's Rock cheese right up there with the worst of german Power Metal. How any fan of Katatonia or Pain of Salvation that isn't schizoid could get into this is beyond me.

"Beneath The Waves" is one of the few moments where the album picks up. Tom Englund's raspy voice brings some life into the calm song the few times he gets a chance and the female vocals suit well in this format. Hell, maybe this album is moving forward now. But just as that song ends we're right back into upbeat mode. I often just find myself wanting this thing to end, and to think this is 102 minutes of music! I'm listening to Daniel Gildenlöw singing and still I just want it overwith. That's quite an accomplishment in my book. Turning one very solid vocalist into a vapid waste of space is just beyond me.

The music on this disc just moves nowhere. No feeling, just nothing. There's singers on here that have no place in this soundscape. As an album it's definitely too long despite its attempt to be a huge progressive rock opera of sorts. Download "Beneath The Waves" and ignore the rest. This album annoys me.

Extremophilia - 70%

Frankingsteins, January 13th, 2008

It’s been four years since his masterwork ‘The Human Equation,’ and Arjen Lucassen has put together another Ayreon album that’s all but destined to pale in comparison. After that album’s conscious departure from the typical Ayreon fare, at least thematically, ‘01011001’ (not to be confused with the Star Trek episode ‘11001001’ which is completely different in all but stupid title) is the inevitable return to Ayreon’s comfort zone of the sci-fi rock opera. It’s also the long-awaited final revelation concerning just what happened to humanity in that fatal year 2085, first referenced way back in the first Ayreon album, and just what it is that connects aquatic aliens and Electric Castles to Universal Migrators and their Dream Sequencers.

For trying so hard to ‘Connect the Dots,’ as Lucassen wryly puts it in the self-referential song, his latest project appears to be something of a burden, and even for all of his incredible imaginings the end result is a little disappointing. It’s all logical and makes more sense of the connections between previous albums than I would have thought possible, but for taking such a serious sci-fi tone complete with a resurgence of the social critique from ‘The Final Experiment,’ this misses out almost entirely on the unadulterated, zany fun of something like ‘Into the Electric Castle.’ The only time it comes close is in the opening song of disc two, as the aliens fly on a comet towards their new, prehistoric home and debate the consequences of their arrival to its reptilian population (“They may all die, don’t you think we should check it out?”) Unfortunately, most of the album lacks this playful, B-movie sense of adventure, and although it’s all well written and quite clever, it’s really only the major deviations into more domestic, Earth-bound matters that strike a chord, and end up being by far the best songs here.

As with its concept, Ayreon’s music is breaking no new ground on this static release, and indulges in a similar connective pattern throughout the previous discography, resulting in a dominant mix of the multi-character rock opera ‘Into the Electric Castle’ and the heavily synthesised sound of the ‘Universal Migrator’ albums, with occasional songs landing more exclusively in the folky, acoustic rock of ‘The Human Equation’ or the atmospheric prog of ‘The Dream Sequencer,’ though never exceeding them. This was a disappointment to me after the exciting new ideas of the radically progressive and very heavy metal of ‘The Human Equation,’ but in the long run is forgivable and even appropriate as what looks determined to be the final chapter in this incredibly loosely-connected Ayreon saga, and can only spur Lucassen on to try more extreme and inventive directions in the future. Of course, in the shorter term it leaves the most recent Ayreon album sounding mostly overlong, derivative and frequently quite boring.

Just like ‘Into the Electric Castle’ and ‘The Human Equation’ the story is split across two CDs, but this is the only instance of this seeming like a disc too many. The ten-minute songs are often far too repetitive and similar to each other, despite boasting impressive vocal work as the lyrics are ploughed through by various big names in the metal world, and neither the prog nor the metal fans of Ayreon are going to be particularly satisfied with the predominantly electronic sound that rarely throws out an original riff or melody, at least until the second disc. Even the singers themselves aren’t as interesting or diverse as the cast of ‘The Human Equation,’ and the emphasis on gruff ballad tones from Jørn Lande and Daniel Gildenlow alongside opera vocals and the return of the Gathering’s Anneke van Giersbergen makes for a very samey sound throughout, which even the legendary Hansi Kursch is unable to save us from thanks to his perseverance with the same Russell Mael impersonation that’s spoiled the last two Blind Guardian albums.

Even the most basic instruments are quite shockingly overlooked in the face of all the slow-moving synth, with Ayreon veteran Ed Warby’s drums only really coming into play as late as track seven, and the first genuinely heavy guitar riff in ‘Unnatural Selection’ caused me to swear emphatically. The usual touches of slightly outlandish instruments are still present in the violins and flutes of the second disc, but to a lesser extent than in the previous album (and there isn’t a didgeridoo in sight), and the general tedium of the admittedly more tedious first disc even gave me some small hope that Lucassen was doing a ‘Universal Migrator,’ and was going to surprise us all with a powerful and thrilling second half. He doesn’t, but disc two is better on the whole.

The slow-moving, operatic bombast of the Forever people is fortunately broken up by a few shorter and more overtly pop-rock songs that help the album regain some balance. Seemingly set in the present-day (deduced through some internet name-dropping and helpful sound effects of revving cars and beeping modems), these songs make for intriguing deviations and feature some of the album’s finest and strangest lyrics and themes, further proving the message of ‘The Human Equation’ that the human adventure is the most compelling. ‘Connect the Dots’ is quite a sweet, domestic tale with interesting forebodings of disaster, and ‘Web of Lies’ examines the pitfalls of internet dating and makes for a very memorable ending to disc one, aided by the performance from Epica’s Simone Simons. Perhaps the album’s finest moment comes in the form of ‘The Truth is in Here,’ which once again sees Arjen bag the most interesting character for himself and write one of his finest and most compelling narratives, one that doesn’t even descend into the hilarity of the tripping hippie or the blind minstrel who wishes he could be like every other man. Then again, his character’s “cryptic” designation “Mister L” is quite enjoyably poor.

This is only a poor album when judging by Ayreon’s own standards which seemed to be generally on the rise, but would still make for an interesting (if arduous) introduction for fans of lighter metal styles who were maybe considering whether to go all prog, though they’d still be better off with ‘The Human Equation’ or even ‘Into the Electric Castle’ if they felt particularly open-minded. Even if it’s destined to be the most inherently forgettable and least essential of all of his albums (apart from ‘Actual Fantasy’ perhaps), this at least seals the airlocks on the complex Ayreon narrative that was at best intriguingly strange, and at worst needlessly elaborate, and allows the talented prog/metal composer to look towards new horizons without being hassled by endless, repetitive e-mails asking what this rubbish is all about. It might not have been the Ayreon album I was hoping for, but it’s about as good as can be expected considering its obligations to tying up loose ends of over a decade, and it’s obvious that there won’t be a more entertaining rock opera released any time before Lucassen’s next move. I just know I’m going to listen to the whole discography in order one of these days and imagine that somehow makes it more meaningful.

A mixed bag - 75%

ratsalad, January 13th, 2008

This is perhaps one of the most frustrating albums I've ever heard. With 01011001 (how irritating is it to have an album title in fucking BINARY?!), Arjen Anthony Lucassen has assembled what is without a doubt the finest lineup he's managed so far. Not only did he manage to nab Pain of Salvation main-man Daniel Gildenlow, perhaps his most skilled addition, but damn near 20 other vocalists at the top of their gain - Jonas Renske, Anneke van Giersbergen and Thomas Englund to name but a few.

For the first three or four tracks, you'd be forgiven that this album is going to be one of the best things of 2008 - intricate and warm progressive rock is fused with some gorgeously melancholic passages from Renske and van Giersbergen, proving that Lucassen's ear for melody is still as finely tuned as it always has been. Second track "Comatose" is of particular note, the utilisation of Englund's vocals beeing particularly effective - far more so, in fact, than they ever in Evergrey. I can sincerely say that, if the entire album was like this, it would truly be one of the best pieces of music ever made.

However, it's tracks like "Connect the Dots" which just bring the whole thing crashing down. Lucassen has a habit of writing some pretty campy, fruity and damn well GAY music, and, unfortunately this album is no exception. The aforementioned "Connect the Dots" is perhaps the worst offender. From the moments the vocals come in, you know this song is a stinker. I'm not sure who sung on this song, but I pray I never hear him again. He sings in a happy-go-lucky, Average-Joe sort of way that I suppose is meant to be endearing, but it leaves me only with the desire to inflict some pitiful amount of damage to him to make him run away in tears. The lyrics certainly don't help:

I hugged the wife and drove to work today
It was only a few miles
Was in a hurry but the lights were changing up ahead
So I stepped on the gas

I checked the web and left it on over night
Downloading all the latest files
Fear, revere, the torrent flows into my lap
And I disconnect

Downloading the latest files? Yeah, that's contemporary poetry for sure.

This is definitely the worst track on the otherwise brilliant first CD (apart from perhaps the embarrassing ballad "Web of Lies" - another internet related tune). If the other track maintained a similar ratio of awesome to homo - roughly 75:25 - then this album would probably get an 85 or a 90.

Unfortunately, though, CD 2 contains rather a lot more of the flowery stuff, and suffers greatly because of it. Whilst for the first CD I was thrilled, touched and mezmerised for the majority of its playtime, this was just plain tedious. I don't feel able to talk much about this half of the album - suffice to say, it's best bits didn't live up to those of CD 1 even remotely.

It's a shame that this album deserves (in my opinion, of course), the rating that I've given it. As I've said, it shows so much potential, with so many moments of brilliance, that one is left with a feeling of frustration at the end of its 100 minute playing time. I have always felt this way about Ayreon releases, to be honest; I know a space opera or whatever is never exactly going to be without flamboyance or bombast, but must it be like this?

I suppose all I can do to conclude is say that I'll certainly be listening to this album again repeatedly, but with my finger hovering over the skip button for a regrettably large amount of its play time. Once Ayreon leave out the gay crap, they'll truly be a force to be reckoned with.