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Emotions... I Remember - 89%

21stcenturydigitalboy, November 15th, 2008

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.