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A five-star banquet for the Prog fan. - 80%

Empyreal, April 11th, 2008

There are a lot of Progressive Metal bands floating around these days, ranging from cleaner, more straightforward Prog like Anubis Gate or Circus Maximus, to heavier, riff-oriented stuff like Communic and Scariot, more Power Metallish types such as Pagan's Mind and Dragonland and even a few odd extreme metal/prog combinations. It's all prog though, whichever side-dish you might happen to lean toward, and whatever your opinion on the genre as a whole, you've most likely heard of Ayreon, at least in passing. This is the main project of mastermind Arjen Lucassen, and if you dislike prog, you will fucking hate this stuff. However, if this genre of music strikes your fancy, then The Human Equation is your Golden Corral dinner buffet. If you can't get enough of Prog, and your mouth is watering at the thought of a new Circus Maximus or Anubis Gate album, then this album will satisfy your hunger - three times over.

Let us just get it out on the table first: Ayreon is really prog. I don't mean they've progressed further in the genre than any other band, because they haven't. This is a pretty standard prog formula in the style of Pain of Salvation, except without most of the pessimistic dirge sort of feeling present underneath the top layer of that band's music. No, the stuff here is lightweight, as is the production, leaving a lot of room for every instrument to shine when needed. Everything here is done to ridiculous excess (over 100 minutes, on two discs, etc.), with ridiculous amounts of effort and passion put into it, and while I don't worship at the altar of this album as others do, even I can admit that it's pretty damned good. Ayreon just make classy music, and they execute it with pomp and pride.

As expected, this is a concept album, and it's actually done extremely well - although the story is pretty much shoved down your throat. This is not like one of Kamelot's or Pagan's Mind's albums, where the story is only there if you want to get into it. It's all very involving, complex, deep stuff; centering around a young man who enters a coma only to be drawn into conflict with multiple elements of his personality, including Fear, Anger, Reason, Pride and several others. For a Prog concept album, this is ridiculously well done and meticulously planned, with little room for error, as is expected of this kind of music. We can't have any error here, it's Prog! Error is punishable by death!

There are a whole bunch of vocalists here, all adding their own personal and unique touch to the music, and the music wanders its way through large, spacious catacombs of aural enlightenment, with a cornucopia of styles on display, from the heavy, grooving riffs of opener "Isolation" to light, fluffy Prog Rock on "Love," uplifting, sweeping choirs on "Childhood" and soulful folk balladry on the fantastic "Signs." Other good songs include the propulsive, compelling "Voices," the fun romp "Loser" and especially the horrific stomp of the 9 minute exercise in Prog mastery, "Trauma." Not every song here is good, but there are SO MANY SONGS that you barely even notice, anyway.

This is very, very ambitious music (and it wholly succeeds), and I can't recommend this album to anyone with a short attention span or an intolerance for Prog. I'd love to give this a higher score, but it's still almost two hours long, and that is too long for any music album, no matter the genre or the quality, and I don't play it very often due to that. The Human Equation is definitely not something for everyone, and it isn't the most "metal" album out there, but for the metalhead who doesn't mind a bit of a stretch from their usual diet and is looking for an interesting journey, look no further than Ayreon.

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