Register Forgot login?

© 2002-2019
Encyclopaedia Metallum

Best viewed
without Internet Explorer,
in 1280 x 960 resolution
or higher.

Privacy Policy

Respectable, but it's no masterpiece. - 57%

Insin, May 18th, 2015

Usually when one thinks of progressive music, or specifically metal, one of the names they come up with is Dream Theater, a band with a reputation of being pretentious because they are overly technical. Well, Ayreon manages to be even more pretentious, and far less technical, with prog-sounding moments but not whole songs. Their style is not exactly what comes to mind upon hearing the words “progressive metal.” But what could be more prog than a concept album? The element of a storyline (and Akerfeldt) is the only thing keeping me from drifting off near the latter portion of this 100+ minute ordeal. At least the plot prevents the album from being boring. Few of The Human Equation’s plentiful twenty songs have a hard edge to them either, and the ones that do are balanced out by agonizingly soft, cheesy ballads and pop-influenced songs.

So what is The Human Equation? Isn’t it classified as progressive metal? No, that hardly seems accurate: it’s a rock opera, highly vocal-based and completely annoying. Arjen Lucassen has recruited some high-profile vocalists for this effort; James LaBrie (Dream Theater), Devin Townsend, and Mikael Akerfeldt (Opeth) stand out on the list of no less than eleven singers. This vocal domination would be a bigger problem than it is if the singers didn’t usually perform well. The exceptions to the general quality of vocal delivery are Irene Jansen (singing as Passion), who utilizes awful Styx-like harmonies (which, I might add, is another incredibly cheesy band), and Eric Clayton, singing as Reason, who just has a really fucking annoying voice. But these two are exceptions to the rule, and everyone else performs well enough. The major issue with the vocals is that you don’t need a choir to play on a (supposedly) metal album. Each vocalist sings overly dramatically and “in front” of the rest of the music, putting the focus on them – needed for this album but awful and irritating all the same. The Human Equation is simply overcrowded with guest vocalists, and this is the main source of its pretentiousness. It sounds like a musical. Like show tunes.

The over-abundance of singers leaves little room for the rest of the music to develop. The instrumental portions are forgettable and, while eclectic, strikingly not metal. There is little technicality, much of the album devoted to cheesy balladry or acoustic and slow parts (Love, Memories, Sign, Disclosure). Transitions between parts of the songs are sometimes jarring and poorly done; good riffs are few and far between. Some of the songs have a folk edge, bringing in flutes and similar instruments, and spacey keyboards are used frequently and well. When it sounds like a song’s instrumental break is actually starting to go somewhere entertaining, the tracks disappointingly end or revert to vocals. Overall, the musical composition is mediocre, though the album has its moments in the rare instrumental breaks when someone will spit out a passable solo -- which tend to be the album’s highlights (see Day Two: Isolation and Day Four: Mystery). The song Day Sixteen: Loser has to be mentioned -- it’s not necessarily good, but it’s an interesting piece. The Father sounds like a theatrical villain… it’s not surprising Arjen is adapting The Human Equation for the stage. Loser has strongly Irish vibe, followed by Devin Townsend screaming over the song’s folksy riff, juxtaposition if there ever was such a thing.

As much as I’ve bashed the composition of the songs, The Human Equation’s conceptual and plot-based elements redeem it somewhat, saving it from being a heap of steaming horse shit. Is the album completely overblown and pretentious, and does the “concept album” idea contribute? Yes. Is the plot mildly entertaining? Also yes. Ayreon’s only non-sci-fi album, The Human Equation revolves around James LaBrie, playing the role of “Me.” He has experienced an accident under mysterious circumstances, causing him to fall into a coma. He journeys through his past, each song representing one day, until he realizes that he witnessed his wife cheating on him with his best friend. He had crashed his car in anger and despair, the reason for his coma. Not the most original thing ever… the coma idea is one that sounds suspiciously familiar.

Contrarily, the story is told very clearly relative to some other concept albums, as long as you keep track of the characters and pay attention to the lyrics (lyrics shouldn’t be difficult considering most delivery is clean singing). As pretentious as the vocals are, it is doubtful that the story could have been told the way it was without all eleven singers involved. In general, the intensity of the music and the subject matter of the lyrics fit together well enough (Love is an incredibly cheesy and cringeworthy ballad and the lyrics are about exactly what the title suggests; Pride is a stormy, heavier piece and the lyrics reflect an angry argument between LaBrie and Pride). The “plot twist” of LaBrie’s wife and best friend’s affair is hinted at (“I don’t think he knows”), and as LaBrie’s internal struggles and the dialogue of the wife and best friend combine, the two plot lines are woven together, ending with forgiveness on all parts. A much more metal thing to do would be to have a Human Equation Part Two based around LaBrie seeking revenge, but obviously that’s not happening. Not that I would want to listen to a potential part two of this piece of crap anyway.

To put it quite simply, The Human Equation is overrated. The effort and ambition put into this is respectable and appreciable, but in the end, it’s really not a masterpiece. It is musically weak, though not without some good instrumental breaks, and too vocally dominated. While the storyline saves the album to a degree, it is not exactly genius, though told creatively and clearly. I would not recommend this to a fan of progressive metal, but maybe a fan of the rock opera could find some value in this. I dub Ayreon “cheese rock.”