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A spectacular, amazing EXPERIENCE! - 96%

Palabra, March 9th, 2005

The latest Ayreon project from eclectic Dutchman Arjen Lucassen is quite simply, a thing of absolute beauty. A hundred-minute-plus epic of an album is a prog fan's wet dream, and Arjen does not disappoint on this one.

'The Human Equation' is a concept album that tells a story. To quickly provide a synopsis, the story is a simple one: the main character (known plainly as "Me") is invovled in a freak automobile accident and finds himself in a coma inside a hospital. Watching over him are his best friend and his wife. Each song on 'THE' is a day during the main character's coma, and during each day, the man's emotions (Reason, Love, Fear, Pride, Passion, Agony, and Rage) speak to him and among each other in an internal dialogue played out through the guest singers.

The lyrics are simple, yet highly effective. Through a succinct, yet vivid style, Arjen manages to depict his main character as a well-rounded, real human being. This is an album that truly deserves its title; 'The Human Equation' is a HUMAN album. I don't want to dwell TOO much on the lyrics, but I would like to say that the concept of 'THE' really could stand alone as the plot of a movie, and I would have no qualms if said motion picture were to receive an Academy Award--the lyrcs really are THAT good.

Yet more so than the lyrics, the real star on this album is the MUSIC. And the music is expected to be good, as there are twenty separate musicians on this album! The album's cover proudly marquees the guest singers as the stars on the album, and indeed they are, but there are amazing performances
an here from a purely musical aspect. One simply cannot ignore the music of this album. There are synth solos galore, providing just enough psychadelia to make this a trippy experience. The synths all fit perfectly, and the music is almost reminiscent of early Pink Floyd at times, especially Day Two's synth solo performed by Joost van den Broek (of Suncaged) that spaces the listener's mind completely out and culminates in a hugely climactic chromatic run that explodes into the powerful ending of the song.

There are amazing small performances on this album that give it such a boost of character. There are flutes and violins and cellos--even a didgeridoo, and they are all so lighthearted and subtle that these classical style instrumetals fit and don't seem thrown in as pretentious clutter. Ed Warby's
performances behind the drum kit is nothing short of spectacular providing thundering, epic rhythms during the many powerful sections and a steady, bouncycontrol during passages of light-hearted musical brilliance.

Now I shall assess the performers that the Ayreon project is famous for--its guest singers. We have a whole new batch of guests, different from the other Ayreon albums (as is tradition), and they are all very good in their own way. I'll go one by one on each vocalist with quick notes on each one:

James LaBrie ("Me") - Love him or hate him, LaBrie's job as the main character is very well done. LaBrie brings every bit of emotion in his voice straight from Dream Theater to creat the meek, sometimes tortured "Me," and truly illustrates a whole human being through his voice. This is quite a stellar job by James LaBrie.

Arjen Lucassen ("Best Friend") - Arjen is the mastermind of this whole project and his musical contribution is massive to say the least. He wrote all the songs--genius. He performed ALL guitars (electric, acoustic, and bass), and did a wonderful job at all of them. He also performed a hefty portion of the synthesizers and did a great job there too. Aren't you exhausted yet, Arjen? His voice on the album is nothing amazing (he admits he's no singer), but the job is done well and the melodies are carried professionally and well done.

Marcella Bovio ("Wife") - From Mexico, this newcomer is no mere amateur and is my favorite female vocalist on this album. Her highlight is on Day 13 with the middle verse. Her voice is filled with so much emotion and passion, I find myself blown away and wondering where I can find more from this tremendous talent.

Heather Findlay ("Love") - Another tremendous female voice is the lovely British vocalist Heather Findlay. She grasps the quaint sweetness of her character in such an effortless way. Her vocals on the first half 'The Human Equation' are magnificent.

Irene Jansen ("Passion") - Her voice embodies her character and she puts every bit of Passion in her operatic voice to portray her character in all its glory. Her best performances are on Day Two and Day Eleven.

Devon Graves ("Agony") - An interesting choice for Agony, yet his performance fits perfectly. Devon Graves looks like he'll have this deep bellowing voice, but it's mid-range and powerful, and his performance does his character justice and is overall quite enjoyable.

Eric Clayton ("Reason") - This is the deep voice I love that makes Saviour Machine kick so much ass. I love his voice on this album, and his best performances are on the haunting Day Twelve, and on Day Five.

Magnus Ekwall ("Pride") - This performance is filled with emotion and comes out sounding almost bluesy (with vocal bends and sometimes outright screams). I like his voice very much, but I didn't find it too outstanding.

Mike Baker ("Father") - He only appears in one song, and is extremely effective as the rude, alcoholic father of the main character. Baker's voice is half-pirate, half-Alice Cooper, yet wholly awesome. Bit parts are usually wonderful and Baker's is not an exception.

Devin Townsend ("Rage") - A bit pretentious, Hevy Devy wrote his own lyrics for 'THE.' His performance remains the most unique on the whole album. Fitting for Devin Townsend; he is professional to the core, and I love his contribution to this album just as I love all of the stuff he's done with his own projects.

Mikael Akerfeldt ("Fear") - This Swedish heavyweight is my favorite vocalist on the album, and he provides his trademark clean vocals that would easily fit the best Opeth album. It seems Arjen wrote the part for Mikael, as the melodies appear to be written exactly for Akerfeldt's singing style (as if they were composed for some unreleased Opeth cuts). And of course, even Ayreon cannot escape from the clutches of Mikael's deep, brutal death metal grunts that totally slay and bring goosebumps to the back of your neck. Day Twelve is one of the heaviest songs from any 2004 release and is carried by the haunting voices of both Eric Clayton and Mikael Akerfeldt.

If you haven't bought this album already, do yourself a favor, and find the dough, because you won't be let down at all. If you're a prog fan and you don't own this record with the bonus DVD and the whole shebang the you need to be sent home with no recess. This is an absolutely incredible
EXPERIENCE, from beginning to end. Thank you Arjen Lucassen for amazing me with such an outstanding album!