I've been a fan of Arjen A Lucassen since Electric Castle. His works just seem to get better and better. This is possibly the heaviest Ayreon CD to date, which isn't a bad thing. There are still plenty of hooks and melodies, more so than Human Equation I think. The opening track, Age of Shadows, just won't leave my brain - crunching rhythms, powerful chorus and some beautiful haunting melodies in the middle section.
I find the first CD 'Y' to be significantly better than the second 'Earth', where I think the music suffers at the expense of the narrative on a couple of tracks. This isn't too bad if you're following the story from the lyric book, which you really have to do if you want to distinguish between the performers. As usual for Ayreon, the chosen female singers in particular all sound very similar (but they are beautiful!) The listener doesn't have to follow the story however, so if you're not into comets, extinctions and DNA migration across the stars, don't worry!
Again there is brilliant use of traditional instruments - the strings and wind instruments don't take a back seat just because it's heavier and darker. There's also quite a lot of electronica, perhaps more than the other CDs. In places it sounds a lot like The Dream Sequencer (CD1 of Universal Migrator).
The bonus DVD is great and well worth the extra price, with a long documentary following the artists visiting and recording their pieces with Arjen. For those who've seen the Human Equation one, it is similar to that. There is also the animated video to Beneath the Waves on the DVD, and some tracks with Arjen's initial vocals in place of the guest performers.
Thankyou Arjen and all those involved with Ayreon, this is fantastic stuff and any music lover should appreciate it in some way.