This is a beauty of an album , the like of which is very rarely seen these days. The album with it's wonderful Tull like hook is a great prog epic in the tradition of the one's that went before and reminds me so much of waiting for the new Yes or ELP release . The art work by Jef Bertels (today's Roger Dean) leads you into a magical Arjen concept with a journey of time changes to compliment the story and the great vocalists that tell the tale as actors would on stage.
Anybody familiar with Arjen's work will already have this album , but if by chance you stumble upon this and the other reviews looking for somethhing different but yet familiar to listern to and have a love for all things prog , then do buy and sit back on a journey of pure escapism and enjoyment.
I have been collecting and listening to the music of Mr Arjen Lucassen for many years now and have always been struck by his take on Prog Rock, telling stories with the use of many vocals (male & female), multi faceted instrumentation and clear, crisp production, all rounded off with excellent album packaging - you cannot fault the man or his record company, they are indeed Excellent! And, THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING, is on a par with it's bewitching storyline, production and the choice of musicians to make this a wonderful listening experience that you'll be hard pressed to find anywhere else.... BUT, I have a real issue with the continuity. Obviously, as per usual, there are many tracks, as many sketches to build up a rather large aural picture and whereas this has always been pretty much seamless from track to track in the past, with THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING, it is not seamless, with the effect that as each track runs to the next it sounds almost as if there is a manufacturing fault on the disc in play....! And it is annoying and does, for me detract! Don't get me wrong, the music really deserves the full five star rating but that niggling continuity issue forces me to drop it a notch - sorry, Arjen, but you set the bar so high that on this occasion, your post-production team have failed to quite nail it!
This is probably going to be my favourite Ayreon album along with 01, and that's saying something amongst all the great Ayreon stuff. The concept here is a bit more "down to earth" than usual - basically an interesting tale about a young mathematical genius and the people surrounding him, ending in an intriguing touch of mystery. The vocalists Arjen has used are ALL amazing - and we've got people like Marco Hietala and Tommy Karevic. And an array of incredible musicians. Choosing the right people for projects like this is half the skill. It's beautifully put together, the music perfectly complementing the vocal sections and the story. Prog at its finest. Emotional and intelligent, melodic and powerful. It's not an "easy" listen, not for background music - you need to pay it the courtesy of attention, take time to sit and allow yourself to be drawn into the story and properly hear the voices of the characters and the magical music drawing pictures around them. It's a holistic experience in music and lyrical imagery. And as always with Arjen's work, a beautiful package with lovely atmospheric artwork.
If The X Factor and Britain (or insert your own country here) Has Very Little Talent has the thumbs down set on your Tivo box then Ayreon's The Theory of Everything will come as a timely oasis in the desert that is modern music.
Progressive music got a bad reputation with those who could only play three chords on a guitar and didn't have the musical ability, imagination or attention span to explore any further. So welcome back my friends to the show that never really ended, welcome to THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING, Arjen's attempt to progress music a little further in 2013.
For those of you who are still to become Ayeonauts (where have you been!!!), the band Ayreon is really a 6 foot 7 inch tall geeky guy from the Netherlands called Arjen Anthony Lucassen with the help of a couple of regular contributors and assorted special guest singers and musicians adding a solo here and there to a greater or lesser extent.
In nearly all of the reviews I have seen so far a lot has been made of the all star guest players. While this is certainly the talking point of the album, what must not be forgotten here is that 90% of what you hear is played by Arjen himself - the guitars, bass, most of the keyboards. If you focus on that, it's then you start realising how significant a talent he has. Quite extraordinary. Nevermind Actual Fantasy, this guy as ACTUAL TALENT, and an over abundance of it.
I'll not review the content of the music in detail as that has been done many times elsewhere. Instead I will sketch a picture of how this album makes me feel.
When I feel jaded and world weary, when something's bothering me, I will look through my music collection for inspiration and 50% of the time I will find I have an Ayreon album in my hand. I will lay down with my Audeze phones on and listen, REALLY LISTEN. Almost daily for the past few weeks I have found The Theory of Everything entering my ears and firing my imagination. Arjen's music is a eclectic combination of many things I like in music, he could almost be composing this just for me. His music has imagination, a scale and depth I have rarely heard elswhere. Arjen tells stories with his music so you wonder what is going to happen next both narratively and sonically.
I appreciate his choice of instruments, many of which have a noticable texture to them, i.e. old analogue synths with sci-fi like square waves which tickle my ears. Then there is his gravelly Hammond organ which invoke feelings of grandure. There is a lot of violin, cello and low flutes on this album, again adding texture to the sound, giving it another dimension. On this album Arjen uses his trademark deep tone crunching industrial rhythm guitar backgrounds on some tracks. This adds another texture layer to the music all of which make listening with headphones an aural and physical experience. Try it and see what I mean, give your ears a workout.
If you have never heard of Arjen Lucassen or his music before and you like rock music with feeling and a spacious epic sense of wonder you really must listen to this. Melodic, rhythmic, sometimes metal, sometimes folk, other times intense, other times sublime.
Of course "Theory" is not perfect. Some of the transitions between tracks sound a tiny bit forced. I remember reading somewhere that sigues or transitions between two pieces of music stick in the memory at a deeper level than the music itself - this might leave a jarring feeling with those not accustomed to the sudden, angular changes of tempo or melody common with progressive music. Keith Emmerson's solo is a little embarrassing - Arjen asked him for something along the lines of the solo from Lucky Man, Keith must have taken him too literally as he delivered about 30 notes which are an uncomfortably close pastiche of that and a solo from Pictures at an Exhibition. All the vocalists do a fantastic job, however the two female singers are a little too similar and without the lyrics in hand it's possible to get the mother and the girl characters confused. Also the singer portraying the father has a higher voice than the son, which goes against the grain a little.
I would sum up the music of Ayreon as an aural and emotional journey - a comfort blanket for the imagination. Spacey, epic, profound, full of musical wonder, curiosity and experimentation (some of which crash and burn but many take you to places you really wish you could stay). There are a hundred wonderful riffs, hooks and musical passages throughout the hour and twenty minutes of The Theory of Everything, some make you smile, some make you say "wow" to yourself.
I hope with this tremendous double album Arjen will finally breakthrough into a wider and general appreciation of his music beyond the usual prog and metal scene. Why is music in our culture dominated by barely post-pubescent girls or boy bands - the sonic equivalent of painting-by-numbers or the Mona Lisa done on Etch-a-Sketch? Let's hear it for tall Dutch guys for a change who can actually write and play their own stuff. :)
The Theory of Everything deserves to be up there with "The Wall" or "Echoes". It is a significant event in the history of progressive music.
Have to agree entirely with the many comments here and for me Into The Electric Castle was always my fave of Ayreon albums but I think The Theory Of Everything as succeeded it. In reality I love them all and Arjen's work on Ayreon as always appealed to me big style and this album contains many of my God's with the likes of Rick Wakeman. Keith Emerson. Jordan Rudess. Steve Hackett. As for the singers I have never heard of any of them before apart from John Wetton. But have to say what a terrific job they have all done, along with the other muso's and of coarse Arjen himself..
As with all Ayreon albums they take years to come out (not surprising really when you consider just what a genius this guy is) and this one completely got past me on its release, and I only discovered it last week on youtube and on Friday on the 14th February 2014 as soon as my pennies went in the bank I instantly ordered the Limited Box Set with DVD.
It very much came with the MP3 Audio Rip which was a great thing and having seen Arjen's video on the tube about it having 4 long epics over some 20 minutes each and him stating to take it easy, and not take them all on at once. I can honestly say over this weekend and even now on this Monday morning I have took on the whole journey at least 20 times, and even had an whole Ayreon Weekend and blasted out his other 7 albums too, and when the discs arrive I know I am gonna be enjoying the experience even more in better quality and give my ears another treat by playing it to death (LOL).
Absolutely Prog Rock Heaven at its best is what I call it and it ROCKS my boat 100%.
A few days ago I hadn't heard of Aryeon. True, I'd seen the name when I was surfing the Amazon website for new stuff, but I hadn't bothered to investigate, mainly due to the prohibitively high cost of the CDs, even used ones. However, one day I spotted a copy for a very reasonable price and took the plunge. Only after I had ordered the album did I decide to check out the music. A bit back to front I admit but I'm nothing if not impulsive. And, to be honest, I wasn't too impressed with what I heard, namely the The Theory Of Everything video. It seemed a bit cliched, so I rang the seller and cancelled my order. Suffice to say, the CD arrived anyway and I am in no rush to return it. Despite my initial misgivings I absolutely love this magnificent, melodious monster of a double album. It is simply just too good to ignore. Think of Tommy for the 21st century but with everything including the kitchen sink thrown into the mix for good measure. You want crunchy, metal guitars? Check. You want proggy flourishes of flute, a la Tull and Camel? Check. You want heartfelt ballads? Check. You want jazzy moog, Hammond and piano solos from giants of the genre like Wakeman and Emerson? Check. The Theory of Everything could have sunk under the sheer weight of its ambition. In some ways, it shouldn't work - like Topographic Oceans in the 1970s, four sides of over-the-top prog is a lot to handle. But, work it does. Each of the four phases, or movements, or old-fashioned "sides" if you like, of this double is packed with great tunes, powerful singing and brilliant instrumental prowess across 42 tracks. Cliched? Nah, mate, I was wrong. And it doesn't lag, or go off, or send you to the kitchen to make a cuppa while soloists doodle. I've heard this described as a metal opera. Well, opera, maybe, but metal? Not to those ears. Not death metal. Or doom metal, or even heavy metal. This is giant-sized prog, fusing elements of folk, electronica, metal, pop and ballads in a seamless fashion. It's a real achievement and I'm so glad I didn't send it back!
I have got quite a few albums by Ayreon, and for some reason this one hits the mark more often. Including extra special guest appearances by Keith Emmerson and Rick Wakeman, paying homage to their talents and skill, by actually allowing them to play and sound like they did in their heyday, unlike other albums with guest appearances by big name musicians when I cannot even tell what track they have been on without reading the sleeve notes.
All in all if you are an Ayreon fan, then you will probably already have this one, if you haven't then why?
If you are new to Ayreon then give this album a go, it is quite diverse in sounds and styles, and quite a few different vocalists both male and female.
As an owner of few Ayreon albums I quite well knew what was coming when first time listening this. Don't think it's a bad thing at all if you have a recognizable sound and musical texture. You do what's natural way to express your musical message, right! I find the story little bit week or thin, but for me it's not the main thing. Ayreon don't musically ever disappoint you. And again I find myself in a situation where I'm mouth open listening these terrific musicians. Wakeman, Hackett, Rudess, Emerson, Warby, Lucassen himself plus bunch of other top rated players give you so magnificent music, that it's pure orgy to listen this double album. Extra credit to Jeroen Goossens and his flute. Excellent album.