I have been listening with interest to the releases from Ayreon over the past few years. With each subsequent album he has managed to diversify the sound and further hone his distinctive reputation as one of Europe's most prolific talents.
His last release - 'The Human Equation' had moments of brilliance (the contribution from Devin Townsend for example) that were sadly disturbed with pointless and repetitive instrumentally laden fillers. It wasn't a bad album by any means, however it lacked the flow and continuity of previous releases such as The Universal Migrator - which is a fantastic space-prog-rock experience. The Human Equation also suffered from some overly hammy vocals from James LaBrie.
Thankfully this latest release is much more refined and focused and manages successfully to deliver a solid and epic soundscape of ideas and emotions. The choice of guest musicians is inspired, notably the contribution of Jonas Renkse (Katatonia) fits the track perfectly, using his smooth melodic vocal range to full effect. Bob Catley belts out a ridiculously great performance and the female additions are particularly well executed.
As always with Ayreon, the lyrical content and themes need to be accepted for what they are. Sure, there will be moments when listening to this album where you may crack a smile or even laugh aloud...but that is what i LOVE about Ayreon! It really is an enjoyable romp of a listen which successfully manages to be a believale epic rock project while not taking itself too seriously.
The guitar work is exemplary and the general musical score is constantly engaging and dynamic. The opening 3 tracks are good indicators of the tone of the album as a whole.
Production wise, the sound is thicker and broader than ever and as always, the vocal sound on this album is simply stunning.
A word of advice - Buy the deluxe edition, for the extra couple of pounds you'll get yourself a fantastic package, it really is a lovely item to own.
This album is definitely up there with the likes of Universal Migrator, Star One and Electric Castle. Certainly a contender for album of the year.
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