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01011001 - Ayreon

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Genre: Rock - Progressive Rock / Artist: Ayreon, Arjen Luccasson, Bob Catley, Hansi Kursch, Michael Romeo, Anneke van Giersbergen, Ty Tabor, Daniel Gildenlow, Jonas Renke, Tomas Bodin / Audio CD released 2008-01-28 at Inside Out

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      05.02.2008 14:28
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      Ayreon's seventh album (2008).

      It's been four years since his masterwork 'The Human Equation,' and Arjen Lucassen has put together another Ayreon album that's all but destined to pale in comparison. After that album's conscious departure from the typical Ayreon fare, at least thematically, '01011001' (not to be confused with the Star Trek episode '11001001' which is completely different in all but stupid title) is the inevitable return to Ayreon's comfort zone of the sci-fi rock opera. It's also the long-awaited final revelation concerning just what happened to humanity in that fatal year 2085, first referenced way back in the first Ayreon album, and just what it is that connects aquatic aliens and Electric Castles to Universal Migrators and their Dream Sequencers.

      For trying so hard to 'Connect the Dots,' as Lucassen wryly puts it in the self-referential song, his latest project appears to be something of a burden, and even for all of his incredible imaginings the end result is a little disappointing. It's all logical and makes more sense of the connections between previous albums than I would have thought possible, but for taking such a serious sci-fi tone complete with a resurgence of the social critique from 'The Final Experiment,' this misses out almost entirely on the unadulterated, zany fun of something like 'Into the Electric Castle.' The only time it comes close is in the opening song of disc two, as the aliens fly on a comet towards their new, prehistoric home and debate the consequences of their arrival to its reptilian population ("They may all die, don't you think we should check it out?") Unfortunately, most of the album lacks this playful, B-movie sense of adventure, and although it's all well written and quite clever, it's really only the major deviations into more domestic, Earth-bound matters that strike a chord, and end up being by far the best songs here.

      As with its concept, Ayreon's music is breaking no new ground on this static release, and indulges in a similar connective pattern throughout the previous discography, resulting in a dominant mix of the multi-character rock opera 'Into the Electric Castle' and the heavily synthesised sound of the 'Universal Migrator' albums, with occasional songs landing more exclusively in the folky, acoustic rock of 'The Human Equation' or the atmospheric prog of 'The Dream Sequencer,' though never exceeding them. This was a disappointment to me after the exciting new ideas of the radically progressive and very heavy metal of 'The Human Equation,' but in the long run is forgivable and even appropriate as what looks determined to be the final chapter in this incredibly loosely-connected Ayreon saga, and can only spur Lucassen on to try more extreme and inventive directions in the future. Of course, in the shorter term it leaves the most recent Ayreon album sounding mostly overlong, derivative and frequently quite boring.

      Just like 'Into the Electric Castle' and 'The Human Equation' the story is split across two CDs, but this is the only instance of this seeming like a disc too many. The ten-minute songs are often far too repetitive and similar to each other, despite boasting impressive vocal work as the lyrics are ploughed through by various big names in the metal world, and neither the prog nor the metal fans of Ayreon are going to be particularly satisfied with the predominantly electronic sound that rarely throws out an original riff or melody, at least until the second disc. Even the singers themselves aren't as interesting or diverse as the cast of 'The Human Equation,' and the emphasis on gruff ballad tones from Jørn Lande and Daniel Gildenlow alongside opera vocals and the return of the Gathering's Anneke van Giersbergen makes for a very samey sound throughout, which even the legendary Hansi Kursch is unable to save us from thanks to his perseverance with the same Russell Mael impersonation that's spoiled the last two Blind Guardian albums.

      Even the most basic instruments are quite shockingly overlooked in the face of all the slow-moving synth, with Ayreon veteran Ed Warby's drums only really coming into play as late as track seven, and the first genuinely heavy guitar riff in 'Unnatural Selection' caused me to swear emphatically. The usual touches of slightly outlandish instruments are still present in the violins and flutes of the second disc, but to a lesser extent than in the previous album (and there isn't a didgeridoo in sight), and the general tedium of the admittedly more tedious first disc even gave me some small hope that Lucassen was doing a 'Universal Migrator,' and was going to surprise us all with a powerful and thrilling second half. He doesn't, but disc two is better on the whole.

      The slow-moving, operatic bombast of the Forever people is fortunately broken up by a few shorter and more overtly pop-rock songs that help the album regain some balance. Seemingly set in the present-day (deduced through some internet name-dropping and helpful sound effects of revving cars and beeping modems), these songs make for intriguing deviations and feature some of the album's finest and strangest lyrics and themes, further proving the message of 'The Human Equation' that the human adventure is the most compelling. 'Connect the Dots' is quite a sweet, domestic tale with interesting forebodings of disaster, and 'Web of Lies' examines the pitfalls of internet dating and makes for a very memorable ending to disc one, aided by the performance from Epica's Simone Simons. Perhaps the album's finest moment comes in the form of 'The Truth is in Here,' which once again sees Arjen bag the most interesting character for himself and write one of his finest and most compelling narratives, one that doesn't even descend into the hilarity of the tripping hippie or the blind minstrel who wishes he could be like every other man. Then again, his character's "cryptic" designation "Mister L" is quite enjoyably poor.

      This is only a poor album when judging by Ayreon's own standards which seemed to be generally on the rise, but would still make for an interesting (if arduous) introduction for fans of lighter metal styles who were maybe considering whether to go all prog, though they'd still be better off with 'The Human Equation' or even 'Into the Electric Castle' if they felt particularly open-minded. Even if it's destined to be the most inherently forgettable and least essential of all of his albums (apart from 'Actual Fantasy' perhaps), this at least seals the airlocks on the complex Ayreon narrative that was at best intriguingly strange, and at worst needlessly elaborate, and allows the talented prog/metal composer to look towards new horizons without being hassled by endless, repetitive e-mails asking what this rubbish is all about. It might not have been the Ayreon album I was hoping for, but it's about as good as can be expected considering its obligations to tying up loose ends of over a decade, and it's obvious that there won't be a more entertaining rock opera released any time before Lucassen's next move. I just know I'm going to listen to the whole discography in order one of these days and imagine that somehow makes it more meaningful.

      Disc 1

      1. Age of Shadows
      2. Comatose
      3. Liquid Eternity
      4. Connect the Dots
      5. Beneath the Waves
      ... i) Beneath the Waves
      ... ii) Face the Facts
      ... iii) But a Memory...
      ... iv) World Without Walls
      ... v) Reality Bleeds
      6. Newborn Race
      ... i) The Incentive
      ... ii) The Vision
      ... iii) The Procedure
      ... iv) Another Life
      ... v) Newborn Race
      ... vi) The Conclusion
      7. Ride the Comet
      8. Web of Lies

      Disc 2

      1. The Fifth Extinction
      ... i) Glimmer of Hope
      ... ii) World of Tomorrow Dreams
      ... iii) Collision Course
      ... iv) From the Ashes
      ... v) Glimmer of Hope (Reprise)
      2. Waking Dreams
      3. The Truth is in Here
      4. Unnatural Selection
      5. River of Time
      6. E=MC2
      7. The Sixth Extinction
      ... i) Echoes on the Wind
      ... ii) Radioactive Grave
      ... iii) 2085
      ... iv) To the Planet of Red
      ... iv) Spirit on the Wind
      ... v) Complete the Circle

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    • Product Details

      Disc #1 Tracklisting
      1 Age of Shadows (Incl. We Are Forever)
      2 Comatose
      3 Liquid Eternity
      4 Connect the Dots
      5 Beneath the Waves
      6 Newborn Race
      7 Ride the Comet
      8 Web of Lies

      Disc #2 Tracklisting
      1 The Fifth Extinction
      2 Waking Dreams
      3 The Truth Is In Here
      4 Unnatural Selection
      5 River of Time
      6 E=MC²
      7 The Sixth Extinction
      8 DVD: features making of “01011001” and a computer animated short film