* Prices may differ from that shown
Part one of The Universal Migrator, entitled The Dream Sequencer benefits from a much lessened aggression and a more electronic based direction than its sequel would have, and for me this better suits the 'space age' concept of the album.
The opening track, The Dream Sequencer is a fantastic piece in which the voice of a computer programme (The Migrator) outlines someone's attempt to travel back in time, and in doing so the listener is thrown straight into an original sci-fi rock opera!
One of the best tracks on the album is the female sung ballad 2084 which for me summed up everything Ayreon were trying to achieve with the album. It's difficult to fault it in theory and with numerous highlights and lengthy set it's another space rock 'epic', which is an essential acquisition.
Fans of Ayreon will probably know what to expect from this album and it lives up to expectations with another helping of space rock opera.
Arjen Lucassen's follow-up to his intricate rock opera 'Into the Electric Castle' is no less ambitious, but takes a much different approach. The two albums that comprise the 'Universal Migrator' were released independently in 2000 (more recently re-released and combined as an equally valid two-disc set), and although the project once again recruits talented vocalists to act out a voyage through time and space, each song across the two albums is presented as a self-contained segment led by a distinct vocalist, rather than an ensemble performance of characters throughout. More deviant still, the first album 'The Dream Sequencer' abandons Ayreon's heavy metal roots entirely, following an atmospheric progressive rock direction similar to the earlier release 'Actual Fantasy,' only without the heaviness or dark atmosphere. A bold and potentially alienating move for Ayreon's metal fan base, it's completely justified by its immediate successor 'Flight of the Migrator' being a fantastic metal romp.
This has always been my least favoured of the two albums, primarily due to the lack of excitement and energy that I associate with Ayreon adventures, most songs lasting for far too long and relying on repetition and maintenance of atmosphere rather than the progression of its successor, which, although aimed at the metal fans, will also be of inherently more interest to prog fans for being more complex and interesting. This is still a strong album, and a great deal more interesting than the majority of atmospheric rock, but certainly one for existing Ayreon fans to sample before they commit to buy. The concept is as lofty as all Ayreon, and crafts a conscious link back to the first album in its tale of humanity's destruction in the late twenty-first century. Only the colonists of Mars survived, and are themselves slowly dying of old age, until one man decides to try to put things right while immersed in the Dream Sequencer, a device designed to observe past events through "preincarnation" (coining that term has to be among Lucassen's finest achievements), after it becomes clear that his past lives all held some particular significance in the development of the human race. Or something like that...
Each song takes place in a different time period, apart from the introspective 'Carried by the Wind,' and Lucassen admits to choosing the key events - including the moon landing, the creation of Stonehenge and the height of Mayan civilisation - from a child's encyclopaedia; his lyrics are uncomplicated as usual, to be kind, but the music and particularly the singing carry this album along in a more consistent and less absurd manner than some of the more excessive rock opera moments of Ayreon past.
It's reported that Lucassen desired only female singers for this album to balance out its successor's masculinity, but as enough suitable women weren't available he relied on some of his past contributors: long-time collaborator Edward Reekers successfully works Neil Armstrong's famous motto into a chorus in 'One Small Step' and Damian Wilson perhaps goes a little overboard singing about druids in that otherwise calm piece, while Lana Lane fills in most of the female roles from the spoken word introduction to backing singing in many songs and solo spots of her own in '2084' and 'Dragon on the Sea.' Last but not least, Jacqueline Govaert puts in a memorable performance in the light and jangly 'Temple of the Cat,' potentially the most accessible to a mainstream audience and the first song to come in at a more reasonable length.
The music itself is dominated, as ever, by Lucassen's guitar and keyboards, here confined to atmospheric duty for the most part, but often bursting out into solos and the guitar, at its best, providing some great lead melodies in 'My House on Mars,' 'The Shooting Company of Captain Frans B. Cocq' and 'Carried by the Wind,' while the opening and closing instrumentals are performed in a distinctly David Gilmour manner comparable to Pink Floyd around 'Wish You Were Here,' an album that also has clear influence on much of the keyboard work, particularly the 'Welcome to the Machine' references of 'One Small Step.' This is an interesting and distinct album in the Ayreon discography, suited to relaxation but still containing enough memorable songs not to rule it out as "proper music," but for Lucassen's metal fans it really is a good job he backed it up with the powerful 'Flight of the Migrator,' or we'd assume he'd turned all wussy on us.
1. The Dream Sequencer
2. My House on Mars
4. One Small Step
5. The Shooting Company of Captain Frans B. Cocq
6. Dragon on the Sea
7. Temple of the Cat
8. Carried by the Wind
9. And the Druids Turn to Stone
10. The First Man on Earth
11. The Dream Sequencer Reprise
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Dream Sequencer
2 My House on Mars
4 One Small Step
5 Shooting Company of Captain Frans B. Cocq
6 Dragon on the Sea
7 Temple of the Cat
8 Carried by the Wind
9 And the Druids Turn to Stone
10 First Man on Earth
11 Dream Sequencer Reprise