The Source – Ayreon
Release & Packaging…
The latest album release of one of the many projects by Arjen Lucassen known as Ayreon is due to hit the shelves on the 28th April arrived 9 days earlier through my letter box on the 19th and was a very welcoming surprise.
The double album is being released in a good few editions including vinyl and a 4 disc box set. I myself opted for the cheaper 2 CD + 1 DVD edition from Arjen’s website which was cheaper than Amazon and cost me all of £16.88p rather than the £20 Amazon.co.uk had it priced at for their pre-orders. It also comes signed by Arjen himself along with a full size poster of the albums artwork .
The packaging is really superbly made of high quality thick cardboard just like an hardbound book and comes with the booklet fixed inside just like an hardbound book too, rather than it being separate, so no expense spared their I have to say, and with the 2 CD’s and 1 DVD housed in wallet pockets inside your certainly getting your money’s worth here that’s for sure.
Concept Albums & My Own Personal View Of Them…
I have always been a fan of Arjen’s project Ayreon and to be perfectly honest it’s only this concept album project that I do have of his works and have all Ayreon albums in my record collection. Though I have to confess no way am I a Sci-Fi nut like he is, and to be perfectly honest when it comes to his storylines both his albums The Human Equation and The Theory Of Everything are the only ones that appeal to me the most. Simply because they are the only ones that are down to earth and not in some science fiction fantasy world.
That’s not say both those particular albums of his are my ultimate favourite of his and that will always belong to his 3rd album Into The Electric Castle to which was the first album I ever brought and got me hooked to this project of his in the first place. That particular album was perhaps the best Sci-Fi concept album I had heard since albums such as Jeff Wayne’s War Of The Worlds and Rick Wakeman’s Journey To The Centre Of The earth.
For me personally no song needs to have great lyrics to make it what it is, just as any storyline put to music has to be that great either. OK I am not saying that good lyrics are not important to a song or the words put into to making a good story successful either. For films a good story is a lot more important than any of the music put into it, to make it a great film. When it comes to musical ideas such as concept albums for me personally it’s the music that makes it what it really is and the way the singers express the words just as in any song that really make it tick.
My all time favourite ultimate concept album is one where the storyline you cannot make head or tale out of it, and it proves that you do not need any solid storyline to make terrific albums which is what The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway by Genesis is. The fact that you cannot make any real sense of this story is why it’s really so successful. Another one of my ultimate concept albums does not contain any words at all and is entirely music based. That is The Snow Goose by Camel.
The real core behind Arjen’s great works are down to his great ability to write music in many different genres and it’s his excellence as a musician and the fact that he brings in other excellent musicians and singers to make it all happen and work so well as it does. Has for his stories, he could write about pigs flying in space for all I care. Sorry to say that but it’s true of how exactly Arjen’s music speaks to me and comes across and why I love it so much.
The Source Of Arjen’s Success…
The concept story behind the latest album The Source is very much a prequel to his 2008 album 01011001. Though I have to say that some of musical styles on it are perhaps more familiar with what we got on his last album The Theory Of Everything released in 2013 and his superb album Into the Electric Castle from 1998 more so than the 2008 release. That for me personally is also a very good thing, because even though I brought the album 01011001 back then, it’s an album of his I have never been able to get into that much at all. No matter how hard I have tried listening to it and the many times I have played it.
For me that album lacks a lot of qualities more so than any album he as made for my ears, and along with the both albums of the Universal Migrator they are my very least favourite Ayreon albums. Though to be fair having a least favourite Ayreon album is not really a bad album at all. I just do not think they are on the same level or par with the others he has done.
Just like any Ayreon album it comes with an array of great singers and great musicians hand picked by Arjen himself, the singers especially are brought in to play a unique cameo role and character within the storyline he has also wrote.
To be honest most of the singers and musicians I have never heard of before apart from the odd one or two, though some of them have appeared on previous Ayreon albums. The only ones from this bunch I have on any other non Ayreon albums would be Mark Kelly from Marillion. James Labrie from Dream Theater and Paul Gilbert from Mr Big. The only 2 musicians you will hear constantly on all his albums are Arjen himself and his drummer Ed Warby.
The following 2 pictures show just how many singers and musicians are involved to make the album The Source.
There is no doubt in my mind that Arjen has great vision of the artists he wants to bring in to make any Ayreon album really work and stand out so well as they do. This is what really makes this project of his so successful and unique.
For a guy who can sit at home making great music such as he does and be so successful without having to go out and put himself about in that big wide world by playing live to an audience to attract a following, especially in this day an age of trying to make a buck as musician is a remarkable achievement. I do not know of anybody else who could do so either. OK I know he put on a live show for the very first time last year, but he never even played live himself, and he has been successful for years at doing what he does without having to do so at all.
I very much think Jeff Wayne’s idea back in the late 70’s of how he did War of The Worlds rubbed off on him. Because all he did was sit at home, write some music, and he even used HG Wells story to which was already written for him and then called upon all the great artists to play and sing it. No doubt a mastermind at work and a very successful one too, just as Arjen is.
A DVD is always a great thing to have as a bonus disc and it’s even better when such a thing comes with a 5.1 surround audio version of the album especially for myself simply because I am a surround sound freak. The very fact that artists are even releasing their old back catalogues from decades ago in this format will also entice me to buy their albums all over again, simply because the quality of any 5.1 surround recording is far great quality than any other audio format including vinyl.
The World Of 5.1 Mixes Explained…
The reason why 5.1 can outstrip any other stereo format is simply because it has far more separation than any existing stereo recording, giving you as the listener a chance to hear things you could not possibly hear on a conventional stereo recording. Though I will stress that not all 5.1 recordings are that good and it depends entirely how good the album was mixed in 5.1 in the first place, and how the mixing engineer has dealt with and placed and panned all the instruments over its 6 channels for it to work properly and not just panned things out willy nilly for various effects.
There is no doubt that any producer who thinks that just because he can mix a stereo album is by any means an expert and is the right person to be able to do a 5.1 mix. It’s an entirely different ball game and best left to a more experienced engineer to do such a job. This is simply because you have to be very subtle with what instruments to take out of the original stereo field in the front speakers and place in the back for it to work right.
Any 5.1 recording will still rely heavily on the original stereo mix and it’s field, and if you take too many instruments out of that field just for the sake of panning them for mere effect, you will no doubt destroy the mix and in many cases cause a gap in the field without that instrument being where it originally was placed.
This can be a complete disaster especially when mixing older albums people have heard for many years and know exactly how things should sound in their ears, and all of a sudden giving the listener what you may think is a more newer experience to listen to, but the listener not liking it at all and resulting in him going back to what he had in the first place with the stereo mix.
Basically it gives 5.1 mixes a bad name especially for the newcomer to the format who has just lashed out the money and brought himself a surround system and has not heard many albums or live concerts done in this format.
There is also other media and audio formats that belong in the 5.1 world of audio that are better than others. For example the DVD is perhaps not the best media to place a 5.1 mix on but it can still be very good by using other decoders such as DTS and a recording done in 96K works far better than the most done in 48K. Especially in DTS rather than your conventional 5.1 standard mix.
Both SACD and Blu Ray are a more higher quality media to put such a 5.1 mix onto and will bring out the best in most of its formats. The simple reason is that the recordings on this media is not compressed or as compressed as those on a DVD and even an SACD can host a Lossless format just as much as a Blu Ray can with it’s so called HD formats. For me personally I prefer the SACD over them all. Though this is perhaps not so much down to the quality factor, and it’s more down to the cases they pack them in. I cannot say I am a fan of the guy who designed the standard case to put a Blu Ray in at all. It looks quite pathetic, and one would be far better placed in this awesome packaging this album of Arjen’s has that’s for sure.
The Source 5.1 Mix…
There is no doubt that many artists who produce and mix their own albums such as Arjen and many others will take on the 5.1 mix themselves. This is mainly down to cut down the cost and in many cases the fact that they even attempt to do such a thing quite often results in a piss poor job of it.
Just like the artist Roine Stolt from the band The Flower Kings does with his poor attempts at it. How on earth they even gave him the job to do the Transatlantic 5.1 mixes is beyond me. You may as well just stick with the stereo version for all it’s worth. He without a doubt is a perfect example of just how many artists there are that even though they are quite capable and are very good at mixing and producing their own stereo albums, are far from any expert to take on such a job of a 5.1 mix in the first place. The end result is quite often pointless and a waste of time and space.
So is Arjen any better or even an expert to take on such a job you may ask? Well I can tell you now that this is not the first album Arjen has took on of his to mix in 5.1. His first and only previous attempt prior to this one was back in 2004 for his Return To Fantasy album. To be perfectly honest that mix is nowhere near as bad as what Stolt done that’s for sure and it’s what I would call OK. But nothing that good to shout about I can assure you.
For years now I myself have been begging Arjen to do 5.1 mixes of his albums. Mind you I have to confess I did not mean for him to do them himself, but get a guy who knows what he’s doing and has already done excellent 5.1 mixes He has often explained that it’s down to adding further cost in doing so, and it takes another 2 weeks work to do such a thing. He also stated the fact that the format is not popular enough, and not enough people have any interest in it, was his other reasons for not doing them.
At the end of last year when I first heard there was going to be another Ayreon album in the making and at the beginning of this year when he was telling us a bit more about it on his Facebook page. I pestered and pestered him again over a 5.1 mix on his Facebook page. The very fact that I did this time had more and more people liking my comment I had made about it.
About a month later Arjen himself replied to my comment telling me that he had just recently brought a 5.1 system and is enjoying the new experience in listening to music. He also said the new album will have a 5.1 mix. This even produced more feedback from other people asking for a DTS version to which I replied “Don’t get your hopes up too much guys and be grateful we are at least getting a 5.1mix”. Deep in my mind I knew Arjen would do a standard 5.1 mix just has he had done with Return To Fantasy back in 2004. I was right not to have any great expectations.
The 5.1 mix Arjen has done for his album The Source is quite an interesting one I have to say. It has some good points and bad ones about it. But what I will say in his defence is that to be able mix the music he does in conventional stereo is exceptionally very good, especially handling more heavier parts that are in the music such as the metal guitars and getting all those singers voices to cut through the mix. To do that over a 5.1 mix is even a much harder task that even many experts in that field of doing 5.1 mixes still find very hard to do. Despite having more of a separated field and place to work in.
For most of Arjen’s mix he seems to concentrate on the stereo field perhaps a bit too much as if he’s too scared to place some of the other instruments in the rear speakers in parts of it. He is also placing reflections of the instruments in the rear speakers at times which cause the mix to have more of a delayed effect to it which results in it to sound far to different to the original stereo mix. These are no doubt his bad points and where he is certainly not qualified to take on the job in the first place
He does however have some good points to where he has himself perhaps listened to other artists albums and seen just what do work better placed in the rear speakers, rather than just throwing any instrument in there, and has done very well by placing some of the backing vocals and harmonies in the rear speakers and even panned them out nicely with the use of the front speakers too.
It’s things like this that work the best for 5.1 mixes by only taking certain instruments such as the odd bit of percussion, backing vocals and harmonies. Acoustic guitars and mandolins work well in the rear speakers too, especially where there are more than just one guitar in the mix.
To sum up my personal view of the 5.1 mix Arjen has done for the album The Source. I honestly see it as not a bonus at all. Simply because quite frankly it’s not good enough and the stereo mix sounds way better to listen too. The idea of having a 5.1 mix in the first place is to make the listening experience much more pleasurable in that you can hear everything that’s on the album more clearly giving you something the stereo mix could never achieve regarding it’s clarity and it’s quality.
The fact that he has used the lowest quality format for a 5.1 mix does not really help either. I think that if Arjen was to get in a more experienced 5.1 engineer to mix his album for him, even he would get to enjoy it himself more.
Other Features On The DVD…
The other features on the DVD are certainly more welcoming than the 5.1 mix I have just discussed and help to restore some of the quality back into this package. There is a behind the scenes making of the album. I always find these interesting on all Ayreon albums watching all the singers and musicians recording their parts and Arjen discussing how he gets in contact with them in the first place. You get a good look inside his studio and into how it all came together.
However what I did find strange watching it, was the fact that Arjen stated he played all the keyboards on the album this time around and even though he mentioned all the singers and musicians on the album, he completely forgot to mention Mark Kelly of Marillion.
This led me to believe that Mark Kelly was not even on the album even though there was quite clearly a picture of him listed in the list of musicians. I then looked through the linear notes of the album to see what track he was playing on, and it was at this point I noticed that the linear notes were not that informative in telling you which musicians played on each individual track.
So I decide to message Arjen himself about my discovery to see if he could clarify if he was on the album and what tracks he played on. Arjen got back to me and explained it’s always hard to think of getting every detail in the linear notes and sometimes these things get left out. But he did confirm that he was on the album and the one and only track he played on to which I mentioned earlier and updated in my review here.
As well as the behind the scenes the DVD also contains Interviews with some of the artists who appeared on the album and 4 videos which are of The Day That The World Breaks Down. Everybody Dies. Star Of Sirrah and Run! Apocalypse! Run!.
The Album Review…
There is no doubt this latest album “The Source” is perhaps more like a “Force” to be reckoned with, especially the material on the 1st disc. It’s one very powerful album that very rarely comes down from it’s blistering pace. In comparison to the previous Ayreon album The Theory Of Everything it perhaps makes that sound more like a collection of fine ballads.
The 17 tracks that are on the double album are split into 4 chapters or Chronicles with individual subheadings to cater for the storyline. Both of the CD’s have a playing time of 44 minutes each, making a total of 88 minutes and 28 seconds over the 2 discs.
I have to say it’s a time slot that I prefer myself and more familiar to the playing time for an album done back in the 70’s. Most artists these days try and squeeze every last second out of the playing time of a blank CD to try and get their money’s worth out of the disc. Which is all very well if you have an hour or more worth of really good material to put on it and are not just gonna be filling up the space with gap fillers as many artists tend to do to make up the time.
I think even many artists back in those days struggled to make a solid album over the 40 minute time slot, never mind the 60 to 80 minute one we have these days and it’s a lot more tougher challenge to try and achieve as well even with today’s newer artists.
Chronicle 1: The Frame
The album kicks off with the longest track on the whole of the double album entitled The Day That The World Breaks Down. This 12 and half minute epic prog rock track is my fave of them all, though there are plenty of other contenders that might have stood a chance of grabbing that merit, and a lot more to come that have the power to deliver the goods throughout. It’s one very powerful song that combines and fuses heavy metal and rock rhythms and comes with a very tasty blues lead guitar solo.
Arjen has almost practically threw in his complete artillery of singers and musicians into this opening song and it works superbly. The story opens up like we’re in a desolate place surrounded by a storm and there is hardly anybody left upon whatever planet they are on. I have to say the singers not only play the chosen character parts they have been given so well but they have really threw themselves into it that well that you really think what’s going on here is actually happening. They really are doing an awesome job of it along with all the musicians too.
Soon the short intro and storm passes by and in comes a beautiful flute short passage just before the heavy mob come into action unleashing and expressing the situation of what’s going on in the storyline superbly. The whole track has great diversity with it’s powerful and melodic sections and even a part of its melody lines in one section touch the same melody lines of the “Amazing Flight” from his Into The Electric Castle album. It really is a superb piece of work and brilliant track.
There is no stopping on this journey and each track leads and blends into one another very well, and the more subtle and powerful ballad 2nd track the Sea Of Machines is another fine song that opens up with some beautiful strings and flute. It’s got quite a Celtic feel about it but also displays some very powerful dynamics as it builds up. Really superb instrumentation and all the vocalists once again portraying the story superbly.
The pace picks itself back up superbly with Everybody Dies. More heavy crunching metal from the guitars and it kicks off with a superb keyboard solo from what I can only presume is played by Mark Kelly of Marillion cause it has his stamp all over it. No doubt this song is one of the contenders for the fave spot on the album too, and it puts an end to the first chapter of the story with a piercing death growl of the word “Dies” and the poor chap perhaps in need of a good few throat lozenges afterwards to sooth his throat :)))))).
Chronicle 2: The Aligning Of The Ten
The 2nd chapter opens up with the 4th track on the album Star Of Sirrah which opens up with some beautiful rhythm guitars and James Labrie putting over the words of the story in great ballad style, though that soon comes to end and the song soon once again unleashes it’s death metal power with Russell Allen taking over the vocals for this section who does a great job with the power of his voice as does all of them who are singing and doing the backing harmonies in the song.
All Of What Was brings pace down and perhaps the most Celtic track on the album, it’s also the shortest track on the 1st CD. The vocals for this one are mainly shared between the 2 female singers Simone Simmons and Floor Jansen who do a smashing job of it.
Then follows another blistering paced song entitled Run! Apocalypse! Run! that opens up very nicely with a short burst on the hammond organ before the guitars and vocals come screaming into the action with great heavy power and this one reminds me a bit like the band Rainbow back in their earlier days when they had Ronnie James Dio as their main singer. By far the best singer Rainbow ever had and for me personally those first 3 albums they made were the only decent thing they really did do. This is another superb powerful track on the album.
Condemned To Live rounds off the 1st CD superbly with it’s quite menacing dramatic opening on the strings and it’s Egyptian or Arabic melodies it has about it too. It’s another fine song displays bursts of power with metal guitars throughout its build up and puts an end to the end to the 2nd chapter and this 1st disc of the two very well indeed.
Chronicle 3: The Transmigration
Aquatic Race opens up the 3rd chapter on the 2nd disc with a choir of the singers in unison on the harmonies unaccompanied at first, and it sounds very familiar to how the band Yes done their harmonies and chants back in the 80’s which for me was not a particular good decade for my taste of that band at all. Once again we get some more Egyptian or Arabic melody lines.
I must confess at this particular point of the album that this particular song is not to my liking, and in comparison to everything we had on the 1st disc which was superb, I really think it lets the album down a bit. It does have some good heavy guitars in it but the whole vocal arrangement makes it too much like how the Yes sounded in the 80’s and just kills it for me.
The next track The Dream Dissolves is a much more of an interesting one and starts off with some fine strings, flute and violin the flute in particular almost in Jethro Tull style. There is quite a dramatic sense of sadness and a costiveness about it as the story continues with fine vocals and more influences come into play with some very tasty Pink Floyd keyboards followed by a cracking lead guitar solo. It’s another fine track with a great build to it.
Well just as I thought their was a hint of Ian Anderson’s flute in the previous track Deathcry Of A Race certainly kicks off with one in much more Jethro Tull style and fashion. It’s quite a powerful song with even some operatic vocals and Eastern and Arabian musical melodies interwoven with metal guitar.
It certainly makes it interesting and more perhaps of a track for the theatres with its dramatics, but I cannot say I am a fan of its Eastern styles at all and it would of been much better without it. It sounds more like a battle to get a seat in an Indian restaurant than anything in space that’s for sure :)))))))
Into The Ocean is another song that that has a Rainbow feel about, only one from their more popular side of things after Dio had left. Its quite a good rocking little number and for me the best out of the 4 in this chapter of the story, it also ends off this 3rd chapter too.
Chronicle 4: The Rebirth
The 4th and final chapter of the story opens up with track 5 on the 2nd disc entitled Bay Of Dreams It starts off with a sequencer (most likely played on the Prophet 5 because it sounds very identical to my mates old Prophet One) The sequence drives the song continuously throughout the whole track and the other instrumentation is very skilfully woven around it. The singers voices seat very well and the song flows very well at a steady pace, gradually building its way up into a rock crescendo and then drops back down to the opening sequence to end it all off.
The pace is then brought back up with Planet Y Is Alive! and by now I am beginning to feel that this whole 2nd disc is very much reminding of that 2008 album 01011001 and the material here is a bit of a mixed bag and a hit and miss just like that album was. I think the song does have some good moments especially when it comes down to the lead guitar section, but once again some of the vocal arrangements and the whole thing is just oh so too familiar and driving me nuts. Honestly hearing them sing “Planet Y is alive” has me begging for them to kill it :))))))))))))))))
Then we get the pop song of the album The Source Will Flow it’s quite a nice ballad of a song but at this point I am asking myself does The Source flow and work as an album with the mixed material upon it. More Yes harmonies open up the next track Journey To Forever and once again (apart from the lovely mandolin section) I get the feeling of 80’s Yes especially with the songs chorus. It’s certainly not a journey I want to be on forever and cannot wait for it to end :))))))))))
The album then winds itself up for it’s conclusion over the next two short tracks The Human Compulsion and the March Of The Machines which put an end to album very well and both of these tracks are more like it to be honest but by now I have completely lost faith in the 2nd disc of the album and it’s needs a damn sight more than “Hope” to keep it alive.
For me personally the album The Source by Ayreon comes across like a game of football that has two halves. The first half (Disc 1) is purely brilliant. The second half (Disc 2) is an entirely different kettle of fish and the material is all over the shop from one track to the next. For me it simply does not work at all and it’s as if Arjen has done one song and taken ages to go back to the project and do another, and done that throughout every track on this 2nd disc.
OK maybe the story works but the music simply does not for my taste, and as I said at the beginning I am not into Sci-fi and it’s fantasy at all, and the music will always appeal to me the most of how any song is structured and put together, and for me the song structures on the 2nd disc are a far cry from the 1st disc that’s for certain.
It’s a shame really because I think he has spoilt what potentially could of been a terrific album. The 1st disc certainly is one, but I just think he’s completely lost the plot on the 2nd disc and it’s just to much of a mixed bag for my liking I am afraid.
Is new album The Source the best Ayreon album ever? No! that I am afraid that still belongs personally to me to Into The Electric Castle. I think if had Arjen had of made his story over one disc instead of the two we got here, it would of certainly have been a great contender as the best Ayreon album.
The material I found was that bad on the 2nd disc, that there was just no way I could even pick one single track from it to be a contender for the favourite spot on the album where as I found several on the 1st disc. The double album as a whole does not even pose a threat on his last album The Theory Of Everything which to me was way more of a solid album over the 2 discs.
I have to admit that I do myself get excited when a new Ayreon album is in the pipeline and being ready to be thrust upon us. Having heard and seen the video to the opening track on it way before the album’s release I thought it would be a mind blowing album and perhaps take the number one spot as the best Ayreon album.
In a recent interview I seen of Arjen on Youtube. I have just found out that this album was not originally intended as part of his Ayreon project and was only going to be a single album for his Star One project which is a more metal based project of his. Personally I think he should of stuck with his original idea.
Overall to draw to a conclusion of my review for the double album The Source. I have to say that I am very disappointed with the material upon the 2nd disc that much that I think it has to be the worst material I have ever heard Arjen do for any Ayreon project. It’s not even mix and match and more like pot luck material you would get out of a lucky bag. It’s entirely out of character with what we had on the 1st disc and that is how it honestly speaks to me, and this is my truthful way of speaking back at it I am sorry to say, and yes I am a fan of Arjen’s great music.
I would also like to clarify that Mark Kelly does not play synthesizer on Everybody Dies even if it was very reminiscent to his style with earlier Marillion. The only track he does in fact play on is The Dream Dissolves which has the more Floydish… feel about it, to which I found very odd. But I only had this confirmed by Arjen himself yesterday.
01. The Day That The World Breaks Down. 12:30.
02. Sea Of Machines. 5:08.
03. Everybody Dies. 4:42.
04. Star Of Sirrah. 7:03.
05. All That Was. 3:36.
06. Run! Apocalypse! Run!. 4:52.
07. Condemned To Live. 6:13.
01. Aquatic Race. 6:44.
02. The Dream Dissolves. 6:11.
03. Deathcry Of A Race. 4:43.
04. Into The Ocean. 4:53.
05. Bay Of Dreams. 4:24.
06. Planet Y Is Alive!. 6:02.
07. The Source Will Flow. 4:13.
08. Journey To Forever. 3:20.
09. The Human Compulsion. 2:15.
10. March of The Machines. 1:39.