Into The Electric Castle (20th Anniversary Earbook Edition) – Ayreon
Into The Electric Castle by Ayreon was the very album that introduced me to world of Arjen Anthony Lucassen and his project of Ayreon back in 1998 when the double album was originally released. To be honest I cannot remember which magazine drew my attention to Arjen and his project at the time, but it would of been some HiFi or Electronic mag like Sound On Sound. But whatever mag it was I know that it had an headline stating something along the lines that almost every artist wanted to jump on his bandwagon so to speak and play for him.
I have to admit at the time I felt it rather strange, especially for a guy who came from Holland who I had never heard a dickie bird about before :))))). But the headline was enough to catch my interest and read all about it. To be honest when I started to read the list of artists who was playing for him on the album there was only three artists I knew on it. Two of them were keyboard players Thijs Van Leer of Focus and Ton Scherpenzeel who I had only known via the band Camel.
But it was the ex singer from Marillion, Fish who I was more of a fan of at the time, that led me to the album in the first place and also enticed me to actually buy it. Having heard the album I have to admit I was quite blown away by it, that much that Arjen got himself a new fan and I have very much followed his Ayreon project ever since.
Now it’s 20 years later and I am buying it again, only this time it’s costing me more or less 3 times the amount of money for it. So what’s the big attraction this time around? And is it really worth it?. Well you can find that out in my review here, but first up let’s take a look at the packaging and artwork.
The Packaging & Artwork…
Well with any package that comes like this you are no doubt looking at genuine real quality. It’s very much the size of a 12 inch vinyl album and the fact that the artwork is printed onto an hardback book makes it even more superior quality than a vinyl album. However for a person like myself who no longer collects vinyl, this type of package as GRAND! as it looks, does present me with a problem of storing it. That is why I personally prefer the Book Editions like the way Ian Anderson is presenting the Anniversary Editions of his back catalogue of Jethro Tull. They are the same size of a DVD and are easy enough to store, and like CD’s they do not take up that much space.
This is now the third package I have brought this size and because my storage units do not have enough depth. The only way I can fit them into my units is by displaying them by the width, and just one of these things is gonna take up a space that you can fit 50 – 60 CD’s in. So not only are these things pricey, but they cost you a lot more to store as well. But no doubt they do make a very attractive eye-catching package. And just to show you how appealing it is and how much I like it. I have perhaps gone a bit over the top with the video presentation here, to show you just how GRAND! it looks :)))))).
As you can gather by the video the discs very well slot into place and it comes with a very informative 38 page book. Which is actually that informative that it actually goes into a lot of the production side of things too, besides having all the usual lyrics, credits and linear production notes. It also comes with a lot of stunning artwork and photos too.
The artwork for the album cover was done by Jef Bertels and even though Bertels went on to do the artwork for Ayreon ever since, this was the very first work he had done for Arjen and it was Arjen’s brother Gjalt who found the right artist to do the job for him. The original painting is still very much hanging on his wall along with a few others Bertels as painted over the years.
He even provided Arjen with all the extra artwork for this Earbook Edition too, and it’s very well apt and looks GREAT!. All the linear and production notes was done by Arjen himself and the design and layout for this 2018 release was done by Roy Koch at mascot label Group.
Into The Electric Castle 20th Anniversary Editions…
The new 20th Anniversary Editions of Into The Electric Castle was released in 4 formats and I have to say it’s a bit strange the way Arjen’s gone about these releases. For example the cheapest option is the Digital Download route which is currently £10.99 on Amazon. The downloads you get are also the new remixes of the album and not the original mixes from 1998. But it is the new mixes that Arjen himself has remixed is really the selling point and enticing factor about this release, although this may not be the sort of thing for most purists.
The cheapest of the physical formats is the Vinyl release to which you get 3 LP’s on black vinyl for 28 Euro. Now for some reason the recordings on this release are not the new mixes, and are the original 1998 mixes. I am not sure of the reasoning behind this especially as 1998 mixes was released on vinyl for the first time back in 2011 on 3 LP’s. Though it maybe because it was released as a limited edition back then and it’s no longer available. But even so, it’s hardly a limited edition now with this new release :)))))). But you do also get a download card so you can download the new remixes for free.
I also find it very strange because the new thing that the 20th Anniversary Editions tend to be focusing on are the new mixes, so why was they not included on the vinyl release. The other thing that is also very odd and strange is the fact that the new mixes were not released on CD apart from the next package up, and to get your hands on a Double CD with the new mixes on you are going to have to shell out a lot more money for it. But you do get more besides a Double CD in the package.
But the fact that not everyone is not made out of money to afford such a package. I rather think that Arjen is not really playing the ball game here with his fans, and he should of at least of put out a Double CD package of the new mixes at a more respective price for those who could not afford all the bells and whistles so to speak. A CD/DVD package would not of gone a miss either, especially for 5.1 surround freaks like myself, and I have to say I hate it when artists get greedy by putting such things in more expensive packages only, enticing you to pay more money for them to get your hands on the thing you want.
The Earbook Edition is the next package up and is priced at 50 Euro. Around £44 here in the UK and this is the edition I opted to go with in the end. This edition comes with 4 CD’s plus 1 DVD with the 5.1 mix of the album. It also comes with the discs in a hardback book making it a very nice well presented package. I pre-ordered my copy from Amazon on the 28th August simply because I knew I would get it cheaper and I got it for £37. 65. But if you ordered it directly from the Mascot Label Group it would come signed by Arjen himself. But I would of ended up paying £50 or more for it with postage & packaging added to the price, and the price of ink is not worth that much more I am afraid :))))))).
The Limited Box Set is the most expensive package priced at 100 Euro. It’s a one off pressing and only 1,500 have been pressed. The box set comes with the same items you get in both the Earbook plus the Vinyl Edition. Only the you do get Gold Coloured Vinyl instead of the normal black. It also comes with a 3D Sculpture that has been framed of the Electric Castle plus a download card so you can download the album for free.
Regardless of this perhaps not being the sort of release for purists or not, it did not take long for all the physical releases to sell out. The 1,500 box sets sold within a week and the Earbook and Vinyl Album to which I am sure they made either 3,500 or 5,000 of each at first have also all sold out, though these are not limited editions and more will eventually surface again once they have made more.
Into The Electric Castle (Earbook Edition) Review…
The 20th Anniversary Earbook Edition of Into The Electric Castle by Ayreon was released on the 26th October 2018. Like I mentioned earlier this release is not really for purists and everything that you have in this package is all about the new mixes. Some may even see a release such as this as the artist trying to milk more money out of their fans, and no doubt the way a package like this has been so very well presented, it will attract the attention for them to buy it.
My real incentive for purchasing this package was for the 5.1 mix on the DVD and not the CD’s. To be honest if Arjen had of released the 5.1 mix either on a DVD on it’s own or along with 2 CD’s like most artists do for around £20. I may well of still brought this Earbook Edition because this is my favourite Ayreon album and the package is without a doubt worth the price I paid for it from Amazon. But packages like this do present me with a problem of storing them, and eventually I will have to spend even more money on buying other storage units to do such a thing. So let’s take a closer look at what get here in the package.
CD’s 1 & 2.
The first two CD’s contain the newly mixed version of the double album and as with all new remixes there is bound to be something different with how they sound and compare to the original mix. Over the past decade or more I have brought many of these type of new releases from artists and the difference you do get is a lot more than you would get with a remaster, and any remaster is not really going to be a major improvement in the first place, and is nothing more than an enhancement of the original stereo recordings.
Doing a complete new remix can no doubt make a difference. To be honest some of the new remixes from my personal experience sound better than the original recordings. There are a ton of new production tools that have came out over the years and no doubt technology as come on in leaps and bounds even over the past 20 years. Having gone back into the original recording of the tracks, Arjen did also find some parts he left out of the original mix, and felt he could use them in the new mix like he explains in this video of the trailer he made for this new release.
Both the CD’s come with the same playing time of the original 1998 double album so the new mixes and the parts he left out originally do not really add any extra length to the tracks. The 1st CD comes with 7 tracks and has an overall playing time of 47 minutes, 24 seconds. The 2nd CD contains 10 tracks spanned over and overall playing time of 57 minutes 13 seconds.
CD’s 3 & 4.
Both discs 3 & 4 contain the instrumental new mixes of the album and effectively these type of bonus discs are only included to make you look like you are getting something extra for your money. This is something a lot of artists and record companies do these days to entice you to buy these type of packages. I suppose they come in handy if you want to do a bit of karaoke and give yourself a sore throat trying to sing to them LOL…
But apart from that they are perhaps not going to get played that much I would of thought, and these type of bonus features do not really give you something more like a song they may have been recorded at the time the album was made and left off the album for example. Some instrumental versions can sound interesting and I actually listened to both of these discs whilst writing out my review here. They come in handy for multitasking purposes and are quite soothing for doing such a thing and do not distract your attention as much.
The DVD’s main menu is simple enough to navigate your way around and by default its set at the first of the 4 options to choose from. The latter 2 options are for the bonus material and the one thing you do not get is an “Audio” option. That’s basically because the DVD only comes with one soundtrack which is the 5.1 mix, and not even a stereo soundtrack as been included for the main feature.
So for those who do not have a 5.1 system, this DVD will be pretty much useless to them. It will however play in stereo, but no doubt you will be missing quite a few things from the mix :))))))). By clicking on the “Play All” option it will simply play the album.
The “Select Track” will take you to the following screen as seen in the picture above, and here you can select a specific track to play if you wish. This feature comes in handy if you just want to listen to a certain track or play it to a friend.
The DVD Bonus Features.
The two bonus features “Vocalists” and “Cover & Instrumentalists” only come with a stereo soundtrack. These are also the same videos that were released on the 2004 Special Edition of Into The Electric Castle and you get to see Arjen giving you a bit of background information about the singers and instrumentalists on the album.
To be honest I never brought this release and had never seen the videos before. But back in those days and even earlier you would quite often get some video footage on special editions such as these type of VCD’s that you had to put in your computer to be able to see them. Some were even the official videos of the songs they made rather than little documentaries like we have here. Though they was never really great quality, and nothing as been done to enhance the ones you get here either and they look very small on this DVD too and would look much better on Youtube in reality. No doubt these videos will most likely be still on Youtube floating around somewhere.
The first of them “Vocalists” is the longer of the two and is around 17:45 minutes and shows you Arjen talking about how he got in touch with the singers, and plays some of their vocal parts unaccompanied. It’s quite interesting because back then we never had the internet so you had to go about getting in touch with people by other means which was a lot harder to do. Some of the vocalists came to Arjen’s home so he could record them, and for others he had to go to their homes or studios to record them.
The second video “Cover & Instrumentalists” runs for less than 8 minutes and here you get to see Arjen talking about the painting Jef Bertels done for the albums artwork and how the album was recorded on 7 DAT machines which presented a lot of synchronising problems back in those days in comparison to the conventional DAWS we have these days. Plus he talks about some of the musicians that featured on the album and plays a bit of their parts unaccompanied too.
The picture you see above is what displays on your TV whilst playing the album on the DVD. To be honest no real serious thought has been applied here and so much more could of been done. Such as putting in more pictures to work in the way of a slide show for example. It’s quite disappointing that nothing else has been done here, and it does not even display the title of the track your playing either.
Even if they made the picture glow or move would a been a damn site better than having a still picture displaying on your TV throughout the duration of the album, and I would advise anybody to turn their TV off whilst playing the album as well. Unless you want to burn out the pixels on your nice TV or the backlight on LED displays. No doubt the DVD side of things has been rushed and they had sloppy people with no brains working on it. They are nothing more than a bunch of mindless jerks who’ll be the first against the wall when the revolution comes :)))))))).
The 5.1 Mix.
Well on my last review of Ayreon’s Universe I did mention how Arjen was improving on his 5.1 mixes and no doubt once again he has improved on this release too. To be perfectly honest I am quite surprised how well he has done here considering he still does not know what DTS and 96K or even 24 bits is yet :)))))) and once again he’s used the box standard Dolby Digital audio format to do the 5.1 mix we have here which is in 16 bit 48K.
No doubt Arjen still has a great deal to learn regarding mixing 5.1 to even get up to Steven Wilson’s standards never mind somebody like Chuck Ainsley’s expertise. But I will give him a big pat on the back here because he has done a very good job on this mix, and I am quite impressed just how well he has done with this mix and how well he has utilised the 6 channels with the placement too, and I like this one enough to even give it 8 out of 10 too.
Though it would of been great if he also included a 5.1 mix of the original 1998 mix as well, simply because with a new mix like this you are not really going to hear how much clarity and dynamics the 5.1 mix brought out with all the new things he has thrown into the pot here.
Musicians & Credits…
Produced by Arjen Anthony Lucassen. All songs written and composed by Arjen Anthony Lucassen except for the lyrics on tracks 2,5 & 6 of disc 1 written by Fish. Lyrics for track 1 disc 1 & track 9 disc 2 plus all narration written by Peter Daltrey. Lyrics for track 3 disc 1 written by Jay van Feggelen. Melody line on track 6 disc 1 written by Anneke van Giersbergen. Stereo & 5.1 mix by Arjen Anthony Lucassen. Mastered by Brett Caldas-Lima at Tower Studio. Artwork by Jef Bertels. Design/Layout by Roy Koch.
Vocalists & Characters
Fish: (The Highlander)
Sharon Den Adel: (The Indian)
Damian Wilson: (The Knight)
Edwin Balogh: (The Roman)
Anneke Van Giersbergen: (The Egyptian)
Jay Van Feggelen: (The Barbarian)
Arjen Anthony Lucassen: (The Hippie)
Edward Reekers: (The Futureman)
Peter Daltrey: (The Voice)
Robert Westerholt & George Oosthoek: (As Death)
Arjen Anthony Lucassen: All Electric & Acoustic Guitars/Mandolin/Bass/Minimoog/Mellotron & Keyboards.
ED Warby: All Drums.
Roland Bakker: All Hammonds.
Robby Valentine: All Pianos – Synths Solos (Disc 1 Track 2A. Track 3A. Disc 2. Track 4) – Mellotron (Disc 2 Track 6A)
Rene Merkelbach: Synth Solos (Disc 1 Track 5. Disc 2 Track 7) – Harpsichord (Disc 2 Track 2)
Clive Nolan: Synth Solos (Disc 1 Track 3C)
Ton Scherpenzell: Synth Solos (Disc 2 Track 5C)
Thijs Van Leer: Flute (Disc 1 Track 3C. Track 4. Disc 2 Tracks 2 & 3)
Erno Olah: Violins.
Taco Kooistra: Cello.
Jack Pisters: Sitar.
The Album Tracks In Review…
Into The Electric Castle is very much a Space Opera or you could say Rock Opera with the artists Arjen roped in to pull it all off. It came off the back of his 2nd album Actual Fantasy which was not so well received at the time, so he more or less ploughed everything he had into his 3rd album and it was a very costly album to make, and quite a gamble he took on which could of left him broke if it never succeeded. No doubt with all the singers and musicians he hired he most likely took a leaf out of Jeff Wayne’s book with how he in particular went about making War Of The Worlds.
The first time I ever heard Into The Electric Castle I actually thought it was the nearest thing I had heard to Jeff Wayne’s classic even if both musically and story wise they are poles apart. Both albums have the dramatics without a doubt, but for me personally they both work very well in different ways. For example the story behind Into The Electric Castle does not quite contain the suspense of the HG Wells classic War Of The Worlds.
To be honest the story behind Into The Electric Castle does not grab me like War Of The Worlds at all, and if anything its perhaps a bit more like something from Dungeons and Dragons or that TV Series the Crystal Maze which are both things that I felt was boring and did not attract my interest at all. I suppose in some way it could also be seen as something like the horror film the Haunted House. Only set in another dimension in space with a load of different characters that came from another time out of something like the Twilight Zone :)))).
I would even say that the story behind Into The Electric Castle is more or less set in one location and does not really go anywhere else like War Of The Worlds does. This is where the story lacks that bit more excitement for my liking. Not being that much of a film buff myself, I suppose the best way I could describe it is that its a bit like watching the couple of hospital dramas they have on the TV here in England Holby City and Casualty. Holby City I find boring because its set inside the hospital and goes nowhere else, where at least with Casualty you get to see a lot more outside the hospital, and even see how they got their injuries in the first place, rather than just arrive in hospital which has you thinking WTF happened to him :)))).
Story wise Into The Electric Castle is a long shot off the better stories that were written for the Ayreon albums The Human Equation and The Theory of Everything which to me do have the suspense plus more substance to them and are more interesting for my liking. It’s also easy to follow those stories just like War Of The Worlds and those type of stories will contain more of my interest to get more into them. But there can also be a downfall to having a good story that is easy to follow and get into, in relation to having a story that is far more harder or even bizarre to comprehend.
For example I could quite easily say that Jeff Wayne’s War Of The Worlds is the best concept album that was ever made. But as with most stories that are easy enough to understand and follow, just how long can you go on listening to the same story all the time before it starts to wear off. I am not saying that I can no longer listen to that album, but its not the type of concept album I would get out that often and could play over and over like The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway by Genesis and Thick As A Brick by Jethro Tull for example.
I mean what’s so good about some Schizo off his head in New York and a whimsical spoof? In reality everything about the story lines behind both of these albums are quite bizarre and practically incomprehensible. Yet to me they are both the GREATEST! concept albums ever made. So just what makes them work so well and stand out? The very thing that makes Into The Electric Castle stand out, and that is the music and the way the vocals are put across and expressed. That is why this Ayreon album as always been my favourite.
Arjen no doubt picked a fine cast of singers and musicians Just like Jeff Wayne did for War Of The Worlds and both albums work extremely well for it. So now let’s take a look at just what Arjen as done by remixing the album and find out if it was worth doing as I take you through the albums 17 tracks.
Track 1. Welcome To The New Dimension (2018 Mix)
From the moment the album kicks off with it’s opening track you will instantly notice the difference with the new mix. The explosion has much more ambience in it creating a lot more of a spacious sound. Even the violin played by Erno Olah and the synth have either been moved around in the mix or the levels have been brought up to make them stand out more. He also added in a Solina String Ensemble from the Lexicon 300 at the end, which was left out of the original mix. Personally I think the new mix sounds better for the adjustments he’s made on this track.
The opening track is also the shortest track on the first disc and is very much the introduction to the story narrated by Peter Daltrey who is the voice and plays the part of the character (Forever). He welcomes the other 8 characters who have been chosen to take on the challenge and quest of Electric Castle. I told you it was a bit like the Haunted House. Crystal Maze and Dungeons and Dragons only I do not think the prize is a Million pounds :))))) and is the Grail of Salvation and you could die for just lagging behind in this game too :)))))). But it’s all quite fascinating this opening entrance scene gets BIGGED up very well indeed.
Track 2. Isis And Osiris (2018 Mix)
Things get a bit more bigged up for the first song of the album too as this is the longest track on the first disc and weighs in at 11 minutes 10 seconds. It’s here that the 8 characters are left to wonder through the maze in search of their quest for the Grail. Fish features mostly on this song and he plays the part of the (Highlander). The song itself is split into 4 parts A, B, C & D (like many of the more lengthy tracks throughout the album) and the first part A is entitled “Let The Journey Begin” and it also features vocals from Sharon Den Adel who plays the (Indian) and sings the chorus sections and also Damian Wilson who plays the (Knight) also gets to make a small contribution at the end of the part A.
Part B “The Hall Of Isis And Osiris” features Edwin Balogh (The Roman) singing the verses and Anneke Van Giersbergen: (The Egyptian) on the chorus section, and Fish rounds off parts C & D by himself. As you can gather all the characters have either paired up and split up in their search for the quest of the Grail and they all play their parts very well. Robby Valentine plays a synth solo on a Juno 6 on part A and Arjen’s guitar that plays the main theme is backed up by 6 violin parts played by Erno Olah. Jack Pisters Sitar is very well utilised on this track in particular on part B.
“Isis And Osiris” is a really GREAT! track that not only has the driving force with its power chords to ROCK! but also blends in some fine acoustic guitars and mandolin to cater for its change of styles along its transitional path and also features some really GREAT! synth work too. Nothing as been added to the mix and to be honest I cannot even tell if Arjen has done anything to this track by doing a side by side comparison with the original track. But this is a long track to really notice what as been done if anything at all. It’s sounds more of remaster than a new mix.
Track 3. Amazing Flight.
The second longest track on the first disc comes in 3 parts (A, B & C) and weighs in at 10.25 minutes. Peter Daltrey as the voice of Forever returns on the intro to let them know he’s still around and warns them of danger ahead. It features the soulful voice of Jay Van Feggelen who plays the (Barbarian) singing the words to the verse sections of the song, and this guy has the soul of Tom Jones in his voice and is a really GREAT! singer. Arjen himself sings the chorus sections and he plays the part of the (Hippie) he’s not such an uncool singer himself and his voice works very well too. It’s also noticeable on this new mix he’s thrown in a bit of an orchestra on the 2nd chorus and a trumpet. These were left out of the original mix as they was samples and he wanted to use as little samples as possible. Effectively he put them in there in the first place to give it that bit more of The Beatles sound like they did with “Penny Lane“.
This song features some excellent Hammond Organ played by Roland Bakker besides all the lush guitars played by Arjen and it also features a couple of synth solos, the first of which is played in part A “Amazing Flight In Space” by Robby Valentine who also plays the piano on part C “Flying Colours“. The second solo is played by Clive Nolan on part C and its his only contribution on the album. It also features some GREAT! flute work by Thijs Van Leer in this final part of the song too, and this is first of the 4 tracks on the album he appears on. Sharon Den Adel also contributes some fine chanting on part B “Stardance“.
Unlike the previous track to which you cannot really notice a difference between the both mixes, on this track you certainly can and its not just to do with the original samples being put back in the 2nd chorus. No doubt Arjen has been doing a bit of tweaking to the overall sound of the original mix and for me personally it sounds a bit lighter and brighter. But is it any better one may ask? Well to be honest I still prefer the original mix and it has nothing to do with the samples we have in the new mix either, no doubt purists will probably not like this mix and put it down a peg or two. But its not a disaster and is still quite good and sounds even better in 5.1 which brings out a track like this even more so.
The “Amazing Flight” as always been my favourite track on the album, regardless of the new tweaks in the mix and the original additions that were left out in the first place. It still very much is my fave and merits the Top Spot Award of the album. The diversity and progression is GORGEOUS! and what else can I SAY! apart from it is AMAZING!.
Track 4. Time Beyond Time (2018 Mix)
Here (The Futureman) is brought into the story and Edward Reekers adds his fine voice to the many textures and expressionist vocalists we have on board for this journey, and here we also have the voices of Damian Wilson and Edwin Balogh adding to the equation of this fine song. “Time Beyond Time” is not only a song that simmers the album down a bit with its acoustic articulations, but it also has a really GREAT! build to it that injects a lot of power to it as well. It also contains a very well refined orchestral section to which not only brings in the violins and cellos played by Erno Olah and Taco Kooistra but Thijs Van Leer also plays some very well refined flute without him throwing his voice into the instrument as both he and Ian Anderson frequently do on occasions.
Although as far as I can tell nothing as been added to the new mix. However it has had some tweaks which perhaps gives it a nice fresh feel, but most noticeably Arjen has removed some of the synths at around the 5:05 – 5:10 section to which you will instantly notice a drop in the sound level without them being here, making it feel more empty. To be honest I cannot even see any logic in why he would want to do this, because apart from those 5 seconds I actually thought the new mix was better but taking out those synths was sacrilege :)))))) and there was no need to at all.
Track 5. The Decision Tree (We’re Alive) (2018 Mix)
Peter Daltrey is back again as the voice of Forever and a decision has to be made which one of the 8 has to die for the other 7 to continue on with their quest. The fight for survival is thought out very expressible between Fish (the Highlander) and Jay Van Feggelen (The Barbarian). It also features a tasty synth solo from Rene Merkelbach a fine bit of Hammond by Roland Bakker and this song marches and stomps its way along with ED Warby on the drums who does some pretty darn good fills at the end too.
The new mix sounds GREAT! and better than the original to my ears and although Arjen done all the vocals on the chorus (with Fish doing the counter melody vocals in answering back) he also added Damian Wilson’s voice to support to add a bit more strength to his own. To be honest it’s hard to tell if this is a new addition or was on the original, simply because with the amount of times his own voice as been tracked it sounds like it could of been any Tom, Dick or Harry :)))))).
Track 6. Tunnel Of Light (2018 Mix)
“Tunnel Of Light” is the last contribution by Fish on the album and besides him 5 of the other main singers feature in the chorus section and the only two singers left out here are Arjen himself and Jay Van Feggelen. Fish has really done a terrific job and back in 1998 he still very much had all that GREAT! range in his voice too. Once again nothing as been added to the new mix, but it does have a bit of a polish and brings out all those acoustic guitars and the mandolin Arjen played on the track very well and does project them a bot more than the original mix. But both mixes are GREAT! in my book and not even a purist could really complain about the mix on this track.
Track 7. Across The Rainbow Bridge (2018 Mix)
The final track on the first disc is another very powerful song and one of the stand out tracks just like the 3rd track on the first disc “Amazing Flight“. Only this is like a bit of cross between Led Zeppelin and Rainbow and a bit more. The two singers we have here very much sound like the singers from those bands on this track too, and Damian Wilson does quite a very good Robert Plant whilst Edwin Balogh does the same justice to Ronnie James Dio as well.
Even the Narrator Peter Daltrey has more of a singing role towards the end and it sounds like he’s making announcements in a railway station :)))) and Arjen does his GREAT! part on the vocals on his own Hippie chorus :)))))). The song purely ROCKS! even with this new mix too which once again has no additives apart from a bit of a polish. The rainbow bridge will effectively wipe away their past and their future lies beyond it, and they have to cross it to be able to enter into the electric castle to continue their goal.
Track 1. The Garden Of Emotions (2018 Mix)
All 7 survivors have made it across the rainbow bridge and are now “In The Garden Of Emotions” which is part A of the longest track on the 2nd disc and comes in 3 parts. Peter Daltrey does his bit with narration and both Arjen and Anneke Van Giersbergen take on the vocal duties in this first part which has quite a BIGGED UP James Bond-ISH sort of theme that reappears throughout the suite in parts. We also get some radio like sounding guitar with tremolo applied to it that gives it perhaps more of a Beatles-ESC sound which works very well with Arjen’s voice.
Part B “Voices In The Sky” is the more powerful section and things are getting heated up again with Jay Van Feggelen the (Barbarian) questioning the decision of Edwin Balogh (The Roman) who has decided to take up the leadership. Sharon Den Adel (The Indian) also features in this part in between the heated argument and we get some heavy guitars and powerful drums from ED Warby to beef and ROCK it up. Roland Bakker‘s hammond and Arjen’s GREAT! synth work does a tasty job to take it into Part C “The Aggression Factor” which features Sharon Den Adel, Edward Reekers and Damian Wilson on vocals and the final words are put over by Anneke Van Giersbergen.
As far as I can make out there are no new additions or as anything been omitted from the new mix, and once again because of it’s length it’s pretty much hard to hear if anything has been done on this track with the both mixes. If anything its perhaps had a bit of a polish and nothing more.
Track 2. Valley Of The Queens (2018 Mix)
Perhaps the most notable ballad track of the album that features solely the voice of Anneke Van Giersbergen. The notable difference with the new mix is that Arjen originally had 2 guitars and cellos on it, and he’s omitted a guitar and cello to make it sound more intimate and took some of the reverb down too. I think it works very well for it as well and was glad he never decided to remove Rene Merkelbach’s harpsichord and Thijs Van Leer’s flute. “Valley Of The Queens” is a GORGEOUS! song that has a GREAT! medieval folky feel about it.
Track 3. The Castle Hall (2018 Mix)
This is the point where they have finally entered into the castle and it’s hall is full of the ghostly spirits of the past that fish for men and the Barbarian and the Knight call out for their heroes of the past such as the Knights Of The Round Table. Vocal duties are taken on by Jay Van Feggelen and Damian Wilson respectively. It also features Robert Westerholt & George Oosthoek doing some frightening death growls mixed in the with the spooky FX on the intro whilst Peter Daltrey does his bit as the narrator.
The song is mainly driven by the drums and the lowered bass notes of the mini moog besides the acoustic guitars and it also features Thijs Van Leer’s last contribution to the album with his flute. The new mix if anything sounds a bit cleaner and as a bit more width to it which works very well on the intro. But overall there is not a big enough difference for the new mix to sound any better than the original mix, and for those who prefer that extra bit of bass from the moog, the original mix is the one for you.
Track 4. Tower Of Hope (2018 Mix)
Both Arjen and Edward Reekers take on the vocals separately and in unison together for this song. Musically its got quite a sprightly start with the synths and the Juno 60 playing the bagpipes and goes into a more powerful rocked up section with the heavy guitars and drums. It also contains a nice little jazzy section in the break too which has some nice little interplay between Arjen on the guitar and Robby Valentine on the synth. On this new mix Arjen also included a couple of violin fills played by Erno Olah that got left out of the original mix.
Track 5. Cosmic Fusion (2018 Mix)
“Cosmic Fusion” is the 2nd longest last track on the 2nd disc and is split into 3 parts. Part A “Soar On The Breeze” is mainly sung by Sharon Den Adel apart from a couple of lines at the end of this first part which are sung by Edward Reekers and Edwin Balogh. Part B “Death’s Grunt” features both Robert Westerholt & George Oosthoek who play the part of (Death) and here they are doing their death metal grunts well enough to make even Sharon Den Adel scream :)))))) and this is hers and their last contributions to the album as once again death as claimed another soul.
Part C “The Passing Of An Eagle” is an instrumental piece that features Ton Scherpenzell’s only contribution to the album with his synth solo. It also features some really GREAT! lead work on the guitar from Arjen and Erno Olah on the violin and is my favourite part of this track. Arjen even adds a touch of James Bond with his twangy Strat and sounds like Duane Eddy on his day off :))))))) but I quite like it too. The new mix has a bit of brighter edge to it, but there is not a lot of real difference here at all and both mixes sound GREAT!.
Track 6. The Mirror Maze (2018 Mix)
This is my personal favourite track on the 2nd disc and even though I was never really a fan of The Beatles this song certainly has that Beatles feel about it with it’s lovely piano melody and strings on the mellotron played by Robby Valentine. Even Arjen’s voice has that John Lennon presence about it. This song also comes in two parts and Part A “Inside The Mirror Maze” also features Edward Reekers on vocals as well as Arjen and its got some gorgeous transitions with how it all builds up over its two parts. Even the the change to the acoustic guitar in this first section works beautifully with Reekers voice and its like a cross between The Beatles and The Moody Blues sort of thing. There are some lovely lead guitar touches from Arjen too.
Part B “Through The Mirror” even has a bit of Pink Floyd feel about it when Roland Bakker‘s hammond brings in the second part and both Edwin Balogh and Damian Wilson take over the vocal duties on it and it rocks it’s away along a bit more wonderfully. For the new mix Arjen used the original horny sound he played on the Oberheim during the slide solo, to which he had left out for the hammond that’s on the original mix.
Track 7. Evil Devolution (2018 Mix)
This is quite an heavy synth based song that features Edward Reekers solely on vocals and also has a powerful guitar and synth section in the middle and a flying very long synth solo from Rene Merkelbach which is his last contribution to the album. Nothing as been added or deducted on the new mix and when comparing the both mixes it’s hard to distinguish any difference at all between them, and nothing new may not have been done at all. If it has it’s more of a remaster than any remix.
Arjen created the bubbling FX noise by blowing through a vacuum pipe into a bowl of water which is on the intro during the short narration to which sounds like Peter Daltrey delivered his voice whilst he was in the hot the tub :)))))).
Track 8. The Two Gates (2018 Mix)
At this point in the story another decision has to me made in choosing the right gate. One will take you to your destiny whilst the other is oblivion. Jay Van Feggelen and Edwin Balogh take on the main vocal duties and Arjen is also in the chorus section. For this new mix Arjen brought up the levels of Jays backing vocals that comes into play after Arjen’s bit of Brian May sounding guitar. Roland Bakker’s hammond is back for this song too and it’s another GREAT! song.
Track 9. “Forever” Of The Stars (2018 Mix)
This is where everything about the story unfolds as Peter Daltrey the voice of “Forever” explains that he is of the stars and everything was an experiment to observe human emotions on the planet earth and the experiment is all over and everything about it will be wiped away and appear to be nothing more than a dream. This new mix does appear to have more width to it and brings it out that bit more, and works very well with all the FX and Tangerine Dream sequencing which was done on the moog and Daltrey’s voice through the vocoder makes it sound like it was one big computer that was behind the whole experiment.
Track 10. Another Time, Another Space (2018 Mix)
The albums ends off with another Beatles-ESC come stroke ELO song. It’s another one of the better songs on the 2nd disc and one you could play on its own rather than most of the tracks which were are really more done in a way to put over the story apart from the transitional change at the end that is, and perhaps the lyrics. It’s got a really GREAT! chorus too and it features Arjen, Edward Reekers, Edwin Balogh and Damian Wilson on vocals and the last words come from Peter Daltrey.
It also features Robby Valentine on piano and the watery piano at the beginning was played on the Juno 60. Erno Olah on violin and Taco Kooistra on cello. The new mix does sound like it does have a bit more space and width about if anything at all and there is not a great deal between the both and it puts and end to a really GREAT! album.
To sum up the 20th Anniversary Earbook Edition of Ayreon’s Into The Electric Castle. The very fact that the original album was very well mixed in the first place leaves very little room for improvement, though I do feel some of the tracks do sound better with the work done here, and others may have suffered slightly for messing about with them in the first place, especially to remove things from the original mix. I do however feel that more good as been done here in making the biggest majority of the tracks sound better, but I certainly would not stick my neck out and say that new mixed album is better than the original, and I will certainly be keeping my original album.
The couple of bonus CD’s you get are either here or there as to what a person sees as genuine bonus material. I doubt very much that instrumental versions of the albums tracks will get any great deal of attention in relation to unreleased bonus material, and for what good the instrumental tracks will give you, he may as well of just stuck the original 1998 mix of the album on them. Speaking of the original 1998 mix. That is something I felt should of definitely of been put on the DVD with a 5.1 mix, and in all honesty I would of preferred a 5.1 mix of that rather than the new mixes. But there is no reason why both the original and new mixes could been put on the DVD with 5.1 mixes when you look at how much capacity a DVD can hold.
It’s also unfortunate that the 5.1 mix on the DVD did also have a couple a glitches on one of the tracks “The Mirror Maze“. Arjen is aware of the issue and it was not his fault and was done during the authoring process of the DVD by the Mascot Label Group. To which he did get on to them and they will be replacing the DVD. It took a good few months but as promised they did rectify the problem and send me out a new replacement disc.
To conclude my review of the newly mixed 20th Anniversary Earbook Edition of Into The Electric Castle. Overall I think the new mixes and the 5.1 mix are well worthy of having and the package is well worth it’s price point. The 38 page book contains a great detail of information a lot of which I never used in my review. Arjen as very well detailed the production side of the album and it tells you practically every instrument he played and all the FX he applied to all the instruments in the mix.
You get a lot here for the money and it’s a damn site cheaper than what other artists such as the Eagles will give you for double the price, and all that is in their package is a few CD’s and DVD that comes in a DigiPak that generally sells for £20 and they are charging £80 for it. Welcome To The Hotel Can’t Afford Ya is all I have to say about that rip off package :)))))) and this package is Glorified in comparison to it.
Arjen is also taking the album to the stage next year where it will be performed live from start to finish. All 4 concerts he’s putting on in his own country sold out in 4 days. I could not afford to go myself and Holland is a bit of journey for me to travel. But no doubt the concert will be filmed and another live DVD will be released afterwards and I will look forward to that. Into The Electric Castle is up there with my favourite concept albums and my personal highlights from the double album are as follows: “Amazing Flight“. “Across The Rainbow Bridge“. “The Mirror Maze“. “Isis And Osiris“. “Tunnel Of Light” and the “Valley Of The Queens“.
Hey Dude, You’re So Uncool! But Hey, That’s Alright…
The 2 CD track listing is as follows:
01. Welcome To The New Dimension. 3:06.
02. Isis And Osiris. 11:10.
03. Amazing Flight. 10:15.
04. Time Beyond Time. 6:04.
05. The Decision Tree (We’re Alive). 6:23.
06. Tunnel Of Light. 4:03.
07. Across The Rainbow Bridge. 6:23.
01. The Garden Of Emotions. 9:40.
02. Valley Of The Queens. 2:25.
03. The Castle Hall. 5:49.
04. Tower Of Hope. 4:53.
05. Cosmic Fusion. 7:27.
06. The Mirror Maze. 6:34.
07. Evil Devolution. 6:21.
08. The Two Gates. 6:28.
09. “Forever” Of The Stars. 2:01.
10. Another Time, Another Space. 5:25.