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Ayreon, Through The Eyes Of Time
Arjen Lucassen of Ayreon

This week will see the release of the ninth full length studio album for the musical project known as Ayreon. The project has been the brainchild and artistic mothership for the Dutch mastermind Arjen Lucassen for over two decades and has spawned at least four different side projects in similar veins, as well as a number of other projects that follow a similar format helmed by other prominent members of the metal community, most notably Tobias Sammet’s Avantasia.

A Brief Introduction

For those unfamiliar, Ayreon is best described as a massive progressive metal project that blends elements from all over the musical landscape, and focuses on telling long-form science fiction stories throughout the course of each album. Arjen Lucassen utilises a vast number of musicians for each record, with each line up created to highlight the most distinct and impressive vocal and instrumental performances in the metal and rock landscape. Perhaps the most notable aspect of Ayreon albums is the large number of vocalists on each records; reaching as high as seventeen on 2007 release 01011001.

Almost all of Ayeron’s albums tie into a grand unifying story-verse, which details the creation of the universe, the fall of humanity, and the unbridled hubris of a group of alien beings known as The Forevers of the Stars. Throughout most of the albums the Forevers are bit-players in terms of actual on record appearances, though throughout the course of the Ayreon story-verse their true identities and intentions are slowly made known. The latest album, The Source (2017), breaks tradition and focuses entirely on the backstory of these aliens and their tragic demise – but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Despite the sometimes daunting run-times of the Ayreon albums – almost all of which clock in at or above 90 minutes – the project has produced some of the most impressive progressive metal albums over the last two decades. Tackling themes of technological obsession, police states, the loss of emotions, and a wide variety of personal losses, Ayreon always manage to present old and new ideas in fascinating, if sometimes cheesy and kitsch, ways. Whether you’re a long time fan, or have never listened to an Ayreon album, I invite you to read and take part in this retrospective as I dissect and discuss every Ayreon album, leading all the way up to the latest installment in this sprawling sci-fi musical journey.

And without further adieu, the first album in the Ayreon story-verse:

Ayreon - The Final Experiment album art
Ayreon: The Final Experiment (1995)

SPV / InsideOut

Ayreon began after Arjen left his previous band, Vengeance. As a fan of old-school rock operas, Arjen took it upon himself to begin one of his one. Our story begins in the Dark Ages. In the far future, mankind is on the brink of destruction. The planet has been ravaged by war, and pollution, while the masses have slowly been consumed by their technological obsessions. In a far-flung bid to redeem humanity and prevent their demise, all of earth’s top scientists band together and devise the Time Telepathy Experiment, a way of sending information about Earth’s impending doom to the past as a way of warning humanity of its future in an effort to prevent its destruction.

Prologue

The album begins with narration from Merlin, voiced on this track by Edward Reekers (ex-Kayak), who tells the listeners of the future of Earth. Plagued by war and environmental pollution, Earth is on the verge of destruction. In order to subvert their impending doom, the top scientists band together and create the Time Telemetry Experiment, a way to pass a message from the future to the past. Unfortunately the message misses its mark, and goes back further than intended, and is received in the mind of a blind minstrel during the dark ages. The minstrel is known as Ayreon.

Act I: The Dawning

The Awareness

Ayreon awakes to his new found visions and reels in horror at what he is seeing. For the first time in his life he can see with his own eyes; unfortunately, it is nothing but future horrors and despair. Ayreon feels helpless and overwhelmed by these visions. He hasn’t a clue what to do with them, so he does what any good minstrel would do, and he begins to sing.

“A cry in the silence
a shine in the dark
like a rising star
the dream is coming
images of violence a flight through time and space
it’s such a lonely place
the dream has started

the smoke is rising
the vision’s getting clearer
the hands of time are whirling around
I’m realising
the future’s getting nearer
and words become a song”

Eyes of Time

As the story continues, Ayreon starts to make some sense of what has happened to him. He realises these are visions from the future and this realisation is taking quite the toll on his psyche. He can finally see, yet all he can witness is negativity. He begs and pleads for the ability to see like others, and not through the eyes of time.

“I wouldn’t know how
I cannot free my mind
from the eyes of time
I do not know where I am
I’m lost in time
drifting in eternity
I cannot tell if it’s real
or fantasy
or a view of things to come.”

The Banishment

Ayreon goes to the streets and begins to tell people of his vision; tales of the mechanical monstrosities, plague and famine, and countless death. Despite his good intentions, Ayreon’s tales frighten the villagers. They begin to view him as some sort of devil spawn. Ayreon pleads his case, and demonstrates that he has done nothing wrong, yet the damage is done and he is cast out from his home.

“It has been foretold
In days of old
An evil soul
Will corrupt the world
To achieve his goal
He’s the devil’s seed
An evil breed
He’s gonna make you bleed
He’ll take all he needs
With uncontrollable greed”

Ayreon wanders through the forest, lost and alone, only his willpower sustaining him. He understands the importance of his vision, at least to some extent. He beings to view himself as the Chosen One, someone to rise up out of oblivion and save all of man. With this new found determination, Ayreon decides to take his information to what he believes is the one man who would have the power to prevent these destructive visions: King Arthur.

“A force within dominates my tormented soul
And empowers me to regain absolute control
I shall not yield, for I am the chosen one
Who shall rise from oblivion”

Act II: King Arthur’s Court

Ye Courtyard Minstrel Boy

Here we see Ayreon entering the kingdom of Camelot. Before his visions, Ayreon was a renowned minstrel, someone to entertain and occupy the various knights and courts across the land by single fanciful and marvelous tales of adventure. He devises a plan to win the acceptance of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table by praising their exploits through song. Once has has them entertained and pleased them with his skills, he plans to inform the court of the destructive visions he has seen.

“Sing ye tales of wonder
Whilst ye hide behind the joy
Cast thy spell asunder
Ye courtyard minstrel boy
Sing ye, oh sing ye, courtyard minstrel boy
A day of splendour
How beautiful birds sing
Ladies, lords and masters
And rainbows he would bring”

Sail Away To Avalon

One of the more famous songs from this album, and still one of the most acclaimed in the Ayreon catalog, this is a simple song that Ayreon sings to boost the egos of the court; praising them on their quest for the Holy Grail. It holds probably the smallest amount of story in it, as it actually is just a song about sailing to Avalon to undertake a miraculous quest, yet its not hard to see the parallels between the song and the actual journey of the minstrel Ayreon.

“Sail away
Sail away to Avalon
The journey has begun
Sail away through the night
Sail away, never die
The gods are at your side
Sail away through the night”

Nature’s Dance

This song acts as character development. Having successfully entertained the knights, Ayreon retires to a garden within the walls of Camelot. He sits and ponders his existence and begins to feel a sense of jealousy. By this point he has fully accepted his fate as some sort of oracle, yet he cannot help but yearn for a simpler life. One in which he could be like every other man, and see like every other man. He may be on the brink of saving mankind, but he cant even look upon the beauty of a garden.

“I can’t see the sun
but I sense its glow
I hear the sound of water flowing
down the stream
and my heart cries out
for a little bit love
but I know that it was not meant to be
so I’ll fulfil my destiny
and accept my fate”

Follow through to the next page for Acts III and IV!

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