I don´t think I need to introduce Arjen Anthony Lucassen
and his project in much length, because if you know nothing about Ayreon
, you know nothing about Progressive Metal
. It´s as simple as that. For the unredeemably ignorant, though, I will say that Ayreon
is a Progressive Metal
project that, as of today, has spawned 8 (mostly concept) albums, most of which deal with science fiction post-apocalyptic themes.
Into the Electric Castle
is the third Ayreon
offering, with a total of 8 singers and 11 musicians, released in 1998. It is the first of the two-disc concept albums which Arjen
is producing to this day. And
his best. But I´ll get to that later.
The story tells of eight characters from different historical eras who have arrived in a "place of no-time and no-space". Guided by a mysterious voice, these characters have the task of reaching a place called the Electric Castle
and finding out what lies inside. Weird ? Just wait until you hear how this story plays out. Antique theology, medieval fantasy, visions of the future, alien races, psychedelic delusions... We get elements of just about anything.
The same can be said about the music. This album only goes to show how difficult it is to properly classify Ayreon
into a genre of metal. Sometimes not even metal. You like Prog, be it metal or rock ? You have it. Acoustic guitars ? No problem. A bit of Jazz ? It´s there. Folk ? Sure. New Age ? Yep. And
I could go on.
The incredible thing about all this is not the number of influences - it is the fact that they all work. Be it due to Arjen
´s incredible songwriting, his unmatched musicianship or the quality of his musicians, the music sounds good. The songs have energy, they are catchy, though by no means simple. Upon hearing some of the solos, you get the irresistible urge to go around whistling their melody all day long ("Amazing Flight", fot instance). The vocals fit the characters perfectly, and you´ll be able to distinguish characters after 2 or 3 songs.
The production is perfect, and the overall sound is pleasing to the ear, mainly due to the accompaniment of soft synths. This is by far the best sounding Ayreon
Of course, the album is not for everyone. Some might be put off by the diversity of the influences. Others
won´t like the bizarre concept. As for me, I don´t belong to any of these. What I consider to be the only minor setback of Ayreon
´s effort is the amount of narration before every song. Sure, on first listen these are interesting, but after a while, listening to 40 seconds of a disembodied voice talking about the different strange sights gets a bit boring. However, the boredom fades away soon enough and is replaced by bliss, brought upon by minutes and minutes of great music.
All in all, Ayreon
´s best album up to date and the best first stop for newcomers to this kind of music. Into the Electric Castle
introduced me not only to Ayreon
, but to all of Progressive metal, most of which doesn´t even bear comparison with this album. Definitely worth the buy.