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Ayreon - Transitus Award winner

by Eric Poulin at 11 October 2020, 2:27 PM

AYREON is a progressive metal/rock band based out of Waalwijk, North Brabant, Netherlands. The project has been around since 1994 and for those who are not familiar with it, is all based on the rock opera approach, where you have a wide variety of characters (vocalists) and a large array of guest musicians. This project is all mastered by Arjen Anthony Lucassen from his own personal studio. This is the 10th full-length release entitled “Transitus”, released through Music Theories Recordings back on September 25th, 2020.

It is not secret that I have been a huge fan of this project for 20 years and with every album, I am incredibly impressed by the musicianship, the complexity of the songs and the quality of the storytelling. Now as much as it is a mountain of work for Arjen to compose all of this music, it is almost as difficult to review as there are so many different singers and musicians playing on the album, so instead of going in depth with every song, I will focus more on the highlights of the album and what they convey in terms of the story and the music itself.

The main character on this one is Tommy Karevik, who is now the front man for KAMELOT, but who also showed his vocal prowess in the band SEVENTH WONDER. As the narrator points out in the opening song “Fatum Horrificum”, the album is a tale not for the faint of heart, set in the far distant future (the year 8084), where 2 lovers (Daniel and Abby) will go through incredible hardships. A story that will be strongly embedded in the spirit world. The opener which happens to be the longest song of the entire album, has all the elements we have known to love from AYREON (female operatic vocals, heavy theatrical parts, violins, keyboards galore, flutes and omnipresent choirs).

Essentially, the concept of the album revolves around this idea of Transitus (the namesake of the album), a state or passage that is between heaven and hell, in which the main character unfortunately ends up, which is emphasized in “Daniel's Descent into Transitus” where Daniel does not know if he is living or dead, or if he has simply become a ghost or an illusion. He ends up being approached by an entity to explain his destination in the highly energetic “Listen to My Story” where Daniel is imploring the entity (angel) to listen to what has happened to him and not simply sending him off to heaven (or hell).  Daniel gets taken into the past, a year earlier by the angel to 8083, in the guitar-moody and melodramatic pianos of “Two Worlds Now One”, a song that really embodies the spirit of one of the greatest concept albums ever written: “Into the Electric Castle”. The very medieval “Talk of the Town” is about jealousy, and the wrath of Daniel’s brother Henry, who does not approve of the love between Daniel and Abby and has very choice words about his brother’s soulmate. There is a part in the song (most likely due to the keyboard sound and musical timing) that is very similar to the chorus in “Dawn of a Million Souls” from “The Universal Migrator Part II: Flight of the Migrator”.

In full dismay, Daniel decides to turn his attention to what he relied on as a young child, imaginary friends, in the form of stone, which in this case is a statue that comes alive, the main focus of “Dumb Piece of Rock”, a very joyful number with some slight dissonance in the guitars, but some nice violin/guitar melodies. The first disk is completed by 2 original pieces: “Get Out! Now!” and “Seven Days, Seven Nights”, the first one is about the betrayal of Daniel by his brother Henry (and their father’s involvement in the story), a nice hard-rocking song that will have you nod in appreciation. It has a nice strong dose of those powerful Hammond organs, which is always a nice treat. In terms of heaviness, this is by far the most intense song from the first stanza, if you will. The second is mostly narration to lead us into the second disk where Daniel is essentially waiting for his verdict (the timeframe being 7 days). There are some beautiful female vocals on this one, even though it is a very short transitional piece.

The second disk (which contains 13 tracks) starts off with a flute and guitar combination, fined-tuned with a plethora of melodies in “Condemned Without a Trial” which essentially tells us about the fate of Daniel. There are some great trademark dialogues between the characters and some very dense choirs filled with amazing voices.  As the song title would suggest “Daniel's Funeral” has an ominous and dark tone. What has always made these songs special is that Arjen is able to bring emotions to life such as sadness, but finds a way to combine that feeling with a great deal of hope, and does it masterfully well on this number. You have the shiny echoes in the guitars of “Hopelessly Slipping Away” with the theme of Daniel’s presence in a spiritual manner around Abby, as she longs for his physical presence. We have a little flashback from the past in the slow and heavy, yet still up tempo track “This Human Equation”, I say that as those of you familiar with the discography, will remember the album with almost the same title from the early 2000s. I enjoyed the little throwback of growls in the background on this one.

Message from Beyond” is about the character of Lavinia paying a visit to Abby conveying as the song suggests words from Daniel who is still on “the other side” and musically it has a lot more progressive rock (some wonderful keyboard passages) similar to the old days of MARILLION. Personally, I find this is one of the most memorable songs from this record. You feel the helplessness in Daniel especially on “Daniel's Vision” and with some great piano notes, he reveals that Abby did not kill him on “She Is Innocent” where Tommy really shines and shows off his pipes. We love that overly intense drama from AYREON as in “Lavinia's Confession” where the truth is finally revealed (always love a good climax!).

You have to love a good story where the main female character desperately needs to be saved by his father, in the highly climactic and opera-fused “Inferno”. You have the very groovy “Your Story Is Over!” which tells us of the end of Lavinia (karma my friends!) and her journey to the underworld, and her conversation with the character of The Furies. Obviously as with all AYREON albums, we have the incredibly powerful and epic story closer “The Great Beyond” (projected with the theme of “Abby in Transitus”) where we have the timely reunion of the 2 lovers.

Well this was quite the journey! The album possesses everything we have known to love from Arjen, great guitar solos, memorable melodies and some extremely colorful characters. I felt like this was a revisited story from his past, except set in the future. The themes of betrayal and love are not new to his repertoire of story-telling, but this album really flows perfectly (is it a bit over 80 minutes in total) and really manages to keep your attention (the narration helps a lot in that regard). Ultimately, if you enjoy your rock opera and wish to take a trip into a very distant future, this is the album for you!

Songwriting:  10
Originality: 10
Memorability: 10
Production: 10

5 Star Rating

1. Fatum Horrificum
2. Daniel's Descent into Transitus
3. Listen to My Story
4. Two Worlds Now One
5. Talk of the Town
6. Old Friend
7. Dumb Piece of Rock
8. Get Out! Now!
9. Seven Days, Seven Nights
10. Condemned Without a Trial
11. Daniel's Funeral
12. Hopelessly Slipping Away
13. This Human Equation
14. Henry's Plot
15. Message from Beyond
16. Daniel's Vision
17. She Is Innocent
18. Lavinia's Confession
19. Inferno
20. Your Story Is Over!
21. Abby in Transitus
22. The Great Beyond
Arjen Anthony Lucassen - Vocals, Guitars, Bass, Keyboards
Tommy Karevik - Vocals [as Daniel]
Cammie Gilbert - Vocals [as Abby]
Amanda Somerville - Vocals [as Lavinia]
Dee Snider - Vocals [as Father]
Marcela Bovio - Vocals [as The Furies]
Simone Simons - Vocals [as The Angel of Death]
Johanne James - Vocals [as Abraham]
Michael Mills - Vocals [as The Statue]
Joost van den Broek - Hammond organ, Piano
Ben Mathot - Violin
Jeroen Goossens - Wind instruments
Paul Manzi - Vocals [as Henry]
Jurriaan Westerveld - Cello
Alex Thyssen - Horn
Joe Satriani - Guitars (lead)
Marty Friedman - Guitars (lead)
Jan Willem Ketelaers - Vocals (additional)
Wilmer Waarbroek - Vocals (additional)
Will Shaw - Vocals (additional)
Marjan Welman - Vocals (additional)
Lisette van den Berg - Vocals (additional)
Patty Gurdy - Hurdy gurdy
Juan van Emmerloot - Drums                   
Record Label: Music Theories Recordings


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