When you receive a new Ayreon album, you normally know what to expect, at least I do. Ayreon is typically a mixed bag for me; with some absolutely stunning moments, but also some moments that are highly worthy of a grand rolling of the eyes. The new album “The Source” is more the same, unfortunately, and I think it might be the last time I try an Ayreon album.
Arjen Anthony Lucassen is famous for grouping lots of recognizable voices and players for his Ayreon albums, which are quite honestly events, more than anything. This album is no different, featuring names like James LaBrie, Tommy Karevik, Floor Jansen, Simone Simons, Tobias Sammet, Russell Allen, Tommy Rogers, and many (many) more. There are simply too many people here to mention. Arjen himself plays electric and acoustic guitars, bass guitar, mandolin, synthesizers, Hammond, Solina Strings, and other instruments. He also handles production, mixing, recording, and so on. This guy really is a man of great talent, and his mix is superb with huge highs and brutal lows. There is no question about the production quality here.
Just like any other Ayreon album, this is a concept album. The setting is a world that has been destroyed by war, and a small group of humans leaves this ruined world to reach a planet that is basically Waterworld. There is this Source, though, that can help change these poor people so they can live in this brave new world. It also seems like there are certain people have helped create or at least harness this Source. I’m not entirely sure about the story, but many of my biggest reservations about this album come from the story and the lyrics that present the story.
First off, the theme and story are quite similar to Haken’s “Aquarius”. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but you do get this feeling like you’ve been here before, only on a better album. Second, the lyrics are once again a problem. If that doesn’t bother you, you’ll love the album. If you can’t stand cheesy lyrics, you’ll be in hell. While they are really bad at times, I do feel like he has improved on the last couple albums here. The music doesn’t feel as dictated by the lyrics anymore, even though the writing is cheesy as ever. The lyrics do often feel like Spider-man’s incredibly obvious inner dialogue in the comics, except we aren’t kids and we don’t need to be told every little thing to visualize the setting or story. You’ll hear lots of “We’re doing this” or “We don’t have that” lyrics.
And that’s the kicker, isn’t it? Right when I’m getting into a great groove or brutal riff, he’ll throw in a cheesy ass melody or some lyric that makes me want to scream, “We get it already, Arjen!! We get that they don’t have phones or electricity or computers or anything!! Do they have any toilets, though? You didn’t mention those. What about refrigerators or garage door openers? Maybe you should go through the list of each and everything they do not have”. In creating the setting for the album, I feel like he treats his listeners like small children with no comprehensive abilities or attention spans.
So, during the serene and ethereal “The Source will Flow”, I’m completely sold on the album, but then the next song “Journey to Forever” comes on, and the cheese erupts once again. I just don’t understand it. The same goes for my favorite song, “Star of Sirrah”, which is truly magnificent. It’s pretty heavy and just lacks the cheese of the rest of the album, but the preceding song “Everybody Dies” is excruciating.
Musically, the album is probably my favorite since “Into the Electric Castle”. I don’t feel the album is as guitar-driven as we’ve been led to believe, but the guitars are suitably heavy, the keys are splendid, and the musicianship overall is obviously through the roof. Arjen visits Celtic, Middle Eastern, and folk references here, and you’ll hear quite a bit of Queen, too. The singers do an immense job, even James LaBrie, in working with the lyrics they were given. LaBrie may be my favorite on the album, which is a shocker.
I do have reservations about the music, too, though. I love Celtic and folk moments as much as anyone, but the ones on this album just feel cliché, like they were copied from some two-bit homeschool family band that forces their kids to learn violin so they can travel around to festivals. Think of a Celtic melody in your head, and that’s exactly what’s on this album. At this point, most of Arjen’s projects are all sounding the exact same. Whether it be Ayreon, Star One, or even The Gentle Storm, all of the albums feature the exact same riff structure, the same folk elements, and the same happy jumping melodious moments. I think it’s time for another Guilt Machine album.
Again, I do like several songs here. “Star of Sirrah” is my favorite for its darker and heavier feeling, but I also like “Aquatic Race” for its magnificent melody and “The Dream Dissolves” for its sweet synth solo. “Deathcry of a Race” is a pretty great track, too, with its Middle Eastern flavor. “The Source Will Flow” is also a beautiful slower song, something of which this album needs more.
There are seventeen songs on this album, though. On the other side of the coin, “The Day That the World Breaks Downs” feels like it goes on for about one million years. It represents the bloated nature of other songs like “Sea of Machines”, “Everybody Dies”, “Planet Y is Alive”, or “Journey to Forever”. All of these tracks are highly cheesy, have lots of “captain obvious” lyrics, and are just too damn over the top.
Even though my favorite song is in the first half, the second half of this super long album is probably better. The songs are more focused, less cheesy, and the lyrics aren’t giving us a laundry list of things that the protagonists don’t have, even though that still comes up from time to time. Once again, I feel like Arjen could have cut the length of this album in half, and it would have been one of the best of year, for sure. Instead, “The Source” ends up being something I’ll probably never purposefully experience again, even though it is an improvement over “The Theory of Everything”. Ayreon fans, though, will probably love it.