Released: 2004, Inside Out
Reviewer: Lord of the Wasteland
While the concept album was a thing of the past just a few years ago, acclaimed new albums by Evergrey, Avantasia and W.A.S.P. seem to be bringing this forgotten art form back into metal. One artist who never seemed to hear that the concept album was dead is Arjen Lucassen. In a nine-year career with his solo project Ayreon, Lucassen has released several concept albums and finally, what should be the kiss of death, the DOUBLE-DISC concept album. While his other releases have dealt primarily with science fiction, his latest foray into the field, THE HUMAN EQUATION, centers on what makes us, as humans, tick. Employing the vocal talents of several metal frontmen (Devin Townsend, Mikael Akerfeldt and James LaBrie) as well as other prog singers, Lucassen maps out the life experience of one man and how, in a twenty day coma, he faces all of those emotions and in accepting them, finally is drawn back to consciousness again. The raw emotions of this man are played out like an opera with each vocalist taking on an emotion as a character. Lucassen must be commended for his ambition but at nearly two hours in length and featuring eleven characters, THE HUMAN EQUATION is not something to be listened to leisurely. Essentially the Gestalt concept of “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” rings true here. To get the gist of things, the booklet is necessary and a full sitting from beginning to end is required. Good luck putting your player on shuffle, too. It takes repeated listens to fully realize exactly what Lucassen has done here, blending 70s rock, prog, classical, metal, folk and instrumentals with so many vocalists. The logistics and patience required are staggering and THE HUMAN EQUATION is a testament to Lucassen’s talent, craetivity and ambition.
Lucassen himself sings and plays many of the instruments on THE HUMAN EQUATION. He has also written most of the lyrics, all of the music, as well as produced the record. The main vocalist, though, is Dream Theater’s James LaBrie, who takes on the role of “Me.” LaBrie’s soaring voice is perfectly fitting for this style of music since Dream Theater has been known to write an epic song or two in its time. His voice on “Day Two: Isolation” and “Day Three: Pain,” is amazing and he stretches his range to its fullest. Strapping Young Lad vocalist Devin Townsend—fittingly singing the part of “Rage”—screams through his sections on “Day Three: Pain” and “Day Sixteen: Loser.” Townsend also brings out his unique clean vocal, as well. Lucassen’s casting of Townsend couldn’t be more perfect as his own rage-filled vocals embody the mood of the lyrics, especially on the “NEVER! NEVER! NEVER!” that he repeats over and over again to close “Day Sixteen: Loser.” As “Fear,” Opeth’s Mikael Akerfeldt also uses both his death growl and clean vocals throughout the CD. His vocals on “Day Five: Voices” and “Day Six: Childhood” are just as impressive as his work on last year’s DAMNATION, while he unleashes a furious roar on “Day Twelve: Trauma.” Lucassen and LaBrie face off in “Day Seven: Hope” and their vocal interplay is some of the best on the CD. Eric Clayton, who appears as “Reason,” sounds eerily close to David Bowie in his delivery and his work on “Day Fifteen: Betrayal” is quite remarkable. Not to be outdone, the ladies on the CD are just as powerful. Heather Findlay and Irene Jansen portray “Love” and “Passion,” respectively. Jansen’s choruses on “Day Thirteen: Sign” and “Day Fifteen: Betrayal” are chilling and Findlay’s harmonies with Marcela Bovio on “Day Ten: Memories” are just as compelling. Bovio is a new find by Lucassen and he puts her as the album’s centerpiece along with LaBrie. Bovio’s voice is angelic and perfectly captures all the necessary emotion as “Wife.” Mike Baker makes but one appearance on “Day Sixteen: Loser” and his vocals are smug, condescending and hateful; in other words, perfect!
While the vocals are a big part of any Ayreon CD, not to be forgotten is the stunning musicianship that backs those voices. Lucassen himself plays several instruments on the record, but there are also woodwinds, a didgeridoo, string section and countless other sounds emitting from keyboards. The music is lush, expansive and quite enthralling. Lucassen handled production himself at his Electric Castle studio and many hours were obviously spent to get thing just right. Not a voice, note or string is out of place.
To appease everyone, THE HUMAN EQUATION is available in three versions: a standard two CD jewel case version, a similar version but with a DVD with over 60 minutes of footage showing the recording process, THE HUMAN EQUATION concept explained by Lucassen himself, a history of Ayreon and more. The third version is strictly limited edition and contains the CDs, DVD and special packaging.
THE HUMAN EQUATION is a stunning release whose magnificence cannot be put into words (despite the long-winded effort I have already made). The concept is huge, diverse and utterly ambitious but Lucassen has brought it all together into a perfect sinergy. This is a masterpiece to which all other rock operas should be compared.
KILLER KUTS: “Day Two: Isolation,” “Day Three: Pain,” “Day Six: Childhood,” “Day Seven: Hope,” “Day Eight: School,” “Day Fourteen: Pride,” “Day Fifteen: Betrayal,” “Day Sixteen: Loser”