Ayreon ( pronunciation (help·info)) is a project by Dutch composer and musician Arjen Anthony Lucassen. Ayreon's musical style derives mostly from heavy metal and progressive rock, but combines them with genres like folk, classical and electronica. The majority of Ayreon's albums are dubbed "rock operas" because the albums contain complex storylines featuring a host of characters, each represented by a unique vocalist.
Ayreon's music is characterized by the use of traditional instruments in rock music (guitars, bass guitar, drums, synthesizers, electric organs) mixed with instruments more native to folk and classical music (i.e. mandolins, violins, violas, celli, flutes, sitars and didgeridoo). Lucassen writes the music and the lyrics, sings and plays instruments on all of the Ayreon albums, alongside many guest musicians, but the drums are played by Ed Warby most of the time, so he is considered as a member, even though he's not an official one. Arjen has said he will keep making Ayreon music until the day he loses love for music or until the day he dies. Also, when asked on the "Ask Arjen Anything" channel of communication if there will be another Ayreon album, he simply stated "Definitely".
The first Ayreon CD, released in 1995, is The Final Experiment, which has a mixture of science fiction and medieval themes. The album features thirteen singers and seven instrumentalists, most of them Dutch. The Final Experiment is often mentioned as one of the first metal operas and a reviver of the rock opera genre. The album was originally titled Ayreon: The Final Experiment, with the artist listed as Arjen Lucassen, but upon re-release, the title was changed to The Final Experiment, and the artist was changed to Ayreon.
Actual Fantasy from 1996 is the only Ayreon album without a continuous story. With its individual fantasy stories, it can still be considered a concept album, though. There are only three singers and three instrumentalists on Actual Fantasy. Themes inspired by songs on this album can be found on later Ayreon releases, particularly the two Universal Migrator albums. The album did not sell as well as its predecessor.
The double album Into the Electric Castle followed in 1998. The album features eight singers, each playing a role of a single character, and eleven instrumentalists. Arjen has stated that he wanted this particular album to be a more flight-and-fancy-free record, or "pure escapism" than the previous albums' more serious tones, and portrayed his characters in more of a B-Movie light. The album was a huge success and is widely regarded as one of Ayreon's best albums.
The twin Universal Migrator albums were released in 2000. The first album, The Dream Sequencer consists of soft, atmospheric progressive rock, whereas the second album, Flight of the Migrator, consists of a more heavy metal theme. Both of the albums feature around ten singers supported by many instrumentalists. One of the more notable guests was Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden, who made an appearance on the Flight of the Migrator album.
Shortly following Universal Migrator came Ayreonauts Only, an album generally meant to be only for diehard fans of Ayreon. The album itself was the second to not follow a specific storyline; it instead contained alternate versions (With different vocalists or instrumentalists) of existing songs, or the original demos used when recording them. In addition, it contained a preview of Arjen's then-upcoming project, Ambeon. It is the only Ayreon album not to see re-release on InsideOut.
In 2004 came The Human Equation. As on Into the Electric Castle, there are several singers, each playing their own role. With The Human Equation, Ayreon turned away from the usual science fiction and fantasy themes with a seemingly semi-normal psychological theme.
Starting in 2004, after changing from Transmission Records to InsideOut, Arjen began rereleasing his Ayreon catalog on the new label, with enhancements ranging from basic (The Universal Migrator, issued as a two-disc set instead of two separate albums) to drastic (Actual Fantasy, "Revisited" with completely re-recorded drums, bass, synth and flute). In 2005, to coincide with the 10th anniversary of Ayreon, The Final Experiment was reissued with a bonus semi-acoustic disc.
At the end of September 2006, when Arjen's new studio was finished, he began making a new album entitled 01011001, which was released on January 25, 2008. This album was noticeably darker than previous Ayreon releases, Lucassen attributes this to a depression and his divorce in the preceding year.
On April 25, 2008, Arjen released a new Ayreon EP named Elected. The EP features two tracks from 01011001, one from The Human Equation and an Alice Cooper cover (Elected), with vocals by Arjen and Tobias Sammet.
On September 16, 2008, Arjen announced in his official website the release of Timeline, his second compilation album, that will reunite selected songs from all Ayreon albums and an unreleased one in three CDs and a DVD. The album was released on November 7, 2008 in Germany, Austria and Switzerland and all of the EU on November 17, 2008. It was released in America on January 13, 2009.
Arjen finished working on his new side project, Guilt Machine, in 2009. Since then he has started working on the second Star One full-length and, upon its completion, is said to have intentions on recording a solo album under his own name. Regarding the release of another Ayreon album, he stated the following:
"As for whether there will be another Ayreon album, I'm never sure. Ten years could go by before I decide to do another one. I have to say that a lot of the reviews for 01 said it had some cool moments but it had that typical Ayreon sound, that there was nothing new being offered, and I think I can agree with that. I decided I'm going to stop with this Ayreon story, with this sound, and concentrate on other projects first. Then, if I decide to go back to Ayreon I'll do something different with it. I have no idea how (laughs), but if there's going to be another one it should be different."
Ayreon's concept is a continuous one, with loose connections between each of the albums. The Final Experiment alluded to the events that led to The Universal Migrator albums (during the course of events in the specified album, the man using The Dream Sequencer discovers that he was, in a past life, the blind minstrel Ayreon). The inlay booklet of the Universal Migrator double-album alludes to Into the Electric Castle, with the castle being shown in the same page with the song "Out of the White Hole," specifically the portion titled "Planet Y", home planet to the alien "Forever", who is mentioned in the middle of the song ("Forever... remember Forever..."). Also, Arjen's notes at the beginning the possibility that the character using the Dream Sequencer on the Universal Migrator double-album (the Colonist) is indeed the Futureman on Into the Electric Castle.
So far, there seems to be little connection between Into the Electric Castle and The Human Equation, except for the very final section of "Day Twenty: Confrontation", in which it is revealed that "The Human Equation" was really a computer program launched by Forever of the Stars. At the end of the song, Forever can be heard saying "Emotions... I remember...", pointing to the fact that the experiment has been successful and he has remembered the emotions that his race had lost.
01011001 is the album that connects the stories from all others albums, for here the whole Forever story is revealed. Throughout the first few songs, it is revealed how Forever lost their emotions, due to a dependence on machines, thus explaining both experiments undertaken by them (Into the Electric Castle and The Human Equation). Later, it is explained that Forever created the human race, using their own DNA. On the eleventh song, "The Truth Is In Here", the Mr. L character appears, who is indeed the now aged Hippie, one of the eight characters from Into the Electric Castle. Also, this Mr. L is the prophet promised by Merlin at the end of The Final Experiment. Forever, in an attempt to save mankind, send visions of the Earth's decay to the human race, along with a way to save the Earth. These visions are received by two scientists, who build The Final Experiment, and send these visions back in time, eventually received by Ayreon in The Final Experiment. At the end of the story, Forever realize that they cannot save humankind, so they leave them to their own devices. Though the human race may be lost, there is one man (Futureman/Colonist) left alive on Mars, so the Forever give him the role of the new Universal Migrator. The end of 01011001 occurs on the year 2085, one year after the mankind's destruction and the great war on Earth (which is told on the second and third songs from The Dream Sequencer, "My House On Mars" and "2084" respectively).
Other bands and projects by Arjen Anthony Lucassen:
Bands Arjen has been a member of: