AYREON – 01011001 (2008)

Ayreon - 01011001You’ve got to hand it to Arjen Anthony Lucassen: no one in the metal realm can get a better collective of guest musicians together better than him. Arjen’s latest effort under the Ayreon moniker features over a dozen vocalists and instrumentalists, including Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guaridan), Daniel Gildenlöw (Pain of Salvation), Anneke van Giersbergen (ex-The Gathering), Tom S. Englund (Evergrey), Jonas Renkse (Katatonia), Michael Romeo (Symphony X), Derek Sherinian (ex-Dream Theater), Ty Tabor (King’s X), Jørn Lande (Ark) and Floor Jansen (After Forever).

01011001 comes four years after the release of the band’s last album, The Human Equation. The diverse and talented guest musicians on that release (including Devin Townsend, James LaBrie of Dream Theater and Mikael Åkerfeldt of Opeth, to name a few), coupled with the album’s infectious melodies more than made up for the album’s flaws (some truly awful lyrics and concept that was more than a little ridiculous at times). Even with the flaws, however, The Human Equation is still a damn good album. It’s certainly the best of the Ayreon catalogue, and its success comes largely due to Arjen scaling back his vision from the omniversal to the personal, while still keeping things musically as epic as possible.

Though the idea of man coming to grips with his emotions and personality while in a coma is overbearing at times, in the end, the grandiosity of the whole thing becomes kind of charming. Arjen, for better or worse, is at least attempting to make a point with the album (what it is to be a human versus what it is to be an individual – that’s what I got out of it, anyways). And after all, you can’t honestly make progressive metal without a little grandiosity, because it’s primarily grandiosity that defines the characteristics of the genre.

With 01011001, Arjen has once again shifted his sights back towards the cosmos. The plot-line of the album is tied to events that occurred in The Universal Migrator and Into The Electric Castle. The first disc of the album (Disc Y) begins promisingly with Age of Shadows, a song that has everything an Ayreon song should have: larger-than-life melodies, interweaving, multi-layered vocals (from several singers – Anneke from The Gathering ends up stealing the show) all backed with ominous and spacey synths. The song is nearly eleven minutes long, but everything is woven together so expertly that it feels like five. It’s a shame that after Age of Shadows, Disc Y falters regularly and never really recovers.

Comatose and Connect The Dots are Disc Y’s worst offenders. Both songs are bland filler, with former drifting through a lifeless, amusical purgatory and the latter being a shoddy and ineffective political “ballad.” Connect The Dots reminds me a lot of Pain of Salvation’s Scarsick (I love Pain of Salvation, but don’t get me started on Scarsick); it has the same defeatist attitude, the same passionless portrayal of real issues that affect the world today.

There are a few actual Ayreon moments buried in the remaining collection of generally ho-hum songs. Beneath The Waves concludes on a high note, after taking four minutes or so to get off the ground and Liquid Eternity eventually emerges as a song out of a formless ambient background; it also contains the disc’s best musical section, a brief interlude with flute, violin and synth, before crashing into the next chorus.

The saddest case on Disc Y for me was New Born Race, a song that fails despite that best efforts of Daniel Gildenlöw, arguably the best vocalist in all of metal right now. That song leads into the forgettable duo that closes the album out: Ride The Comet and Web of Lies. Of the two, Web of Lies is a particularly tragic casuality, as the music (a sweet ballad) is ruined by terrible lyrics centering around an Internet relationship.

Much of the beginning of the second disc, Disc Earth, is spent trying to wade out of the music doldrums that Disc Y slipped into. The Fifth Extinction and Waking Dreamsboth feature an unnecessary amount of synth work. Now, synths like the ones used here can be very effective (a good example would be The Past Is A Grotesque Animal from Of Montreal’s latest album), but on these tracks, they’re worse than just being cheesy (remember, this is progressive metal, where cheesiness is not a sin) – they’re downright annoying, the musical equivalent of the little dog across the street the barks all night and keeps all the neighbors in a sleepless, communal hell.

Disc Earth is at its best when the songs are shorter and the music is more organic. The disc’s highlights, The Truth Is In Here and River of Time, both have a heavy folk influence. River of Time is the disc’s best track, centering around a mix of violin and flute. Its bright, upbeat melodies are a welcome change of pace from the homogeny that’s present in much of the preceding material.

The disc’s (and the album’s) penultimate track, The Sixth Extinction is an accurate representation of 01011001 as a whole. It’s the album’s longest track, at a little over twelve minutes long, but it’s horribly uneven. For every moment of progressive metal brilliance (including an excellent section with pummeling drums and death growls, a musical element missed sorely by me on 01011001, especially after witnessing how effective they could be on The Human Equation), there seems to be an equal or greater number of filler sections in the song. These sections are the bane of both the final track and the album, bogging it down in a swamp of mediocrity. When The Sixth Extinction finally ends, the only lingering feeling is unfulfillment, a feeling that’s only amplified if you’ve listened to 90+ minutes of music on 01011001 as whole.

Arjen seems to be getting lost in the world he’s created, and I don’t mean that in a good way. He’s too concerned with the narrative of his work on 01011001, and not concerned enough about how well his narrative ideas will translate into music. Of all the material on this album, only half of it is really worth taking in. Perhaps the next time Arjen rounds up a crew of the metal elite, he’ll put their talents – and his – to better use.

HD RATING: 5/10

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One Response to “AYREON – 01011001 (2008)”

  1. […] thatHeligoland is the most guest musician-dependent album the band have ever released. Somewhere, Arjen Anthony Lucassen is jealous; among others, Heligoland features Tunde Adebimpe of TV on the Radio, reggae maestro […]

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