Ayreon Universe: Best of Ayreon Live by AyreonRelease date: March 30, 2018
Label: Music Theories Recordings/Mascot Label Group
This 2-CD/2-DVD/1 Blu-Ray box set, consists of the Ayreon Universe performed live last year on September 16th at the 013 Poppodium in Tilburg. When you watch or listen to the performance, you can tell that Arjen Anthony Lucassen himself has come a long way. And to bring the stories and the music to life on stage, it is probably, in my opinion, the biggest challenge ever.
For 23 years, Arjen Lucassen’s Ayreon has released nine studio albums, 1 EP, two compilation albums and two live albums. This includes both The Theater Equation which is the entire album, The Human Equation from start to finish and the new release this year, Ayreon Universe: Best of Ayreon Live. Arjen shows himself that while he’s come a long way, he still has the flaming fire inside his heart. And he’s never, ever going to burn it out.
As I’ve mentioned earlier, whether you watch or listen to the live album or both the DVDs and Blu-Ray, you can close your eyes and it’s like being at the 013 Poppodium, watching the music and the stories come to life. Not only that, but it shows Arjen Anthony Lucassen support, demonstrating that he’s been around from day one. Whether it’s projects or bands that include; The Gentle Storm, Vengeance, Star One, Guilt Machine, or working with Stream of Passion on their 2005 debut release of Embrace the Storm, Lucassen himself is a very busy man.
There are sixteen performers on here that consist of Irene and Floor Jansen, Anneke Van Giersbergen, Marcela Bovio, Maggy Luyten, Mike Mills, Jonas Renkse, Joost Van Den Broek, Tommy Karevik, and Damian Wilson to name a few. It’s not just Lucassen himself, but with a little help from his friends, they’re letting him know they’ve got his back, no matter what. They are not just band members, but family too.
All of the Ayreon albums, including selections of Star One material, is the concert of the lifetime. According to the behind-the-scenes documentary that’s on both the second DVD and the Blu-Ray, Arjen himself didn’t know if this was going to work. He knew that this was a challenge, but it was a way to have contact with the audience. Tina Turner once said, “Sometimes you’ve got to let everything go. Purge yourself. If you are unhappy with anything, whatever is bringing you down, get rid of it. Because you’ll find that when you’re free, you’re true-self comes out.”
‘Prologue’ begins with Michael Mills from Toehider coming on stage wearing this metallic/futuristic outfit doing this spoken dialogue as the voice of Merlin from The Final Experiment. He gives us this scenery of what the future might be like in 2084. He then asks the audience “Would you like to know his name?” The crowd erupts with cheers, “His name………………..is AYREON!”. We embark on these infinite and parallel universes through the Ayreon stories and it’s letting us know that this is going to be a roller-coaster ride we will never, ever forget. It shows the album covers and the Star One releases with the overture having this epic fanfare.
The Ayreon stories come to life, and for the audience, it’s quite a ride for the next 2 hours and 25 minutes. ‘The Theory of Everything’ features the duet between Mills and Bovio. Joost van den Broek’s keyboards and Jeroen Goosen’s flute creates this duel between the two, followed by the guitar in hot pursuit.
With its classical piano concerto, the confrontation between the two parents becomes difficult for them as they try to decide what they will do to their son. The audience claps along to the rhythm, as the synthesizer has this sympathetic sound. Marcela captures the Mother’s emotions as her husband neglects both his wife and child by taking their son to therapy.
Floor Jansen steals the show as she sings ‘Merlin’s Will’. The character confronts Ayreon for all the danger he has caused and will put him out of his misery. There’s this medieval section before Floor asks “shall we do this again?!” and the crowd erupts. ‘Everybody Dies’ is this metallic crossover between Queen‘s second album, Queen II, Premiata Forneria Marconi, Gentle Giant, and Muse, with some of the time changes.
The vocals between the female tenors Floor Jansen, Marcela Bovio, Lisette van den Berg, Karevik and Blind Guardian’s Hansi Kurch along with Mills, sets the scene for the alarming danger that’s about to come. Nightmare’s Maggy Luyten also comes onstage and lets the people know that time is running out. There’s not much time to escape before the planet dies out very quickly. This is also the centrepiece of the performance, where they come together to get the audience to participate and sing-along. Not to mention ‘Valley of the Queens’ between Jansen, Giersbergen, and Bovio taking you beyond the fantasy and into the Celtic folk wonders. It works well and it gives the members a break from their metallic sounds.
Near the end of the show, during the second act, Arjen Lucassen comes onstage with thunderous applause as we are in ‘The Castle Hall’. He’s the conquering hero and the master behind these adventures he brought us. I can tell that this song was inspired by Queen’s ‘The Prophet’s Song’. with Robert Soeterboek’s doom like operatic voice, Damian Wilson’s epic vocals, along with Jeroen’s flute, Arjen’s riffs invites the audience to clap along with the rhythm. Marcel Coenen’s (Sun Caged) guitar helps out near the end with this incredible climatic battle between Jeroen’s flute and Ben Mathot’s violin as they bring both the force and the energy together.
Now onto both the 2-DVDs and the Blu-Ray. Both of them contain the full-length concert, behind-the-scenes documentary, and highlights from the Try-Out performance at Jupiler Stage 013 in Tilburg recorded on the first day of September last year. You’ll see some of the preparations that went on 16 days before the performance at the 013 Poppodium. It also gives an insight of what the band members, the singers, and Lucassen himself were going to do and how they were going to do it. It shows a very interesting process.
For me, this was an incredible journey, being able to both listen and watch at the same time. Arjen himself is not just a virtuoso, but also an adventurer and a story-teller. As Elizabeth Comstock from the 2013 video game BioShock Infinite once said, “We swim in different oceans, but land on the same shore.”