Sound — 8
Ayreon are a very particular group. They aren't like most other renowned progressive metal groups, and not just because Ayreon takes influences from such genres as classical and electronica. Ayreon is standout because the majority of their music is written and performed by one man, Arjen Anthony Lucassen. As the driving force behind Ayreon, Lucassen not only sings but plays mandolin, synthesizer, mellotron, drums, piano, flute, banjo, lute, bass, hammond, and half a dozen additional instruments. For those moments where he suffers from a creative block, he enlists the aid of many guest musicians, including Dream Theater's James LaBrie, Steve Lee from Gotthard, and vocalist Tobias Sammet of Avantasia. Because of these unusual circumstances, Ayreon has never manned the stage and performed live, although some songs from the band's catalog have made their way into the set list during some live appearances of Lucassen's side projects. Since the group's carnation in 2004, Ayreon have released (up until most recently) seven studio albums and a number of successful singles, including "Come Back to Me" and "The Stranger From Within." The album titles themselves took inspiration from Lucassen's own passion for science fiction; a few examples include "Actual Fantasy," "Universal Migrator Part 1: The Dream Sequencer," and "01011001," the last of which peaked at number two on the Dutch Album Chart. Following the release of "01011001," it was announced that Ayreon would be going into hiatus; the reason being so Lucassen could spend time on other projects and return to Ayreon to create a standout studio album. Apparently this is that time, as Ayreon are marking a resurgence with their first new album in five years, and shows Lucassen bringing along a more impressive list of guest musicians than ever before. "The Theory of Everything" is actually a concept album, with each character being voiced by a different vocalist. This new studio effort is comprised of 42 segments which span across two discs, which has been recognized by Lucassen as a direct reference to "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy." The album's title track is a conclave of dominating electric guitar, futuristic sounding synthesizers, elegant piano playing, and harmonious lead vocals, which show a team of singers jumping back and forth between one another. It may sound like absolute chaos, but the end product is standout. The synthesizer playing itself is impressive, which is anticipated when you have Rick Wakeman of Yes, Keith Emerson of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Dream Theater's Jordan Rudess and Steve Hackett from Genesis together in the same room.
Lyrics — 8
"The Theory of Everything" boasts a standout list of lead vocalists as well. Such formidable names as Asia's John Wetton and Marco Hietala of Nightwish make appearances on the new album, which of course makes for some standout vocal harmonies. When you have such a list of talent together on one studio album, it leaves very little for one to focus on in a negative light.
Overall Impression — 8
Ayreon give a knockout performance with their new studio album, "The Theory of Everything." Between the album's striking list of guest musicians to the standout end product, this is an album that comes highly recommended to any progressive metal fan, as well as any Ayreon follower.