Sound — 10
Ayreon is a project by the multi-instrumentalist Arjen Anthony Lucassen. Each album is a concept album with a new story written by Arjen for it, usually a sci-fi fantasy story. While I will discuss the plot for the album's story in the lyrics section, I shall offer my thoughts on the compositions and musicianship. The first disc consists of an atmospheric, often orchestral, ambient variety of progressive rock music, dominated primarily by brilliant melodies. The compositions usually have a ambient/light electronica beat, which I've noticed is signature in Ayreon's music. Now, this may come as a surprise for progressive music enthusiasts and many may shy away from the ambient aspect of the music (it even scared off a certain reviewer, apparently), but I say that it is a very innovative take on the progressive music universe, and can act to the advantage of the individual songs to open-minded listeners. The second disc is the heavy, metallic part of the 2-album set. Progressive metal lovers find familiarity in the fast solos and riffs true to metal's reputation. This isn't to say that it's just another CD of straightforward metal, because coming from Ayreon, there's the transcendental creativity that makes it such a novel work of art. Still prevailing from the former disc are the ambient/electronic approaches, and the heavy but welcome synths are again part of the sound. The orchestral touches are not discarded, and contribute to the epicness of the story and songs. On "Dawn of a Million Souls", a guest guitar solo by Michael Romeo from the magnificent band Symphony X is featured, and according to Arjen on his site, it was the most impossible-by-human-standards solo he's ever done anywhere, and his ears unbelieving, he did not touch his own guitar for months since! But this is not to say that Arjen is a mediocre guitarist. Although he doens't really know how to read sheet music (heard that from somewhere), he does have the capability to write the intense, systematic music for each album of Ayreon, and that creative aspect may be more important than memorizing sheet music for prestige. Every musician has performed exemplary on the album, and they have also offered some of their original input to help craft the album, to great effect.
Lyrics — 9
Ayreon features guest singers from various bands in the world, and they portray characters within the story of each album. Usually, he has had multiple singers per song for his other albums, but Universal Migrator is unique in that each song features an individual singer. This album revolves around a single character, he is the last surviving human, and a colonist on Mars in the future. With the oxygen supply running out and his demise only a matter of time, he seeks a soothing way to pass the time though the colony's recreation device called the Dream Sequencer. He travels onward to the past in this simulation/pre-incarnation program, and portrays various figures and people in Earth's history on the first disc, entitled "The Dream Sequencer", starting from his isolation on Mars in his childhood (My House On Mars" featuring Johan Edlund of Tiamat) to the earth's first human ("The First Man on Earth" featuring Neal Morse [ex-Spock's Beard]). Continuing on the second disc "Flight of the Migrator", the character is now the Universe's first soul, The Universal Migrator, as he ventures across the universe encountering fantastic phenomena until he reaches the Solar System. However, his body dies in the Dream Sequencer and the real Universal Migrator communicates with his still-living mind that he is the new Migrator, and there's a whole universe out there waiting for him. The singers are mostly from the progressive and metal worlds, though Arjen also takes into consideration more obscure singers. All of whom are splendid choices. Many progressive metal fans will be pleased at the familiar voices of Symphony X's Russell Allen, Iron Maiden's Bruce Dickinson, Stratovarius' Timo Kotipelto, Rhapsody of Fire's Fabio Lione among others. The progressive rock world will find delight in hearing the melodies of Spock's Beard's former singer Neal Morse, though most of the singers on the first disc were somewhat obscure, whose bands may not even be that well known. A particualar favorite vocalist of mine was Jacqueline Govaert from a Dutch pop-rock band (surprise, prog fans! ) called Krezip, and sings on "Temple of the Cat" on the first disc. Although Arjen has stated that this is his least favorite Ayreon song, I find that ironic because it is one of my choice cuts while wanting to listen to something quick to chill. It's a good song, methinks. I still have to get used to Lana Lane's vocals, even after multiple listens I still haven't absorbed her vocals, featured on 2 songs on the first disc, "2084" and "Dragon of the Sea". But the preference of singers is left to the individual, and I don't try to judge hardworking singers.
Overall Impression — 10
Both "The Dream Sequencer" and "Flight of the Migrator" were sold separately, but it's better to get the 2-disc set because it's forthe price of one, and there's no bonus tracks on this release, for Arjen felt it unfair to the people who bought both discs before. This is a unique venture into progressive music, and Arjen Lucassen has worked hard to produce a masterpiece. You can definitely tell he is not one to bow to commercialism at the expense of his own creative work. Everyone who performed on the album did so with passion, and this would have served the album to it's advantage and success. And yet, Arjen is such a modest person, as evidenced in interviews and what not. But perhaps that contributes positively somehow to his ambitious music? Perhaps. Fans of various genres should listen to this album and all of Ayreon's music to introduce themselves to a more adventurous approach toward rock and metal. Also, already-enthusiastic musicians can discover new and obscure artists with Ayreon as a more than capable outlet. Enjoy.