Commanded by Dutch musician Arjen Anthony Lucassen, "The Source" is the brand new creation of AYREON - to be released next April 28 on various formats - featuring an impressive cast of musicians including James LaBrie (Dream Theater), Simone Simons (Epica), Tobias Sammet (Avantasia), Russell Allen (Symphony X), Michael Eriksen (Circus Maximus), Floor Jansen (Nightwish), Paul Gilbert (Mr. Big) and many more.
As always with Lucassen / Ayreon, there's concept in "The Source". The story is set six billion years in the past relative to Earth. It begins on a planet called Alpha that has been overtaken by machines, with the main beings of the planet, ancestors to humanity, losing control to the point where a group of them (the main characters of the album) make the decision to leave on a spaceship, to seek out life on another planet.
This, of course, leads to the beginnings of Planet Y, which longtime Ayreon fans should be very familiar with by now. While the album still has its fun moments, including several references to various prior Ayreon releases, I find the tone to be a bit darker than usual.
While previous Ayreon albums have had some impressive casts, this has to be the best one yet!
There’s some great returning singers here, such as James Labrie (Dream Theater), Tommy Karevik (Kamelot), Simone Simons (Epica), Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian), Michael Mills (Toehider), Russell Allen (Symphony X) and Floor Jansen (Nightwish), with all of the above having prominent roles and being given a ton of room to work with.
Simone Simons, in particular, has a much larger role than she had on 01011001, which is great as I had thought she was underused there, where on this album she gets to showcase her voice a ton more, including some acrobatic vocals on “Deathcry of a Race”.
The real show stealer may be Michael Mills, though, as he plays the machine “TH-1”, which allows him to show off his crazy vocal range in some impressive ways, and he’s often used for some background effects which is also pretty cool.
James LaBrie shine on “Condemned to Live” and the ballad “Bay of Dreams”, then Tobias Sammet does a great appearance on “Into the Ocean”.
Moving on to newcomers, we have Tommy Rogers (Between the Buried and Me), which at first glance may not be a choice some folks would expect, but he actually has a very clear, soft singing voice which works great for an Ayreon album and he sounds great here, especially on “The Source Will Flow”.
Less shocking choices include Nils K. Rue (Pagan’s Mind), who has a very deep and powerful voice that fits his part well, especially shining during the chorus of “Sea of Machines”, where he really gets to show off his power.
Michael Eriksen (Circus Maximus) has a very emotional delivery that fits his character perfectly, and has his shining moments on the opening track and “Into the Ocean”, and Zaher Zorgati (Myrath), who only has a very brief part on “Deathcry of a Race”, though he does a very good job on that part.
Musically, "The Source" is a diverse album as fans would expect, though I find it a much more metal oriented album than the previous, with a lot of more guitar-driven sections plenty of chunky, groovy guitar riffs. There’s also some a couple surprisingly speedy tracks, with small traces of power metal on one track in particular.
Obviously, though, this is still an Ayreon release, and so fans can still expect tons of synth effects, as well as unusual metal instruments like violin, cello, and various wind instruments, and there are certainly some nice softer sections and some more prog rock moments as always.
Where the last Ayreon release was a departure in terms of structure, "The Source" feels more traditional progressive rock / metal, in that while it can still be divided into four different phases. There’s a much greater focus on individual tracks here, and the songwriting is more fun and catchy, while still giving room for the plot to develop.
And songwriting is an area where Arjen has never been anything short of brilliant, with "The Source" being especially impressive even by his standards.
Monumental piece of work. HIGHLY Recommended
01 - The Day That the World Breaks Down
02 - Sea of Machines
03 - Everybody Dies
04 - Star of Sirrah
05 - All That Was
06 - Run! Apocalypse! Run!
07 - Condemned to Live
01 - Aquatic Race
02 - The Dream Dissolves
03 - Deathcry of a Race
04 - Into the Ocean
05 - Bay of Dreams
06 - Planet Y Is Alive!
07 - The Source Will Flow
08 - Journey to Forever
09 - The Human Compulsion
10 - March of the Machines
James LaBrie (Dream Theater)
Tommy Karevik (Kamelot, Seventh Wonder)
Tommy Rogers (Between the Buried and Me)
Simone Simons (Epica)
Nils K. Rue (Pagan's Mind)
Tobias Sammet (Edguy, Avantasia)
Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian)
Mike Mills (Toehider)
Russell Allen (Symphony X)
Michael Eriksen (Circus Maximus)
Floor Jansen (Nightwish, ex-After Forever)
Zaher Zorgati (Myrath)
Ed Warby - drums
Joost van den Broek (ex-After Forever) - piano
Ben Mathot - violin
Maaike Peterse (Kingfisher Sky) - cello
Jeroen Goossens (ex-Pater Moeskroen) - wind instruments
Paul Gilbert - guitar solo
Guthrie Govan (The Aristocrats, ex-Asia) - guitar solo
Marcel Coenen (Sun Caged) - guitar solo
Mark Kelly (Marillion) - synthesizer solo
Arjen Anthony Lucassen - electric and acoustic guitars, bass, mandolin, analog synthesizers, Hammond, Solina Strings