The Source (2CD/DVD)
While Ayreon’s ‘Forever/Planet Y’ saga seemed to have reached its conclusion with the album 01011001, it’s clear that Arjen Lucassen’s creative muses had other plans. The new Ayreon album The Source revisits the Forever saga, adding a whole new chapter to Lucassen’s impressive body of work. With its top-flight cast of singers and musicians, compelling songs, overwhelming sound, and intriguing story, The Source offers everything that has gained Lucassen dedicated fans worldwide since he laid the foundations of Ayreon back in the mid 90’s.
“Whenever I start something new, I usually have a solo album in mind”, Arjen Lucassen explains. “It gives me the freedom to go any direction I want. All options are still open, with regards to sound and style. This time around I initially felt that a new Star One album was appearing on the horizon because the guitars were so dominant. But after the first flutes and violins showed up, I realized I had a new Ayreon album in the making.”
This album, to be released on April 28, saw Lucassen’s creative process take an unusual twist. Normally, finding and assembling the album artwork comes very late in the process, long after the music is finished. But to gain inspiration he began looking for artwork very early on, after writing just the first few songs.
“While Googling I found the website of the French artist Yann Souetre. Right from the start I was fascinated by his imagery. It was industrial and futuristic at the same time. I was particularly captivated and inspired by a portrait of a woman under water, hooked up to various tubes. Not long after that I had an overall theme, a story line, and a visual aesthetic for the album. I contacted Yann, and after we agreed that his artwork would be available for the album, I continued composing songs with confidence and a clear vision.”
The Story of The Source is set six billion years in the past relative to Earth. It begins on Planet Alpha, a world in the Andromeda system where computer intelligence has far surpassed that of humanity. Alpha is facing a massive global crisis, with ecological and political catastrophes threatening all human life. The Alphans (our human ancestors) try to save their planet by entrusting the global computer mainframe—The ‘Frame—to find a solution. Given total control of the planet, the ‘Frame reaches the logical conclusion that its creators are the cause of all the trouble. The only way to solve Alpha’s problems is to exterminate humanity. This leaves the Alphans no other option than to try and escape their horrific fate. But their escape comes at a terrible price.
“The most dramatic segment on the album is the song Condemned To Live. There is just one ship that is capable of making the journey to a new planet, and it can only carry a handful of people. So only those who have essential skills or other useful qualities are allowed to join. All the others have to stay behind. Those who are allowed to leave are, as the title goes, “Condemned To Live”, as they must wrestle with the unimaginable anguish of leaving their families—and the entire Alphan civilization—behind to certain doom.”
It’s the beginning of a story that contains everything that has made the Ayreon epics so endlessly fascinating all these years. First there are the musical riches, then there is the layered story line. It can all be interpreted as strict science fiction, but Arjen Lucassen doesn’t shy away from making references to actual events.
“I usually get inspired by scientific documentaries and facts. Just recently I heard that by around the year 2050, artificial intelligence will have surpassed human intellectual capacities, the ‘Technical Singularity’. What will the consequences be for humanity? I spend a lot of time thinking and philosophizing about this fascinating subject, and sooner or later some of these musings usually find their way onto my albums. Of course, everything is a product of my imagination, but at the same time I’d like to think that my stories could actually happen, at least theoretically!”
Arjen Lucassen strives to make every Ayreon album a contrast to the one before. “If The Theory of Everything was my prog album, then The Source is my rock album. It’s more guitar oriented, which makes it heavier than previous Ayreon releases. The Source is also more ‘accessible’ than The Theory of Everything: the songs are structured more conventionally, and the melodies are catchier.”
The title of The Source invites various interpretations. It’s a reference to water—the source of life—and the water planet where the escaping Alphans find a safe new home after their long, arduous journey. The Source also points to the origins of humanity and the question of where we come from. The title also hints at the role that the album itself plays in the whole Ayreon catalogue. Given that it is a prequel, it can be thought of as the source of the entire Ayreon epic.
The international status of Ayreon enables Arjen Lucassen to write his characters with some of the most respected singers in rock in mind: James LaBrie (Dream Theater), Tommy Giles Rogers (Between the Buried and Me), Simone Simons (Epica), Mike Mills (Toehider), Floor Jansen (Nightwish), Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian), Michael Eriksen (Circus Maximus), Tobias Sammet (Edguy, Avantasia), Nils K. Rue (Pagan's Mind), Zaher Zorgati (Myrath), Tommy Karevik (Kamelot) and Russell Allen (Symphony X). Special contributions were offered by guitarists Paul Gilbert (Mr. Big), Guthrie Govan (The Aristocrats, Asia, Steven Wilson), Marcel Coenen and keyboard player Mark Kelly (Marillion).
Just as on his previous albums, The Source has Arjen Lucassen playing a wide variety of instruments, while the inimitable Ed Warby (o.a. Elegy, Gorefest, Hail Of Bullets) once again masterfully handles the drums.
“For quite a while it was a self-imposed rule to avoid inviting a singer more than once for an Ayreon. I have a very close relationship with my audience, and frequently found them wishing that this vocalist or the other could have been present on my previous album. I then realized that my self-imposed limitation was doing the fans a disservice. That’s why The Source features many vocalists who have already sung on an Ayreon album before. In fact, about half of the singers made their debut on an Ayreon album.”
The Source adds a compelling new chapter to a career that began in the mid-nineties in a cloud of doubt and uncertainty. After years of gigging and making records with Dutch hard rock bands Bodine and Vengeance, guitarist Arjen Lucassen set out to create his own rock opera—including all the bells and whistles—inspired by the works that he cherished in his younger years: The Who’s Tommy, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar and Jeff Wayne’s The War of The Worlds. In the post-grunge era, the audacious ambitions of the tall Dutchman were met with stony indifference by most record labels. But Lucassen persevered and eventually his debut Ayreon offering, The Final Experiment, was released and managed to reach a huge international audience. The rock opera was back!
Following the success of The Final Experiment, new Ayreon albums arrived every few years. Their musical impact was such that they all became successful in their own right, even though Lucassen—a self-proclaimed recluse—chose not to promote the albums with live shows. Instead he opted to remain safely within the walls of his private studio The Electric Castle to work long days on his musical projects. Most of his albums have appeared under his Ayreon-moniker, but he also allows himself the occasional lyrical and musical sidestep with other projects such as Ambeon, Stream of Passion, Guilt Machine, The Gentle Storm, and Star One. Whatever he’s done and whatever name he’s used, it’s all been embraced by a loyal community of international fans.
2017 will be a particularly exciting year for Ayreon fans thanks to a unique chance to actually see Ayreon live. Limited to three exclusive performances, “The Ayreon Universe” will take place in September in the prestigious 013 venue in Tilburg, Holland. This unprecedented live event features the best of twenty years of Ayreon music, brought to life by a top cast of musicians such as Floor Jansen (Nightwish), Russell Allen (Symphony X), Damian Wilson (Threshold), Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian), Tommy Karevik (Kamelot), Jonas Renkse (Katatonia), Anneke van Giersbergen and various others. The reclusive Arjen Lucassen himself is also expected to make a rare appearance on stage. The tickets for all concerts – 9000 in total – sold out within a day, proving once again that the Ayreon magic is still very much alive and kicking.
The Source is the first Ayreon album to be released by the renowned Dutch record company Mascot Label Group/Music Theories Recordings, which could be considered a new beginning for all things Ayreon. “Let me start by saying that I always make every effort to create the best Ayreon album possible. This time was no exception. I really wanted to deliver the goods, and I hope I did! I’ve got a very good feeling about it, mainly because of the way everything seemed to fall easily into place with this album. I’ve only experienced that twice before, with Into The Electric Castle and The Human Equation. The music, the story, the artwork and most of all the fantastic guest musicians just came together very naturally.”