Category Archives: Music

Lana’s Ballads

 

Lana Lane
Ballad Collection (2000)

More of the same from Lana Lane, this time focusing on slower songs. I like her version of “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” better than the original.

Reviewed by: John “Bo Bo” Bollenberg, March 2001
Prog diva Lana Lane has already made her mark with her superb voice and matching compositions backed by husband Erik Norlander and fellow Rocket Scientists cohorts. One of the first countries to really appreciate Lana’s output was Japan, a country known for its avid fans, and ditto collectors. Hence the idea to release a Ballad Collection solely for the Japanese market way back in 1998 (sounds a long time ago doesn’t it?). Because of the great success in the land of the rising sun, the band and Lana decided it was time to release the album also for the rest of the world and to do so they opted for a double disc.

Going back to the Japanese single release, … that one consisted of the best ballads from Lana Lane’s then three studio albums, augmented with three bonus tracks recorded especially for that release. The opening song “Avalon” not only uses the same name as the band’s Japanese record company, it’s also a Rocket Scientists song from their debut album Earthbound. However, this time around guitarist Neil Citron has joined, plus we certainly have to mention the incredible violin played by Novi Novog. The acoustic beauty “Athena’s Shadow” was written by Lana on acoustic guitar and nicely executed here by Neil Citron, Don Schiff and Mark McCrite.

Another Rocket Scientists “classic” is added in the form of “Stardust,” re-recorded in 1998 and sporting some wonderful mellotron sections. The rest of the material comes from the Love Is An Illusion, Curious Goods and Garden Of The Moon albums, but once again strictly ballads! For this new release this disc sports an extra track in the form of “Season’s End,” a great cover from a Marillion highlight which is hinged around acoustic guitar with some outstanding bass lines, lush mellotron and sparse synthesizer sounds.

To make this set more interesting Lana has added a bonus disc entitled “the 2000 sessions” which includes brand new recordings and covers recorded just after Secrets Of Astrology (or you take the “1998” disc as the bonus disc whatever way you want to look at it). Here she tries her hand at many well known classics in the field of ballads. First up is Dan Fogelberg’s “Nether Lands” title track. Once again husband Erik Norlander adds a fair amount of mellotron which kind of lifts this song from the ground so it can view the world from up in the blue sky! The military drums introduce Lana’s melodic singing. Superb organ sounds fill the newly penned “Hands To Heal” written by the Winfield/Schiff household who previously wrote Lana Lane classics such as “Cold Outside,” “Let Heaven In” and “Take A Breath”. Again Neil Citron adds a great sparkle by means of a tremendous guitar solo. Great! Next up is a small tribute for Elton John whose “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” apparently wasn’t just my favourite but also one of Lana’s. To give it a new “look,” Erik decided to substitute Elton’s piano for a Hammond.

Sitting under the elderly oak in her own backyard, Lana strummed the acoustic guitar playing two new compositions which strangely seemed to fit together hence the medley of the new songs “A Place In Time” and “Nevermore” both sporting great orchestral arrangements. “Critical Mass” opens in true barbershop style with loads of different voices blending nicely together before culminating into “Wind On The Water” which has Lana’s voice create the waves on the musical ocean. Initially recorded by David Crosby and Graham Nash this is indeed a song which perfectly illustrates the quality of the voice. Written in 1947, “Autumn Leaves” is probably the first jazz standard ever to be committed to the Lana Lane CD collection. The nice melody is taken over by Neil Citron whilst Norlander delivers some whirling Hammond to add extra depth. It’s also interesting to hear how the drunken voice of Tom Waits is replaced by the velvet sounds of Lana during “Innocent When You Dream.” The disc ends with the Supertramp classic “If Everyone Was Listening.” Knowing how high pitched Roger Hodgson sings the original of course Lana has no problems what so ever singing this little gem.

I keep finding it difficult in order to find an explanation why Lana Lane still hasn’t made it in a big way. At the same time I still doubt whether at all this music is progressive rock or not. For all I know this is great rock music with superb arrangements unworthy of only selling a handful worldwide. If you have never heard Lana Lane before then this is the best possible release to get into Lana’s spell. The only setback is that once you’ve heard her sing, she becomes very addictive indeed and with a remarkable CD output already it might look like an expensive experience. However for the time being you get two discs for the price of one. Who can argue with that?

More about Ballad Collection:

Track Listing: Disc One: The 2000 Sessions : Nether Lands / Hands To Heal / Goodbye Yellow Brick Road / A Place In Time / Nevermore / A Place In Time Reprise / Ghost Beside My Bed – To The Last Whale / Critical Mass / Wind On The Water / The River Maid / Autumn Leaves / Innocent When You Dream / If Everyone Was Listening

Disc Two: The 1998 Sessions : Avalon / Athena’s Shadow / Stardust / Season’s End / Through The Fire (Acoustic Studio Version) / When Time Stood Still / Clouds (Abc Mix) / Heart Of Dawn (Abc Mix) / Take A Breath (Abc Mix) / Across The Universe / Avalon Reprise

Musicians:
Lana Lane – voice and charisma
Erik Norlander – keyboards, moral support, lover

Guests:

Mark McCrite – guitar, vocals
Neil Citron – guitar
Tony Franklin – bass
Don Schiff – bass
Greg Ellis – drums
Tommy Amato – drums
Gregory Phelps – vocals
Tully Winfield – vocals
Novi Novog – viola

Website: www.lanalane.com

Discography
Love Is An Illusion (1995)
Curious Goods (1996/2002)
Garden Of The Moon (1998/2002)
Echoes from the Garden (1998)
Live in Japan (1998)
Love Is An Illusion 1998 Version (1998)
Ballad Collection (1998)
Acoustic Live in Tokyo (1999) promotional release only
Queen Of The Ocean (1999)
Echoes From The Ocean (1999)
Secrets Of Astrology (2000)
Ballad Collection (2000)

Kaipa Notes

Kaipa
Notes From The Past (2002)

This is very similar to the Flower Kings, but with different vocalists.
Again, Roine Stolt is the genius behind it all.

Reviewed by: John “Bo Bo” Bollenberg, February 2002
Those of you who had the pleasure of checking out the Kaipa albums when they were released on CD, courtesy of Musea, might have felt saddened by the fact that they only got to know about these guys way after the band had disbanded. Out of the Kaipa ashes The Flower Kings was founded, yet guitarist Roine Stolt remained good friends with Kaipa keyboard player Hans Lundin, so much so that both musicians agreed to unleash yet another Kaipa album to the world. With the addition of the talented bass contributions from FK and session musician Jonas Reingold, the drum madness of Morgan Agren, who’s known from his stint with Zappa and Mats & Morgan, and the vocals of Ritual singer Patrik Lundström, Notes From The Past continues where albums like Kaipa, Inget Nytt Under Solen and Solo left off. In fact, Kaipa released two other albums that in every respect were not worth being re-issued on CD because they didn’t contain enough good material to get the CD treatment. On both Händer and Nattdjustid you’ll find a couple of good tunes, but you can hear the band was searching for a more commercial sound in order to sell more albums. Sadly it didn’t work out. Looking back at what went wrong, both Roine and Hans could now learn from their mistakes and thus steer the material for the new album in a direction which comes close to the nucleus of the first three albums. The distinctive guitar sound of Roine will nevertheless take your mind back to some of the Flower Kings highlights, which I feel is an obvious reaction, as FK has been going strong for the last couple of years, not forgetting Transatlantic, of course.

A perfect example of what to expect throughout the entire album can be found in the opening thrack “Notes From The Past – Part 1,” which kind of sums up all of the influences we will encounter on this new Kaipa journey. Especially the intro for “Night-Bike-Ride (On Lilac Street)” has this déja vu feel to it. Lundström illustrates what a great singer he is during the wonderful, melodic “Mirrors of Yesterday.” Lundin introduces the immortal mellotron rather heavily during “Leaving The Horizon,” a 14-minute plus epic that again holds a lot of the Flower Kings trademarks, although all of the material has been penned by Lundin (who certainly must have listened a lot to the FK output, learning his lessons from the band’s current success). But then again maybe one can say that Stolt “borrows” a lot from the vintage Kaipa period in the FK music, so who was first: the chicken or the egg? The folk influence is heavilly present during “Folke’s Final Decisio”‘ although some heavy blues is introduced as well. The main melody here alternates between keyboards and guitar delivering a fresh sounding tune.

One of the highlights of the album and certainly one that will please many guitar fans has to be the epic “The Name Belongs To You.” With Lundin’s mellotron sounds opening for Patrik’s vocals, the song evolves in a rather strange way in order to find the right “hook” on which to hang the entire song. In between Patrik’s vocal acrobatics we witness a rave collection of guitar solos brought to you buy the one and only “king of Swedish guitar playing” Roine Stolt. Several sounds from the magical mellotron are used to underline the symphonic nature of “Second Journey Inside The Green Glass” which holds a lot of Ars Nova elements. Meanwhile the first chord sounds almost like “Watcher Of The Skies” revisited, before once again the guitars go completely wild.

We welcome nice female vocals in “A Road In My Mind” courtesy of Aleena Lundin & Tove Thörn Lundin adding a nice ballad to the already impressive collection of wonderful tunes on this album. Containing a slightly country-ish feel, the song is taken into overdrive by means of the organ before calm sets in once again in order to let the vocals shine. “Morganism” is probably the weirdest track on the album, introducing a horn section and fuzzy wah-wah sounds, not forgetting a section where the rhythm goes completely over the top. Again guitar and keys work tremendously well together, adding a fantastic vibe throughout the song, often getting close to the better parts of the impressive career of the band Chicago. At the end of this song Kaipa has added something that doesn’t really fit the atmosphere of the song, but hey this is prog remember? The album closes with a rerun from the main theme as delivered in the opening track. So it’s vintage sounds galore once again with some stunning keyboard interventions by Hans Lundin, backed at first by soft acoustic guitars that soon switch towards distorted guitar. The album ends with the sound of the wind blowing through the Skandinavian countryside, opening plenty of opportunities for a follow up. No doubt this album will please Flower Kings fans the world over, as the music sounds so very much like FK all over the place. Let’s say that it’s more FK than Kaipa. Luckily the inclusion of singer Patrik Lundström adds an extra flavour to the music, making it a splendid release. Now if Roine Stolt can take some time off between FK and Transatlantic commitments maybe he can take Kaipa on the road, a thing that will certainly be appreciated the world over. NEARfest 2003 anyone?

Musicians:
Hans Lundin – Hammond, synthesizers, mellotron, piano, vocals
Roine Stolt – electric and acoustic guitars
Morgan Agren – drums
Patrik Lundström – vocals
Jonas Reingold – bass
Aleena Lundin and Tove Thörn Lundin – additional vocals

Website: kaipa.info

Discography

Kaipa (1975)
Inget Nytt Under Solen (1978)
Solo (1978)
Händer (1980)
Nattdjustid (1982)
Notes From The Past (2002)
Keyholder (coming fall 2003)

Star Metal

Arjen Anthony Lucassen
Star One/Space Metal 2002

This was the first Ayreon/Arjen Lucassen album I purchased. The first CD has great symphonic rock songs with memorable lyrics and great melodies (listen to the subsequent live CD with the audience participation).

The second CD contains Hawkwind covers with Dave Brock singing. The final “hidden” track is Arjen’s observation on space travel and is a real hoot.

Galactic Anthems

Galactic Anthems
Galactic Anthems (2002)


This immediately reminded me of the early Tangerine Dream albums (like Zeit) . It’s all synths, sequencers & spaceships.
Not as upbeat and pop-like as Jean Michel Jarre and Vangelis, but more ambient and laid back. More like the soundscapes of Robert Fripp or some of Brian Eno’s work. It works on two levels, at low volumes as ambient noise and louder where you can hear the details in the compositions.

From Aural Innovations #22 (January 2003)
This is the debut release by a fellow from L.A. named Glen Adams, and on this he flirts right on the edges of what I like about ambient synth music and what drives me nuts – namely, the need to ÿspice things upÿ by adding all kinds of other influences. If you are gonna float then just do it! To whit, the second track, Orbital Bop, is exactly what you might guess from the title – spacey jazz-fusion. Miles Davis this ainÿt, which is too bad. Things also veer a little too close to ambient techno (is that a genre? Hell, I don’t knowÿ) on “Tortured Souls”. On the positive side, when he loses the beat and just floats (Journey) things get quite nice, and toward the end of the CD some of the more dissonant tracks such as Way Out There and especially Black Nebulaÿ are really excellent, and reach the Hearts Of Space vibe that Mr. Adams is pretty obviously after. Galactic Anthems is a mixed bag, but there is definitely some interesting motion.

For more information you can visit the Galactic Anthems web site at:
http://www.galacticanthems.com

Evanescence

Evanescence
Fallen    (2003)

Everyone should have seen this CD by now. It’s in all the CD shops and even in supermarkets. I came across this band when searching for gothic bands (see http://www.soniccathedral.com/). I would describe this as being hard rock with female vocals, like Garbage & Stellar. Unlike other gothic bands (After Forever & Nightwish) the vocals are not in the operatic soprana style, some of it more closer to screaming.

But if you like Bands like Stellar, Garbage & The Cranberries you should like this. The songs are definitely above average and very polished. They probably need to sell a billion copies to pay for all the work done on the CD and music videos.

 

Birdsongs of the Mesozoic

Birdsongs of the Mesozoic
Petrophonics (2000)

The first time I heard this, it reminded me of Supertramp in the way the piano leads the rhythms, rather than trying to supply a melody. Some of it is almost over the edge into the “avant-garde jazz” land of instrumental wankery. Only focus and the rock feel of the bank keeps it in the region of what I would loosely call progressive jazz.

Review by: Stephanie Sollow, July 2001
Birdsongs Of The Mesozoic are somewhat what I expected from their name. I say somewhat because I couldn’t truly guess from the name alone, but would have gathered that they weren’t metal, though there are some angular edges on Petrophonics. While I had first heard Birdsongs Of The Mesozoic at NEARFest 2001 (aside from a sample track I heard a few days before), I had heard of them years before, often seeing their CDs in one of local music sources. There is just something about the name that suggests something different from the ordinary progressive rock — whatever that means (what I mean is something other than rock based prog, like jazz based prog, for instance). A higher level of arty-ness, perhaps; but also something with a lot more percussion in the arrangements. Though, now knowing what they do sound like, it’s hard to really say what I thought before since I didn’t give all that much thought before. I do know that I thought maybe they’d be a little too abstract for me, maybe a little too arty.

The bands or artists that came to mind whilst listening to Petrophonics (their most recent) were King Crimson, ELP, Supersister, early Steve Roach, and Djam Karet. The Supersister thought came to me with “Nevergreen,” a Lindgren composed piece – there is a sense of humour and playfulness in the arrangement, even if there are also some very serious passages, as there is about 4 minutes in when saxophonist Ken Fields takes the lead. This moment of serious reflection is slowly subsumed by a pulsating guitar tone, snappy and crisp percussion, which takes the track out. In contrast, you get the very moody, atmospheric, and dark “Study Of Unintended Consuences” (composed by Rick Scott) – think of a collaboration between Steve Roach and Robert Fripp, though with added sax honks and bleets, there’d be one other element to add. There are moments of experimentalism, too, or at least how I think of experimentalism – a combination of sounds that don’t, on the surface, go together, but of ultimately do.

I mentioned ELP above, but really it is more just E part of that acronym, as there are plenty of very percussive keyboard parts here. By which we can name Tarkus as a touchstone, but don’t think that if you listen to this you’ll find a copped riffs or anything. And speaking of percussion, there is some very interesting sounding electronic percussion on “Birdhead,” a song that band say was “composed around the pre-recorded track ‘Autobody’ which appears on Drumhead’s 1998 CD release” (Drumhead are Sheila McCarthy and Josh Matthews on percussion and Tony Maimone (Pere Ubu) on bass).

Another contrast is “Allswell That Endswell In Roswell” is a gentle keyboard and flute piece composed by guitarist Michael Bierylo. It is the kind of piece one might find on a Miramar or Narada soundtrack to some digital film or documentary. I though of such synthesists as James Reynolds, pieces from a Paul Speer/David Lanz collaboration, or even a touch of Tangerine Dream. The analog instruments add a warmth that is often lacking in Tangerine Dream, but certainly felt very much in Speer/Lanz. All of which means you can’t simply say Birdsongs Of The Mesozoic are a jazz-rock band, as the opening track and bits elsewhere suggest.

Tracks 8 – 11 are pieces that form the “Music Inspired By 1001 Real Apes.” The suite opens with “Time Marches On Theme” which is a gentle, lilting acoustic based piece of guitar, flute, and piano. There is a sound texture to it that makes it feel like a live performance on a warm summer evening. “Dinosaurs Theme” is a darkly, churning piece, with a percussive edge. Bierylo’s jagged guitar adds a bit of menace. Maybe I’ve been watching too many dinosaur specials, but there comes a point where things are a bit more relaxed and I see a curious dinosaur watching, head cocked, not quite sure if we’re harmless or harmful. “Gravity Theme” has loping southwestern flavour. The last part is “Quincy Sore Throat Theme.” Jack Klugman, TV’s Quincy, had throat cancer and now has a very harsh and rough voice as a result – it is to this that Lingren refers. There are echoes of the show’s theme here, too — well, at least I think so, it’s been quite a long time since I heard the theme, but something sounds familiar (other than I’ve been playing this nearly everyday since NEARfest). As the liner notes explain, “‘Music Inspired By 1001 Real Apes’ came out of a collaboration between David Greenburger and Birdsongs […] The original sixty-five minute work consists of thirty stories drawn from Greenburger’s publication The Duplex Planet. This suite expands upon the musical direction taken by four of the selections from the soundtrack composed by Birdsongs.”

Tracks 12 – 14 form a three part suite called “The Insidious Revenge Of Ultima Thule,” also all composed by Lindgren, which at times sound like very warm, smooth jazz (not, however “smooth jazz”).

Well, I can tell you was very impressed by their live performance at NEARFest to pick up this and their Dancing On A’A CD, and have been impressed enough by this to just other day pick up Faultline and Pyroclatics). So this is another band I recommend.

Silas

Silas & Friends Vol 1 

Silas & Friends Vol 2

Silas & Friends Vol 3

Ambient music can be difficult to get right. It needs to be of low intensity and provide a specific mood to space. My theory is that the best examples perform two functions. At low volume it doesn’t draw attention to itself but fulls a room with sound. At high volumes it reveals it’s detail of timbre, texture and polyphonic rhythms.

So finding a new artist is always enlightening. Cousin Silas is my latest find. On his own, the music tends towards monotone drones. But in collaboration with others comes the best results. These three albums represent his best work.

 

 

All India Spaceship

Dream On
Big Spaceship (2005)

Just when you think you have all the ‘All India Radio’ releases, you discover something new.

The band, formed by Martin Kennedy creates atmospheric chill/downbeat music. All India Radio’s music has featured in CSI: Miami, One Tree Hill, The Lying Game, Australia’s hit Bondi Rescue and the film The Rare Earth.

This album comes from 2005 and has a different feel to Martin’s other work. It’s a bit more up-beat and has a distinct 1980s feel to it. The songs have a more conventional structure of verse/chorus/verse. Most song have vocals (by Kennedy, Chloe Hall and Glenn Richards). The best part of the wonderful sounding drums and bass, this anchors the songs and has occasionally a swing beat that adds a slow-dance aspect. Also present in some songs is a saxophone that sounds a lot like it came from Pink Floyd’s ‘Wish You Were Here”.

Recommended.

 

Jeffery

Jeff Beck
Jeff (2003)

Very similar to the previous “You Had it Coming”. Again Jeff does better than all those teenage guitar wannabes half his age. Some terrific rocking stuff here, combined with truly great “spacey” tracks.

Reviews:

Hi-energy guitar, October 3, 2003
Reviewer: kelly a chitwood (see more about me) from Camden, United States  ordered this for someone else, but had to listen. I love the techno bass and rhythm that accompanies Beck’s solid guitar solos. Very modern which makes me think that this will reach a wide variety of people. Very intense music, I imagine driving down the highway from the very start of “So what”. So fasten your seatbelts and hang on!!!

Again, the re-invention of Jeff Beck…, October 1, 2003
Reviewer: Thomas Quarles (see more about me) from Austin, Texas United States The same gut-grabbing guitarist that first caught my attention so long ago returns in his latest foray into melody, trance and technology. At fifty years old and I still love this man’s playing as much as I did at fifteen with “Truth”, at eighteen with “Rough and Ready” and at twenty-two with “Blow by Blow”. In the 1970’s I was fortunate to catch Jeff and John Mclaughlin on tour together. They, along with Robert Fripp are my three favorite guitarists of the past thirty or so years. I consider myself, and the music world, lucky indeed that Jeff Beck is as alive and vibrant as ever. I love this new CD. Techobeat, sampling, studio wizardry and all. Jeff Beck is as hard, delicate and melodic as he’s even been. More so, I think. (Apparently, he’s also been tearing it up on tour with drummer Terry Bozzio…)

 

Electric Castle

Ayreon
Into the Electric Castle (2001)

Another double CD space rock album from Arjen Lucassen. This is more mellower than “Star One” due to the acoustic guitars.

Reviewed by: courtesy Larry Daglieri
The long awaited disc from brainchild Arjen Anthony Lucassen is finally here. To those who don’t know Arjen, I consider him to be one of the best songwriters ever to grace progressive music, or any music for that matter. I consider Arjen to be the”Steven Spielberg” of music; he takes visions and sets them to music like Spielberg does to movies. Essentially, what Arjen Lucassen gives us is a”musical movie”; not to be viewed, but to be heard. As a movie sweeps you away visually to lands and places far, far away in your mind, Ayreon brings us musically to those places, except that the vision is left up to the listener. It’s an extraordinary experience that every music lover should get to be part of at some time in their musical journey.

As a lover of concept discs, and I can freely admit that concept discs are my favorite discs of all time, and I give my full attention to these discs as they transport me to places I’ve only imagined from movies, but now I am given the chance to create my own vision of those places, having the music as a platform to get there. In addition, I feel that the song writing takes on a new meaning when you have to create discs like Queensryche’s Operation:Mindcrime, Eternity X’s The Edge, Ayreon’s The Final Experiment and the many more concept discs that grace my player on a weekly basis regardless of the age of the disc. It’s inspiring to hear songs that musicians write that wreak of genius, but it’s truly inspiring to “hear” a man’s vision throughout an entire disc through the creation of a storyline. That said, I want to go back to the Dark Ages, and how it all began.

In a phone call, many galaxies away, many moons ago, I asked a certain individual named Ken Golden to recommend something that would make me shudder like Operation:Mindcrime did. I wanted a concept disc, a disc that I would play forever, and something like I’d never heard before. This request alone is certainly not an easy one to fill, but within a couple of days, a disc called The Final Experiment by a band called Ayreon appeared on my doorstep. The opening narration alone told me that this was the band I’d been looking for to fulfill my conceptual needs. An over-the-top, keyboard driven, magical, mystical journey boasting orchestrations, 13 different singers, and a story-line right out of the Spielberg category of great themes, this disc has never left my player, and I consider it to one of the finest concept discs of all time. Somehow, this disc appeals to all facets of listeners; metal, rock, prog rock, prog metal, and others all seem to have something they can grasp onto in this dis c. With a cast of characters that would make Hollywood proud, this gem should be up on a stage, or made into a movie. I’ve had the screenplay written for it in my mind, but Arjen has already stated that it will not go any further than on disc, so I had to scrap that idea. At any rate, this is undoubtedly one of the best “rock operas” ever created, and I was transformed into an Ayreon worshiper instantly.

Soon after I had absorbed all I could out of this disc, and still playing it months after I had gotten it, Ayreon had released another disc called Actual Fantasy. Like many other people do when they get their hands on the ultimate masterpiece, they immediately want another one from their favorite band, and upon first listen of Actual Fantasy, I was convinced that this was no Final Experiment, and almost dismissed it because of this. I managed to put The Final Experiment down, and give Actual Fantasy the time it deserved. Little did I know, that I was going to love this disc as well, despite my initial reaction to it. To sum up this disc, it’s what I deem a”heavy metal Pink Floyd”.

If you take the spacey, dreamy music of Pink Floyd, add in Arjen’s creative juices and crunching guitar work, and add a touch of Beatles background harmony, (yes, I cringe too, but you will learn), throw in enough computerized sounds and keyboards, and you have Actual Fantasy. Still not my favorite Ayreon disc, but a must have for sure. I’ve learned that visions are never the same, and I quickly learned not to expect the same thing twice from a band, especially when it comes to the great Arjen Lucassen and Ayreon.

My Ayreon thrills continued when I first learned that Ayreon would be putting out a double-CD, another concept disc. I couldn’t imagine what this would mean, since The Final Experiment could never be topped in my mind. Here are my thoughts on this disc.

I’ve had it for weeks and weeks, and I haven’t had it long enough to totally immerse myself in it’s source of genius or meaning, but I don’t think I can get any more out of it unless I sat down with it daily for about 3 months with the booklet and played nothing else. So, up to now, this is what I am hearing:

THE STYLE

It’s Ayreon – and that is so easy to let stand on that statement. It’s a double-CD, a concept disc as promised, except that this time the disc comes billed as a”Space Opera”. What is a Space Opera ? Well, it’s a version of a Rock Opera, except that it’s set within a time or place that has no physical boundaries. You can’t put your finger or your mind on what or where it is, you just have to close your eyes and imagine for yourself what is actually going on. Again, Arjen Lucassen has left us with the opportunity to create a world within our own mind to visit, with the help of the music as a guide. The music covers many facets of styles; from prog rock, to hard rock, to acoustic, folk, Celtic, blues-rock, and many others. It’s a who’s who of styles, but I will say that the ingredient that is missing here that is present on the others is the”metal” feeling that the others seem to invoke. While there are some heavy parts on this disc, it’s more in a”rock” tradition than it is a metal, and anyone who is not ready to give up their bonecrunching, electric guitar and replace it with acoustic, spacy acoustic and softer electric guitars need not venture further.

It’s keyboard driven, and I can’t imagine how many different keyboards are used on this disc. In addition, the sounds are”spaced out”, meaning that they take on a computerized sound at times, and it’s hard to pinpoint just what instrument is being used. Most of the time, the keyboards are accompanied by acoustic, spacy guitars, and believe when I say, that you will be transported to the outer reaches of space and time, you will not be able to pinpoint where you are or when you are, just that you are here. It’s really the ultimate in audience participation.

With the aid of 9 singers this time, including the likes of Fish (Marillion), Damien Wilson (Threshold), Anneke Van Giersbergen (The Gathering), and a host of others from past Ayreon projects, the story is presented like a play on stage, with each character taking his own part and bringing the story to us. You will need a dark room with a small lamp, a loud stereo, (or headphones cranked to the max), and this booklet Arjen calls a lyric sheet to get the most out of this disc. Please forgive any lack of other band comparisons here, because in no way, shape, or form does Ayreon sound like any other band. It’s always great to be able to give some bands as a basis for comparison, but when you have a mind like Lucassen, you don’t write songs that sound like anyone else. However, in the interest of those who have never heard Ayreon, or especially anything about this disc, the underlying sounds on Into the Electric Castle seem to bear at least a little resemblance to maybe some Marillion, Genesis, Pink Floyd, with the Ayreon sound leading the way. It’s what I call,”harder edged Neo-Progressive Rock meets Progressive Blues Rock”, and that is my personal creation of a new genre I can assure you.

Throughout the disc, you will be led by a narrator, who will guide you through the story, as you will be lost without him, never mind being lost while you’re with him. While you’re listening to his story, you’re anticipating the type of music that is going to follow, or you are focusing on the spacy sounds that accompany the narration. The disc follows NO particular pattern musically. One disc is not heavier than the other; one section contains no more acoustics than the other; one disc contains as much singing as the other; the disc is precisely laid out to spread out the wealth. Even my usual avoidance of lead female singers is put aside; yes, I can tolerate the female singers because it really enhances the story, and they are not singing in a metal format, which is my true problem with them. Prepare for more acoustic guitars than you can handle, more spaced out keyboards than you’ve ever heard, and even some Celtic tendencies along the way. I haven’t fully digested the lyrics, as it’s like reading a b ook. It cannot be called a lyric sheet and I will refer to “The Book” from here on in when I refer to the lyrics. For those of you interested in artwork, it doesn’t get any better than this. It’s absolutely beautiful, and I’d invest in a large version of the painting of the Electric Castle on the CD cover. “The Book” graces the inside of the double package, containing more lyrics than a Broadway play, and is easily read despite the tons of background colors used. If you love previous Ayreon, you will love this disc.

THE BAND:

With 9 different singers, 6 people contributing keyboards, violins, cellos, sitars, guitars, mandolines, mellotrons, flutes, massive amounts of synthesizers, bass and drums, there is really no need for me to go into what the band sounds like. Arjen Lucassen himself contributes all guitar work, mandolines, bass, and keyboards in additon to the talent he has surrounded himself with. The mention of the above instruments gives you an idea of what this disc is going to sound like.

THE PRODUCTION:

I thought that The Final Experiment sounded great, and I was told that it was recorded in a garage. Well, garage or not, the sound is incredible. Actual Fantasy sounded even better, and Arjen certainly wasn’t going to invest all of his creative time just to have some below average sound gracing his discs. Arjen himself produced and mixed most of the Ayreon discs, including this one. So after 2 discs, had Arjen mastered the mixing board as he has his music ? Without a doubt, this is one of the best recordings I’ve ever heard. I will not even go into what each of the instruments sounds like in the mix, as this recording is perfection. What I do notice that is different from the other recordings, is that the vocals are bit more clear this time out, and I imagine it must be tough to handle trying to mix 9-13 different singers, given their different styles and origins. This recording is nothing short of amazing, and how Arjen gets sound this good is a mystery, although I would imagine that t he budget this time around would be a bit more than in the past. Still, if Arjen is willing to share production thoughts, I’d be writing to him if I was a musician and asking “how the hell did you do that” ?

THE COMMENTS: Well, yeah, it’s a great disc. Everyone who wants to know about this disc has the same question:”how does it measure up to The Final Experiment”? It’s not that easy a question to answer. It’s definitely a preference. First, let me say this. It’s Ayreon. To me, that means no matter what it is, I’m buying it. There is no question as to what it is, what it sounds like, or is it better than other Ayreon discs. It’s a blind purchase all the way folks, and believe it or not, it costs less than most double-CD sets that come out in America. This one is from overseas and it costs less; and I’ll tell you,”you get what you pay for” doesn’t apply here. You get much more than you pay for with an Ayreon disc. It’s a standard of music. It’s a given that some of the best songwriting and musicianship in the world is going to be found on an Ayreon disc. Into the Electric Castle is no different; it’s simply brilliant.

Ok, so do I like it better than The Final Experiment ? No, actually I don’t. Given the two discs hand in hand, and asked to spend 1 whole month playing nothing but either of these discs, The Final Experiment will win out for me. Now, this is NOT to say that Into the Electric Castle is not a great disc. It is !!!! It is also entirely different in style than The Final Experiment. Musically, The Castle is certainly more adventurous and wild, but The Final Experiment has the perfect combination of guitars and keyboards in song structures that I find totally right for me. It’s also a bit heavier than ItEC. I will say that metal heads might have a tough time digesting this disc, more so that TFE. If you are flexible and listen to any style of music, then by all means grab this. As a matter of fact, anyone who listens to music in general will love this disc, except for people who will only listen to metal, and want it heavy and crunchy, and t hese are the only ones I would warn off this disc. Other than that, the disc is brilliant. It’s like nothing you’ve heard before, I guarentee it, but just be prepared to tone it down somewhat from previous Ayreon projects. This disc serves to prove that Arjen Lucassen is one of the most creative song writers the world has ever heard. The man has a mind that I’m sure Hollywood would envy, and it’s great to have a great mind like his to give us what we want in the musical world. Ayreon = brilliance in every sense of the word.

Label: Transmission (division of Double Dutch
Record Service BV) (Cat. No. TM-014)
Track Listing: Disc 1: Welcome to the new dimension (3:05) / Isis and Osiris (11:11) a) Let the journey begin, b) The hall of Isis and Osiris, c) Strange constellations / Amazing flight (10:15) a) Amazing flight in space, b) Stardance, c) Flying colours / Time beyond time (6:05) / The decision tree (we’re alive) (6:24) / Tunnel of light (4:05) / Across the rainbow bridge (6:20)

Disc 2: The garden of emotions (9:40) a) In the garden of emotions, b) Voices in the sky, c) The aggression factor / Valley of the queens (2:25) / The castle hall (5:49) / Tower of hope (4:54) / Cosmic fusion (7:27) a) I soar on the breeze, b) Death’s grunt, c) The passing of an eagle / The mirror maze (6:34) a) Inside the mirror maze b) Through the mirror / Evil devolution (6:31) / The two gates (6:28) / “Forever” of the stars (2:02) / Another time, another space (5:20) Total Time: 102:35

Musicians:
Arjen Lucassen – guitars, mandolin, bass,Minimoog,
Mellotron & keyboards
Roland Bakker – Hammonds
Jack Pisters – sitar
Robby Valentine – pianos, synth solos on IIa, IIIa
(disc 1) and IV (disc 2), mellotron on VIa (disc 2)
Ern” Olah – violins
Clive Nolan – synth solos on Vc (disc one)
Rene Merkelbach – synth solos on V (disc one) and
VII (disc 2), harpsichord on II (disc 2)
Tom Scherpenzeel – synth solos on Vc (disc 2)
Ed Warby – drums
Taco Kooistra – celli
Thijs van Leer – flute on IIIc, IV (disc 1) and II &
III (disc 2)
Fish, Damien Wilson, Sharon Den Adel, Anneke
van Giersbergen, Edwin Balogh, Arjen Lucassen,
Jay van Feggelen, and Edward Reeker – vocals

Website: www.ayreon.com