Music    Reviews    2:

Ayreon:  "Universal            Migrator"    (   Part    1    &   2    )

Epic   Concept    Album  (    Double    CD    release )

Special Edition double CD. Written and composed by Arjen Anthony Lucassen ( -except as noted ). Inside Out Music ( 2004 and 2010' ). Century Media Records, under exclusive license from Inside Out Music . CD 1: "The Dream Sequencer", CD 2: "Flight of the Migrator". Arjen Anthony Lucassen and various musicians/ vocalists. 


An obscure yet truly epic masterpiece. If you're into prog and space   rock, this concept album deserves a place in your collection. With it's subtle Pink Floyd influences ( -listen to the guitar and synth work! ),   and genuinely captivating lyrics, this album is a real gem that deserves far greater recognition. An amalgamation of two separate CD's, "Univ- ersal Migrator" is the work of Dutch rock wunderkind Arjen Anthony Lucassen ( -and a veritable raft of top-notch rock and studio music -ians brought in to add their parts to the album ).  


Discovery!

I first took note of Arjen Anthony Lucassen ( -and his "Ayreon" projects ) about ten years ago, when I stumbled across his "Star One" concept album ( -which featured Hawkwind "cover" tunes and vocals by longtime Hawk-wind veteran Dave Brock ). At the time, I was a bit confused as to what the project actually was. At the time, Arjen Anthony Lucassen ( -and his project moniker "Ayreon" ) were totally unknown to me. However, after some research I quickly caught on to what Arjen was up to and can now say, I totally '"dig it". 


"Star   One"   and    onward....

The Star One "Space Metal" CD was my first exposure to Arjen Anthony Luc-assen's music. In addition to the album's original tunes, Arjen included a set   of re-worked Hawkwind classics ( -like "The Golden Void", "Spirit of the Age" and "Silver Machine" ). He even brought in Hawkwind's Dave Brock to do the vocals. Needless to say, the "Star One" album had an impact on me ( -and no doubt many other Hawkwind fans ). Since then, his many "Ayreon" projects   have become a significant force within the prog and spacerock community.  

Bringing in guest musicians and vocalists ( -like Dave Brock pictured left ), has become a regular feature throughout Arjen's "Ayreon" discography. His "concept" albums include "Into the Electric The Castle", "010110001", "The Theory of Everything" and many others. If you're a prog or spacerock fan and looking for something new and compelling, you owe it to yourself to check out Arjen's many "Ayreon" concept albums.  


The   "Universal   Migrator"   concept:

According to the included booklet's liner notes, Arjen thought it would be hard to eclipse the success of his 1998' "Into the Electric Castle" album, so he made no attempt to follow it up with an "Electric Castle Part 2" type of album. Instead, he decided to re-work his approach to utilizing vocalists ( -by giving them their separate songs instead of having them interact with one another in each song ). He also decided to separate his two con-trasting musical styles ( i.e:  his melodic, atmospheric side vs. his heavy-metal side ) by doing two separate and contrasting albums -which he thought would appeal to the dual sides of his audience. 

 

However, as he admits in the booklet -he may have misjudged his fans as they seem to have bought and loved BOTH albums equally ( -despite their contrasting styles ). So, he decided to merge both albums ( "Universal Migrator" and "Flight of the Navigator" ) into a special reissue double CD. He used the album's concepts of reincarnation and cosmo-genesis merely as a fictional framework for explaining "how it all began and will   end" ( -and not as any statement of personal beliefs ).

 

And while there are embedded thematic "tie-ins" from past Ayreon albums ( -to keep aficianodoes satiated ), most will find the songs "stand on their own" both lyrically and musically -and that's a good thing. And Arjen seems to have outdone himself with regard to the level of talent he assembled for these albums. The list of singers and musicians reads like a "Who's Who" from the prog, metal and spacerock worlds. Here's a bit of name dropping: Erik Norlander ( -synths, Hammond, keyboards ), Lana Lane ( -vocals and backing vocals ),    Damien Wilson ( vocals ), Jacqueline Govaert ( vocals ), Robert Soeterboek ( vocals ) to name a few. 


Ayreon's "Universal Migrator" is a lavish double CD affair. It comes complete with a full-colour illustrated booklet ( -containing lyrics and background notes by Arjen ) as well as cover space art by Jef Bertels. A truly magnificent package for an equally epic double album of stellar prog-metal-spacerock music.   


Stitching    the   concepts    together

"The Dream Sequencer" CD ( -the melodic, atmospheric half of the album ) is my favorite. It utilizes it's energy   tank "pre-incarnation" storyline to transport listeners to a kaleidoscope of past and future lives the story's lead character has lived. Everything from 16th Century England ( -and the Spanish Armada conflict ) to the time of future colonists on Mars. The "Flight of the Navigator" CD ( -the heavy metal half of the album ) is geared more towards space-travel and cosmic themes ( -with the "pre-incarnation protocol" energy tank bits ) used to tie   the two albums together conceptually. 

Here are my impressions of each song ( -starting with "The Dream Sequerncer" CD ): The first song, "The Dream Sequencer", opens with a future Mars colonist lying in his home "energy tank" and being instructed     to strap in for Universal Migrator's "pre-incarnation protocols" ( -that will take him "back to his childhood       and beyond..." ) This sound-effects laden intro ( -with soothing female robot voice and reverberant "liquidy" energy tank effects ) segueways into some dreamy guitar and synth music ( -think Pink Floyd, circa 1975' ). 

 

"My House on Mars" is a dirge like ballad of a brother and sister abandoned on Mars by a father who had     to leave for war. With sample and hold synth backing and powerful anthemic synth refrains -it ends with     more Floydish guitar flourishes. "2084" opens with air raid sirens and a low, doomy synth drone and is a mother's apocalyptic memories of the great final war. Lana Lane's vocals here are both beautiful and haunting. ( i.e: "My body lies motionless upon the kitchen floor" ). The music transforms into forceful synth, percussive Hammond organ and churning bass ( -with harmonic ringing guitar riffs and precisely timed tizzing cymbals       -once again, bringing to mind the music of mid-70's Pink Floyd ). The tune's luscious stereoscopic ( watery-sounding ) acoustic guitar licks and synth filigree make for sumptuous headphone listening.


Arjen Anthony Lucassen. Guitar virtuoso and concept album master-mind. Arjen's mastery of guitar is on display throughout "Universal Migrator". His keen knowledge of effects, studio craft and amp miking technique make him a true guitar "tone-meister". 

 

Not limited to just acoustic and electric guitars, Arjen's also credited with much of the album's bass, mellotron, Hammond organ and     synth melodies. He even contributes a vocal to "Carried on the Wind"! 


Track   upon   track....

"One Small Step" recalls the memories of a boy whose dad woke him up to see the 1969 Apollo moon landing on TV. The tune's use of actual NASA astronaut transmission audio from the mission, combined with it's big, "walking" synth bass line and highly filtered Minimoog lead make for a great opening -which transforms into   a beautiful picking acoustic guitar ballad that will bring back memories for those old enough to remember the landing. Soaring electric guitars and a slow, serpentine Minimoog solo close out the song. 

 

"The Shooting Company of Frans B. Cocq" recalls the memories of a 17th Century Dutch noble posing for a portrait with the members of his Guild in front of Rembrandt in Amsterdam. The effects segueway from "One Small Step" morphs into a mid-tempo electric guitar strumming ditty ( -with echo-washed vocals ) and goes through several iterations before dissolving into the sea wave lapping, sample and hold synth effects and ring-modulation opening of "Dragon on the Sea", my favorite track of the entire album. 

 

"Dragon on the Sea" tells the story of 16th Century Queen Elizabeth and Sir Francis Drake and their meeting   the challenge of Spain's Armada. A song of truly amazing vocals ( -by Lana Lane ) and equally dynamic synth leads ( -by Erik Norlander ). The song's hamfisted acoustic guitar strumming and Lana's soaring vocals make   for an absolutely irresistible track whose repeated refrains you'll be humming throughout the rest of your day


Vocalist Lana Lane and keyboard wizard Erik Norlander   provided their estimable talents to "Universal Migrator"   tracks like "Dragon on the Sea". "Universal Migrator" is         the album that first turned me onto Erik and Lana's music. 

Top flight performers in their own right, Erik and Lana's     music is well worth checking out ( -if you haven't already ).


Temple    cats    and    druids....

"Temple of the Cat" has a spritely upbeat acoustic guitar and mellotron opening and tells the story of an 8th Century Mayan girl. Jacqueline Govaert's airy, childlike voice is the perfect match for this song's story. The song features a peaceful flute interlude and is a very appealing track overall. It segueways into a wash of effects and the echoey sequencer and synth riffing intro to "Carried by the Wind". Here, Arjen himself tells the story of his 6th Century character "Ayreon" ( -the only track on the album on which he sings ). The track is characterized by a cascading reverie of electric guitar phrasings and medieval minstrel flourishes here and there. 

 

Next up is "And the Druids turned to Stone". Another of my favorites. The track opens with mystic sounding chorused string machine and plaintive, filtered Minimoog. A moody, fedback electric guitar and somber Hammond chordings set the scene for a truly magical landscape. Damien Wilson's superlative vocals tell       the story of Stonehenge's enigmatic creators circa 2800 BC. Replete with rich, entrancing Minimoog swells     and a brilliant pitchbent acoustic guitar interlude, as well as some tasty, percussive Hammond work -this mesmerizing song closes with some Pink Floydish ( bird tweeting pasture ) sound-effects. 

 

"First Man on Earth" is a tale of innocence lost ( -telling the story of the first man to rise above his primate brethren ). This standard rock hymn tells about what it was like at the dawn of mankind and our subsequent "loss of paradise" to modernity. The disc's ending instrumental track "The Dream Sequencer Reprise"-which takes up where the disc's first track "The Dream Sequencer" left-off ( -with some soulfully pitch-bent electric guitar and synth riffing ), brings disc one to a close. Arjen must've been "channelling" David Gilmour, Rick     Wright, Nick Mason and Roger Waters here because these instrumentals sound absolutely "dead-on" Floyd.     He's somehow managed to sound more like Floyd than Floyd  here. It's amazing. You'd absolutely swear       you were listening to some long-lost studio tracks from Floyd's "Wish You Were Here" sessions. 


Arjen posing with singer Damien Wilson. Damian contrib-     utes a superb vocal to the album's "And the Druids turned       to Stone" track. By tapping into top-flight singers and rock studio musicians worldwide, Arjen's "concept albums"       attain an exceptionally high level of musicality. Arjen's eng-ineering skills also assure albums of stellar sonic quality.   


The   metal   side:

Here are my impressions of the album's second CD "Flight of the Navigator": The disc opens with more of the energy tank's watery effects as a male robot voice announces: "Dream sequencer system now online!" after which a soothing female voice ( Lana Lane ) asks the tank-esconced Mars colonist: "Are you sure you want to continue the "Universal Migrator" program? No user's ever pre-incarnated back this far..." "Chaos" is a great speed-metal and drum workout with some heavily percussive Hammond licks and drum kit theatrics thrown in for good measure. It ends with an explosion. 

 

"Dawn of a Million Souls" opens with a trumpet-heralding fanfare, more percussive Hammond work and       morphs into a snaking, thumping bass line rocker ( -with a cello/ string interlude mid point ) before resuming into a treble shredding electric guitar riffing finish.  "Journey on the Waves of Time" opens with a tension-building violin and string undercurrent and another trumpet-like fanfare preface before breaking into a galloping metal rocker. There's a nice bass-thumping middle and a tasty, percussive "Keith Emerson-like" Hammond key-flailing solo. The storyline advances it's "space quest" theme ending with high pitched vocals.

 

"To the Quasar" ( -divided into "The Taurus Pulsar" and "Quasar 3C273" parts ) opens with a plucky sequencer line and rousing acoustic guitar strumming ( -with reverberant, liquidy-sounding vocals about a galaxy-busting super-nova ). The urgent guitar strumming is really nice here. Deep bass synth drones herald the song's sec-ond half as a refined and precise sequencer line dots out a few measure "preface" before being overtaken     by a "balls to the wall", bass-slamming, burn-burner riff ( -complete with heavy distortion guitar chords and Hammond organ stabs ). The "to the quasar" and "to the dark star" earworm refrains are firmly planted into your brain as angry electric-guitar and synth filter effects ( -with more Hammond stabs ) go into hyperdrive. Double-slamming bass, drums and synth pyrotechnics become absolutely unhinged before the guitar shred-fest comes to an abrupt end. Whew! This energetic track absolutely rocks. One of my favorites from this disc.  


If you're looking for searing electric-guitar solos, incredible drum workouts and blistering synth pyrotechnics -the "Flight of the Navi- gator" half of "The Dream Sequencer" double CD has them! Check out the songs: "Chaos", "To the Quasar" and "To the Solar System". You'll have a hard time finding another album with this level of rock musicianship. Except, perhaps on another "Ayreon" album! 


The     black    hole    and    beyond...

"Into the Black Hole" ( -divided into "The Eye of the Universe", "Halo of Darkness""The Final Door" parts  ). Begins with a tension-building ascending synth line before a bombastic main riff is established and the song's vocals chime in ( -telling the story of the black hole's inescapable pull ) before proceeding into another metal-shred fest with more synth pyrotechnics. "Through the Wormhole" begins with a filtered sequencer line that gives way to a pulsing, throbbing rock tune ( -complete with some virtuoso guitar leads and pitch-bent, reverb- ed synth accompaniment ). 

 

"Out of the White Hole" ( -divided into "M31", "Planet Y" and "The Search Continues" parts ) opens with   some percussive Hammond riffing and a striding drumbeat. The vocals tell about the Starfarer's search for       life in the galaxy ( "Could it be we are not alone?" ). High-pitched shrieking synth solos trade licks with     rampaging  guitars.  

 

"To the Solar System" ( -divided into "Planet of Blue" and "System Alert" sections ) commences with a raspy synth drone and cadenced white noise chug, and develops into one of the album's "killer" tunes. From it's   key-dropped vocal beginning to it's main chugging rotorhythm -this riff absolutely rocks! ( "I can almost touch   the glorious rings of Saturn,...but then I feel them slip away..." ). Robert Soeterboek's vocals here remind me a bit of Sammy Hagar's ( -on Ronnie Montrose's "Montrose" album ). There are more electric-guitar pyrotechnics and organ swelling surges before decompressing into the enrgy-tank's synthesized computer voice warnings: "Return to consciousness,..Return to consciousness!", ending with a reverberated fade out. A very nice tune!


A page from the "Universal Migrator" booklet. Pictured here are only half  of the singers brought in to "guest" on this double CD album ( -"The Dream Sequencer"   CD half ). Another page displays the vocal talent feat-  ured on the "Flight of the Migrator" CD ). Clearly,    this project was a massive undertaking! 


Metamorphosis    and    ending

"The New Migrator" ( -divided into "Metamorphosis" and "Sleeper Awake" parts ). Opens with a kettle drum and somber ( -ancient Egypt-sounding male-vox "Aaaaaahhhh!" ) drone, leading into a majestic heralding pre-face, before exploding into a speed-metal storm of thrashing guitars ( -to double-timed drumbeat ) and Ham-mond organ ( -leading to a vocal summation of sorts ). The album ends with kettle drum rolls and more Ham-mond organ chordings before fading out.

 

There's no other adjective to use but "epic" for this double-CD re-issue. You're getting two CD's ( -and an amazing amount of musical and vocal talent  ) on these discs. I can't even imagine the amount of planning     and logistics this project must've taken. Just gathering together these performers ( -from all over the planet )   to perform on these tracks must've been a massive undertaking. Yet Arjen somehow managed it. Kudos to         him for accomplishing this near superhuman task and pulling it off with such magnificent results! 


Robert Soeterboek ( -"Cotton Soeterboek Band" ) supplies some excellent vocals     on the album's "To the Solar System" cut ( -found on the second "Flight of the Navigator" CD ). Here's an abbreviated list of vocal talent you'll find on this album:  

Lana Lane, Floor Jansen, Jacqueline Govaert, Damien Wilson, Neal Morse, Mouse, Andi Deris, Ralf Scheepers, Ian Parry, Edward Reekers, Johan Edlund, etc.             Here are a few of the musicians:  Erik Norlander, Ed Warby, Oscar Holleman,       Clive Nolan, Gary Wehrkamp, Keiko Kumagai, Michael Romeo, etc. 


Summing   up  "Universal     Migrator".

No doubt about it, "Universal Migrator" is a stellar album. It deserves a place in every prog ( or ) spacerock fan's collection. I consider it "Ayreon's" finest masterpiece. But then again, I haven't heard all of the albums   yet. Just bits and pieces from them. Certainly, of the snippets I've heard from each, I'd have to say "Space Metal" and "Into the Electric Castle" would be worth getting,..after you pick up "Universal Migrator"!


Other    cool    Ayreon    albums....

If you're into "spacerock" be sure to check out Arjen's superb Star One "Space Metal" CD. A special version of this album includes a set of reworked Hawkwind tunes ( -on which Dave Brock was brought in to sing ). Note: these are very credible covers. Well worth the price of the disc alone! 


"Into the Electric Castle" is one of the better known Ayreon albums. It has some heavy rocking tunes. Well worth checking out. Listening to a few of it's cuts it's easy for me to see why it's one of Ayreon's most popular albums. Definitely worth checking out!


The ( new ) album from "Ayreon" is entitled "The Source". It looks     really interesting. Maybe we'll get a copy to review. Cross your fingers.   The clips I've heard online sound great!                                                                                      


*ARJEN and AYREON FANS:  Good News! 

 

I've  just receieved Arjen's answers to my interview questions. Be sure and Check out our interview with Arjen on our "Interviews 1" webpage!

And so it goes,....