Ayreon – The Theory Of Everything
Ayreon – The Theory of Everything (2013)
Reviewed by Mark Nagy
I’ve often wondered, for as brilliant as Porcupine Tree is/was, what their effective influence on progressive metal was. Certain aspects, like the profound emotional impact of Fear Of A Blank Planet really defy imitation, but then there’s stuff like The Incident, which was pretty radical, but ultimately a bit of a flop (at least by the standards of Porcupine Tree). What was attempted was not so much a collection of interlinked songs or a huge monolith of prog, but rather a bunch of interconnected musical ideas that tied together around loose musical themes and a single lyrical theme. I’ve got to wonder if completing this project was on Arjen’s mind when he set out to write The Theory Of Everything.
Ayreon has never been the most original progressive metal band out there. At times, this has been one of my big frustrations: Arjen was so enamored with guest vocalists and musicians that sometimes Ayreon records feel more like compilation albums of other bands’ works than an actual cohesive musical vision. Eventually, Arjen focused his albums around singers playing parts rather than individual songs, but after 01011001, there wasn’t anywhere else to go. So question two is: why did Arjen feel it necessary to resurrect the Ayreon name?
Well, the first answer is that apparently Arjen will never be out of underdeveloped stories to deliver with a sledge hammer upon unsuspecting audiences. I was able to ignore this for the first half of the record, but by the second half it was so over the top (and so lame) that I was getting a touch tired of it. But, secondly, his last solo album sucked. Perhaps he hasn’t realized this yet, but somehow going back to Ayreon has resulted in much better compositions. Overall, the characters in his story take more of a back seat, especially in the instrumental heavy opening quarter. This is a very good thing. If there was ever anything that drew me to Ayreon, it was the great mix of psychedelic, space-age synths with tremendous respect for classic prog. Throwing flutes at me early in the first 20 minute song was, at least for me, great. I’m sort of helpless when it comes to the Hammond organ too, and so as far as the classic prog sound palette goes, full marks.
Ayreon isn’t, from an influence standpoint, breaking any new barriers here, but I’ve got to say I really enjoy how they’re balancing those influences a lot more on The Theory Of Everything as opposed to past efforts. As for the grand venture in this style of album writing, it’ll never be done as well as “Thick As A Brick”, probably because that only ended up as a 42 minute monolith of parts after it had mostly been written. Perhaps you can never try to emulate the greatness that a genius unintentionally creates. Overall, The Theory Of Everything dexterously dodges the major potholes that Arjen seems to love driving himself into. If you’re not willing to sit through the 20 minute “Phases”, I wouldn’t much bother, because the individual parts are still pretty disjointed on their own. Still, kudos for exceeding my expectations, and for an album that lives up to Ayreon’s potential quite well.
4.25 // 5