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coverpic flag Netherlands - Full Moon 95 - 07/02/04

Ayreon
The Human Equation
InsideOut Music

Let me just say this right away: The Human Equation is one of the best prog albums I've heard in a long time. Dutch songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Arjen Lucassen has released several albums of superb progressive symphonic rock operas, but this is surely his best yet.

The double-disc concept album tells the story of a man struggling with his inner self while in a coma after a car accident. His wife and his best friend watch over him at the hospital while he confronts his internal demons, personified as different emotions. The cast consists of eleven different singers of both sexes and vastly different styles, from the angelic qualities of Marcela Bovio's "Wife" to the growling cookie monster vocals of Mikael Åkerfeldt's "Fear". If there is a definitive strong point of "The Human Equation", it's the superb performances by all the singers involved, and at the heart of it all is Dream Theater's James La Brie as "Me", the main character.

The twenty songs on the album each mark one day of the main character's comatose condition. Over the two CDs, the story of what really happened to him unfolds. The music follows the emotional path of the story perfectly, as airy synth chords give way to hard progressive metal, which in turn is followed by folk-like acoustic guitar, flute and violin - sometimes this all happens within one song. Lucassen plays guitars, bass and keyboards as well as the vocal part of "Best Friend". A few keyboard players have been brought in to play solos on some tracks, while former Gorefest drummer Ed Warby - now a regular on Lucassen's projects - provides tasteful and varied beats, though it sounds like he's a bit more comfortable with the metal stuff.

Following the short, soft introduction of "Day one: Vigil", "Day two: Isolation" combines bombastic metal riffs and powerful Hammond chords with flute and the sweet voice of Heather Findlay (of British band Mostly Autumn) performing as "Love". Several others of the cast are also introduced, and along with a fantastic keyboard solo by Jost van den Broek (formerly of Sun Caged), the song sets the tone for the rest of the album - varied dynamics, uncompromising compositions, and interesting lyrics.

InsideOut have released a couple of singles from this album, the first one being the utterly brilliant "Day eleven: Love", which tells the story of how the main character met his wife. Irene Jansen's performance as "Passion" is especially terrific here - she and Magnus Ekwall's "Pride" are the main ingredients of the sing along-worthy chorus.

The second single from "The Human Equation", "Day sixteen: Loser", features a brilliant Irish-style melody that develops into the metal version of Lord of the Dance. It also has a terrific vocal performance/Alice Cooper impersonation from Mike Baker of Shadow Gallery as "Father", and Devin Townsend demonstrates why he is the only one who could play "Rage". Former Uriah Heep keyboard player Ken Hensley does a cool Hammond solo here.

I could go on and on about the qualities of each and every song on The Human Equation. There is not one weak song on this album. Some are better than others, but there's never a dull moment, and Lucassen manages to hold the listener's attention (at least this listener!) for two hours straight. A must-have for anyone remotely interested in progressive music. Oh, and get the Special Edition, which includes a DVD with a little over an hour's worth of behind-the-scenes material, with Arjen Lucassen talking about how the music was written and recorded.

Ok, I'm all out of superlatives.

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