Power of Metal.dk Review

The Theory of Everything
Style: Progressive Rock/Metal
Release date: 28 October, 2013
Playing time: 89:54

The seemingly almighty Arjen Anthony Lucassen has finally released another album from his project, Ayreon. It's been five years or so, and the anticipation seems to have been killing most of the progressive metal crowd. And, why wouldn't it? “The Theory of Everything” is ridiculously star-studded with appearances by Rick Wakeman (YES) and Keith Emerson (ELP), Steve Hackett (Genesis) and John Wetton (Uriah Heep). That is one proggy line-up, but the vocalists are definitely more metal oriented. Ayreon's new album features Marko Hietala (Nightwish), Tommy Karevik (Seveth Wonder/Kamelot), Cristina Scabbia (Lacuna Coil), and JB (Grand Magnus), Michael Mills (Toehider), and Sarah Squadrani (Ancient Bards). That is one killer list of singers, and they really do bring the emotion and expertise. Still, on top of all that, Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater) presents an excellent keyboard solo, and Troy Donockley (Nightwish) plays amazing Uillean pipes and flutes. With all of these brilliant musicians on board, “The Theory of Everything” couldn't possibly be a failure.

However, I like to step back and look at things more objectively, especially when you get the feeling that there are just too many excellent musicians colliding here. Lucassen had said that, after the previous Ayreon album, he wanted to reinvent this project. He wanted to change it and create a whole new world. Well, he did just that. This album is still a rock opera, but it is simple. Too simple. When I hear a rock opera, I expect a great story, rife with memorable dialogue and tense drama. “The Theory of Everything” has none of that. I feel that, for the most part, the lyrics are uninspired and even pedestrian at times. They get the story across---barely. This is especially embarrassing as the story is so simple that it could have been written in one sitting. For an album with this title, you would think that we would be exploring some profound universal truths, or at least some philosophical ideas of some sort. Nope. All we get is a story with a plot twist at the end that is so poorly written (incorrect grammar) that the moment was lost on me for a few seconds. Does this mean this album is a disappointment? Not at all.

“The Theory of Everything” shines musically, pure and simple. The passable story is raised up by the incredible musical depth. This album is proggy, but metal. It is folksy, but heavy. Donockley's pipes and flutes really save this album, as they add a personality that would have been sorely missed. That, and the addition of violin and cello, makes for an ethnic metal sound that is hard to beat. Don't get me wrong, though, the input from the other musicians is impressive, too. The keys are sublime, and the riffing metal guitars that appear at points make you stop whatever you are doing and join the groove. I think perfect examples of this are the three parts of “The Theory of Everything”, “Quantum Chaos”, and “Frequency Modulation”. Incredible musicianship and composition are found in these, and nearly every other track. I must also mention “Progressive Waves”, as this track contains stunning keyboard work. I think it might be my favorite track.

The vocalists on this album also elevate the lyrical material. Most of the vocals are excellent, but two of the singers stand out for me. First, Tommy Karevik's awesome voice is present, but sadly far too little. I felt cheated at his few lines. There is still a fair amount of his voice, but far less than I was expecting. He is brilliant, and could technically be the best singer in prog today (though far from my favorite). Next, I think the most impressive vocal performance on this album is from Cristina Scabbia. Her heartfelt, emotive vocals are a real treat and completely steal the show.

So, this album feels like a triumph in the end. Not because of the simplistic, seemingly pointless story that is named after the holy grail of all theories (one that would unity all physical laws), but because of the execution of it. Ayreon's new album is nothing short of breath-taking at points, and for those that don't care about story, I could see it topping lists. For those of us that were hoping for something more, it is a slightly flawed, but consistently tremendous musical work.


Disc 1
Phase I: Singularity (23:29)
01. Prologue: The Blackboard
02. The Theory Of Everything Part 1
03. Patterns
04. The Prodigy's World
05. The Teacher's Discovery
06. Love And Envy
07. Progressive Waves
08. The Gift
09. The Eleventh Dimension
10. Inertia
11. The Theory Of Everything Part 2 

Phase II: Symmetry (21:31)
12. The Consultation
13. Diagnosis
14. The Argument 1
15. The Rival's Dilemma
16. Surface Tension
17. A Reason To Live
18. Potential
19. Quantum Chaos
20. Dark Medicine
21. Alive!
22. The Prediction 

Disc 2
Phase III: Entanglement  (22:34)
01. Fluctuations
02. Transformation
03. Collision
04. Side Effects
05. Frequency Modulation
06. Magnetism
07. Quid Pro Quo
08. String Theory
09. Fortune?

Phase IV: Unification (22:20)
10. Mirror Of Dreams
11. The Lighthouse
12. The Argument 2
13. The Parting
14. The Visitation
15. The Breakthrough
16. The Note
17. The Uncertainty Principle
18. Dark Energy
19. The Theory Of Everything Part 3
20. The Blackboard (Reprise)

Label: InsideOut Music
Distribution: EMI (Denmark)
Artwork rating: 95/100
Reviewed by: Jason Spencer
Date: 23 October, 2013
Website: www.arjenlucassen.com