As far as I could remember, there has always been some sort of rivalry between Ayreon and Avantasia, with the parallel between both projects in terms of music style, as well as the whole host of established musicians that appear on each project. Despite so, Avantasia had always been the preferable band over Ayreon personally, with their musical style being much more catchy and straightforward from the start, whether it was the infectious power metal of The Metal Opera and The Metal Opera II (both records being some of my favourite power metal albums of all time), or the eventual turning towards AOR with The Scarecrow.
Tobias Sammet always managed to retain this sexy image with Avantasia‘s music, and Ayreon always felt like that distant, boring, technical cousin with that lack of flair for attraction. The last time I attempted to listen to Ayreon was on the 2008 compilation, Timeline, and even my favourite vocalist, Bruce Dickinson‘s appearance on a track failed to excite me. When The Source was dropped, I didn’t have high hopes for the album, considering my lack of motivation to properly check out the project’s previous releases, but decided to take a dive and check it out any way.
The Source opens with the epic The Day The World Breaks Down, and immediately the star-studdedness of the album is apparent, first with James LaBrie (Dream Theater) introducing himself to the listener as The Historian. Before long, the powerful vocals of Nils K. Rue (Pagan’s Mind) takes over, fitting to the power metal of the backing band. But the real surprise comes in when who else, but Tobias Sammet himself appeared, and it seems that two great minds have finally come together to create a true masterpiece. Throughout the album, the whole host of guest vocalists add to the dynamics of the album, with each adding a different flavour into the mix, from the cinematic style of Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian) to the operatic styles of Floor Jansen (Nightwish) and Simone Simmons (Epica).
But a superband is nothing without superb songwriting, and it is here where Ayreon truly shines. The 1 hour and 30 minutes of The Source walks the listener through a whole range of different musical styles, from your usual (and expected) power metal, to folk metal, and power ballads. Hell, just the opener The Day the Wold Breaks Down already puts together different styles together so coherently that one gets lost in the musical journey halfway through the track. Ayreon also seemed to incorporate some of the madness of Devin Townsend from their last collaboration, with Everybody Dies having an over-the-top, bombastic style that reminds one of the aforementioned.
Other notable moments include All That Was, where Floor Jansen and Simone Simmons engage in a beautiful duet in a folk metal backdrop, and one almost feels as though one were in the company of high elves. Also, Tommy Karevik does a good job in reminding me of Roy Khan, and his dramatic style left me anticipating for his every appearance like on Aquatic Race.
The production on The Source, as per past releases, is top-notch, allowing for every single nuance on the album to be audible. Particularly, James LaBrie‘s technical style of singing is clearly revealed on the record, like on Star of Sirrah, where the listener is not only able to hear his breathing, but also his ability to control his voice.
The entire album spans 2 discs and 1.5 hours, which would have easily put me to sleep with its sheer length alone. However, Ayreon has finally managed to capture, and more importantly, retain my attention with The Source. Truth be told, one major factor that made The Source a more enjoyable album over past Ayreon albums is the presence of familiar names on the album, compared to the largely unfamiliar faces on past releases.
The ensemble of notable guests, and the superb songwriting on the album makes this a major contender as one of my favourite prog-power releases of late. Any naysayer of Ayreon and their “boring” style should definitely check this out, and have their minds changed.
Source files: FLAC
Equipments used: Calyx 24/192, Shanling PH300, HiFiMAN HE-400i