Updated on July 31, 2018
Review of Ayreon: The Source
In this post I review the source code of the Ayreon software. Well, actually not. This is a review of The Source, a progressive rock/metal album from the band Ayreon. Yes really. Much wow omg.
This album is awesome.
Like every Ayreon album, The Source features a crapton of singers each portraying a character in the albums story, with songs always featuring multiple of them, often with interleaving lines. The mastermind behind Ayreon is Arjen Anthony Lucassen, who for each album borrows some of the most OP singers and instrumentalists from bands all over the place. Hence if you are a metal or rock fan, you are bound to know some of the lineup.
What if you are not into those genres? I’ve seen Arjen described as a modern day Mozart and some of his albums as works of art. Art that can be appreciated even if you otherwise are not a fan of the genre.
The lyrics, while nice, are to me not quite as epic as those in the earlier Ayreon album 01011001. A high bar to set, since 01 is my favorite Ayreon album. (At least when removing 2 tracks from it that I really do not like. Which is what I did years ago so I don’t remember what they are called. Which is bonus points for The Source, which has no tracks I dislike.) One of the things I really like about it is that some of the lyrics have characters with opposite moral or emotional stances debate which course of action to take.
These are some of the lyrics of The Fifth Extinction (a song from 01011001), with one singers lines in green italics and the other in red normal font:
I see a planet, perfect for our needs
behold our target, a world to plant our seeds
There must be life
first remove any trace of doubt!
they may all die
Don’t you think we should check it out?
We have no choice, we waited far too long
this is our planet, this is where they belong.
We may regret this,
is this the way it’s supposed to be?
A cold execution, a mindless act of cruelty!
I see mainly reptiles
A lower form or intelligence
mere brainless creatures
with no demonstrable sentience
What makes us superior
We did not do so great ourselves!
A dying race, imprisoned in restricted shells
The only other nitpick I have is that the background tone in Star of Sirrah is kinda annoying when paying attention to the song.
Given my potato sophistication when it comes to music, I can’t say much more about the album. Go get a copy, it’s well worth the moneys.
Now we get to the real reason I’m writing this review, or more honestly, this rant. If you’re not a Ayreon fanboy like me, this won’t be interesting for you (unless you like rants). Spoilers on the story in The Source ahead.
In summary, the story in The Source is as follows: There is a human civilization on a planet called Alpha and they struggle with several ecological challenges. To fix the problems they give control to Skynet (yes I will call it that). Skynet shuts everything down so everyone dies. Except a bunch of people who get onto a spaceship and find a home on a new planet to start over again. The story focuses on these people, how they deal with Skynet shutting everything down, their coming together, their journey to the new planet and how they begin new lives there.
It’s an OK story. A bit cheesy and not very original. Arjen clearly likes the “relying on machines is bad” topic, as evidenced by 01011001 and Victims of the Modern Age (Star One). When it comes to originally in similar concept albums I think 01011001 does a way better job. Same goes for Cybion (Kalisia), which although focuses on different themes and is not created by Arjen (it does feature him very briefly), has a story with similar structure. (Perhaps comparing with Cybion is a bit mean, since that bar is so high it’s hidden by the clouds.)
Then there are some serious WTFs in the story. For instance planet Alpha blows up after some time because of the quantum powercore melting down due to the cooling systems being deactivated. Why would Skynet let that happen? If it can take on an entire human civilization surely it knows what such deactivation will result into? Why would it commit suicide, and fail its mission to deal with the ecological issues? Of course, this is again a bit nitpicky. Logic and consistency in the story are not the most important thing on such an album of course. Still, it bugs me.
Another difference with 01011001 is that story in The Source is more specific about things. If it was not, a lot of the WTFs would presumably be avoided, and you’d be more free to use your imagination. 01011001 tells the story of an Aquatic race called the Forever and how they create human kind to solve their wee bit of an apathy problem. There are no descriptions of what the Forever look like, beyond them being an Aquatic race, and no description of what their world and technology looks like beyond the very abstract.
Take this line from Age of Shadows, the opening song of 01011001:
Giant machines blot out the sun
When I first heard this song this line gave me the chills, as I was imagining giant machines in orbit around the systems star (kinda like a Dyson swarm) or perhaps just passing in between the planet and the star, still at significant distance from the planet. It took some months for me to realize that the lyrics author probably was thinking of surface based machines, which makes them significantly less giant and cool. The lyrics don’t specify that though.
The Ayreon story
Everything I described so far are minor points to me. What really gets me is what The Source does to the overall Ayreon story. Let’s recap what it looked like before The Source:
The Forever lose their emotions and create the human race to fix themselves. Humanity goes WW3 and blows itself up, despite the Forever helping them to avoid this fate, and perhaps due to the Forevers meddling to accelerate human evolution. Still, the Forever are able to awaken their race though the memories of the humans.
Of course this is just a very high level description, and there is much more to it then that. The Source changes this. It’s a prequel to 01011001 and reveals that the Forever are human, namely the humans that fled Alpha… Which turns the high level story into:
Humans on Alpha fuck their environment though the use of technology and then build Skynet. Some of them run away to a new planet (the water world they call Y) and re-engineer themselves to live there. They manage to fuck themselves with technology again and decide to create a new human race on earth. Those new humans also fuck themselves with technology.
So to me The Source ruins a lot of the story from the other Ayreon albums. Instead of having this alien race and the humans, each with their own problems, we now have just humans, who manage to fuck themselves over 3 times in a row and win the universes biggest tards award. Great. #GrumpyJeroenIsGrumpy
Even with all the grump, I think this is an awesome album. Just don’t expect too much from the story, which is OK, but definitely not as great as the rest of the package. Go buy a copy.