2017 will be seen as a monumental year for both Arjen Anthony Lucassen and for Ayreon; the band and its fanatical fan base. Significantly it will mark the first live performances by Ayreon (and a very rare live appearance by the infamously shy and reclusive Lucassen), but also sees a brand new album that revisits the conceptual narrative of one of the band’s most beloved albums, 01011001 (InsideOut). Showing a return to the sci-fi storyline of said album, The Source (Mascot) in fact acts as a prequel piece, and is the most refined and strongest album they have released for some time.
The Source offers the main facets that are to be expected from an Ayreon album, namely a massive and stellar cast of Prog and Metal’s premier artists in an ultimately theatrical performance piece. The likes of James Labrie are no strangers to Ayreon’s works, while Avantasia’s Tobias Sammet, Between The Buried & Me’s Tommy Rogers and Simone Simons from Epica are instantly recognisable presences, yet slot exceptionally into their given roles, all representing unique characters in the storyline. Musically, there is masses going on, notably a folk streak which is surely resulting from Lucassen’s The Gentle Storm project with Anneke Van Giersbergen; as well as the expectant technical, progressive metal, massive melodies and ever-changing tones.
One notable shift from previous works is the noticeably shorter duration times, with most songs fitting around the 3-4 minute mark. This could at first be seen as an attempt for greater accessibility, but this is meant to be experienced as a whole, and not for songs to be taken out of context. This is where it becomes clear that, despite its clearly impressive components and vision, The Source is going to be a piece that those who have encountered Ayreon will have already made up their minds on. Non fans will only see an inaccessible, perhaps bloated and self-indulgent exercise, whilst fans and diehards will relish in yet another deep story arc, the chance to revisit to a story’s roots and enjoy a stellar cast’s performances on top form.
Subjectively this is once again a hugely admirable feat, and should be celebrated for dogged imagination and a wealth of imagination and diversity; but at this point Ayreon are not about changing people’s minds, but servicing the faithful throng.