ALBUM REVIEW: Ayreon – Transitus

Arjen Lucassen, the mastermind behind Ayreon, has been hard at work again. In this year full of turmoil and unexpected events, he has bestowed upon us a new multi-media project called Transitus (Mascot Label Group). You see, this is not merely an expertly composed progressive rock-opera with a cast of famous and talented performers. No, this time, we have a visual! Illustrated by Felix Vega, the 25-page comic complements the music and lyrics of the double album and gives the characters more personality.

The album opens with Lucassen’s familiar synthesizers, but with a more orchestral and theatrical sound than usually present in the Ayreon albums. This will carry through the entire album, and fits in well with the presentation of the story. We are quickly greeted by the deep and atmospheric voice of Tom Baker who, as our narrator, introduces us to the setting and who will guide us as we witness the tragic tale that unfolds. And boy, does it turn tragic soon. After the Hellscape Choir builds tension in ominous-sounding Latin, we are greeted with the dying screams of Daniel, sung by Tommy Karevik (Kamelot, Seventh Wonder). His story is far from over, as he must convince the Angel of Death (Simone Simons of Epica) and the Furies (Marcela Bovio, Caroline Westendorp) to let him try to save the life of his beloved Abby (Cammie Gilbert of Oceans of Slumber), who is being blamed for his death. Her father Abraham (Johanne James, drummer for Threshold) and stepmother Lavinia (Amanda Sommerville of HDK, After Forever, Epica live) are trying to help her. Or are they? And what role does Daniel’s brother, Henry (Paul Menzi) play?

Listeners familiar with Ayreon will be used to Lucassen’s signature genre blend, seamlessly merging Folk, Rock, Blues, Metal, and anything else that fits the story. New on this album is the addition of choral arrangements, which lend a wonderful atmosphere to sections dealing with the spirit world. Another novel musical element is the hurdy-gurdy, which in combination with Michael Mills’ a capella prowess makes “Dumb Piece of Rock” one of the most varied piece of music on the album.

More straightforward but ever so effective is “Get Out! Now!,” a stellar rock anthem with angry dad energy to rival “Loser” from The Human Equation (Inside Out). Not only is this song an absolutely perfect use of Dee Snider, but Joe Satriani’s guitar work is deliciously ear-splitting. There are some wonderful duet sections in songs like “Hopelessly Slipping Away,” “Message From Beyond,” and “Talk of the Town.” An absolute highlight of the album is the contrast between Johanne James’s emotion-filled voice and the sinister choir in “Inferno.”

While this album is not necessarily connected to the Ayreon cycle, there are nods to Lucassen’s previous works in the music and lyrics. Most prominent on the musical side is a theme in “Talk of the Town” and “The Great Beyond” harkens back to Star One’s “Digital Rain.” And of course, one of the songs is called “This Human Equation.”

All in all, the music sometimes takes a backseat to the story and the characters, but that doesn’t mean the music is weak. Not all songs would stand on their own, but the overall narrative carries very well, with a few stand-out numbers that will likely be belted along for years to come.

9 / 10