(All Album Reviews by doh)
In the DVD included with The Human Equation - Special Edition, Arjen Lucassen discusses how he wanted to do something different. He wanted to get away from the fantasy and space themes from his previous albums. With The Human Equation, he has done that. It tells the story of a success-hungry man who falls into a coma after a car accident. As the story unfolds, we discover secrets of his past and present and we discover the emotions that drive him. While the story is dramatically different, the music is not. There do seem to be more influences from different genres of music, but it is not as varied as the trailer would have you believe. The core is still the same Ayreon. This is not a bad thing, however. Driving beats are mixed with beautiful vocals and intense instrumental work creating a wonderful, stirring story.
The 2-CD set contains twenty tracks which are labeled as "Days". "Day one: Vigil" starts off with the beep of a hospital monitor and we hear loved ones discussing a man's condition. From this great atmospheric start, we dive into the man's head and begin to hear the voices of his emotions discussing, arguing, and warring with each other. Each voice is represented by a different artist, with the "star" being James LaBrie from Dream Theater as the voice of Me. Other highlights include Eric Clayton, Devin Townsend, and Devon Graves. My personal favorite was a previously unknown talent, discovered through a contest on the Ayreon website. This winner, Marcela Bovio, won a leading role as the voice of Wife and puts in an emotional, beautiful performance. The man confronts these voices in "Day five: Voices". This track starts with a strumming guitar and a violin counter-melody, but quickly turns into a powerful, full rocker. As the voices discuss, the man begins to remember different traumas from his childhood. He realizes how the abusive behavior of his father and the torment of school bullies have shaped and molded him. Although those bad influences have given him the drive to become successful, they have damaged his soul. Not of all of his memories are as dark. In the last track of CD1, "Day eleven: Love", he remembers how he met and courted his wife and we discover their devotion to each other.
CD2 picks up where CD1 left off. One nice touch is that there are 11 small, hidden tracks at the beginning so that "Day twelve: Trauma" is actually Track 12 on CD2. As the story of the man progresses, we learn that although he was determined to not become a poor husband like his own father, he eventually distances himself from his wife through his drive for success. He also financially ruins his best friend in order to get a promotion. Eventually, he realizes what he has done to his life. He understands why he has become the way he has, and also sees the people he has hurt in the process. Still, it is hard for him to overcome his past. One outstanding track, "Day sixteen: Loser", revisits his father's abusive, demeaning ways. This track utilizes Australian aboriginal instruments and mixes that with raw screaming rage (added by Devin Townsend) and abuse from his Father, performed by Mike Baker doing his best "Alice Cooper impression" as Arjen put it. At the end in "Day twenty: Confrontation", the man awakens and finds new peace with those who love him. There's a surprise ending that recalls some of the earlier Ayreon, but I won't give it away. In a way, it's slightly annoying because it ruins the atmosphere that Arjen has been building for twenty tracks, but it's also nice to be tied back to the Arjen we know and love.
For fans of Ayreon (or Star One), this release is a big success. Every track is memorable in its own way. The Human Equation easily ranks as one of Arjen's greatest. For those who were hoping for something different, this is not the release for you. Although the lyrics are more profound and the music is more mature, it is still Ayreon. For fans of Ayreon or fans of progressive metal, however, this is one of the best releases of the past few years and is essential for your collection.