Ayreon - The SourceLook, I know I’m late with this. I can hardly swing reviews these days and Arjen didn’t pull any punches with The Source. In fact, our Poofy-Haired Dutchman™ didn’t even do me a solid by making The Source a sequel to The Theory of Everything, an album I adored. Rather, he made it a prequel to 2004’s 01011001 (that’s “Y” for those of you who aren’t computers), an album that I’d spent precious little time with. What’s weird about that, is that 01011001 is probably his least popular album aside from Into the Electric Castle. When I went back to listen to it, I have to admit that I agree. So I was perplexed by the choice to write a prequel to it. But Arjen’s mind works in mysterious ways, which is why I have come to love his music so much. So, despite a history of prequels being horrible pieces of shit that not even a mother can love, Arjen gets better with age and I needed to give it a chance.

The Source, if I’m understanding it correctly, is a story about the Alphans—who are the ancestors of humans? (I’ve never been clear on this point)—leaving their world for a new one (hint: Planet Y) because a rogue AI has decided that the best way to cope with planet’s problems is to kill everyone. This sets the stage for an epic musical journey in four parts, with the individuals discovering the problem (Chronicle 1: The Frame), leaving the world (Chronicle 2: The Aligning of the Ten), getting to the new world and getting injected with Liquid Eternity (Chronicle 3: The Transmigration), and the last one, which I won’t spoil (Chronicle 4: The Rebirth). The story is OK, though unlike its predecessor, there’s not quite a human story to follow in the same way. In fact, the most interesting character in the whole thing is TH-1, but a robot’s character growth isn’t necessarily the high bar for development.

Musically speaking, the record feels oddly familiar. All composers have a voice, but The Source feels almost intentionally like Arjen is quoting himself. For example, in “The Deathcry of our Race,” there’s a riff I could swear is from The Gentle Storm. There are moments early on in the album that remind me of The Theory of Everything, while some of The Chemist’s (Between the Buried and Me‘s Tommy Rogers) parts remind me of Arjen’s solo album. And in comparison to its predecessor, The Source is a lot more linear, lacking the recapitulation and themes which worked so well on that record. This hardly means that the music isn’t strong and interesting—and some of the heaviest material Arjen has produced in a good, long while—and he nails hooky melodies like only Arjen can do.

The Source, however, demonstrates what I think may be Lucassen’s greatest, unheralded strength: voice direction. He does such a good job of choosing voices for what they do best, and by doing so he makes me like voices that I’ve never enjoyed. James “Just Ran up the Stairs” Labrie (The Historian) has almost single-handedly made Dream Theater unlistenable for me,1 but I have always liked him on softer material. This is, not coincidentally, what Arjen almost exclusively uses him for. On the other hand, unlike her actual band Nightwish, Floor Jansen (The Biologist) gets some room to show off her enormous pipes throughout the album.2 While Symphony X‘s Russel Allen (The President) is all gruff and rock n’ roll, but Arjen never lets him do his New Jersey nü metal routine.

The voices do a great job of complementing the great music. The Source peaks when it seems like Lucassen isn’t taking himself too seriously. My favorite songs on the album are probably “Everybody Dies,” which features some rare Tommy Rogers growling, but also cues for jazz hands and is surprisingly cheerful for a song with that name. I also love “Run! Apocalypse! Run!” which, aside from having the funniest chorus imaginable (you don’t exactly run from the apocalypse…), sits alongside “Deathcry of a Race” as some of the heaviest Ayreon material that I can remember. Another highlight is when The Robot—voiced by Toehider‘s  amazing Mike Mills—hat/tips The Beatles (and Arjen’s solo album) on “Bay of Dreams”: “Will you still be needing me? Will you still be feeding me? Will you still be heeding me? Will you still let me serve when you mutate into the species roaming these oceans? Or will I be disengaged?”

The Robot - Michael MillsStill, in spite of these high points, Ayreon albums need an outstanding lyricist. I don’t mean a good one—the lyrics for The Source work well—but Arjen needs a heavy metal Howard Ashman. I can’t help but feel the whole “prog/power musical” idea would be taken up a notch with a lyricist who knows how to really turn a phrase.3 This, combined with the fact that the Ayreon stories—actually, excepting The Theory of Everything—seem to be very much of the “X happens and people do Y,” as opposed to engaging in character growth always leaves me a bit cold. The Robot is really the only character who seems to develop in this whole story, so maybe this is his story? Regardless, I just feel like when I start to engage in the lyrics intellectually, I am left a bit frustrated.

But why hold Arjen to a standard that I don’t hold anyone else to? I do, indeed, love Sonata Arctica, and no one’s ever accused Tony Kakko of being a good lyricist. For me, The Source is still a great piece of work by a guy whose tone and writing I continue to love as it develops. The music is catchy and engaging, and the entire cast delivers beautiful vocal performances. If I’m honest, being on one of these records has become a bucket list thing for me and I need to figure out who to bribe in order to get it done. Let me start by highly recommending that you buy 14 copies of The Source. There’s a 4 CD earbook version! And it’s really just that good!

Rating: Great!
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: v0 mp3
Label: Mascot Records
Release Dates: You shut the hell up!
Websites: arjenlucassen.com

Show 3 footnotes

  1. Cue freakout in the comments in 3, 2, 1….
  2. Remind me again why Nightwish hired her to chain her to the floor?
  3. You may laugh that I reference Howard Ashman. But that guy had some amazing lyrics—check out Little Shop of Horrors or Beauty and the Beast. Both of them have tongue-twisting, hilarious and witty lyrics which anyone writing something theatrical should envy.
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  • GrimStilt

    Forgive me if I’m being a little anal here but looks like AMG collected some RUST(DUST?) with writing – “the record feels a oddly familiar.” ‘Progressive Metall’ tag.
    I only mention because, the reviews here are always so colorful to read while maintaining very good writing standards.

    • My fault, I accidentally published it as I was editing.

      • Huck N’ Roll

        Enjoy of June metalcore!

        • I can’t metalcore myself. It’s in the AMG by-laws.

          • GardensTale

            AMG can metalcore you though, can’t he?

          • Only on the day HMG rises from his shallow…sabbatical.

          • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

            You’ve just knocked it out of the park with this joke! So it is an inside joke, a running joke and a home run joke.

      • sir_c

        that never happens with the AOTM, somehow

  • Hideous destructor

    Ah, I wondered if we’d be getting a review of this. I didn’t realise it was a prequel to 010101010101010101010011… Which I agree is one of his weaker albums. Glad this sounds like an improvement. I’ll just add this to my ever growing list of albums to check out.

  • ssorg

    Sweet! I’ve been missing majestic power metal with gobbeldygook lyrics about space and ancient alien astronauts since the end (?) of Iced Earth’s “Somethign wicked…” saga

  • André Snyde Lopes

    So… it’s not another Guilt Machine record, is it?

    • Dethjesta

      Shame, that’s a great record.

      I think great out of Guilt Machine is about right.

      • Monsterth Goatom

        That’s still my favourite Arjen project, with Star One being a distant second.

  • LR

    So good to read something from the Supreme Lord! And I was waiting for this review. I remember that my first review from this site was of theory of everything.
    I was also pleased with the album but I always found Arjen’s albuns to be a little odd lyrically too.
    Anyway, great review, great album. ☺

  • HeavyMetalHamster

    I’ve been conditioned to compute numerical scores only!
    Is it 3.5 great?
    Or 4.5 great?
    I need a clonazopam asap!!

    • LGT

      Yeah!! Although it looks like AMG has ditched his standard Arjen scoring system!! Boooooo!

    • John

      Obviously you’re being sarcastic, but even for people that are obsessed with scores there’s still the thing on the upper-right portion of the page to help them.

      In case anyone can’t be bothered to look, it says a great is a 4.0 … I just don’t want any minds being blown by the word ratings haha

      • HeavyMetalHamster

        But I’m lazy.
        Thanks for hunting that down for me.

        • John

          No problem, you’re welcome. I didn’t notice it at first either when I first saw reviews with a word for the rating.

    • James Utvandraren

      There’s only one “great” score at AMG. It’s always 3.5. Everybody knows this, silly. They are saving “4” for classics like “Number of the Beast”, and “5” exclusively for some obscure black metal band from Lithuania, recorded in a garage (and which will go WAY over my head, because I’m not a kvlt connoisseur on that level).

      3.5 is the new Michelin Five Star rating.

      • HeavyMetalHamster


      • Philip Pledger

        4.0 = great
        3.5 = very good
        AMG has the rating guide above the album of the month section on the right-hand side of the page. Just throwing that out there.

      • [not a Dr]

        AMG once explained that 5 is for albums that make him feel the way he felt after first listening to 7th Son of a 7th Son.

  • Stefano Kevin Prince Vitali

    LaBrie’s voice is love or hate, no grief on that. Who cares =P I’ll listen to this just for Mike Mills. That guy really went ham on The Theory of Everything with amazing results. As a footnote, the 011something album had moments, like the vocal 4 way on The Fifth Extinction, among Arjen’s best. Too bad it was mostly a bloated mess. Speaking of which, I’d really like to know your opinion on the record’s lenght.

  • tomasjacobi

    About this not being a sequel to “Theory of Everything” I read a recent interview where Arjen said that Theory… sold quite a bit less than previous Ayreon albums, so I think he deliberately played it “safe” by going back to the sci-fi storyline of earlier albums and musically by going for less proggy/more straightforward song structures.
    I agree that Theory… is the better album, but I really love The Source as well. It’s hard to complain with music this good.

    • Levly

      Man that’s a shame that experimentation did not pay financially :(.

      • Pedro Ordonez

        I think the problem was the singers, without known “stars” it did not generate so much appeal.

    • Mario Aguilar

      I remember reading something similiar about his Guilt Machine album, which is a shame because those are my favorite albums from him.

    • lrn2swim

      Man, I think that Theory is garbage compared to this album. It’s ok but I can barely even get through the whole thing, probably my least favorite Ayreon album. Love The Source and 01011001 so much. To each their own I guess..

      • Nagash

        Agreed. But I find Into the Electric Castle the best one. But 01011001 and The Source comes in at number 2 and 3 :)

  • Ta2dlam

    I really enjoyed this album, and still am, but when I want to hear Arjen I go straight for The Human Equation every single time. I feel that record is more about the character development AMG laments rather than X occurring and people doing Y. We get an entire evolution of the main character leading to the culmination of the story. This album also introduced me to Maria Bovio so I picked up Elfonia, dug that, and when I heard she and Arjen put together an album called Stream of Passion – Embrace the Storm I jumped right on board. I bought the subsequent SoP albums when they were released and not a single one had the impact of the first…short story long, Arjen alone can be traced to most of the metal landscape in one way or another and his releases are invariably worth checking out for the credits alone to find other music if prog rock opera isn’t your thing.

    • HeavyMetalHamster

      Im still a big fan of the Dream Sequencer album. It’s the first I bought from Ayreon and maybe I gave it more time idk….but it still stands out for me.
      House on Mars and Druids Turn To Stone were just eerie and stellar.

      • Nagash

        And One Small Step :)

        I love both the Universal Migrator albums. Even though they are very different :)

    • Nahuel Benvenuto

      The Human Equation is a masterpiece, a work of art, it might be his best album though all Ayreon albums are amazing

    • Trux

      It’s Marcela, Not Maria by the way.

      • Ta2dlam

        True. Not sure what my brain and/or fingers did there.

  • A Feed From Cloud Mountain

    Mike Mills is the man, nuff said. I hope he gets all the recognition he deserves. The mid-song layered binary section of The Day is just perfect. My only complaint with this album is that it seems really short, even though it’s an hour and a half.

    You’ll find no complaints from me with your first two footnotes, though. I’ve never liked James LaBrie (Just Ran Up The Stairs is perfect), and I desperately hope the next Nightwish album will be better. Floor isn’t the type of vocalist you rein in. Tuomas pls.

    • h_f_m

      An hour and a half album that seems short is pretty much all you can ask for these days. It’s sort of like when I spin Deliverance.. it’s 60 minutes that seem like 10..

  • Levly

    I think this is my favorite record of his after The Gentle Storm (indeed quite a lot of echoes of that masterpiece here, on All That Was for instance). Review spot on as always.

    Yes Labrie gets on my nerves as well, and at least Floor Jansen can shine live with Nightwish. Hearing her sing their strongest material is a powerful experience indeed.

  • James Utvandraren

    I want to like Ayeron. I even started buying the whole catalog. I really really want to lose myself in the epic compositions and the stellar casts. I should, by all rights, adore it all, since the albums usually feature many of my favorite artists (and since I shamelessly masturbate to progressive rock and metal in public).

    However… As soon as I close my eyes, I see people in cat suits, painted drop down backgrounds of Oklahoma, papier-mâché cypress trees and people with fake mustaches and exaggerated sweeping gestures exchanging dramatic verses across a Broadway stage. Six people in the audience.

    It’s just too musical-ish for me. Same thing that ruined “The Astonishing” (other than James La Brie not being able to sing since “Images…” of course).

    I will try again. Good review, though.

    • I agree with this on principle.

      However, the music is really strong and the voice direction as AMG astutely points out is skillfully executed.

      Think of Arjen as the Andrew Lloyd Weber of metal with all of the good and bad that entails.

    • Mollusc

      I like LaCamembert on Images, too. (And a little bit on the next one).

    • Anarchist

      LaBrie is so weird for me. I liked him on Images a lot. Then I didn’t like him for a long time, except I really liked Metropolis Pt.2 except for a few songs. Then I didn’t like him for a long time until he blew me away on Black Clouds and Silver Linings. He’s been meh for me again since. I do tend to like him on various DT songs here and there (Glass Prison and a few songs from As I Am come to mind). I dunno.

      I think in general I don’t dislike his voice as much as other people do, although that might just have something to do with the fact that where some people see cheesy as a negative I often don’t. As a shameless Gloryhammer friend, I’d even go so far as to call it an often positive.

    • Here’s Johnny

      James La Brie did have some vocal problems over the last few years but i saw Dream Theater couple months ago live and he was awesome.

      I’ve never had a problem with his vocals anyway, they match the music perfectly.

    • Nahuel Benvenuto

      that has nothing to do with Ayreon/Arjen

  • Monsterth Goatom

    Has AMG left the building?

  • jetblindracos

    When it works it works.

  • h_f_m

    Amazing. I still REAAALLLY dig Space Metal though..

  • Ivan E. Rection

    A dead whale on a hot beach for 30 days has less bloat than your average Ayreon album. But still, I love them all. Well done Arjen. Take a week or two off then get your ass to work on the next Star One.

    • GardensTale

      Or better yet, make a second Guilt Machine album!

      • Nagash

        Why not both? :D

      • nunka

        Guilt Machine 2, starring Jasper Steverlinck and Tommy Karevik? I’d give all my body parts to Liquid Eternity to have those tunes pipe into my waterlogged ears.

  • Johan

    A good, well-written review and I agree on most points. LaBrie is only tolerable on Arjen-material it seems, and Floor Jansen may be the best female vocalist metal can cojur up right now.

    I liked this album a hell of a lot more than the past 3-4 Ayreon-albums, I particularily enjoy the heavier sound borrowed from Star One, but I think you hit the nail on the head that the lyrics kill a lot of the forward momentum. Arjens lyrics are clever at best, but totally pillow-hiding cringe at it’s worst. Despite it’s faults I think that’s why I’m so fond of The human equation and Dream sequencer 1. They both had very real human emotions that didn’t feel cartoony.

  • Innit Bartender

    As much as I love Arjen, when I listen to The Source all I can think about is “Mannerism”. This time he is quoting himself too much.
    There is everything you’d expect from Arjen, and that’s the weak point: everything in the perfect place, everything as you’d expect it (the breathy flute, the Hammond, the heavy guitar), not a single surprise, nothing remotely new.
    Not that I want him to go places he doesn’t belong to, still I would never want him to stagnate also.
    Still, I think this will grow on me. But I don’t think it will ever replace Human Equation at the top of the mountain.

  • TheChronosus

    I’ve been coming to this site every day for last 2 weeks just to see if this review is up.

    ” What’s weird about that, is that 01011001 is probably his least popular album aside from Into the Electric Castle. ”

    On what planet? Y maybe? (I know, bad).
    Into the Electric Castle is considered a classic and is the album that made Arjen what he is today. Great reception of that album is why we still have Ayreon today. And I don’t understand why all the hate for 01011001 .It was the album that got me hooked. I tried with The Human Equation and Electric Castle before it, but the sound and feel of 01011001 is what captivated me (and Jorns perormance). Age of Shadows, Liquid Eternity, E=mc2 – all awesome tracks.

    That said, this album is maybe his best. It’s just so full of energy and musical texture. Vocal performances are the best I’ve ever heard, and “The Day That World Breaks Down” is probaby the best Arjen song to date. Love the video for it, too.

    • doom-erik

      I was also a bit surprised by that statement. 01011001 is the Ayreon album I get back to the most. Definitely my favourite along with Universal Migrator pt 1 and 2. But Arjens best album is the second Star One. Great stuff.

    • nunka

      Yeah that was kind of an odd thing to say. My impression from everyone I’ve spoken to about Ayreon is that Electric Castle and 01011001 are second only to Human Equation in popularity.

      Electric Castle is the album that originally roped me in to Ayreon so I’ll hear no ill spoken against it. :)

  • One More Thing

    He’s alive!

  • GWW

    What does DR 8 mean!?

    • tomasjacobi

      It means that the measured dynamic range is 8 dB. Further explanation at Metal-Fi:

      • GWW

        Thanks for the explanation and it makes sense since i saw Loudness Wars discussed. Sometimes i listen to Sabbath Volume 4 and then Death Metal and it’s twice as loud. Annoying. Compression right up to distortion.

    • In addition to what tomas mentioned, please google “Angry Metal-Fi” and check out those articles as well!

  • GWW

    The lyrics are horrible. The music is catchy. The whole thing makes me a little nauseous.

    • ElectricEye

      I feel like I am listening to a Broadway musical.

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    What’s the difference between “quoting himself” and rehashing? There has to be a fine line there…

    • sir_c

      Ask AC/DC

      • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

        I was thinking about Slayer as I wrote the comment

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    Am I the only one who found funny that footnote that says that Nightwish has Floor chained to the floor? I wonder if the pun was intended.

  • sir_c

    For me it is an opener into discovering Ayreon: a big emphasis on rock music, which I like. Next, it made me discover Toehider. Also, like AMG said: Arjen is able to bring LaBrie’s voice into enjoyable territories. Then, there is an opportunity to listen to Floor without the bloat of Nightwish.
    Yes, there is a lot to like imho.

  • lrn2swim

    Arjen himself had nothing to do with the production of this, besides of course, writing all of the music originally.

    • Johan

      True, but I was mearly pointing out that James initial hesitation wasn’t that far off.

  • Mollusc

    The video looks like it was meant for a tech death track. The music doesn’t really evoke anything space-y or high-tech for me; nor does it have the sort of wall of sound or sense of depth in the production that can make you feel anything is possible (which I get in the Dev’s best stuff). Nice melodies and performances, but I think I’ll stick with Olias of Sunhillow for that sort of story. Perhaps AL has been watching Prometheus. Fun review though, thanks.

    • Nagash

      Olias of Sunhillow? Are you talking about the Jon Anderson record?

      • Mollusc


        • Nagash

          Thanks. I’ll check it out. Don’t believe I’ve ever listened to one of his solo records. But I do love Yes :-)

          • Mollusc

            It’s pretty airy fairy as you’d expect, but lots of his multi-tracked vocals if you like them. Let me know what you think. Chris Squire’s solo album from the same time is cool.

  • lrn2swim

    Funny, I agree and yet also disagree so much at the same time with many of your opinions on Arjen’s various endeavors. I’ve been a mega fan since way back in ’95 when I somehow stumbled upon the release of Actual Fantasy. My favorite releases and easily his best work BY FAR in my opinion are Into the Electric Castle, 01011001, and this new album The Source. Almost right up there is the Guilt Machine album too. Strangely though, Theory of Everything, Human Equation and The Gentle Storm are my least favorite from him. One of us is missing something for sure.

    • Nagash

      You have the exact same taste in Arjen as I have. You listed the records the same way I would :D

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    Sounds like Lucassen is about to start a franchise…

    • Rodrigo D.C.

      Apply for a version in spanish.

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    Long time ago, I read somewhere Ayreon being referred to as Gayreon… Since that one time I can’t read the word Ayreon without remembering Gayreon.

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    Who the hell names their band Toehider? That’s what I’m calling my shoes from now on.

  • Serjien

    At least now we know who is getting May’s RotM nod!

  • James Utvandraren

    Haha! That’s exactly it! Like Magical Mr. Mistoffelees with friends at a Baptist prayer meeting.

  • Here’s Johnny

    all musicals are exactly like that though. i actually don’t think that is any more cringey than any lloyd webber musical.

  • Thais Munk

    Thank you so much! I love Daísa Munhoz so goddamn much, so I really appreciate this :D

    • Rodrigo D.C.

      You’re welcome!

  • Nahuel Benvenuto

    i didnt read the unnecessary spoilers, this review came out of nowhere (is not on the main page) and not everything must take itself as a joke, but good review, now i am expecting the review of the TERRIBLE Rhapsody of Fire Legendary Years, that album is a joke

  • Flyingguillotine

    That is some truly excellent After Effects work on display.

  • Tofu muncher

    I can’t help but comparing The Source with Styx’s latest, The Mission, also a concept album. So far, I enjoy The Mission better. It’s more rock’n’roll, but still I often put Arjen Lucassen and the whole Styx gang up on the same pedestal.

  • sathriel

    I stop lurking for a while and in the meantime AMG grows to love Arjen’s music more and more. Noice.
    Though I don’t understand Y U HATE Y? Don’t get me wrong, I love “The Human Equation”, but tracks like “Age of Shadows”, “Comatose” and “Liquid Eternity” make me appreciate Y a little more.
    And you are absolutely right about Arjen being great at vocal direction. His guest vocalists are always interesting to listen to and there is a reason why singers such as Jensen and Russell became staples of his albums.
    Guess we wait now for a second Guilt Machine outing to be even better than the first.

  • Slartibartfaster

    Like every other Aryeon recording this is a pile of Velveeta with a sprinkling of parmesan wrapped around a core of soft camembert, all of it vegan of course. Should go great with your Han Solo costume and (unopened) Battlestar Gallactica figurine collection.