Ayreon i/ˈɛriən/ is a musical project by Dutch songwriter, singer, multi-instrumentalist musician and record producer Arjen Anthony Lucassen. Ayreon's music is mostly heavy metal and progressive rock but combines them with genres like folk, classical and electronica. The majority of Ayreon's albums are dubbed "rock operas" (or "metal operas") because the albums contain complex storylines featuring a host of characters, usually with each one being represented by a unique vocalist.
Ayreon's music is characterized by the use of traditional instruments in rock music (guitars, bass guitar, drums, analogue synthesizers, electric organs) mixed with instruments more native to folk and classical music (e.g. mandolins, violins, violas, celli, flutes, sitars and didgeridoo). Lucassen writes the music and the lyrics, sings and plays most of the instruments on all of the Ayreon albums, alongside many guest musicians. His most regular collaborator is drummer Ed Warby. In addition, flute player Jeroen Goossens has featured on every Ayreon-release since 2004's "The Human Equation".
Due to its particular nature, Ayreon never play live; however, several Ayreon songs were included in two live albums by other Lucassen's bands: Live on Earth by Star One and Live in the Real World by Stream of Passion.
Origins: The Final Experiment and Actual Fantasy (1995-1998)
The first Ayreon CD, released in 1995, is The Final Experiment, which has a mixture of science fiction and medieval themes. The album features thirteen singers and seven instrumentalists, most of them Dutch. The Final Experiment is often mentioned as one of the first metal operas and a reviver of the rock opera genre. The album was originally titled Ayreon: The Final Experiment, with the artist listed as Arjen Lucassen, but upon re-release, the title was changed to The Final Experiment, and the artist was changed to Ayreon.
Actual Fantasy from 1996 is the only Ayreon album without a continuous story. With its individual fantasy stories, it can still be considered a concept album, though. There are only three singers and three instrumentalists on Actual Fantasy. Themes inspired by songs on this album can be found on later Ayreon releases, particularly the two Universal Migrator albums. The album did not sell as well as its predecessor.
Into The Electric Castle - Timeline (1998-2008)
The double album Into the Electric Castle followed in 1998. The album features eight singers, each playing a role of a single character, and eleven instrumentalists. Arjen has stated that he wanted this particular album to be a more flight-and-fancy-free record, or "pure escapism" than the previous albums' more serious tones, and portrayed his characters in more of a B-Movie light. The album was a huge success and is widely regarded as one of Ayreon's best albums.
The twin Universal Migrator albums were released in 2000. The first album, The Dream Sequencer consists of soft, atmospheric progressive rock, whereas the second album, Flight of the Migrator, consists of a more heavy metal theme. Both of the albums feature around ten singers supported by many instrumentalists. One of the more notable guests was Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden, who made an appearance on the Flight of the Migrator album.
Shortly following Universal Migrator came Ayreonauts Only, an album generally meant to be only for diehard fans of Ayreon. The album itself was the second to not follow a specific storyline; it instead contained alternate versions (With different vocalists or instrumentalists) of existing songs, or the original demos used when recording them. In addition, it contained a preview of Arjen's then-upcoming project, Ambeon. It is the only Ayreon album not to see re-release on InsideOut.
In 2004 came The Human Equation. As on Into the Electric Castle, there are several singers, each playing their own role. With The Human Equation, Ayreon turned away from the usual science fiction and fantasy themes with a seemingly semi-normal psychological theme.
Starting in 2004, after changing from Transmission Records to InsideOut, Arjen began rereleasing his Ayreon catalog on the new label, with enhancements ranging from basic (The Universal Migrator, issued as a two-disc set instead of two separate albums) to drastic (Actual Fantasy, "Revisited" with completely re-recorded drums, bass, synth and flute). In 2005, to coincide with the 10th anniversary of Ayreon, The Final Experiment was reissued with a bonus semi-acoustic disc.
At the end of September 2006, when Arjen's new studio was finished, he began making a new album entitled 01011001, which was released on January 25, 2008. This album was noticeably darker than previous Ayreon releases, Lucassen attributes this to a depression and his divorce in the preceding year.
On April 25, 2008, Arjen released a new Ayreon EP named Elected. The EP features two tracks from 01011001, one from The Human Equation and an Alice Cooper cover (Elected), with vocals by Arjen and Tobias Sammet.
On September 16, 2008, Arjen announced in his official website the release of Timeline, his second compilation album, that will reunite selected songs from all Ayreon albums and an unreleased one in three CDs and a DVD. The album was released on November 7, 2008 in Germany, Austria and Switzerland and all of the EU on November 17, 2008. It was released in America on January 13, 2009.
Arjen took a break from Ayreon and completed a new side project, Guilt Machine, in 2009. He also went on to release a second Star One album in 2010, and then a solo album under his own name in 2012. At the time, regarding the release of another Ayreon album, he stated the following:
"As for whether there will be another Ayreon album, I'm never sure. Ten years could go by before I decide to do another one. I have to say that a lot of the reviews for 01 said it had some cool moments but it had that typical Ayreon sound, that there was nothing new being offered, and I think I can agree with that. I decided I'm going to stop with this Ayreon story, with this sound, and concentrate on other projects first. Then, if I decide to go back to Ayreon I'll do something different with it. I have no idea how (laughs), but if there's going to be another one it should be different."
The Theory of Everything (2012-present)
On August 23, 2012, Lucassen published on his Youtube channel that he started composing "a new project". He officially revealed it to be an another Ayreon album (due in 2013) on October 9, 2012.
Responding to fan comments on his website, Lucassen stated on October 12 that it will probably take a year before the album was completed. He also stated that the album would be the start of a new story apart from the previous Ayreon albums, and confirmed the presence of Ed Warby as usual. On March 2013, Arjen revealed that the title of the upcoming album would be The Theory of Everything.
On August 8, 2013, in an announcement on his channel, Lucassen stated that the new album was "basically ready" and "just in time for a release this year". The album was released on October 28, 2013. This album featured 7 vocalists and 11 guest musicians. He invited renowned musicians such as Rick Wakeman from Yes, Keith Emerson of Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Jordan Rudess of Dream Theater, and Steve Hackett of Genesis. For the guest singers he invited Janne "JB" Christoffersson of Grand Magus, Cristina Scabbia from Lacuna Coil, Marco Hietala of Nightwish, and new Kamelot vocalist Tommy Karevik, to play the characters for the storyline. Similar to the Human Equation album, Arjen developed a story that had more of a psychological theme and it took place here on Earth as opposed to outer-space.
Arjen explained himself where the name Ayreon came from, saying,
"Though I do like the similarity of the sound of my own name Arjen and the project name Ayreon, this is purely coincidental. Yet no one seems to believe that!
Originally I called the leading character of the first Ayreon album 'Aries'. But then I had to change it because it had to fit the meter of the song. I wanted the new name to sound old fashioned because of the medieval influences, so I used the old-English sounding 'AY' (Aylesbury, Ayrshire). But I also wanted it to sound modern because of the futuristic parts (2084) so I used 'ON' (electron, neutron, etc.), hence 'Ayreon'."
- Arjen Anthony Lucassen - vocals, guitars, bass, keyboards, synthesizer, hammond organ, mellotron, mandolin, various others (1995–present), drum programming (1996)
- Additional musicians
- Ed Warby - drums, percussion (session member: 1998–present)
List of guests in Ayreon
- List of Ayreon guest musicians
- The Final Experiment (1995)
- Actual Fantasy (1996)
- Into the Electric Castle (1998)
- Universal Migrator Part 1: The Dream Sequencer (2000)
- Universal Migrator Part 2: Flight of the Migrator (2000)
- The Human Equation (2004)
- 01011001 (2008)
- The Theory of Everything (2013)
- Elected (2008)
- "Sail Away to Avalon" (1995)
- "The Stranger from Within" (1996)
- "Temple of the Cat" (2000)
- "Day Eleven: Love" (2004)
- "Loser" (2004)
- "Come Back to Me" (2005)
- Ayreonauts Only (2000)
- Timeline (2008)
- Guilt Machine
- Star One
- Stream of Passion
- discography at MusicBrainz