AYREON - Electric Castle Live And Other Tales

May 18, 2020, a month ago

(Mascot)

Mark Gromen

Rating: 7.5

review heavy metal ayreon

AYREON - Electric Castle Live And Other Tales

The wacky Dutch giant (inside joke! although he does stand over 2 meters tall) never does anything small. Years in the making, this two disc effort (and accompanying video. Separate Blu-ray offers additional 3 hours documentary/interviews) chronicles the four Sept, '19 performances commemorating the 20th anniversary of said platter. Great to finally get a chance to "see" the reclusive mastermind, Arjen Lucassen (being a fan, since Bodine, back in the ‘80s). As with most of the guitarist's works, this is a guest-filled event, including prog/metal singers like Simone Simons, Fish, Anneke van Giersbergen and Damian Wilson, as well as additional voices and players from Dutch outfits like Mayan/Epica, Gorefest and After Forever. Many of this play/musical's tunes feature more than one prominent vocalist. The narrator is none other than John De Lancie, best known to Ayreon fans as the alien, Picard foe Q, from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Impressive line-up!

Onstage, the band plays in front of the rocky facade of a castle, complete with gateway and wooden door, as the album artwork rotated behind. Kind of trippy. De Lancie speaks from one of the turrets, a trio of omnipresent backup singers on the rampart opposite. It's a tale of several human archetypes (from different epochs) on a journey/trial, including Highlander, Roman, Knight, etc. Throughout, their number diminish. "Amazing Flight" sees the Barbarian and Hippie (Lucassen, in head-to-toe dye tie & rose colored glasses, literally) offers a dichotomy of heavy sounds/gruff voice versus lilting pop) punctuated by an almost jazzy amalgam of acoustic guitar, fiddle, piano and flute, mixed with convention rock instrumentation. Acoustic strummed "Time Beyond Time" recalls Bowie's "Space Oddity" in feel and content. "Garden Of Emotions" has a similar Bowie flanged acoustic guitar, but with female vox. Speaking of which, the all acoustic "Valley Of The Queens" is a multiple female voiced affair. "Tower Of Hope" offers widdling guitar, fiddle and flute, in sort of a prog hootenanny. Midway through Disc One closer "Cosmic Fusion" Mark Jansen (Epica/Mayan) adds his death metal growl to the proceedings.

The first half of the 13 track second disc continues the concert, but then it's on to other non-Ayreon, Lucassen works. Part Deux begins with "Robby Valentine" a grand (pun intended) piano solo. It is one of the tunes absent from the Gold vinyl edition. Prior to full band heaviness, the acoustic strumming of "The Mirror Maze" uses The Beatles as a reference point. Bubbly (pun intended) "Evil Devolution" continues to narrow the field as the remaining "contestants" venture upon "The Two Gates": one shiny gold, the other dirty & old. Which one to choose? "Forever For The Stars" is just a De Lancie soliloquy, explaining the purpose: "To grow, to learn & to care," before "Another Time, Another Space" completes the Electric Castle festivities. Former The Gathering chanteuse van Gersbergen reprises her role in The Gentle Storm for Eastern flavored rocker "Shores Of India". Anyone around the prog scene (even ancillary, like myself) will probably recognize "Out In The Real World", here performed by Mayan singer Marcela Bovio. Fish joins in a rendition of Marillion's "Kayleigh" (also absent, on vinyl). As if the Beatles fixation was a figment of my imagination, "Pink Beatles In A Purple Zeppelin" rehashes Lucassen's mentors. The applause fades out and then it's all hands on deck for "Songs Of The Ocean" finale. Could see Electric Castle becoming something of a bi-annual event, similar to TSO. Just don't expect a touring version!


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