Ayreon: The Best Of Ayreon Universe Live (Music Theories Recordings)
Prog mastermind Arjen Lucassen, has been creating progressive concept records for 20+ years, his records all link together to make a sprawling conceptual story about a blind minstrel that makes his way through time to warn of mankind's doom. It's very intelligent and complicated to really go into and it would take 15 pages to really explain it all. What information you need from this review is that he has rarely performed any of the Ayreon material live. The last live record was The Theatre Equation which was a staged version of the Human Equation album featuring many of the original vocalists returning to perform on a stage but this is different idea, The Ayreon Universe is a ‘proper’ gig with a full band and individual performances rather than the Broadway show format of The Theatre Equation. This kind of gig has been anticipated for almost the entire lifespan of the Ayreon project but finally in September 2017 fans from around the world flocked to the 013 venue in Tilburg, The Netherlands, to witness the best of the Ayreon universe live in three sell out shows.
With tracks from the The Final Experiment debut right the way up to the most recent entry The Source, and some Star One material thrown in for balance this is live recording that’s a must have for any fan of the over blown, theatrical progressive music Arjen has been at the forefront of now for 20 years. Filmed using 30 cameras, the DVD and Blu-Ray part will let you relive the concert in full 5.1 surround audio and while the audio CD that I’m reviewing here only gives you the audio part of the night, it’s still pretty special to hear all of this incredible music performed live with a full band, most of whom were the players on the majority of the studio albums (especially drummer Ed Warby who I believe has appeared nearly all of them). There is also an extensive list of guest musicians all of whom have contributed to the Ayreonsphere. The list includes Floor Jansen (Nightwish), Damian Wilson (Headspace), Hansi Kursch (Blind Guardian), Tommy Karevik (Kamelot), Anneke van Giersbergen (The Gentle Storm), Marco Hietala (Nightwish), Jonas Renkse (Katatonia), Marcela Bovio (Stream of Passion) and many more.
They all contribute their amazing vocal prowess (Arjen never hires anyone less than fantastic to sing on his records) to this album which uses various songs from the Ayreon back catalogue to propel an individual storyline that runs throughout the show. The songs appear to have been chosen to compliment each other and drive an ongoing narrative, giving a synopsis of the entire Ayreon history. The crowd are hanging on every word with all of the singers doing their best to interact with the audience getting them to clap, chant and shout along with some of the best known tracks in the discography, you could spend all day picking out favourite tracks but Tommy Karevik does a breathtaking job on Into The Black Hole (originally sung by Bruce Dickinson), Anneke Van Giersbergen is on fine form duetting with Jonas Renske on Walking Dreams and giving girl power to Valley Of The Queens with Bovio and Floor.
The inclusion of the Star One tracks is a real treat for a fan like me as I'd always wanted to hear Intergalactic Space Crusaders live, everyone needs a song about Blake 7 and of course the finale of The Eye Of Ra (Stargate) features all the vocalists and is preceded by Ayreon's big 'hit' Day Eleven: Love. Arjen himself only makes a fleeting appearance during the evening but he of course gets the biggest reception as the creator of the entire project but it’s wonderful to hear so many talented individuals on stage together performing this cinematic music together. If you want the best of Ayreon pick up Timelines the three disc album that is a great overview of the Ayreon history, however if like me you've always wanted to know what the Ayreon project would sound like on stage then pick up the full DVD/Blu-Ray/CD version of this record, turn down the lights, settle in to your comfiest sofa and let the Universal Migrator take you away. 10/10