Arjen Anthony Lucassen has been making music under the name Ayreon for over two decades, but due to the nature of his work, it's pretty difficult to perform the material live. His albums are typically conceptual, using a cast of singers to play different roles in the complex storylines; something that's not easy to replicate live. Ayreon Universe: Best of Ayreon Live, recorded in the Netherlands in 2017, is the first official live show and the result of two years of preparation. The show uses 16 different singers to play each of the parts, and for the elaborate live DVD, 30 cameras were put in place to capture the three performances.
Like Ayreon's albums, the live show knits together a futuristic story (albeit a loose one) involving saving humanity and the wider universe.
The first half takes in more of Ayreon’s mythological elements incorporating folk and more Celtic influences and the second is rock focussed. Some of Europe's most esteemed power metal frontwomen: Floor Jansen (Nightwish) Marcela Bovio (MaYan) and Anneke Van Giersbergen (Vuur) make several appearances showing their mettle, but none as unexpected as the dazzling of Valley of the Queens. To have three brazen rock chicks known for powerhouse vocals switch to delicate, almost angelic harmonies is a staggering display of their versatility and talent. Fan favourite The theory of Everything with Mike Mills (Toehider) and Bovio appears early on and cements the scale of the composition and musical skill that we have come to expect from Ayreon.
Headspace's Damian Wilson reprises his original performance on And The Druids Turned to Stone at the end of CD 1, linking the two chapters together. His masterful performance is another worthy show highlight.
Kamelot's Tommy Karevik, joins with Anneke Van Giersbergen, and Nightwish bass player Marco Hietala for the lust loaded track, Magnetism.
Everybody Dies and the epic finale The Eye of Ra give a good indication to the scale of the work that Lucassen is known for.
The album, which runs for over two hours, lifts Lucassen's work out of the sterile studio and into a performance space where his rock operas should rightfully play out. As live albums go, it's certainly a magical recording because you get the sense that this is how it was meant to be heard. It's performed with an urgency and passion that you don't get from live recordings of bands who are weary of touring. Coordinating this many musicians is no easy task, and for many fans this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to hear these songs live. Speculation that Ayreon may perform again in the future has already been bandied about; if it ever happens, I doubt the songs will be performed with the zeal on this recording.
Groupie Rating 5/5