The Dutchman strikes back - Ayreon's space opera gets a theatrical reboot
It's time to enter the Electric Castle, where eight heroes from across time including a hippy, a highlander, a knight and a roman, find themselves in an alien experiment about emotions. Some will live, some will die in the quest for 'forever'. It's all a bit trippy, like an episode of Doctor Who written by Agatha Christie, with a bit of the Twilight Zone thrown in for luck.
Ok, so the plot may be nuts, but as with any Ayreon release, the music is key. Alternating from traditional pop and rock tracks, subtle folk suites and full-scale prog metal anthems; the musical complexity is driven by its composer's desire to be as diverse as possible. As with all of Lucassen's projects, the lead performances are crucial to bringing the characters to life. Some of the singers from the original (including Fish and Damian Wilson) are on-board along with Thijs van Leer who graces the live album with his magic flute. Arjen Lucassen even managed to get over his reluctance to perform live in order to play the part of the Hippy, which he does exceptionally well both on the original and in a live arena. Praying Mantis frontman John Jaycee Cuijpers and Epica's Simone Simons also appear. There's also room to squeeze in some 'other tales' including Pink Beatles in a Purple Zeppelin and the totally unexpected addition of Marillion's Kayleigh. Into the Electric Castle is massive in terms of scale, but even on the 1998 recording, it came across as a magnum-opus rather than a lacklustre concept album. In light of the auditory presence the album has, the decision to play the opera live for the first time to celebrate the 20th anniversary was probably a wise one. But, this time around Ayreon went one step further and made this a full blown space extravaganza with costumes, sets, digital backdrops, the works. The live DVD shows how the project benefits from a total theatrical outing, rather than a formal concert presentation or another studio tinkering and a bit of snazzy repacking. Saying that, as is typical with most Ayreon releases, the album is released on gold vinyl, digi-packs and limited editions. There are also extensive interviews and behind the scenes footage too.