REVIEW: Ayreon – Universal Migrator Pt.1 & 2 (2022 Remixed & Remastered)

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Dutch multi-instrumentalist Arjen Lucassen has long been revered as one of the most prolific prog-rock geniuses. His commercially successful and critically acclaimed 1998 studio album, “Into the Electric Castle,” released under the AYREON moniker, is still considered one of the peaks in his career – and the good reception initially prompted Lucassen to further continue the project. The next two offerings, “Universal Migrator Part 1: The Dream Sequencer” and “Universal Migrator Part 2: Flight of the Migrator,” were released in June 2000. Now, some 20+ years and several AYREON albums later, it is high time to revisit this double-whammy of progressive excellence. Wrapped together into a double album, the reissue will be released on November 18th, 2022, via Music Theories, under the title, “Universal Migrator Pt.1 & 2 (2022 Remixed & Remastered).” This prog extravaganza features all the hallmark elements that we have become accustomed to on later AYREON endeavors; the music resonates with a distinct air of timelessness. Maybe some production aspects notwithstanding, this double effort could have just as well been released in the 1970s. In a genuine, overindulgent prog fashion, the double treat is a concept album, continuing the plot that started with AYREON‘s 1995 debut “The Final Experiment.” It is a story about the last human alive, stranded on a Martian colony – science fiction, par excellence, with concepts such as past life and all.

The first disc – “The Dream Sequencer” part of the double feature – was originally meant to appeal to the prog enthusiasts, while the “Flight of the Migrator” part was perhaps more metal-oriented. The metal sound, in this case, is resonating with such a robust air of that vintage heavy-metal aesthetic that it, no doubt, was – and still is – sure to rub all the prog aficionados the right way. On this endeavor, that somewhat sepia-filtered sound of vintage symphonic prog goes hand-in-hand with the exquisite heavy-metal sound of yesteryear, seamlessly and effortlessly, almost as though bands such as DIO or DEEP PURPLE had suddenly decided to plunge headlong into the darkest dungeons of epic prog. Yeah, longtime fans of AYREON probably know the score already – Lucassen has since become quite the zen master in this craft. Fans have also become quite familiar with his trademark style of having different guest vocalists playing roles in his concept albums. The modus operandi on this twin release is the same: the guest vocalists only sing on one track each and the list of collaborating singers is nothing short of stunning!

The instrumental title track, “The Dream Sequencer,” opens the first disc with strong PINK FLOYD vibes, leading into the somewhat Floydian, atmospheric electronica of “My House On Mars,” featuring vocalists Johan Edlund of TIAMAT and Floor Jansen, who was fronting the symphonic metal outfit, AFTER FOREVER, at the time. There is peculiar trivia about the second track: after winning an online poll, the first 30 seconds of the song were selected to be transmitted from Mars, along with some other fragments, during the European/Russian space mission, ExoMars. Considering the prominence of science-fiction themes in Lucassen‘s body of work over the years, the maestro must have been thrilled to bits.

The first disc is characterized by its strong atmospheric feel, one which is a rather exquisite cross between, say, the mid-1970s PINK FLOYD and vintage heavy metal epics. The latter vibe stems probably from the prominent heavy-metal vocalists, such as Edward Reekers (KAYAK) on “One Small Step,” Mouse (TUESDAY’S CHILD) on “The Shooting Company,” and Damian Wilson (HEADSPACE, ex-THRESHOLD) on “And the Druids Turn to Stone,” to single out a few. The first disc ends with “The First Man On Earth,” taking a rather deep nod toward THE BEATLES.

Disc two, titled “Flight of the Migrator,” opens with “Chaos” – a 5-minute onslaught of prog-riffs á la DREAM THEATER and I guess you really couldn’t be more specific about the plot getting thicker at this point. One of my favorites is the symphonic-prog piece, “Dawn of a Million Souls,” featuring Russell Allen of SYMPHONY X on vocals. The song blends old-school prog with a good pinch of heavy metal of the DIO variety. Then, of course, “Into the Black Hole,” featuring Bruce Dickinson on vocals is no less of a prog banger! While disc two is remarkably less atmospheric, there is still a relatively strong progressive undercurrent beneath all the metal riffing. Some of the riffs, say, on “Journey On the Waves of Time,” featuring Ralph Scheepers of PRIMAL FEAR on vocals, almost come off as though paying homage to vintage Canterbury proggers such as GONG. Then, next thing you know, Andi Deris of HELLOWEEN drops a haunting vocal performance on “To the Quasar,” resonating with the air of the late John Lennon. There’s even some Finnish flavor on the album! Timo Kotipelto of STRATOVARIUS drops some stellar vocals on “Out of the White Hole.”

In retrospect, it is easy to see how AYREON has become quite an articulate standard-bearer for the prog-minded metalheads over the years. This double treat, for instance, is a top-notch selection of epic prog tunes of the highest quality. From early on, Lucassen has had a keen eye for haunting detail, epic soundscapes, and robust riffs, while avoiding the clichéd trappings of the genre. His nose for choosing just the right guest vocalist for each of his songs is also quite an aptitude. As for those, who already have the original albums, I cannot say whether the remixed versions of the songs bring enough to the table to bother purchasing this double-whammy again. Then again, you can never really have too many versions of prog classics, can you? For me, whose album collection has been sorely lacking this absolute prog gem until now, this reissue definitely gets a thumbs-up! It’s such a cornucopia of prog brilliance that I’ll be fussing over its every detail for some time to come.

Written by Jani Lehtinen

Tracklist

“The Dream Sequencer”:

  1. The Dream Sequencer
  2. My House on Mars
  3. 2084
  4. One Small Step
  5. The Shooting Company
  6. Dragon on the Sea
  7. Temple of the Cat
  8. Carried By the Wind
  9. And the Druids Turn to Stone
  10. The Dream Sequencer Reprise
  11. The First Man on Earth


“Flight of the Migrator”:

  1. Chaos
  2. Dawn of a Million Souls
  3. Journey on the Waves of Time
  4. To the Quasar
  5. Into the Black Hole
  6. Through the Wormhole
  7. Out of the White Hole
  8. To the Solar System
  9. The New Migrator

Lineup

Arjen Lucassen – guitars, bass, keyboards, analog synths, vocals (on track 8)

Rob Snijders – drums

Erik Norlander – analog synths, keyboards

Clive Nolan – synth solo on track 3

Peter Siedlach – strings

Lana Lane – vocals (tracks 1,3,6), backing vocals (tracks 4,5)

Johan Edlund – vocals on track 2

Floor Jansen – vocals on track 2

Edward Reekers – vocals on track 4

Mouse – vocals on track 5

Jacqueline Govaert – vocals on track 7

Damian Wilson – vocals on track 9

Neal Morse – vocals on track 10

Mark McCrite – backing vocals on track 10

Label

Music Theories / Mascot

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