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The Final Experiment (1995)Release date: October 27th, 1995
A. The Time Telepathy Experiment
C. Ayreon's QuestAct I: The Dawning
2. The Awareness
A. The Premonition
B. Dreamtime (Words Become a Song)
C. The Awakening
3. Eyes of Time
A. Eyes of Time
4. The Banishment
A. A New Dawn
B. The Gathering
C. The Accusation
D. The Banishment
E. OblivionAct II: King Arthur's Court
5. Ye Courtyard Minstrel Boy
6. Sail Away to Avalon
7. Nature's DanceAct III: Visual Echoes
8. Computer Reign (Game Over)
10. Listen to the Waves
11. Magic RideAct IV: Merlin's Will and Ayreon's Fate
12. Merlin's Will
13. The Charm of the Seer
14. Swan Song
15. Ayreon's Fate
A. Ayreon's Fate
B. Merlin's Prophecy
C. EpiloguePersonnel:Arjen Anthony Lucassen
- vocals, guitar, bass, keyboards, synthesizer, drums, percussion, timpani, audio mixing, sleeve design & photographyVocalists:Arjen Anthony Lucassen
as Ayreon on "Nature’s Dance," "Listen To The Waves," "Magic Ride" and "Ayreon’s Fate".Barry Hay
(Golden Earring) as Ayreon on "Sail Away To Avalon."Edward Reekers
(Kayak) as Merlin on "Prologue," "The Awareness" and "Ayreon’s Fate" as Ayreon on "The Awareness" and "Ayreon’s Fate".Ian Parry
(Elegy) as Nobleman on "Ye Courtyard Minstrel Boy," as Ayreon on "Computer Reign" and as Merlin on "Ayreon’s Fate".Jan-Chris de Koeijer
(Gorefest) as Ayreon on "The Banishment".Jay van Feggelen
(Bodine) as Ayreon on "Waracle" and as Merlin on "Ayreon's Fate".Lenny Wolf
(Kingdom Come) as Ayreon on "Eyes Of Time".Leon Goewie
(Vengeance) as Merlin on "Merlin's Will" and "Ayreon's Fate;" as Ayreon on "Ayreon's Fate".Robert Soeterboek
(Cotton Soeterboek Band) as Villagers on "The Banishment" and as Merlin on "Ayreon's Fate".Ruud Houweling
(Cloudmachine) as Ayreon on "The Charm Of The Seer".Debby Schreuder
as Merlin, Women and Villagers on "Ayreon's Fate;" as Chorus on several tracks.Mirjam van Doorn
as Merlin, Women and Villagers on "Ayreon's Fate;" as Chorus on several tracks.Lucy Hillen
as Ayreon on "The Charm Of The Seer;" as Chorus on several tracks.Musicians:Cleem Determeijer
— keyboardsErnst van Ee
(Trenody) — drumsJan Bijlsma
— bassJolanda Verduijn
— bassPeter Vink
— bassRene Merkelbach
— keyboardArtwork:Ruud Houweling
This is the voice of Merlin. Listen well, for it concerns you. This chronicle commences in the year 2084 A.D. Mankind has virtually destroyed itself. Its survival depends on the final experiment.
Scientists from the 21st century have developed a new computer program called “Time Telepathy”. By using this technique, they have sent visions of humanities’ decline back in time. These transmissions have been received by the mind of a blind minstrel who lives in 6th century in Great Britain. His name… is Ayreon.
*synthetic trumpets blow*
Damn, but Arjen surely does know how to make a musical entrance.It shall be Ayreon’s quest to sing of these visions and thus warn the world of its impending downfall in order to change its future into a long and prosperous one. Let us go back to the dark ages…
No, seriously, that’s how it is on the album.
So, remember those wondrous times when Ayreon albums were concise enough you could fit them on only one CD? Because if you don’t really count two Universal Migrator albums as the separate ones—they were released as two different albums on the same day for the reasons I’ll get into the respective writeup, but essentially, they’re two parts of the same album—then The Final Experiment
is one of the only two Ayreon albums that isn’t a double-CD release. Oh, Arjen can write and release concise albums, a bunch of his side-projects being the fine evidence of that, but when it comes to Ayreon albums, you know you’re getting the full package, always more than an hour of music, and considerably more than that in most cases. The Final Experiment
, therefore, ends up on the lower end of the scale if you look at the Ayreon album lengths.History / Background
There are multiple ways of interpreting the album’s title, The Final Experiment
. On one hand, it fits right into a concept—of which I’ll speak in a few paragraphs—referencing the last desperate attempt to save humanity from self-destruction. On the other hand, I can’t help but notice how it alludes, perhaps unintentionally, to the whole situation around this release. Arjen, tired of the necessity of making compromises with his fellow band members when it came to writing music and tired of being confined to any particular style of music, decided to go all-out and write a rock opera where all the styles he loved were present. In several interviews he mentions that he always had to cater to someone else’s view of music. His first band, Bodine, tried to play NWOBHM, which was popular at that time; Vengeance followed the styles of the popular bands like Van Halen and (later) AC/DC; and when Arjen wrote his first solo album, Pools of Sorrow, Waves of Joy
, he tried to make it as radio-friendly as he could. Most songs on it were radio-oriented, and the record was a commercial flop. Arjen earned quite a lot of money from the Vengeance farewell tour, so he set out to create his ultimate album. Thus The Final Experiment
was born. Reflecting on that time, Arjen has stated that he didn’t really care if people liked it and or if it was the last thing he did in music—he just wanted to release something behind which he could stand one hundred percent. As it turned out, the payout from the Vengeance tour wasn’t enough for Arjen to finance the project. The hiring of some rather big names in Dutch music industry drove up costs, and in the end Arjen’s father had to make a financial contribution of his own to ensure that the album saw the light of day.
However, it wasn’t enough to simply write and record the album. Arjen also had to find a label, and he didn’t have a lot of success on that front—basically everyone turned him down when he presented his rock opera. Finally, Arjen met Hans van Vuuren from Pseudonym Records, who really liked the album and agreed to release it. Hans had never handled a new CD release before—he had previously worked only with re-releases—so Arjen was initially apprehensive about this, but Hans’ enthusiasm about the project and the absence of another viable option were enough to convince the maestro to take the leap. Together, they started a label called Transmission, and The Final Experiment
was its first release. At the time, Arjen wanted to make only one rock opera, and he didn’t want to label The Final Experiment
(which was originally called Ayreon: The Final Experiment
) with a band name. However, Hans managed once again to convince Arjen to follow his guidance and include one, since using a band name would be better for marketing purposes. At first, he thought it would be impossible to name the whole project “Ayreon”, since the protagonist died in the end of the first album—and besides, naming the band after the main character in the rock opera was beyond cheesy even for Arjen’s standards. But eventually, Arjen relented and agreed to do just that—a decision which he now admits was a good one. Defending his original opinion about this, he often gave an example of The Who re-naming themselves into Tommy after their rock opera of the same name.
And so The Final Experiment
was released. In the subsequent weeks, it would become a commercial success—at least, for a full-fledged rock opera, featuring a spoken prologue and four musical acts.Plot
The story takes us to the 6th century, to a quiet village in Britain, a home of the renowned blind minstrel, Ayreon. By a mysterious choice of fate, the visions of the future come upon the man, showing him the images of destruction, impending doom and the extinction of the human race (The Awareness
). At first, Ayreon doesn’t realize what these visions mean—he only has his suspicions and general ideas. Therefore, when the villagers ask him to shed the light on whatever he sees, he refuses, not fully understanding the nature of the visions himself (Eyes of Time
). His strange visions, odd behavior, and the secretive unwillingness to reveal the content of the visions lead the villagers to exile him. Later, we see Ayreon wandering through the forest, exhausted, with only an indistinct sense of accomplishment sustaining him (The Banishment
Ayreon’s path guides him to Camelot, and he’s invited to the court as a skilled minstrel. (Ye Courtyard Minstrel Boy
). To prove his worth as a minstrel and to entertain the court, Ayreon quickly whips up a song about Knights of the Round Table (Sail Away to Avalon
). The song is well-appreciated, and Ayreon is welcomed to the court. He retreats to the garden and ponders his destiny and his fate in the scheme of things (Nature's Dance
). Reluctantly, he embraces his destiny and decides to return to the court to share his visions of the disastrous future, singing about the various disasters he has foreseen. He sings about machines and technology prevailing over human passion and other emotions (Computer Reign (Game Over)
), about the uselessness of the countless wars to come (Waracle
), and about the eventual future pollution of the atmosphere and the environment (Listen to the Waves
). After this is done, Ayreon commands the people who are sending him the visions to grant him another vision in which everything is alright, and he’ll be free of the agony and misery he’s in now (Magic Ride
). He receives no answer whatsoever—he still doesn’t understand what is going on. Of course, he has no chance of understanding the events happening. However, something comes out of this desperate move—Merlin notices him and finally decides to interfere with Ayreon’s whole harbinger-of-death agenda.
Merlin strides into the court and declares Ayreon is aiming to deceive everyone at court with his deceptive songs about doom. Merlin then renounces Ayreon’s name (Merlin’s Will
). Ayreon realizes he can’t change the minds of whoever was listening to him in the present time because of Merlin’s influence over them, and that he has no way to stop these agonizing visions from coming upon him. He surmises his only choice is to submit himself to Merlin’s killing charm (Charm of the Seer
). Merlin grants Ayreon a few moments to compose himself and to remember all his life’s highlights before his death (Swan Song
). Ayreon makes a final attempt to convince Merlin about his sincerity, but it doesn’t work because Merlin is, in this story, an envious douchebag. Ayreon dies, and then Merlin has a vision proving Ayreon’s visions were genuine (Ayreon’s Fate
). Overcome with grief and shame, and unwillingness to be the one who condemned mankind to its certain death by not spreading the word of the future disaster, he vows that he’ll make sure Ayreon’s word gets heard in 20th century…The outcome of the final experiment has now been placed in your hands.Music
Musically, this album is all over the place. The album begins with the classic Ayreon’s song—of course, there were no classic Ayreon songs at all in 1995, but still—The Awareness
. This song features some trademark Arjen synth sounds, which provide a haunting atmosphere that is quite fitting for this track. Edward Reekers shines on this one. Eyes of Time
reflects Arjen’s hard rock background, which is expected when you have Lenny Wolf at the mic. The Banishment
, Arjen’s first attempt at a 10+ minutes long song, isn’t too shabby, but it does feel a bit disjointed. And, of course, there’s that section with growls at the end, which feels way out of place for me. Growls are tricky with Ayreon, because while they’re present in The Final Experiment
and later on Into the Electric Castle
, I feel the first time Arjen got the growls sections right was on The Human Equation
. We’ll definitely touch on this subject again in the future.Ye Courtyard Minstrel Boy
offers a nice contrast to the previous songs, being folky and peaceful with accessible melodies and over-the-top lyrics with some old English words like “thy” and “thine.” Sail Away to Avalon
is a perfect radio single, or at least as perfect as it gets when we’re talking about a rock opera—catchy, memorable and with famous Dutch singer Barry Hay on vocals—there’s no wonder it won a contest on Dutch Radio 3 and stayed in rotation for five consecutive days.
Arjen himself sings a few songs on this record too, namely Nature’s Dance
, Listen to the Waves
and Magic Ride
. I usually tend to defend Arjen’s singing, because I like how he has no delusions about his voice and I think his voice can be enjoyable on the right song, but for me it mostly became tolerable from The Dream Sequencer
onwards. He tended to distort his voice a bit (and sometimes not a bit) on the earlier albums, including here—we’ll talk more about this when we get Into the Electric Castle
—and this was where he always lost me, which also happens here.
There are also some rather unpredictable story-telling songs like Merlin’s Will
with Leon Goewie as a lead singer, and there are some anthemic numbers like Charm of the Seer
, featuring a whole choir and the beautiful vocals from Lucy Hillen. Rock songs, 70-s inspired songs, progressive numbers, folky tunes, atmospheric tracks, metal songs... This record has this unusual variety of styles all tied into a cohesive story, something that, apparently, wasn’t that common in 1995. This rock opera was very ambitious, and its ambition obviously affected the sales in a positive way.My Thoughts
You know, despite somewhat pretentious moments and pretentious ways the plot was turned into the music here, I think the actual album’s story and plot are somewhat compelling. I mean, yeah, not much even happens throughout the album story-wise, and there is some plot-related filler like Sail Away to Avalon, Nature’s Dance and Magic Ride, all true, but still, I think it was pretty cool idea to have Merlin vow that he will make sure the story will reach all the way into 20th century, and make it so by releasing this album. I mean, I’m usually partial to cheese, so I’m not your best expert on this one, but I’m curiously fond of this idea.
What’s even more interesting is that Arjen himself admits he didn’t think much further than this album about the whole overarching Ayreon sci-fi plot with Forever of the Stars and whatever else came up next. He just wrote this album as a finished story and later couldn’t help himself when the opportunities arose to link the upcoming albums to this one and to the ones after it. And so just like that, The Final Experiment started a plot that lasted for the better part of six albums, excluding Actual Fantasy
, something that almost no rock opera before this one managed to achieve. Actually, I can only think of two more examples. 425 kindly informed me that Coheed and Cambria has released seven concept albums related to their "The Amory Wars" storyline; and The Dear Hunter is catching up with Ayreon as we speak, too, with five Acts of a six-album story released already.
I also think that for his finances and popularity at the time, Arjen managed to gather a great cast of singers for this album. Edward Reekers, Ian Parry, Lenny Wolf and of course Barry Hay are close to perfect on their songs, and the songs are well-tailored to fit them, too. However, I feel that the value of the actual rock opera is diminished by the fact they all play the same character on the different songs. Arjen fixed that on Into the Electric Castle
and onwards—or at least provided the plot-logical explanations for that—but here we have a rock opera with more or less two prominent characters (not counting the Nobleman in one song and Villagers in two others) and like what, eight people portraying them? This could be a little confusing without the booklet (which also was one my main beefs with The Astonishing)—but with the re-release of the album, I don’t think the booklet is difficult to get your hands on.
In my opinion, this album is a strong beginning for Ayreon (on the odd day, I might even blasphemously prefer it over Into the Electric Castle
), and overall is a worthy entry in the whole Ayreon discography. Yeah, it has got some rough edges and it’s certainly not as polished as some records that came after it, but the high points here are wonderful (The Awareness, Sail Away to Avalon, Charm of the Seer). I do think The Final Experiment
could benefit from cutting a track or two here and there, though, preferably something Arjen-fronted. But overall I keep coming back to this album, and I’m always caught off-guard by how strong it is for a debut.
And apparently the audience following the progressive rock and metal scene in 1995 shared my opinion, since (as I said before), the sales for the album were fairly impressive—providing the opportunity to do another Ayreon album...