The Dream Sequencer (2000)Release date: June 20th, 2000
1. The Dream Sequencer
2. My House on Mars
4. One Small Step
5. The Shooting Company of Captain Frans B. Cocq
6. Dragon on the Sea
7. Temple of the Cat
8. Carried by the Wind
9. And the Druids Turn to Stone
10. The First Man on Earth
11. The Dream Sequencer (Reprise)Personnel:Arjen Anthony Lucassen
— production and all instruments not mentioned in the sections belowOscar Holleman
— mixing and sound engineeringStephen van Haestregt
— assisting engineerPeter van 't Riet
— masteringJef Bertels
— artworkVocalists:Lana Lane
— lead vocals on “The Dream Sequencer”, “2084” and “Dragon on the Sea”, backing vocals on “One Small Step” and “The Shooting Company of Captain Frans B. Cocq”Johan Edlund
(Tiamat) — lead vocals on “My House on Mars"Floor Jansen
(After Forever, Nightwish) — lead vocals on “My House on Mars”Edward Reekers
(Kayak) — lead vocals on “One Small Step”Mouse
(Tuesday Child) — lead vocals on “The Shooting Company of Captain Frans B. Cocq”Jacqueline Govaert
(Krezip) — lead vocals on “Temple of the Cat”Arjen Lucassen
— lead vocals on “Carried by the Wind”Damian Wilson
(Headspace, Threshold) — lead vocals on “And the Druids Turn to Stone”Neal Morse
(Spock's Beard, The Neal Morse Band) — lead vocals on “The First Man on Earth”Mark McCrite
— backing vocals on “The First Man on Earth”Musicians:Rob Snijders
— drumsErik Norlander
— analog synthesizers, piano, vocoder, Hammond and additional keyboardsClive Nolan
(Arena) — synth solo on “2084”Peter Siedlach
It is the 22nd century. I am the last of the Mars Colonists. The air supply has almost run out on this desolate Mars colony, and the food supplies from Earth have stopped arriving since the final war of 2084. I am walking through the tunnel towards our recreation machine called the Dream Sequencer. I hope it will sweeten my final days...Dream Sequencer system online.Good morning, colonist. You have selected the Universal Migrator program. Please lie down in the energy tank and place the electrodes on your temples. Think of your designation number and drink the fluid from the vessel at the left terminal.Program loaded. Commencing U.M. preincarnation protocol.Now focus on the music as I take you back to your childhood… and beyond…
You know it’s a great intro when I have nothing to add to it.History / Background
After the immense success of Into the Electric Castle
, Arjen started writing material for the next Ayreon album. Once again, he was determined not to repeat himself. At the same time, the new album had to be commercially successful—when Arjen went for a different sound last time with Actual Fantasy
, the result wasn’t too encouraging. That was a challenge, and to add to that, Arjen aimed at creating a double album again. However, he couldn’t afford to sell it for the price of one CD, as he did with Into the Electric Castle
. Eventually, he decided to divide the material into two albums. The first album was supposed to feature a calm, quiet atmosphere and mellow sound to appeal to the fans of progressive rock; the second disc was meant to be more intense, heavy metal oriented. The idea was to release each disc separately. Arjen believed his fanbase ultimately came from two music genres, progressive rock and heavy metal, and he expected that the fans of each genre would pick the album that suited them more.
This decision posed a problem: Arjen had to figure out a story that would work with such a structure. At first, he planned the quiet record to feature female singers only, and the heavy album was meant to feature male vocalists. That idea didn’t work out—Arjen was unable to find enough female singers willing to guest on the album. Another idea was to set both albums in the year 2084. The quiet album was meant to tell a story of a world where people listened to the blind minstrel Ayreon from The Final Experiment
, a happy world saved from the impending doom and destruction; and, naturally, the heavy album was meant to tell a story where Ayreon’s prophecies haven’t been heard. Arjen scrapped this idea, because, as he later said, the story was heavily leaning towards being “moralistic”, and he didn’t want it to go in that direction.
He tried a lot of different approaches to the story until he finally decided he didn’t want the album to be a rock opera in its traditional sense. Instead of having different characters and singers interacting with each other, Arjen went another route: giving each singer a certain song to perform on. With this in mind, he came up with a story in which a man revisits his former lives under a hypnosis, and that’s how the Dream Sequencer concept was brought to life.Choosing singers and musicians
As it was the case with Into the Electric Castle
, Arjen invited some of the Ayreon veterans for The Dream Sequencer
, and also got a lot of new faces on board. One of the most notable names among the new singers was Floor Jansen, who performed a duet with Johan Edlund—another new singer for Ayreon—on “My House on Mars.” Interestingly, these two singers never met during the album recording—they recorded their parts separately.
Another famous vocalist that Arjen managed to get on board was Neal Morse. Neal was impressed with Into the Electric Castle
and accepted Arjen’s invitation to sing on this record. Arjen gave him a choice, to sing a heavy song on the album’s counterpart, Flight of the Migrator
(which will be the subject of the next writeup), or to perform a Beatles-like song on The Dream Sequencer
. Arjen described it being a no-brainer to Neal, who instantly picked a Beatles-influenced track, “The First Man on Earth.” Neal’s vocals were recorded in Los Angeles together with Lana Lane’s vocal tracks and Erik Norlander’s keyboards.
Curiously, “The First Man on Earth” wasn’t even originally meant for Neal Morse to sing—Arjen intended to get Sarah Bettens to perform the vocals, but she didn’t dare to sing in a progressive rock opera, not being a part of the prog scene. She probably didn’t need to worry about that—the album features a few people who aren’t a part of the prog scene, either. Take Mouse, for example. He almost appeared on Into the Electric Castle
, but later was replaced by Arjen himself due to a contractual dispute. Then there is Jacqueline Govaert from Krezip, who performed on “Temple of the Cat”—after the album was released, Arjen admitted this song turned out to be his least favourite Ayreon track, but he still praised Jacqueline’s voice.
From the Ayreon old-timers, we have Edward Reekers, who appeared on every Ayreon album up to this one. There is also Damian Wilson, who played Knight of the Round Table on Into the Electric Castle
. This time, he performed on “And the Druids Turn to Stone,” a song that takes place in Wiltshire, England, at the place that later would be known as Stonehenge. Damian didn’t like the song at all at first, but Arjen convinced him to sing on it—there wasn’t another song for him to perform on, anyway—and Damian changed his mind after hearing the final result. Arjen was also concerned about Damian’s pronunciation of “Salisbury Plain” (the lyric that occurs in the song), to which Damian responded he surely knew how to pronounce it—he was passing this place on his bicycle every day, after all.
One noticeable change in the musicians’ line-up is that Ed Warby isn’t playing drums this time. Arjen thought of Ed as more of a power-drumming specialist, and he wanted the drumming to be softer and mellower for this record. He wrote an e-mail to Chris Maitland from Porcupine Tree, but didn’t get a reply. After that, Arjen asked Rob Snijders to play drums on the album, an offer Rob agreed to. Ironically, the next morning Arjen received an e-mail from Chris Maitland, who said he’d be happy to play on the record.
Finally, there’s Arjen Lucassen himself, singing as minstrel Ayreon on “Carried by the Wind.” The song was originally meant for Angelo Branduardi, but it didn’t work out, and Arjen recorded the song on his own. The song neatly ties The Dream Sequencer
storyline to the one in The Final Experiment
, being a callback to a central character in that story. Previous Ayreon albums might’ve left the listener scratching his head about how the concepts from each album were related. This record answers some of the questions, and it also adds more layers to the story. What is life on Mars like? Did people heed Ayreon’s prophetic visions in the 20th century? How was the Stonehenge created?...Plot
The story is set in the 22nd century. All civilization on Earth has perished in the final world war in 2084, and the only people left alive were the ones who managed to escape to Mars during the final years of war. They’ve brought the resources and supplies from Earth and established a colony on Mars. Since the Earth became a hollow, desolate planet after the war, there was no way for the colonists to replenish their supplies. Slowly but surely, the colonists started to die of starvation and lack of air, until only one of them—as far as he knows—remained alive. As the air supply on the last colonist’s station is about to run out, he heads to the Dream Sequencer—the machine the scientists on Mars have developed to kill some free time and chase the boredom away. The Dream Sequencer allows the user to relive his past, his youth, and even go beyond it—to relive the lives of previous reincarnations of the user’s soul.
The colonist—born and raised on Mars—uses the Dream Sequencer and returns to his youth, to the end of 21st century, when he and his sister realize they will never see the planet Earth (My House on Mars
). Their father went to fight the final war on Earth, promising the children he would take them to Earth one day, and never returned. Then the colonist is brought back in time to the year 2084 as a woman who fought in the final war. As he hovers over the woman’s (or, as he thinks, his own) dead body, he realizes that the Final Experiment has failed, and the war that was foretold by the minstrel Ayreon has come to pass. The Earth was completely destroyed and is utterly devoid of life now (2084
The colonist reincarnates back in 1969 as a little boy, who is being woken up by his dad, so they could witness a first manned moon landing on TV. The whole town watches the landing in their houses (One Small Step
). Then he jumps to the 1642, where he is a noble ensign-bearer of Militia Company of District II under the Command of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq, posing for Rembrandt van Rijn for the painting that later would be known as The Night Watch (The Shooting Company of Captain Frans B. Cocq
). Going further back in time, the colonist reincarnates as a Queen Elizabeth in 1588, sending her fleet, led by the captain Sir Francis Drake, to fight against the Spanish Armada. The English fleet was victorious in that battle (Dragon on the Sea
The colonist continues his journey travelling back to the 8th century to the Central American continent, living the life of a Mayan girl heading to the temple (Temple of the Cat
). Next, he reincarnates as the blind minstrel Ayreon in the 6th century. He was killed by Merlin’s charm, as we witnessed in The Final Experiment
, but his spirit roams free, and when Ayreon’s consciousness intertwines with the colonist’s consciousness, Ayreon’s spirit sees that the Final Experiment has failed and now thinks that Mars is mankind’s new hope (Carried by the Wind
Then the colonist witnesses the creation of Stonehenge in year 2000 B.C. in Wiltshire, England. He sees the druids standing in circle, relentlessly chanting some unknown spell, and when the spell is done, they all turn into statues made of stone (And the Druids Turn to Stone
). Going further and further back in time, the colonist reincarnates as the first man on Earth, finding himself in a fields of nature untouched by men, and being the first to stand on two legs among the ape-like creatures surrounding him (The First Man on Earth
The first part of the Universal Migrator program ends, and the colonist finds himself back in the 22nd century, lying in an energy tank in the Dream Sequencer [The Dream Sequencer (Reprise)
]. However, since he knows he is living his final days on Mars, he wants to go back even further and find out everything about the creation of human soul…Music
A lot of Ayreon music was influenced by the music of Pink Floyd. As Arjen himself said in one of his numerous interviews, he always tends to label his musical ideas after the band that inspired him to write the particular section, like “Camel #1”, “Pink Floyd #1”, or, here’s the direct quote from Arjen, «rather “Pink Floyd #17”, as it always sounds like Pink Floyd». Well, of all the Ayreon albums, this one is the most Floyd-influenced for sure, especially if you consider the mellow instrumental intro and outro.The Dream Sequencer
features more clean electric guitar (Fender Stratocaster, I think) solos from Arjen than any other Ayreon album, and all of them are very spacey, calm and unhurried compositions. The whole album is slow-paced, tranquil and mellow—which was Arjen’s intention precisely. He had to put away all the heavy ideas that were constantly occurring to him during the writing sessions to place them on the album’s heavy counterpart. Of course, some of the bombastic moments went through anyway—the climaxes of “My House on Mars” and “2084” instantly come to mind.
The music ranges from the slow, serene progressive rock with that space-like feel to some folk songs and even the pop-rock tunes, all the while keeping a feeling of cohesiveness, which adds a certain level of integrity to the album. Whether it’s Johan Edlund with his low and foreboding vocals, or Jacqueline Govaert with her chirpy voice, or Mouse with his distorted and careless delivery, or Neal Morse with his rock-oriented style—no singer and no song feels out of place on this album. Each song adds its color to the whole picture of travelling back in time through the centuries.My Thoughts
That brings us to this section, and I’ve got to say, this is one of my favourite Ayreon albums. It made my Top 50 two years ago, and overall I think it’s almost a perfect effort from Arjen.
As I said, no song feels out of place on this album. Even the tunes I’m not too fond of, “Temple of the Cat” and “The First Man on Earth,” they both add a certain charm to the record. And when it comes to the songs I love here, well, let’s just say that category includes every other song.
I won’t get into each song, but I’ve just got to mention how I adore Arjen’s guitar playing here. My favourite guitar player is David Gilmour, and you can easily trace his influences on Arjen’s playing here, on almost every solo. The synths are also perfect—the first Ayreon album where I can honestly say that. A lot of singers here aren’t that famous—I’ve never listened to Tiamat, and therefore to Johan Edlund, and neither did I know who Lana Lane is—but they do their very best to bring the songs to life. Even the Arjen-fronted song, “Carried by the Wind,” is excellent this time around. It seems to me that Arjen finally embraced his vocal capabilities here and didn’t apply any distortion to his voice, and the song turned out to be fantastic.
All in all, whether it’s a desolate landscape of Mars, or the Earth in utter turmoil, or the significant historical events happening way back in the past, Arjen managed to bring those scenes and images into the music on The Dream Sequencer
as vividly as I could’ve hoped. It’s as simple as that—I love this album.