The Human Equation (2004)Release date: May 25th, 2004
Length: 102:14Tracklist:Disc 1:
1. Day One: Vigil
2. Day Two: Isolation
3. Day Three: Pain
4. Day Four: Mystery
5. Day Five: Voices
6. Day Six: Childhood
7. Day Seven: Hope
8. Day Eight: School
9. Day Nine: Playground
10. Day Ten: Memories
11. Day Eleven: LoveDisc 2:
12. Day Twelve: Trauma
13. Day Thirteen: Sign
14. Day Fourteen: Pride
15. Day Fifteen: Betrayal
16. Day Sixteen: Loser
17. Day Seventeen: Accident?
18. Day Eighteen: Realization
19. Day Nineteen: Disclosure
20. Day Twenty: ConfrontationPersonnel:Arjen Anthony Lucassen
— production, mixing and all instruments not mentioned in the section belowPieter Kop
— masteringJef Bertels
— artworkMatties Noren
— layout and bookletYvette Boertje
— artists photographsVocalists:Arjen Lucassen
— Best FriendMarcela Bovio
(ex-Stream of Passion) — WifeJames LaBrie
(Dream Theater) — MeMikael Akerfeldt
(Opeth) — FearEric Clayton
(Saviour Machine) — ReasonIrene Jansen
— PassionMagnus Ekwall
(The Quill) — PrideHeather Findlay
(ex-Mostly Autumn) — LoveDevon Graves
(ex-Psychotic Waltz) — AgonyDevin Townsend
— RageMike Baker
(Shadow Gallery) — FatherMusiciansEd Warby
— drums and percussionRobert Baba
— violinMarieke van der Heyden
— celloJohn McManus
— low flute on Days 13, 16 and 18; whistle on Day 18Jeroen Goossens
— flute on Days 3, 5, 9, 14 and 18; alto-flute on Day 2; bass flute on Days 5 and 14; panpipes on Day 6, descant and treble recorder on Day 13, didgeridoo on Day 16; bassoon on Day 18Joost van den Broek
— synth solo on Day 2; spinet on Day 13Martin Orford
(ex-IQ) — synth solo on Day 15Ken Hensley
(ex-Uriah Heep) — Hammond solo on Day 16Oliver Wakeman
— synth solo on Day 17
Best Friend:Did he open up his eyes?
Did he try to touch my hand
Or is my mind playing tricks on me…
Do you think he hears us cry?
Does he understand
We are here by his sideWife: Why are you so concerned?
Do you really care
Or do you feel responsible?
Now the tide has turned
Won’t you try to clear the air?
Let your conscience be your guide…History / Background
After releasing two albums in a row under the names of side projects, Ambeon and Star One, Arjen was reluctant and a bit afraid to start working on a new Ayreon album because of how successful his previous Ayreon releases, Into the Electric Castle
and both Universal Migrator
records, were. However, during the writing and subsequent touring for Space Metal
, Arjen managed to record a few musical ideas, and they served as a starting point for the sixth Ayreon album.
Once again, as he did with most of the Ayreon albums, Arjen aimed to create something different from the records he had already put out under the project’s name. Trying to achieve that, he made a decision to work only with people he never worked with before. Not only that, but he also chose to set the main story in a real world on Earth and make it realistic, instead of writing a sci-fi scenario once again. Finally, for this album—and for the following two Ayreon albums—Arjen moved on to work with a bigger music label, InsideOut—the one that released Space Metal
. On earlier albums, Transmission Records—Arjen’s label until the Star One project—pushed him to get the big names in the industry to perform vocals on their albums, explaining it would help to boost the albums’ sales. InsideOut gave Arjen creative freedom in picking the singers and instrumentalists, insisting that people are buying the albums based on Ayreon and Arjen’s popularity, not the big names.Singers and musicians / Choosing the characters
However, Arjen being who he is, there was no way he would’ve passed a chance to invite some of the most famous people from progressive scene to sing on this album. The easiest person to get was probably James LaBrie, who discovered Arjen’s music through Gary Wehrkamp (who, in turn, played on Space Metal
). James was impressed with Ayreon project and mentioned he’d like to participate if Arjen had some material for him in the future. When Arjen offered him the main role in the story, James instantly agreed, saying, “I’ll sing as much as you want me to.” Mikael Akerfeldt was rather easy to get, too. Arjen decided he wanted Mikael on the album after one of the fans recommended Opeth’s Damnation to him. As it turned out, Mikael owned some of the previous Ayreon albums and agreed to sing on the record. Arjen picked the role of Fear for him, which suited both Mikael’s haunting clean singing style and his aggressive growling.
Getting another huge name on the progressive scene, Devin Townsend, proved to be a challenge. Devin refused Arjen’s first offer, but later he agreed to perform on the album—with the condition he would be allowed write his own melodies and lyrics. In the interviews following the album release, Arjen stated he sent Devin the tapes and he didn’t know what to expect, but the result exceeded all his expectations. On the other hand, Devin recalls that he received the tapes, left them on the shelf for three months, and when Arjen pressed him with the deadline, he played them and put some random stuff he wrote over it without much consideration and thinking.
Devin was one of two singers who weren’t recorded in Arjen’s home studio. The second one was Mike Baker. Arjen contacted him through Gary Wehrkamp, and this time Arjen had a fitting song with an Alice-Cooper-like character for Mike to portray, which he instantly agreed to do. It didn’t take a lot of time to record his vocals—Mike is only present on one song—and the recording took place at Mike’s garage studio instead of the Electric Castle.
Among the other, less known, though still pretty famous male singers there are Eric Clayton playing Reason with his full, deep voice (Arjen discovered his band, Saviour Machine, when an interviewer gave him a couple of their CDs), Magnus Ekwall portraying a reckless Pride (Arjen found out of him via a CD attached to one of the music magazines he bought) and Devon Graves playing Agony with his incredibly versatile performance (Arjen asked Devon to sing after someone recommended Psychotic Waltz to him). There are plenty of female singers on this album, too. Arjen invited Irene Jansen to perform as Passion, since he needed a powerful female voice and Irene had proven her talents on the Intergalactic Space Crusaders tour for Space Metal
. He also asked Heather Findlay to perform on the album—he saw her on tour supporting Blackmore’s Night, but didn’t know her name at the time.Then Damian Wilson brought her over to Arjen’s house (she was Damian’s girlfriend at the time), and that was when Arjen recognized her and offered her the part of Love on the upcoming album.
After working with Astrid van der Veen on Fate of a Dreamer
, Arjen wondered if there are more unknown talented female singers elsewhere in the world. He encouraged everyone to send their recordings to him, saying he would pick the person whose voice he liked the most to perform on the upcoming Ayreon album. It turned out to be Marcela Bovio from Mexico, who ended up portraying Wife on the album. A year later, Arjen would record an album with her under the name Stream of Passion.
Arjen was unable to find anyone to sing the vocal parts of Best Friend role—all his potential singers declined the invitation—so he sang the parts himself. And in the end, he didn’t quite manage to work with all the new people—he had to invite Ed Warby to play drums once again, and he also had to ask Jef Bertels to paint the artwork (the artist he picked first asked for too much money). Arjen also asked Mattias Noren, who worked on the Star One booklet, to design the booklet for The Human Equation
A protagonist—a businessman, director of a well-known firm suffers a car incident and ends up in a hospital in a comatose state. The story is set up in two parallel dimensions. In the real world, the wife and the man’s best friend are staying by his hospital bed, praying for him to recover and discussing the mystery of the accident. In the protagonist’s mind, however, his emotions are alive and raging, fighting with each other while all act true to their natures—positive emotions like Love and Reason are there to comfort the protagonist, while Fear and Agony work on discouraging him and bringing him down. The man doesn’t seem to remember anything about the accident. It seems that in order to awake, he has to remember and experience all the events of his life that led him to his current state, facing his deepest fears, embracing and amending his actions during his difficult life.
The story begins with Wife and Best Friend sitting at the protagonist’s (Me) bed (Vigil
). The protagonist meets all the emotions inside its mind (Isolation
), while in the real world, Wife and Best Friend are pondering all the unusual circumstances behind the road accident, such as the absence of the other vehicles on the road and the fine, clear weather during the day the crash had happened (Mystery
). The protagonist recalls his childhood, growing up with his abusive father (Childhood
). While the protagonist relives the horrors of his childhood and school years (School
), the Best Friend tries to persuade him to come back to life (Hope
); and while the protagonist remembers sitting alone in an abandoned schoolyard on a merry-go-round (Playground
), the Best Friend and Wife, backed up by Pride and Love, try to remind Me of the positive moments in his life (Memories
), bringing up the fondest memories of their time together. It works, and instead of reliving the hard times of his youth, the protagonist moves on and remembers the particular Friday evening party where he met his future wife (Love
However, since the protagonist is moving chronologically through his most vivid memories in his comatose state, the next one isn’t all that bright—he remembers the day his father left them, the same day his mother died (Trauma
). This is where the negative emotions like Fear and Agony thrive on Me’s anguish, intent on driving him down to the deepest pits of his mind; but then Love appears, reminding him of everything good that’s still left in his life (Sign
), and the protagonist begins to show signs of life in the real world. It is then revealed that Me didn’t want the businessman job he’s at now, but he didn’t dare to contradict his father and was determined to show him he was up for it (Pride
). When the competition for the firm’s director came down to two people, the protagonist and his best friend, Me found out that his best friend was faking the documents. He left the evidence for the whole office to see, which resulted in his best friend being fired and Me being appointed as director (Betrayal
The protagonist’s Father makes a brief appearance during his comatose state, mocking him about basically everything (Loser
). Then the scene of accident plays out to us, showing us exactly how it happened from Me’s view. While driving, he sees his best friend making out with his wife, whom he neglected in favour of his neverending, overwhelming work. He loses control and takes the nearby tree for his father standing at the road’s edge, decided he doesn’t care anymore and turns the wheel to run his father over (Accident?
). After seeing this, the protagonist finally decides it’s time for him to get back in the real world and clear the air between him and both his wife and best friend (Realization
). They both feel the same, and they explain the whole situation to his still-comatose body (Disclosure
). Finally the protagonist awakes and after some explaining, the trio reconciles happily. Fear is still trying to sow doubt in Me’s mind, but to no avail. Me decides to live, announcing it to the world (Confrontation
In the final twist, it turns out the whole story was a programmed scenario for the Dream Sequencer. A Forever of the Stars (Peter Daltrey) was using it, trying to understand and remember emotions lost for them long ago.Music
On the behind-the-scenes documentary that comes with the album’s special edition, Arjen mentions that The Human Equation
encompasses all the previous Ayreon albums in a musical sense. It’s a fair assessment, since this album features everything the fans learned to expect from Ayreon, be it heavy or calm passages, progressive rock or heavy metal influences, the use of unusual and eclectic instruments, and a wide array of singers from all over the world. The songs are diverse enough, but they all have the instantly recognizable Ayreon sound.The Human Equation
shines in the vocal department, especially considering the amount of lesser-known singers Arjen got for the album. The credit goes both ways, though—the singers are talented beyond belief, of course, but it’s also a matter of excellent vocal melodies, which, one can argue, set the album apart from the rest of Ayreon work. Be it the operatic passages by Irene Jansen, quirky interpretation of the Father’s role by Mike Baker or somber clean vocal delivery of Mikael (flowing into the deep guttural growls a few times) the vocals are definitely the high point of the album.
The instrumentals aren’t far behind on the quality scale, though. The constant usage of flute, violin and cello, as well as other, more eclectic instruments like didgeridoo add an extra layer to the music. The solos provided by Martin Orford, Joost van den Broek and Ken Helsley serve as a breath of fresh air to the music, enhancing tracks like Isolation
All in all, the best way to describe the music on The Human Equation
is probably to say it epitomizes the music Arjen has created his whole career.My Thoughts
Well, what can I say? I’m madly in love with this album, and you all probably already know that.
I can’t find enough superlatives for this album, and I struggled not to use most of them in the upper part of this writeup, which is supposed to be more detached and neutral. Almost everything about this album appeals to me. First of all, there’s the storyline of the album, which—along with The Old Man and the Spirit
by Beyond the Bridge—is probably my favourite concept album storyline ever. I liked both instances of Arjen writing Ayreon stories set in the real world, and while the execution of lyrics on The Theory of Everything
is lacking a bit, he struck gold with the lyrics on The Human Equation
. This album’s lyrics remain my favourite from the whole Arjen’s catalogue.
The interesting thing is, I’m not a big fan of each singer in particular—unlike 01011001
, where Arjen gathered a lot of my favourite singers—but on the whole, the singing on this album is astounding. And it’s the least known vocalists that amaze me the most, particularly Magnus Ekwall (who was also outstanding on The Theater Equation
) and Heather Findlay—I checked out Mostly Autumn because of her performance on this album. In fact, the only vocal parts I don’t like—and the only part of the album I don’t like—is Devin Townsend’s wall-of-sound chorus part on Pain
. I really enjoy his section on Loser
I will probably gush over this album in more detail during the listening session, but I think it’s sufficient to say this is my favourite Ayreon album, and actually my second favourite album of all time right now.