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Arjen Lucassen set the bar high back in 2004. No, not just high. He set the bar incredibly, astronomically high. The Human Equation is, in my opinion, the single finest rock opera and progressive rock/metal epic ever written. That powerful. Yes, I think it is better than The Wall, Tommy, Dark Side of the Moon or just about anything else you could bring up.
How in the world do you follow that up? Simple, you leave the world behind.
01011001 is the continuation of the massive sci-fi epic that Arjen has been crafting since the release of The Final Experiment back in 1995. The scope of the story is well beyond this article. It is sufficient to say that every Ayreon album has been a cog in the greater wheel of this masterful rock opera.
And as far as epic goes, there are none more epic than 01011001.
Again spanning two discs, weighing in at very nearly 2 hours, 01011001 tells the story of Forever and their attempts to rediscover emotions. One of Arjen's greatest strengths is his ability to synthesize disparate styles of music in his story telling. There are plenty of heavy, crashing, thunderous moments of metal guitar. These are carefully juxtaposed to quite moments of acoustic reflection and introspection. Progressive rock, electronic music, and pop sensibilities are all brilliantly melded together to create the most musically diverse album in the past years.
Arjen heads up the instrumentalists, providing the majority of the guitars, bass and keyboards. However help abounds, with keyboard solos from the likes of Joost van den Broek (After Forever), Tomas Bodin (The Flower Kings), and Derek Sherinian (Planet X, Platypus, Dream Theater). Lori Linstruth (Stream of Passion) and Michael Romeo (Symphony X) lend their talents on some fabulous guitar solos. Ed Warby continues to impress as one of the most powerful and versatile drummers in music today. Cello, violin, flutes and recorders round out the instrumentalists.
The other highlight of any Ayreon album is the guest vocalists. Arjen pulls out all the stops on 01011001. There are 17 vocalists, many of them huge names in the world of rock and metal. The list is extensive, but includes such luminaries as Tom Englund (Evergrey), Daniel Gildenlow (Pain of Salvation), Jonas Renske (Katatonia), Hansi Kursch (Blind Guardian, Demons and Wizards), Floor Jansen (After Forever), Ty Tabor (King's X), and Jorne Lande to name just a few. Each vocal performance is powerful, and for the first time in years we hear Jonas Renske's growl.
Tracks to catch: "Comatose" is a haunting, chilling minimalist tune that highlights the emotional loss of Forever. "Connect the Dots" is a biting satire of our reliance on technology. "The Fifth Extinction" is an explosive start to the second disc. "Liquid Eternity" explores the blessing and damnation Forever have discovered in their mechanical form. "The Sixth Extinction" finishes the second disc off and is one of the most powerful, progressive epics I have ever heard.
I would love to give 01011001 5/5. However, as I strive to reserve that rating for albums that truly are essentials, I can't give 01011001 the full score. The only reason, though, is because the previous album, The Human Equation, is so brilliant and demands a perfect score. Don't let that detract from the power and brilliance of 01011001, though. This is a magnificent album, and sure to be one of the best albums of the year. Arjen again proves that he has the Midas touch. Fans of metal, folk, acoustic, pop, prog and even electronica can all find something to enjoy on this album. Lyrically, the story is coherent, cohesive, and powerful. Again, Arjen demonstrates that he is perhaps one of the most brilliant minds in progressive music. I recommend 01011001 without reservation to music fans everywhere.