Ayreon - Biography
Ayreon will be releasing a brand-new sprawling and epic studio album 'Transitus,' on 25th September via Music Theories Recordings. The album will be available on 2CD, 2LP gatefold red transparent vinyl and a 48-page Earbook which includes 5 discs; 2CD album, 1CD instrumental versions, 1CD guide vocal versions, and a DVD with bonus footage which includes a behind the scenes video, a videoclip, trailer and a 5.1 audio and hi-def stereo mix of the album. The release will be accompanied by a 28-page graphic novel which will be included in the Earbook as well as the 2LP. The physical pre-order will launch on June 25, where digital will go live on July 16.
In 2017 Ayreon released 'The Source,' which revisited the 'Forever/Planet Y' saga, but now three years later it is time for something completely different...
"The year is 1884, these are dark, troubled times, fraught with greed, envy and prejudice..." begins our narrator and storyteller, Tom Baker...
'Transitus' is built around an entirely new story, not connected to the Ayreon universe although as always it does have some subtle links. The sci-fi theme makes way for a gothic ghost story set (partly) in the 19th century with elements of horror and the supernatural. It's on a dark thunderous night where our story of Abby and Daniel begins.
From the mastermind of Dutch multi-instrumentalist Arjen Lucassen, Transitus is inspired by supernatural movies such as The Others, The Changeling and Ghost along with the music of soundtrack composers John Carpenter (Halloween), Ennio Morricone (Once upon a Time in the West) and Jerry Goldsmith (Omen). "And of course I revisited all my favourite rock operas such as JC Superstar, Tommy, War of the Worlds and the Wall," Lucassen adds.
'Transitus' is narrated by one of the most iconic and recognizable voices in sci-fi history, most known from his eight-year stint as Doctor Who, Tom Baker. "I was looking for a real storyteller with a mature, deep, warm voice. As a kid, I was a huge Doctor Who fan and my favourite doctor was Tom Baker. I couldn't believe my luck when he agreed to do it! We went to the UK to record him, and it was one of those unforgettable experiences."
As with any Ayreon album, it is an explosive and expansive affair and features Tommy Karevik (Kamelot) as Daniel and Cammie Gilbert (Oceans of Slumber) as Abby. The all-star cast also features Simone Simons (Epica), Dee Snider (Twisted Sister), Joe Satriani, Marty Friedman, Johanne James (Threshold), Noa Gruman (Scardust), Marcela Bovio (MaYan), Caroline Westendorp (The Charm the Fury), Paul Manzi (Arena), Michael Mills (Toehider) and Amanda Somerville (Avantasia, Trilium) amongst many others.
"When I started this I just had no idea that it was going to take me this long! It took about 3 years from start to finish, and it pushed me out of my comfort zone musically and creatively. But I always need that challenge, the harder it is, the more fun for me to work on it!" comments Lucassen.
Like many people of his era, it was hearing The Beatles and Pink Floyd that sparked Lucassen's youthful musical imagination. And in turn, it was hearing Ritchie Blackmore's incendiary performance on Deep Purple's 'Made In Japan' album that made him want to pick up the guitar. From then, there were several early musical forays before his first big break came in 1980 when he joined Dutch metal band Bodine. Four years later he was poached by fellow metallers Vengeance, where he stayed for eight years and four studio albums, before deciding to try things his way.
It was the Ayreon albums, centered on conceptual themes from their creator's vast imagination that began to attract the attention of a burgeoning audience interested in new progressive sounds. Having set out his stall with the first two Ayreon albums 'The Final Experiment' (1995) and 'Actual Fantasy' (1996), it was 1998's 'Into The Electric Castle' where Lucassen began what is now his standard MO of working with an array of popular artists from the prog and metal worlds, namely Fish, Anneke van Giersbergen, Sharon den Adel, Edward Reekers, Damian Wilson, Thijs van Leer, Ton Scherpenzeel and Clive Nolan. This was the masterstroke that would bring his musical vision the wider acclaim he so clearly sought.
Since then, Lucassen has hardly looked back. The two-part 'Universal Migrator' albums, released in 2000, saw the likes of Bruce Dickinson, Floor Jansen, Russell Allen and Neal Morse join the ever-impressive list of musicians featured on Ayreon albums. Later on he would add such luminaries as Mikael Akerfeldt, Devin Townsend, Steve Hackett, Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman on albums like 'The Human Equation' (2004), '01011001' (2008), 'The Theory Of Everything' (2012) and "The Source" (2017).
He launched the more reflective, Celtic flavoured Ambeon project with the album 'Fate Of A Dreamer' in 2001. The prog metal meets space rock of Star One saw the light of day in 2002 with 'Space Metal'. His next side project was putting together Stream Of Passion, who released 'Embrace The Storm' in 2005. In 2009 Lucassen's Guilt Machine released their sole album, 'On This Perfect Day.' He even found time in 2012 to release a second solo album, 'Lost In The New Real', and his Gentle Storm project with Anneke van Giersbergen released 'The Diary' in 2015.
Through all the extravaganzas that flow through his discography, Transitus is Lucassen's most ambitious work yet, "This is without a doubt the most cinematic and outrageous album I've ever done," he affirms.
Continuing he adds; "I always start with finding singers first before I write the vocal parts, because I write the parts specifically for their vocal strengths. Because I was going for a theatrical feel for this album, this time I picked the singers not just because they are amazing singers, but because they had a certain charisma and were able to act."
'Transitus' is accompanied by an amazing graphic novel drawn by the renowned artist Felix Vega. "Because Ayreon's music is so visual, I've always wanted to do an Ayreon graphic novel/comic book," he says.
Although best known as a studio-based musician, Lucassen slowly countered his fear of performing live when he first joined long-time collaborator Anneke van Giersbergen for some live dates in 2015, before tackling the more elaborate theatre staging of his 2004 Ayreon album 'The Human Equation' in Rotterdam over four nights the same year (on which he served as special advisor). He went even further in 2017 when he appeared on stage with his star-studded 'Ayreon Universe' shows at Tilburg's 013. 'Electric Castle Live And Other Tales' followed in March 2020, the set of last year's spectacular live performance of the third Ayreon album 'Into The Electric Castle'. Over four nights at Tilburg's 013 venue (the scene of Lucassen's Ayreon Universe series of live shows in 2017) Lucassen, his band and one of modern progressive music's most emphatic of casts celebrated the 20th anniversary of 'Into the Electric Castle' in front of 12,000 adoring fans from 64 different countries who had flown in from around the world.
Reflecting on the approach to 'Transitus' he says, "I love my last Ayreon album 'The Source'. I often say that it sounds so much like Ayreon... if someone else would have released it I could have sued them for copyright infringement and won easily! But "our genre" is called progressive, which for me means breaking new ground and experimenting musically. So in the true prog spirit, I set out to try something entirely different than a "typical Ayreon," I wanted to do something more theatrical, almost like a musical."