Arjen Lucassen, who by this point must be considered as one of the best concept album writers of all time, has managed to capture the best elements of “Into The Electric Castle” and “The Universal Migrator” with this stellar (literally) new release, “01011001″. Using a vocal cast just as renowned as the one on “The Human Equation”, this Ayreon album tells the story of a planet and a population close to the edge due to increasing reliance on technology and medicine.
Arjen skipped out on the usual introductory narration this time, and opens the album up with “The Age of Shadows”, possibly the heaviest Ayreon opener yet. Then, the album takes a melancholy turn, reminiscent of the softer songs on fellow prog champions Porcupine Tree’s newest album “Fear of a Blank Planet”.
Those who missed the instrumental section on “The Human Equation” will be glad to see their return with “0101101″. The production values are closer to “The Human Equation” than anything else, but the songs are written more in the style of “Electric Castle” and “Migrator”, with longer vocal parts and long instrumentals. Thanks to the aid of many top-gun progressive musicians, Symphony X’s Michael Romeo and ex-Dream Theater’s Derek Sherinian among them, “0101101″ should not be a disappointment to the progressive fans who were hooked with “Electric Castle” or “Migrator”.
The vocal performances are strong as usual. That’s to be expected, though, with the frontmen of acts like Blind Guardian, Pain of Salvation, and King’s X on the roster. My only complaint is that there are so many vocalists that none get to steal the spotlight for long. Fan of the bands Arjen plucked from will hear just enough of their favorite vocalists to be satisfied, and no more.
Lyrically, the album takes a darker and more serious mood than ever before. Of course the usual cheese factor is present, though greatly diminished this time around. The album brings up several sociological and philosophical questions, though not without a certain pretense, asking what kind of society is really in the best interest of the human species. The album seems to want to comment on humanity’s current faith in technology and medicine, scorning it in a way comparable to novels such as Huxley’s “Brave New World”. These kind of sentiments have always existed in Arjen’s work, but here they take the spotlight.
I can not imagine “01011001″ would disappoint any current Ayreon fan. It is a fresh release, different than previous ones yet with all the elements that made the older ones great. The number of highly memorable passages and good songs is much greater than the number not so memorable ones. Dare I say that this album is Arjen’s masterpiece?