Ayreon: ‘Transitus’ Review
Arjen Lucassen is back with another album to add to his Ayreon project, full of royalty from across the power and symphonic metal scenes. Vocal talent from Simone Simons (Epica), Cammie Gilbert (Oceans of Slumber), Tommy Karevik (Kamelot), Michael Mills (Toehider), and more. Instrumental talent from Joe Satriani, Marty Friedman (ex-Megadeth), and even more! It’s a monumentally stacked album.
This is also the first time Ayreon has had a comic book accompanying their release. I imagine it’s a childhood dream for Arjen for that to come to fruition. If you want a copy of the physical comic, they are shipping free with every ‘Transitus’ order from the Ayreon web store. If you’re a collector, this might be the cherry on top to your Ayreon collection. It features some absolutely fantastic graphics and illustrations from Felix Vega, as well as provides a full graphic accompaniment for the storyline Aryreon is trying to tell inside of this album.
One new collaborator that is a little bit left-field outside of the typical music scene, Tom Baker! He’s widely known for his acting work as Doctor Who. A bit of a legend of UK TV history.
When I first heard Tom Baker announced for the album, I was incredibly excited. However, the narrated sections of the album dragged on, and are usually introduced with abrupt interruptions from the flow of the music. Artists like Blind Guardian have done good jobs of in album narration with their album ‘Nightfall in Middle-Earth’ – now widely considered to be a staple entry point to the power metal genre. ‘Transitus’ reads more pantomime than musical, but perhaps that’s a stylistic choice to bring up the cheese levels in the album.
There’s a lot of music to get through here, so I’m going to skim over it for the most part and pick out some of the highlights. At 1 hour 21 minutes, you really need to dedicate a lot of time to this album to immerse yourself in the lore and story of this gothic tale.
The first track ‘Fatum Horrificum’ sets the scene for the story of the album. Similar to the way in which ‘The Source’ was set up with ‘The Day That The World Breaks Down’. We learn about our protagonists Daniel and Abby from the wonderful Tom Baker with a thick instrumental backing. Strings, brass, organs, guitar solos, traditional choral passages sung in Latin – Arjen is really going the extra mile this time around to maximise the cheese levels which I’m always a fan of in this genre.
‘Listen To My Story’ introduces lots of vocal counterpoint between Simone Simmons and Tommy Karevik which I’m absolutely here for. Even on their own, their voices are a focus to be reckoned with. I’m so glad that Arjen has got them paired up back for more on this record. Throughout the song, the main motif echoes through the various instrumental parts from brass to strings. But a theme you’ll see recurring from me here is that it felt like the song was cut off too short! Just as it was getting good, there’s plenty of instrumental sections that could have been expanded on – but we get cut off into an absolutely bizarre transition into the next track.
I think the biggest mid-album highlight track for me has to be ‘Dumb Piece Of Rock’ – just for the ridiculous lyrics which I love. To quote Tom Baker, ‘I was not expecting this!’. I love the instrumental blending in the background on this track with violin, acoustic guitar, and electric guitar all blended together for a thick texture of strings. I’ve always been a fan of surrealism and absurdities and this really checks the boxes for me!
‘Get Out! Now!’ has objectively the best guitar solo on the album coming from Joe Satriani, and is possibly my favourite track on the album. It’s high energy, full of interesting instrumental lines, and the vocal talent is the cherry on top.
It is however about this point in listening where I start to zone out. And it’s not because the quality in the music has declined, it’s just the sheer length of the album for me. And I think I’d probably recommend taking an interval in-between discs. Step away, grab a slice of cake, and return with a fresh mind 15 minutes later. Otherwise, it is simply too much to listen to all of the album in one go.
Disc 2 of the album starts with ‘Condemned Without A Trial’. We are once again blessed with some fantastic flute work for the leading melody line in this track. As you get further into the second disc, you find it mostly consists of shorter storytelling tracks. Even with a break, the music just completely runs out of steam for me. The songwriting is more chaotic and disjointed, and for me topples over itself. It’s as if the first half of the album was written, and the second half had to be compressed down to try and fit in all of the plot points in as little time as possible in order to fit it all in.
‘Your Story Is Over!’ is the big reprise we were all waiting for… except it’s hardly three minutes long. Lots of the album themes are reprised here, but the brief placement of this leaves the album feeling so top-heavy, an issue I also have with ‘The Source’.
I could see the album and story working in a stage format, which is possibly Arjen’s end goal with this give his recent push into short-run live performances in his home country of the Netherlands over the last couple of years. But by the end of the 81 minutes of music and narration, the novelty of Ayreon’s cheese dries up for me this time around. And I should note isn’t something that’s happened with other albums of his that I love dearly.
Overall I’m not as blown away this time compared to some of Arjen’s previous work. I’m a huge fan of ‘The Source’ and ‘The Human Equation’, but the album is incredibly chaotic. There’s still a lot of top-tier Ayreon music on ‘Transitus’, but it is hard to access amongst a lot of mid-tier music.