Not much of a surprise that Imaginaerum is back again at top! The Theory Of Everything is a bit of a surprise though; this is where the unique composition of the album (4 20-ish minute sections comprised of a total of 43 smaller tracks) starts to skew the results a little. Still a good album though! I kinda expected Guilt Machine’s On This Perfect Day to show up here, but it just missed out with 56 scrobbles.
Interesting spread. Didn’t really expect Jonathan Coulton up there at all. And I definitely expected Octavarium to show up near the top. And now I’m starting to see which Imaginaerum songs are breaking off from the pack and becoming my favorites. Only took about a year and a half!
Earlier this week I received a big package from the Netherlands. Inside was the brand new limited edition art book version of Ayreon’s The Theory Of Everything. The product was a lot larger than I expected, but it’s so beautiful! Hardcover book, quality printwork inside, amazing imagery. It’s really one of my favorite “limited edition” versions of any album I’ve purchased; I didn’t even listen to it yet! Like nearly all of Ayreon albums, this one was a double length album, so I had to carve out some time to be able to sit down and listen to it with my full attention. It’s been 5 years since the last Ayreon album, 01011001, came out and Arjen said he wasn’t ready to make another Ayreon album until he had something fresh to offer. So I was quite pleased when he not only announced this new album, but also said he was bringing it back down to Earth and exploring “the most complex object in the known universe: the human mind.” Don’t get me wrong, I love Ayreon’s entire discography, the space-y nature of it, and the storyline of the Forevers, but hands down The Human Equation is my favorite album. So for this next album to bring it back down to that level, and tackle the human mind once again, got me real excited. After sitting down and listening through the entire thing, I was very very pleased; it absolutely blew me away. At the same time, it was very very different from any other Ayreon releases, both in tone and execution. I’m sure it’s going to take me some time to wrap my head around it all, but here are some of the things that stood out for me on a first listen:
The first track, “Prologue: The Blackboard” is very reminicient of the first track from The Human Equation, “Day One: Isolation.” A brief track with two characters, one male and one female, looking over the unconscious protagonist of the album. Got me excited very fast.
The track arrangement is quite unorthodox, but works extremely well. Over all, there are 42 tracks in this double album, but they are grouped into acts, or Phases as the album calls them, that are about 20 minutes long comprised of about 10 tracks each. This is not unlike Rush’s 2112 or Dream Theater’s Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence. The result is shorter tracks without repetition within them, but it keeps the pace of the entire album moving without seeming rushed or sacrificing the storytelling element. Each song has it’s own feel or it’s own voice, so within each act there’s a great amount of variety of tempos, moods, and styles.
Even though it’s a double album with a decent amount of playtime, there is a lot of ground to cover as far as story and exposition goes. The pacing of it is just right, we get a lot of information about characters and what’s happening in the story, but it never feels overwhelming or rushed, nor does it feel like we’re short changed or lacking anything. If you follow along with the lyric book, most tracks have some text telling you when the track is taking place in relation to the Prologue, information on what has happened between tracks, or a brief setup of what is about to happen. This isn’t absolutely vital information, but it helps paint the overall picture and fill in the gaps a little.
The singers are all amazing, absolutely great choices by Arjen. Not only do they sound great, but they all really fit their character and sang so expressively. With only 7 total singers (as opposed to say, 17 in 01011001), they really have a lot of room to show off and show different aspects of their voice. It also makes it a lot easier to keep track of who is what character. The harmonization between Sara Squadrani and Cristina Scabbia in “Mirror Of Dreams” was spine tingling. Marco Hietala is one of my favorite male vocalists because he’s so versatile and has a such a range of styles. Most of the time we hear his raspy metal voice (which is awesome), but here and there you’ll hear him sing soft or sensitive, firm, pensive, high, or low. It’s just very exciting to have one album where he’s doing all of that. I’ve read several reviews of the album, so I know I’m not alone in saying Michael Mills was incredible! Such an inspired performance! He’s pretty good for the first few tracks he’s in, but once The Prodigy is awakened, he really takes off! Did not expect that at all.
I really enjoyed the instrumental tracks. They helped bridge the other tracks, and each of them were very unique. It also helps that there were some incredible soloists playing; including two already legendary keyboardists and one that is surely slated to follow in their footsteps. I also like that the soloists are credited in the lyric book whenever they play.
All in all, this is another great Ayreon album, definitely one of his finest in my eyes. It’s very refined, strikes a good balance of ambition and execution, and still retains that classic Ayreon sound and feel, despite “returning to Earth.” I hope that this is the start to a new storyline in the Ayreon universe. I was a bit disappointed that there weren’t any direct references or ties to any of the existing Ayreon albums or key concepts. But the album definitely left a couple things open!
“I’m sure there are still people who want to sit down, relax, headphones on, and be taken on a musical adventure.” – Arjen Lucassen
After a long streak of not being able remembering my dreams, I just woke up from the most vivid, exhilarating, and satisfying dream. Normally, when I have a dream I have to struggle to type it into my Notes app before all the details fade away, but in this instance, the memory is so clear it’s like I’m just recalling an actual event that happened to me. But… there’s a strange twist, something I’ll get to later.
Man, my concert calendar this year is really empty… Kamelot gladly fixed that though! It had been a while since I’ve been at Slim’s, and I forgot how cramped and stuffy it can get. But then again, I do like that smaller, more intimate feel of the show. Still, it was a very energetic and enjoyable performance by all!
Leading the pack tonight was a German band called Eklipse. I’m a fan of both Kamelot and Delain, so that was enough to sell me on the concert alone, which meant I didn’t really bother looking into the other opening band. So much to my surprise (and probably many other people that night), this band was actually a string quartet! Not just any ol’ string quartet, but an all-female string quartet, with four very fashionable, beautiful, and talented ladies! Apparently they provided the string parts for Kamelot’s latest album Silverthorn and were asked to come along. Armed with instruments adorned with red lights and eye-catching outfits (figuratively and literally, one gal had an eyepatch, while another had a lace blindfold) they grooved to some original pieces as well as some cover songs that made you smile once you realized what they were. It certainly was a pleasant surprise, and hopefully it helped some metalheads out there broaden their horizons.
Next up was my first chance to hear Dutch rockers Delain! I had gotten into them after learning their connections to both Nightwish (through Marco) and Within Temptation (through Martin), so it was great to see them hit the shores of the US. Their time was filled with rocking riffs and electrifying pieces, all topped with Charlotte Wessel’s beautiful voice. I must say, she was quite the frontwoman, probably the most energetic one I’ve seen so far! She knew how to work the audience with clapping and jumping, headbang to those heavy riffs, and accent her singing with graceful movements. I also found the way she screamed absolutely adorable. “Hello San FranciscooOOOOOO!” Co-founder and keyboardist Martin Westerholt was also having a blast back in the right corner. As a keyboardist, it can be difficult to rock out during songs since you’re trapped behind the keyboards, but for Martin it didn’t seem to be a problem at all. Judging by the crowd, they definitely already had quite a following here! As they played more songs, more people were definitely getting into them, which is always a great thing for openers!
There’s nothing like when the lights are down (get it?) and the headliner finally storms out on stage to deafening screams. Kamelot definitely didn’t disappoint, blending their usual melodic melodies with exhilarating speed and precision. The guys moved fluidly on stage. The platforms set up throughout the stage allowed them to hop up and really stand out, bringing the focus all on them as they blasted us with that metal goodness. Tommy was all about the audience participation, keeping us energized and turning the mic to us to sing more than a handful of times. Thomas Youngblood was also right up there with Tommy, often jumping up on the platforms for his blazing guitar solos. He also flung a lot of guitar picks, including one that my friend was able to snag! While the regular keyboardist, Oliver, was out on paternity leave, they picked up Epica keyboardist Coen Janssen to fill in. For someone who doesn’t keep up with metal news, they might not even realize he was a stand in; Coen fit in perfectly as if he had been playing with Kamelot for ages. Also joining them tonight was Alissa White-Gluz who performed backing vocals. When Kamelot opened for Nightwish, she only made two appearances to perform the dirty vocals. With Elize Ryd away, Alissa stepped up to do all female backing vocals, and she did wonderfully. Her clean vocals were so good, you’d never guess that she grunts her heart out in her main band!
They definitely inspired the crowd to be energetic, lots of clapping and fist pumping to go around all night! Then there were 5 or so guys who went the extra mile and made their own mini mosh pit. They were definitely enthusiastic… and sweaty. But Kamelot knew how to tone it down too, giving us some soft and beautiful ballad moments. The crowd didn’t pass up the opportunity to sing along and wow the band members on stage. At one point they brought out a camera mounted on a pole to capture us screaming and such, so perhaps we’ll show up in some video somewhere down the line! After a very solid show by Kamelot, it made me realize how much I need more bands to play! \m/ all the time!
●Mother Machine (A nice, high energy song with a driving riff to set the pace of the evening! The drummer had a little trouble getting behind his kit with the cramped stage, he almost knocked over the banners they had set up. Once Charlotte hit the stage, she quickly claimed established her stage presence, pumping up the crowd and accentuating the singing with her gestures. Also the bassist Otto Schimmelpenninck van der Oije [who has quite a name] has headbanging down to a science. )
●Go Away (Okay, the first track was just a warm up. This is where stuff gets heated right out of the gate with those blasting double bass kicks. The bridge incited much headbanging on stage! \m/)
●Get the Devil Out of Me (I really love the contrast of Charlottes vocals against the grinding riff during the verses of the song. Then the chorus is just so damn catchy!)
●Virtue And Vice (We get a little bit of grunting by the bassist. Can’t say they don’t mix it up every once in a while!)
●Electricity (Toned down the pace a little bit, but we got a sweet guitar solo by Timo and a big rock ending!)
●Invidia (I love the heavy riff that this song starts out with. The chorus was a little weird, hearing Charlotte sing with herself.)
●Sleepwalker’s Dream (Started with a dramatic opening and band-led clapping. Once the verse came around, Charlotte gracefully cut us off like a conductor; and it worked perfectly.)
●Not Enough (Apparently we hadn’t had enough yet, because Charlotte said we this was Not Enough. The keyboard part that is layered so delicately over that rocking beat was just so good!)
●The Gathering(Easily my favorite track of Delain’s! The whole band was jumping up and down, which in turn led the crowd to jump up and down too! More graceful hand gestures by Charlotte during the verses. And though the chance was practically 0%, I still was hoping that Marco Hietala would burst out from the back when his part came up on the pre-chorus. He didn’t. But at least we still could hear his backing vocals! Then, during the second chorus, Charlotte managed to sing the key change perfectly, while jumping. Impressive! And then the next chorus the instruments drop out and it’s just a cappella with us and the band clapping; I love it! We even got a “Come on!” scream from Charlotte that I still find adorable. Can you tell that I like this song yet? No? Here’s a video!)
●We Are the Others (More jumping, and screaming, and clapping; more of everything really. Nothing held back for their last song! I do believe this was the big fan favorite of the night, I heard lots of people singing along around me.)
●Rule the World (Cue dramatic music and epic light show. First out are Casey and Sean, followed by Coen and Alissa, then Thomas, and finally Tommy. We start right out with some chanting and clapping, not a very fast song but it has a very driving riff, and was a nice way to ease us into the night.)
●Torn (Alright, starting to pick up the pace a little. I like the use of reverb by Tommy for extra dramatic effect.)
●The Great Pandemonium (Right from the get go, Tommy jumps up on a platform and directs us to “Jump! Jump!” and mimics a puppet master controlling us. I loved watching Casey rock those toms during the chorus like it was no big deal. Then Coen did some sweet piano improvs while Tommy pandered to the crowd in the middle before Thomas’ blazing guitar solo.)
●Veritas (Interesting little track off the latest album. Alissa came down off her platform and sang for us front and center, showing off the more beautiful side of her vocal abilities.)
●Center of the Universe (An exciting, fan favorite here that elicited lots of movement from the crowd. Unfortunately, they had to play a little microphone juggling. Tommy’s mic died randomly and Thomas ended up having to most of the first verse. Alissa passed her mic off to Tommy… which left her mic-less in the middle of the song for her part. As it got closer, we could see her franticly waving to the stage tech to no avail, so she hops down from her platform and straight up steals Thomas’ mic from his stand. Despite all that, it went rather smoothly and the crowd still had a blast. Worst case? Let the crowd sing!)
●The Human Stain (A grindy start, and then a nice soaring chorus by Tommy. I love how Casey looks like he’s just flailing back and forth with his upper body during the chorus, but still hitting precisely with his arms.)
●Song for Jolee (Time to calm the waters a little. Tommy tells us that this is a sad song, about a brother who witnessed the death of his sister. It really killed the mood, hah. Fortunately, it was a beautiful ballad.)
●Drum Solo (Tommy introduced us to Casey “The Animal” Grillo, and boy was he an animal behind the drums.
●When the Lights Are Down (Alissa reappears, clad in white instead of her previous black, and she made use of her long flowy tail to make some dramatic gestures and poses. At one point, Thomas stole someone’s SF Giants hat and put it on, much to the amusement of the crowd. Once again, it was another high energy song with some amazing back-and-forth solos between Thomas and Coen.)
●Sacrimony (Angel of Afterlife) (The pole cam made its appearance here, and sadly after watching their tour blog, I’m sad to report that I did not appear in any of the footage We got a little more crowd participation, with Tommy testing out his invisible volume knob to increase our screaming. Then, they went right into probably my favorite track off their new album. Moving back and forth from heavy, to epic, to grand, it was really thrilling! The crowd was really eating it up too, belting out the chorus loudly. Alissa joined the rest of the band at the front of the stage and sounded great, both on Elize’s part, then her evil screaming part, then she sounded even more amazing on Elize’s last part, where she sings “I am your angel of afterlife.” The contrast was amazing! Tommy joins in at the end and they really sound great together.)
●My Confession (Tommy brings out the ladies of Eklipse to help out with this song. It gets a little cramped on stage but it’s so worth it! Everything about the song is catchy!)
●Don’t You Cry (Time for another ballad, and this time it’s a fan favorite. As my friend put it, I don’t think I’ve heard a room full of metalheads trying to sing so high… and actually hitting them. Both Tommy and Thomas were impressed!)
●Keyboard Solo (Beautiful piano solo by Coen. It started with a little improve, then after about a minute, he shifted to an arrangement of a song. He got real excited when people started singing along, but I really couldn’t figure out what it was. Then he ran through some impressive arpeggios to finish it off!)
●Forever (This song is a staple in Kamelot’s repertoire, so we were bound to hear it sooner or later. Thomas started it off with a slower and grander guitar solo with Coen backing him. Then without warning, the band blasted away to that frantic, exciting speed. Naturally, this song demanded lots of “woaaaaaah”-ing by us. Hopefully we didn’t disappoint!)
●Bass Solo (Impressive dreadlocks and an impressive bass solo, what’s not to like?)
●Ghost Opera (My favorite Kamelot song! What a way to get right back into the home stretch of the concert. I heard lots of singing around me, so I don’t think I was the only one who seemed to agree. I’m not sure if it was the acoustics, or if her voice just isn’t suited for the more classical style of singing, but Alissa’s backing vocals sounded a little off. Or perhaps it’s because hearing Elize warm up to that part in soundcheck last year totally wow’d me. Regardless, it still had that intense, epic feel to it!)
●Karma (Honestly, I didn’t hear much of this song because I ducked downstairs to use the bathroom and buy a Delain shirt. Sorry!)
●March of Mephisto (Ahh, we reach the end. Two of the girls form Eklipse returned to the stage to drum out this triumphant intro. That meant that it was time for Mephisto to march! Alissa once again made sure to claim her spot front and center, and there was a lot of good interaction between her and Tommy. Sean was whipping his hair everywhere, and there was a lot of intense chanting towards the end, led by everyone on stage. Everyone was really screaming their hearts out and throwing their fists in the air. Quite an exhilarating end to an energetic night!)
Thanks to the gal working the Delain merch booth downstairs, I was tipped off that the members of Eklipse and Delain would be hanging out after the show. Naturally, I jumped on this opportunity to say hello to Charlotte! I let her know how exciting it was to have them in our neck of the woods and to send regards to Marco, because he’s the coolest guy ever! I didn’t have anything to get signed, but I did get a picture with her! Wheeee!
So I was tipped off to this awesome site called Loot Crate on Twitter. It takes the idea of the mystery bags, turns it into a monthly subscription, and is aimed at geeks and gamers. It promises 6-8 hand selected items each month and clocks in at just under $20 for a monthly subscription, which can be even cheaper if you commit to more months. For that price, you really can’t loose! Which is why I decided to give it a shot! So I’m gonna liveblog opening my first one, because I can!