Release Date: 1998.10.31.
Label: Transmission (later Inside Out, later again Music Theories)
Format: 1 CD
Release Date: 2011.08.20
Label: Inside Out
Format: 3 LP (gold, grey, black)
After the Actual Fantasy, sold way below expectations, Arjen was determined to deliver a top-quality recording without compromises. If the album had not been a success, Arjen said he would have no longer continued the Ayreon project. The fact that it remains the highest selling Ayreon album to date – with The Human Equation being a close second – tells us something about its qualities.
The record exceeded all expectations and became not just the greatest Ayreon album of the classic era, but one of the greatest rock-operas of all time. Without this album, no prog-rock collection can be complete.
However I’m not big fan of the terrifying castle on the album cover (actually I believe that none of the album covers fit very well to the world of Ayreon), in all other respects the album is my all time favorite with all its unforgettable songs like the “Castle Hall”, the “Two Towers” or the “Valley of the Queens”.
Some might say that the plot is a bit cheesy, and I must agree that I enjoy the novels of Asimov more indeed, however I argue that combined with the astonishing music and the sensational performance of the singers, the result is absolutely and shockingly amazing!
So do not be afraid… and read the story… it won’t hurt… : )
The album opens with a voice from the sky announcing to the eight characters (the Highlander, the Hippie, the Futureman, the Indian, the Egyptian, the Barbarian, the Knight, and the Roman) that they have been taken to the “cranial vistas of psychogenesis,” a mysterious non-place in a non-time. The voice commands the eight to seek out and enter the Electric Castle, and warns that they will be challenged with puzzles and tests of mettle.
Many of the eight believe they have all been taken to the afterlife (a demon-created realm, a “dark and evil jest,” Avalon, the great hall of Isis and Osiris, or the underworld). The Highlander voices concern that they will be lost, since none of them can recognise the constellations. However, the group takes flight into the cosmic realm, the Barbarian shouting of his courage and battle-worthiness and the exhilarated Hippie delighting at the marvels as they do so.
The Futureman, unsettled because even his advanced learning cannot explain what has happened, ruminates about the nature of their mystic surroundings, concluding that they must be trapped in a cyberworld; the Knight, confused by the Futureman’s speech, repeats his conviction that they are in Avalon, the isle of spirits, on a quest for the Holy Grail. The Roman rejects both of these explanations, fearing they are in the underworld and should seek to escape to Elysium.
At last, the eight arrive before the Decision Tree, where they are praised for their fortitude but also told that one of them must die before they continue. The Barbarian and the Highlander boast to each other of their accomplishments in battle, and both deny that they will be the ones to die. However, the Highlander’s prediction does not play out. He loses his will to go on, lies down, and dies, just as the others leap into the Tunnel of Light, believing themselves now to be entering heaven. Before they reach the Electric Castle, they must cross the Rainbow Bridge, which spans a sea of tears and fiery brine.
The Rainbow Bridge leads the seven travellers to the Garden of Emotions, which stands before the Electric Castle. The Hippie calls the Garden “groovy,” but the Egyptian senses that Amon-ra has chosen to seal her fate and end her life there. The Roman and the Barbarian contend for leadership of the group, becoming enraged and fighting before the Futureman realises that the Garden is amplifying their emotions, warning everyone that they must control their aggression. The Indian, meanwhile, prophesies that voices in the sky shall destroy their souls. The Egyptian finds her spirit broken in the Garden, and, overwhelmed by her emotions, lies down to die in the same manner as the Highlander.
The remaining travelers finally enter the Electric Castle, finding themselves in the great hall. There they are tested by the Gathering of the Spirits, as the killers among them (the Knight and the Barbarian) are tormented by the incarnate spirits of those they have killed. They survive, and climb the stairs to the Tower of Hope, still full of wonder about their dreamlike journey. At the pinnacle of the Tower, a breeze draws the attention of the Indian. Despite the others’ warnings, she is swept up by the wind, believing she will be taken to the sun and her soul made one with the universe. The wind is revealed to be Death itself, and the Indian is cast into oblivion, screaming as she dies.
The travelers, now five, continue to find themselves in the Mirror Maze, a world in which each of them must confront their ego-self. The Hippie is shown reflections of scenes from his childhood and adolescence while the Futureman contemplates the nature of fear and how humans bury it and their traumatic pasts inside themselves. The Roman shows signs that he has given up hope, but the Knight steels his resolve and breaks through the mirror, freeing them all to pass through. The travellers witness a vision of the future – a strange cyber brain which the Futureman calls a mutation of the human race – and are then presented with two gates by the voice from the skies. One is old and battered and the other golden, and one leads to freedom while the other leads to Oblivion. The Barbarian boldly strides through the golden gate, only to be cast into Oblivion and die; the final travellers successfully pass through the other gate. Before they return to their homes, the voice of Forever of the Stars explains that their ordeal has been part of an experiment for the Forever race to rediscover their lost emotions.
Forever of the Stars tells the final four travelers that they will not remember their experience. When they awaken in their respective times and places, the Hippie believes he was on a particularly convincing psychedelic trip, the Futureman believes his memory has been wiped, the Roman thinks himself reborn, and the Knight thinks he has found the grail within a dream. A fading voice asks them to all remember Forever.
It is important to point out that the Hippie was actually Mr. L, Arjen, whose memories the Forever failed to erase completely (or was it intentional?) so it became possible for him to write this very album…
– source (mostly): ayreon.fandom.com –
How does it fit to the History of The Universe?
Here you can find the answer.
1. Welcome To The New Dimension
2. Isis And Osiris
3. Amazing Flight
4. Time Beyond Time
5. The Decision Tree (We're Alive)
6. Tunnel Of Light
7. Across The Rainbow Bridge
8. The Garden Of Emotions
9. Valley Of The Queens
10. The Castle Hall
11. Tower Of Hope
12. Cosmic Fusion
13. The Mirror Maze
14. Evil Devolution
15. The Two Gates
16. "Forever" Of The Stars
17. Another Time, Another Space