By Carl Begai
In 2004, Dutch multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and über-nerd Arjen Lucassen released his ongoing Ayreon project’s critically acclaimed sixth album, The Human Equation. It was yet another concept album featuring a line-up of guest vocalists and musicians, but unlike its predecessors The Human Equation was not a sci-fi based metal opera. The record became a fan favourite, so much so that it was brought to the stage as a full production in 2015 under the name The Theater Equation. Lucassen returned to his science fiction stomping grounds for the three albums that followed – 01011001 (2008), The Theory Of Everything (2013) and The Source (2017) – but 2020 sees him exploring new territory once again on new album, Transitus. Boasting a cast that features performers including Tommy Karevik (Kamelot), Cammie Gilbert (Oceans Of Slumber), Simone Simons (Epica), Dee Snider (Twisted Sister), Amanda Somerville, Marty Friedman, Joe Satriani and The Hellscore Choir, the record is far more down to earth – close to it, at any rate – and was originally imagined by Lucassen as a movie soundtrack. Three years in the making, Transitus is the Ayreon album that almost wasn’t.
BraveWords spoke with Lucassen, Keravik and The Hellscore Choir’s founder / conductor Noa Gruman (Scardust vocalist) about the making of what is being regarded by many fans as Ayreon’s strongest album since The Human Equation.
BraveWords: You’re going to hear a lot of comparisons between Transitus and The Human Equation, largely due to the fact Transitus is the warmest album you’ve done since then. It’s a lot more open than some of your previous albums, far less dense on the musical side of things.
Lucassen: “It’s cool that you say ‘warmest’ because that’s exactly what I wanted to do. The previous Ayreon album, The Source, is not a warm album. It’s a pretty cold subject, it’s a prog metal album, it’s very guitar oriented, and this time I only wanted to use real instruments. I’m so glad you said that…”
BraveWords: Transitus has a similar feel and flow to The Human Equation, and even Into The Electric Castle. The character roles being played by the singers, the songs, the story…. it all draws the listener in quite easily.
Lucassen: “Transitus was set out to be a movie so drawing people in was the intention. I’m a huge movie fan and I wanted to realize one of my dreams, which was to make a movie of my own. So, I set out making Transitus with that in mind.”
BraveWords: What was the inspiration behind the Transitus story? It’s a not-so-simple love story at its core.
Lucassen: “I wanted to do something new, so I decided not to do sci-fi this time. And ever since I saw The Omen and The Exorcist I’ve been a huge fan of horror – not the splatter stuff, the unseen – and always wanted to do something with it. Somehow that didn’t fit into the Ayreon concept. I set it in the 19th Century because there were no mobile phones (laughs)… and because it was just a cool century for things like Jack The Ripper and things like that. I watched a lot of ghost movies and horror movies to get inspired.”
BraveWords: It’s a twist on what you usually do; Arjen stepping out of his comfort zone.
Lucassen: “I like to think so. On the one side that’s good, but on the other hand I’m worried about whether the fans will like it. It’s not complicated or heavy, there aren’t a lot of long instrumental parts, but we’ll see.”
BraveWords: How could this not be an Ayreon record to your mind? It checks off all the boxes for the fans as far as what they want to hear. Again, that’s an opinion based on the similarities between Transitus and The Human Equation, which was a huge success for you.
Lucassen: “Because it’s so different from the last few albums, especially different from The Source. It was just my feeling. I played it to people and they said ‘Yeah, it sounds like typical you.’ I think the previous Ayreon albums are more like rock operas, and this is more of a rock musical. That’s the big difference. The album was finished. I had plans for the movie and I had spoken with people would have filmed it, I was getting there in terms of funding, it was going well, and then the whole Corona thing started. So, obviously, nobody was going to invest millions of euros in a film. Also, shooting big scenes with a lot of people in them wasn’t possible. The movie wasn’t going to happen but I wasn’t going to put the music on a shelf – I’m way too impatient for that (laughs) – so I decided it wasn’t going to be a movie, but I should make it an Ayreon album instead.”
BraveWords: You’ve worked with actors John de Lancie and the late Rutger Hauer as narrators for your work (on Electric Castle Live And Other Tales, and Lost In The New Real respectively). How did you end up working with yet another legend, Tom Baker of Doctor Who fame?
Lucassen: “There was no narration on the album when it was done, and with the first track (‘Fatum Horrificum’) being 10 minutes long and going from one extreme to the other, I was told it was hard to get into. So, I decided to go back to the idea of a narrator like on Electric Castle, but if I was going to do that I needed the best (laughs). I wanted a voice like Richard Burton when he did The War Of The Worlds (1978), that voice you were just waiting for. As a huge Doctor Who fan, Tom Baker was at the top of the list, so there was a lot of negotiating with his agency and we finally worked it out. I wrote the narration for his voice, like a grandfather telling a story to his grandchild, because I want people to enter the story. Tom really put himself into the role, including the humour he brought to Doctor Who. He told me ‘I didn’t have to play that part; I was the Doctor…’ and I found that out. That was one of the best days of my life, meeting Tom Baker.”
Read the complete story featuring Lucassen, Tommy Keravik and Noa Gruman here: http://bravewords.com/features/ayreon-human-equations-and-horror-stories .