Review: Ayreon – ‘Transitus’

Time to switch off Netflix, sign out of social media, and kiss the family goodbye for a few hours, for Arjen Lucassen has delivered another flawless, immersive Ayreon rock-opera which is going to take a few hours out of your life: ‘Transitus’.

With a subject matter as old as time itself; forbidden love, ‘Transitus’ is set in the Victorian-era and is the tale of rich man’s son Daniel (played by Tommy Karevik of Kamelot) who falls in love with servant girl Abby (played by Cammie Gilbert of Oceans Of Slumber). As with any tale of star-crossed lovers, Daniel and Abby are doomed from the start, and after Daniel dies in a tragic accident, seemingly caused by Abby, he finds himself in Transitus: the strange dimension between heaven and hell. Daniel meets the Angel Of Death (Simone Simons of Epica) and pleads with her for the opportunity to go back and try to help Abby clear her name. And then the main story begins. Mere words sell the story short, but luckily Lucassen has Tom Baker on hand as narrator to ensnare the listener with his unmistakeable, wonderfully expressive voice (so good, that it’s hard to resist the urge to replay his intro over and over again).

‘Transitus’ begins with the ten-minute suite ‘Fatum Horrificum’ which is broken into six parts, some purely instrumental, some with vocals. The playing over the ten minutes is staggering; the beautiful string arrangement that leads into Gilmour-esque guitar work from Lucassen on ‘Daniel and Abby’, the incredible Hellscore choir on ‘Fatum’: a track that tips the hat to ‘Holst’s ‘Mars, the Bringer of War’, Karevik’s pleas during ‘Why’, backed by what seems to be a wall of brass instruments, ending on the introduction of Cammie Gilbert who trades lines with her Father (Johanne James of Threshold). The perfect introduction to ‘Transitus’, and that’s just the opening ten minutes!

Once Karevik hangs up his “metal” credentials, he has a long and illustrious Broadway career ahead of him, and ‘Daniels Descent into Transitus’ followed by his first meeting with Simons (and her Furies: played by the wonderful pair of Marcela Bovio and Caroline Westendorp) on ‘Listen to My Story’ has the young Swede at his very best, while Simone Simons does what she does best – steal the show. Once the Angel Of Death sweeps Daniel back in time on ‘Two Worlds Now One’, he tells the tale of his first meeting with Abby (who also appears) and how things would never be the same. Cammie Gilbert might be a new name to some, but the last few Oceans Of Slumber albums have quietly helped her stock rise, when fans hear her on ‘Transitus’ the Spotify account from OOS should take a battering.

A good old-fashioned love story usually features a betrayal or two, and Daniel’s brother Henry (Paul Manzi: Arena, Cats In Space, The Sweet) is the one that betrays Daniel to their father, played in some style by Dee Snider (“not a man to be tampered with”). ‘Get Out! Now!’ features the inimitable Snider at his snarling best (“we don’t mix with the staff, we keep to our own”) and as much as you try; you won’t be able to stop singing his line..“…you don’t give a damn about protocol” at every opportunity. Damn, the hooks in this one are massive, and top marks go to Daniel when he asks his Father; “how can you be so twisted”! Throw in a killer guitar solo from Joe Satriani, stellar work from Ayreon-staple Joost Van Den Broek and his Hammond, some rather nifty drum work from a new member to the Ayreon family, Juan Van Emmerloot, and the end result is a real earworm moment that lingers around for some time afterward.

From here on in there are plot-spoilers left, right, and centre, plot twists a-plenty, maybe not on the grand scale of Jon Snow pumping his Aunt in Game of Thrones, but you will have to discover them on your own. Move along, nothing to see here. But, what are Henry and Lavinia (Abby’s stepmother; played by Amanda Somerville) up to? Will their conspiracy succeed? Or is there one more cruel twist to follow? You’ll need to listen to the album, and read the ‘Transitus’ comic book to find out.

As you would expect from anything with the Ayreon name attached, ‘Transitus’ is expansive, and multi-layered. The cast is perfect, with both Karevik and Gilbert excelling in the lead roles. As usual with Ayreon, the “supporting” cast play a vital role. The vast talents of the vocalists on display, no matter how little they are on “stage” for, are staggering (especially Michael Mills fleeting appearance as The Statue, and the duet between Gilbert and Somerville on ‘Message From Beyond’). The same can be said of the incredible band of players that Lucassen as assembled. Special mention should go to Ayreon mainstays Joost Van Den Broek and Ben Mathot, Patty Gurdy on the hurdy gurdy, as well as the insane talents of the Hellscore Choir conducted by Noa Gruman. The tall hippy on guitars and various other instruments? Yeah, he’s also pretty decent and he gets to come back on the next project.

Along with Tobias Sammet and Avantasia, Arjen Lucassen is constantly pushing the boat out further with each release, and proving to naysayers that they do indeed “make them like that anymore”.

Available September 25th, pre-order here.

Review – Dave

Arjen images – Lori Linstruth

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