It’s difficult to really discuss one of my favorite concept albums in a single post. In fact, you would need to spend hours, if not days, analyzing the infinite complexities and personalities of such an album. The album I’m referring to, of course, is Ayreon’s The Human Equation, which, in all fairness, shouldn’t really be categorized as a collection of songs. In classic Ayreon form, The Human Equation calls upon a wide range of musical influences and musicians for a truly ambitious display of sound.
The Human Equation dropped in 2004 as the six album in the Ayreon discography, a progressive metal project forged from the mind of Arjen Anthony Lucassen. Yet it wasn’t until 2007 that I managed to get my hands on it. I remember the moment distinctly, as it marked one of the first trips to The Sound Garden, the local record shop in Syracuse. At first, my attitude towards this was… we’ll say skeptical. This album is two discs, covering 20 tracks, and running at over an hour and forty minutes. In those days, my taste in metal was much simpler. Something this progressive and this conceptual just didn’t seem to fit what I actually gave a shit about. But after going through it, my attitude towards music changed significantly.
For one, a listener needs to understand the concept behind the album. These twenty tracks represent twenty days that our main character, a successful business man (at the expense of many) is a coma following a car accident. Each day is a new internal struggle. There is no means of crying out. There is no talking to the friends and family that surround him. It is simply internal suffering. He is forced to reflect on all the pain he is inflicted on others as a result of his own selfishness and his need to reach the top. Each day has its own personality and focuses on individual snapshots in significant periods of his life. As a listener, we follow his mental struggle, become one with the reflections and the internal turmoil he is experiencing.
Musical, the influences cover virtually the entire spectrum. From the acoustically melodic “Day Four: Mystery” through the weighted doom qualities of “Day Three: Pain” or “Day Twelve: Trauma”, there is nothing left to be explored. But it all works so cohesively, as the sounds enhance the emotions of each day perfectly. Furthering this point are the other masterminds at work. Within this internal struggle, he is battling the intersection of his own memories and emotions to maintain sanity. Each of these emotions is represented by a different personality. For example, Devin Townsend as Rage, Eric Clayton as Reason, and Mikael Åkerfeldt as Fear, to name a few. All these emotions surround James LaBrie as the main character as he struggles to grasp each of them. Each one of these musicians represents his assigned personality perfectly, generating a vocal and musical performance to match. For example, as Rage takes control in “Day Sixteen: Loser”, Devin ferociously barks “Never!” at the memories of an emotionally abusive father. The way each of these emotions become their own characters really allows the listener to become one with the main character, to the point where his struggles become ours, and his past becomes ours.
All ends positively, of course, where on the twentieth day the main character realizes he must confront everything in order to reawaken. All his painful memories of pain inflicted on him and pain he’s inflicted on others has come to surface and he is able to rejoin the world in a barrage of uplifting vocals and steadily increasing tempos. It’s a dedication of a listen, but it all comes full circle rather fantastically. As I’ve said, you could spend plenty of time studying the themes at work and the minds behind them, and believe me, the end product is certainly worth the effort. But before any of that, you need to know the background story. Hopefully, you have a head start. I embedded a playlist for the entirety of the album below. Enjoy.
“Ein Bier… bitte.”