Hard Reviews 5
by Martin Popoff

Ayreon - Universal Migrator Part 1: The Dream Sequencer
Ayreon - Universal Migrator Part 2: Flight Of The Migrator
(InsideOut '00)

Prog metal heaven awaits those who wade into this 135 minute mega-opus, split over two separate CD releases. Universal Migrator is the mindchild of Arjen Anthony Lucassen, formerly with Bodine and Vengeance, now a pilot of power prog extraordinaire. The story covers space and time, time including history of man and even pre-history. But without provided lyrics, chances are few will penetrate. For those who treat this like a regular rocker, Universal Migrator is of two minds. The second disc is the heavier one (and both are studded with power metal guest stars), but the cool thing is the wide separation between instruments, the plentiful keyboards, even B3-type sounds. It's accessible prog metal, clear, enjoyable, not really that heavy. But The Dream Sequencer is even more distinct, Lucassen achieving one of the more committed and involved marriages between mid-years Pink Floyd, late years Hawkwind and mellow modern prog metal. His enthusiasm is infectious, and given that he dedicated these 70 minutes to the idea, he goes way further than any mod Euro gleam machine has ever dared. Add to this a fairly uniform melancholy, and you've really got a modern version of Wish You Were Here or Animals. Vocalists of note: Lana Lane, Johan Edlund, Neal Morse (all on disk one) and Ralf Scheepers, Andi Deris, Bruce Dickinson, Fabio Lione, Timo Kotipelto and Ian Parry (all on disc two).
Rating 9, 8

Apocalyptica - Cult

Album #3 finds Eicca Toppinen really taking the leap and writing everything on the album except for three tracks, two Metallica covers and the band's first true classic cover, Hall Of The Mountain King. Interest is kept moderately high though, because the band have fleshed out the bottom end with more "rhythm cello", as well as a pretty good bunch of orchestral percussion. Some of these sound like the band's metal covers, some like classical, and unsurprisingly, some like mellow points from dreamy romantic goth metal. But once the novelty of recognizing the tune is stripped from the equation, what you've got is a metal knucklehead like me finding himself in a room with a bunch of cellos, and, significantly, no vocals. So like, if a Satriani album can't float my boat, this doesn't stand a chance, although give Apocalyptica credit for proving they can write metal. What we really need now is vocals and drums, and that's it. These guys can handle rhythm, lead, bass... bring it on! And the Metallica? Until It Sleeps does so, and Fight Fire With Fire does so too, bringing back Apocalyptica's hilarious "swarm of locusts" sizzle.
Rating 5