Even the speech here takes almost seven minutes. Arjen Lucassen doesn’t do things by halves.

Which sort of brings us to September 2023, and Ayreon playing live. This doesn’t happen a lot – basically, it is too complicated to do and Lucassen is one of those people who are content in the studio, like some genius musical alchemist, creating and plotting.

What it does mean though, is that any time they do get on stage, it feels like an event, not a show (I have never seen them, but I have seen Avantasia and I guess the vibe is similar?)

This brings us to September 2023 and an endeavour to play the labyrinthine, “01011001’, and bring it to life.

The 2008 album was meant to be too hard to play live and certainly “Age of the Shadows” is epic and on a different scale to mere mortals – even the aforementioned Avantasia perhaps – as the operatic part shows, huge harmonies, soundscapes.

The rumble of the drums on “Comatose”, the folk elements, and the bassline of “Connect The Dots” – they are from the highest echelon.

Well might they be in fairness, given the cast of thousands here including keyboardist Joost van den Broek, assembled a remarkable lineup, featuring many original cast members from the “01011001” album. Various special guests such as Simone Simons (Epica), Damian Wilson (Threshold), Anneke van Giersbergen, Jonas Renkse (Katatonia), Tom Englund (Evergrey), Daniel Gildenlow (Pain of Salvation), Marcela Bovio (MaYan), Brittney Slayes (Unleash the Archers), Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian), John Jaycee Cuijpers (Praying Mantis), Maggy Luyten (Beautiful Sin), Michael Mills (Toehider) and Wudstik, among others are here and it feels like an ensemble cast, not a gig.  The fact “Beneath The Waves” sounds like a soundtrack rather shines a light on this.

On the acoustic “Newborn Race” those folk elements are even more to the fore, or at least until it explodes.  Even the shorter ones like “Ride The Comet” are multi-layered, while “Web Of Lies” is almost gentle, like a palette cleanser. Something that  “Fifth Extinction” is not.

There is a bewildering, dazzling array of things going on here. The electronics of “Waking Dreams” for example and thats before the solo. “Unnatural Selection” has dazzling vocal interplay, and “River Of Time” is awash with flute.

A lot of this feels apocalyptic – “e + mc2” has the clock ticking, “Sixth Extinction” continues feeling oppressive and overbearing

But they’re brilliant. “This Human Equation” proves it. That is the first of the encores – the non “01011001” songs if you will, and here the power metal of “Fate Of Man” is perfect, while the last one, as befits such a journey is a stunning epic. “The Day The World Breaks” is a real sort of “tie up the loose ends moment”, too.

They aren’t a normal band, this is not a normal live album. If for many, the idea of leaving them wanting more is the key, then “01011001 – Live Beneath The Waves” can be thought of as an all-you-can-eat buffet. It might be too much for one sitting, but my, it is tasty.

Rating 8.5/10

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