Ayreon is a name in itself –it’s a trademark and a benchmark of what progressive metal is. Arjen Anthony Lucassen, the mastermind behind Ayreon, was one of the few musicians in the beginning to bring forth the idea of a concept album. And while bands and musicians released concept albums, Arjen released a saga, where bands used their vocalist to portray different characters in the story –Ayreon had different vocalists to play different characters in his albums. While musicians experimented with various instruments to incorporate in their music to take it to the next level, Ayreon was already ahead in the race. As they say, ‘slow and steady wins the race’, and Ayreon’s first two albums, ‘The Final Experiment’ (1995) and ‘Actual Fantasy’ (1996), weren’t a big hit. Arjen tried to give Ayreon one last try and if he failed, he would shut down Ayreon. But the next album, ‘Into The Electric Castle’ (1998), was received with an immense amount of appreciation and is still considered one of the best albums by Ayreon.
With 8 Ayreon albums and several other albums from many more projects under Arjen’s name, fans longed to watch Ayreon live, but in vain. However, they accepted his reasoning that Ayreon albums are grand and majestic, with so many instruments and vocalists and complex music, that it isn’t feasible or logical to play Ayreon live. Soon after the second half of 2014 started and Arjen won the Virtuoso Award in Progressive Music Awards 2014, he announced that ‘The Human Equation’ would soon be played on stage in September 2015. Fans were rejoicing as Ayreon was finally going on stage, and as a theatre with the most emotional and hard-hitting album in Ayreon’s discography. The three dates that were initially announced were sold out as quickly as they went live and Arjen’s team was forced to add the 4th show on 20th September 2015. Since everyone couldn’t travel to Netherlands, fans requested them to record it as a DVD and release it. He listened to them, and that’s how ‘The Theater Equation’ came into existence.
Out of all the Ayreon albums, ‘The Human Equation’ is the only album that is not as grand as other albums, albeit the most emotional of them. With its evolution into ‘The Theater Equation’, even that is overcome. Most of it is the same as the original, except for Devin Townsend, Mikael Akerfeldt and Arjen Anthony Lucassen, who are replaced by Mike Mills, Anneke Van Giersbergen and Jermain ‘Wudstik’ Van Der Bogt, respectively. These may not be considered direct replacements as all three of them have different vocal ranges and singing styles than the original cast, but it is one of the important factors that sets ‘The Theater Equation’ apart from ‘The Human Equation’. Joost van den Broek is the director of the play and puts together a fantastic band to play the music on stage with long-time Ayreon drummer Ed Warby, Johan Van Stratum of Stream Of Passion on bass, and also the Epic Rock Choir.
Unlike other live DVDs, this does not focus on various fantastic camera angles. Rather, it’s a shooting of a play and the simplicity with which it is recorded grasps the essence of the show and make you feel like you’re part of the audience. Its enthralling simplicity and the stage that has been set-up, to a great extent, is what many imagined while listening to the album and seeing it performed live in its entirety is surreal. The acting by all the performers is sublime, and not for one second do you feel like they are not stage actors. Most of them had sung the same character in ‘The Human Equation’, so they knew their characters well and when your heart is in something, it will always be perfect. Just by looking you realize how grand the play must have been, and the 2 years that were spent only so that this two-hour play could be performed on a stage were worth it and the hard-work reflects in the DVD. The chemistry between the vocalists and musicians is commendable –it’s almost like it was one really huge band playing live. It never felt as if they are doing what they are being told to, and instead it feels like they are living it and you become a part of that life.
Though ‘The Theater Equation’ is an adaptation of ‘The Human Equation’ performed on stage, both of them are unique and have their distinct identities that can be only be felt when you listen to it. One may not be wrong to think seeing this show on DVD could never amount to what the audience saw live, but that’s what the rest of the fans have to suffice with –this DVD lacks nothing that you would have missed watching it in front of you.