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With Ayreon, Dutch multi-instrumentalist Arjen Anthony Lucassen has built a career around massive prog metal opuses with hordes of guest vocalists. Basically, anybody in metal who can hold a tune has sung for Ayreon at some point. 01011001 features Anneke Van Giersbergen (ex-the Gathering), Jonas Renkse (Katatonia), Floor Jansen (After Forever), Tom Englund (Evergrey), Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian), Simone Simons (Epica), Ty Tabor (King's X), and Daniel Gildenlow (Pain of Salvation), among many others. These singers are the focal points of their bands, but in Ayreon, they're merely characters in Lucassen's rock operas. 01011001 is a sprawling two-disc set that one critic called "the longest CD ever made." Indeed, the album spans 100 minutes, and feels like 100 years. It's a perfect fit for the Inside/Out label -- pristine production, byzantine songs that feel like full albums, hi-tech synths that wish they were guitars. Lucassen really, really likes his synths; in "Waking Dreams," he entirely forgoes bass in favor of a percolating ostinato that suggests a beefier Kraftwerk. Electronics also pervade the percussion; "Beneath the Waves" is as if Alan Parsons covered the Beastie Boys' "So What'cha Want." Ray gun synths, operatic vocals, fake and real strings, and even Celtic melodies adorn this sonic mansion. Its ambition would be laughable if the record didn't actually fulfill it often. Admittedly, such fulfillment was purchased at Guitar Center (or its Dutch equivalent); the record is most touching when it strips down to acoustic guitar on the gorgeously compact "Web of Lies." These two discs, subtitled Planet Y and Earth, are about humanity's disconnect with itself and destruction of the planet. But that's really not important. Music this over the top almost defies criticism. Reviewing it is like reviewing the world's tallest building. It doesn't care; it just goes on and on.

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