Happy New Year, metalheads! As is our Arsies custom, the listening order is determined by coin toss. Ayreon gets the choice, and starts us off with The Source, and if ever there was an album designed to pander to the judges of this august competition, it'd be this one. A double album masterminded by Ajren Anthony Lucassen, a prog multi-instrumentalist who has a serious love for gear geekery and 70s- and 80s-era flourishes, The Source is jam-packed with guest musicians (vocalists from Dream Theater, Epica, Blind Guardian, Kamelot, and Symphony X, and others!). This behind-the-scenes video of the first track gives you an excellent sense of what you're dealing with here: an unbridled over-the-top Euro power metal prog smorgasbord that is an unapologetic paean to the music that we all love. The 90-minute runtime is understandable in that context, although it is exhausting.
It's a shame that Goatwhore drew this contest, as I can imagine Vengeful Ascension doing better in a different bracket. It's got the same malicious energy you've come to expect from the band, but with a bit more focus and refinement. Tracks like Under The Flesh, Into The Soul showcase the band's formula (a curious blend of grind, sludge, and post-hardcore) at its most successful, if not its most passionate. Where Goatwhore wins today is in replayability. But on virtually every other level, the Ayreon offers just too much metal to dismiss so quickly.
We'll find out in 3 weeks who they go up against next. As for tomorrow, we've got Ufomammut up against SikTh. No matter what, someone's going to be disappointed by this outcome. Them's the breaks!