Ayreon 1011001

Overflowing with the grandiose ambition you’d expect from an Ayreon rock opera, 01011001 is more memorable than its title suggests. The binary code offers a clue to the double album’s theme, a familiar one for Ayreon fans — technology figures large in the narrative, which chronicles the individual and social ills caused by widespread technological dependence on a planet called Y. The prosaic lyrics of some tracks signal the record’s weaker points, where rock opera verges on the dreaded "musical,” or falls into the trap of foregrounding storytelling over music. The jarring irony of combining folk balladry and "go nowhere cyber romance” in "Web of Lies,” for example, sounds laughable rather than witty, and "Newborn Race” is a little too "celebrity sing-along.” But overall, the corny is outweighed by the convincing on 01011001, as long as you’re not already biased against the concept album form or the progressive bombast it often produces. Songs like "Liquid Eternity” or "E=MC2” teem with compelling contrasts and are intense, powerfully atmospheric, even catchy at times, and the cast of players is strong, more diverse than you might expect. A combination of familiar voices, like After Forever’s Floor Jansen, share the limelight with a few surprising choices, such as Katatonia/Bloodbath’s Jonas Renkse (he even growls on one track). Jansen and Renkse, along with Hansi Kursh (Blind Guardian), Anneke von Giersbergen (ex-the Gathering), Ty Tabor (King’s X) and many other talents lead the ears along an always changing sonic path (an amalgamation of multiple genres) but ultimately, 01011001 is a hard rock extravaganza. (InsideOut/SPV)