Ayreon's Arjen Lucassen never does anything small or half way. No, everything about his latest project, The Theory of Everything is grand and expansive. But this time it's a bit different as well like using a smaller number of vocalists than before. Also, Lucassen choose vocalists he has never worked with before including Marko Hietala (Nightwish), Tommy Karevik (Kamelot), and Cristina Scabbia (Lacuna Coil).
Also, while never straying far from his beloved rock opera vehicle, Lucassen opts out of his sci-fi/fantasy motif for a story of human interest and passion.
At the center of the story is an autistic savant, The Prodigy , whose emotional deficits are counterbalanced by breathtaking mathematical genius. His Father is a brilliant but emotionally unavailable scientist who is determined find "The Theory of Everything," the equation that will explain and tie together all known physical phenomena. He designs to use his son's mathematical talents to achieve his own ends.
Additionally, the story is performed more on the side of traditional melodic progressive rock with some interesting twists. Lucassen wrote four 20 minute songs, than divided them into 42 pieces, eventually clocking in at nearly 90 minutes. As you you can guess, many pieces are short, and there are quite a few instrumentals as segues.
As for the sound of the album, it's strongly synthesizer and symphonic in character thanks to work of some quite famous musicians: Rick Wakeman, Keith Emerson, and Jordan Rudess. But that's not to say there's no guitar presence as it definitely gets a prog injection from Steve Hackett. The songs, through the lyrics, drive the story and curiously there are few choruses and very little repetition of lyrics throughout. Of the other differences, the concept, and production notes, you can read more about The Theory of Everything in this information sheet.
You'll note in that document that Lucassen remarks that musically TTOE reminds of Into The Electric Castle (1998), and lyrically to 2004's The Human Equation. Having not read the promo sheet before I listened that was the very conclusion I came to in the end. If you like those past directions, or are merely an Ayreon/Lucassen fan, you'll love this new album. Finally, it should be also noted that my digital promo copy was flawed: the song Potential simply went silent at the half way point. I don't think this was intentional, so I'm hoping it doesn't show up in the physical CDs.