If the bedrock of progressive rock is to throw caution to the wind and to indulge your wildest musical flights of fancy, then Arjen Anthony Lucassen is a modern-day titan of the genre.

On March 27, Music Theories Recordings/Mascot Label Group release ‘Ayreon – Electric Castle Live And Other Tales’, a 3 LP/2CD+DVD/BD set of last year’s spectacular live performance of the third Ayreon album ‘Into The Electric Castle’. Over four nights at Tilburg’s 013 venue (the scene of Lucassen’s Ayreon Universe series of live shows in 2017) Lucassen, his band and one of modern progressive music’s most emphatic of casts celebrated the 20th anniversary of ‘Into the Electric Castle’ in front of 12,000 adoring fans from 64 different countries who had flown in from around the world.

Because it was the 20th anniversary of the album, and we’d just remixed and re-released it, we figured it was the perfect moment to perform this live”, says Lucassen. “The Ayreon Universe shows were such a fantastic experience for everyone involved, and I’d had loads of requests for more live shows, so we decided to perform the entire ‘Electric Castle’ album back at the 013, and also play one track from each of my side projects billed as ‘Other Tales’.

Released in 1998, ‘Into The Electric Castle’ is your classic tale of an epic quest. Set in “no time and no space”, it tells the story of eight individuals who are guided by a mysterious voice and tasked with finding the mysterious Electric Castle. The original album features amongst others Fish (the Highlander), Lucassen (the Hippie), Edwin Balogh (The Roman), Anneke van Giersbergen (the Egyptian), Damian Wilson (the Knight) and Edward Reekers (the Futureman), all of whom repeated their performances for the live spectacular.

Also among the 22 musicians and singers who made up the impressive cast list were long-time Lucassen collaborators Thijs Van Leer (Focus), Simone Simons (Epica), John Jaycee Cuijpers (Praying Mantis), Marcela Bovio and musicians Joost van den Broek, Johan van Stratum, Marcel Singor, Ferry Duijsens, Bob Wijtsma and Ben Mathot.

Having made a name for himself in the 1980s with Dutch hard rock bands Bodine and Vengeance, and with his first solo album in 1993, it is with Ayreon that Lucassen has truly made a name for himself as a composer of unbridled imagination and creativity.

Having set out his stall with the first two Ayreon albums ‘The Final Experiment’ (1995) and ‘Actual Fantasy’ (1996), as a creator of vivid musical works built around some of the finest talent in the prog and rock worlds, everything seemed to align perfectly with 1998’s ‘Into The Electric Castle’.

I poured my heart and soul into it”, says Lucassen of the original album. “Investing everything I had both financially and creatively, and enlisted the best instrumentalists and singers I could find in the world at that time. When making the album I was unconstrained by any musical or stylistic boundaries and incorporated many of my favourite musical styles. ‘Into The Electric Castle’ received an overwhelmingly positive reception from both the press and the fans. This firmly established the Ayreon name, making Ayreon the perfect project to pour all of my time and creative energy into.

Although best known as a studio-based musician, Lucassen slowly countered his fear of performing live when he first joined long-time collaborator Anneke van Giersbergen for some live dates in 2015, before tackling the more elaborate theatre staging of his 2004 Ayreon album ‘The Human Equation’ in Rotterdam over four nights the same year (on which he served as special advisor). He went even further in 2017 when he appeared on stage with his star-studded ‘Ayreon Universe’ shows at Tilburg’s 013.

I get absolutely crippling stage fright”, he says. “Up to the night before the Tilburg shows, I was having dreadful panic attacks. But it’s all for a good cause!

Creating a live show for ‘Into The Electric Castle’ seemed like the logical next step, and the four 2019 shows were a resounding success, captured for posterity in ‘Ayreon – Electric Castle Live and Other Stories’. In fact, it all went so well, that Lucassen is taking the show to headline the prestigious German progressive rock festival Night Of The Prog in June of this year.

I just love recording my various projects in the studio,” he concurs, “but I’m not a live performer. I’m the guy who comes up with the ideas, sees the big picture, and puts it all together. So I’m glad that so many incredible musicians helped me bring my music to the stage.

Track Listing:

1. Welcome to the New Dimension
2. Isis and Osiris
3. Amazing Flight
4. Time Beyond Time
5. The Decision Tree
6. Tunnel of Light
7. Across the Rainbow Bridge
8. The Garden of Emotions
9. Valley of the Queens
10. The Castle Hall
11. Tower of Hope
12. Cosmic Fusion
13. Robby Valentine
14. The Mirror Maze
15. Evil Devolution
16. The Two Gates
17. Forever of the Stars
18. Another Time, Another Space
19. Shores of India
20. Ashes
21. Out In The Real World
22. Twisted Coil
23. Kayleigh
24. Pink Beatles in a Purple Zeppelin
25. Songs of the Oceans

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Jan Akkerman will be releasing ‘Close Beauty‘, his first studio album in 8 years and his first on Music Theories Recordings / Mascot Label Group on 25th October 2019.

At 72 years old, the supremely gifted guitarist is equalled by very few and his legendary ability makes him impossible to pigeon hole. His position as Dutch royalty has been cemented, he received the Golden Harp Award in early 2005, Holland’s most prestigious music prize and in 2012 he was appointed Knight in the Order of Orange-Nassau, a royal honour that acknowledged his contribution to Dutch music and his influence on musicians around the world.

Akkerman was a founding member of Focus from 1969 to 1976 where he recorded a number of breakout albums including, ‘Focus II/Moving Waves‘ (1971). The album spawned the mega-hit ‘Hocus Pocus which reached #9 on the US Billboard Chart, #12 in The Netherlands and #20 in the UK singles chart and the song has gone on to appear on numerous TV shows such as; Top Gear, Skins, Supernatural, Vinyl, My Name is Earl and Shameless as well we the 2007 film Hot Fuzz, 2014 remake of Robocop and 2017s Baby Driver. The song has been covered by a number of other artists including Iron Maiden, Marillion, Helloween, Gary Hoey, The Vandals and Vanessa-Mae. ‘Focus 3‘ (1972) featured another hit single in ‘Sylvia‘ which reached #4 in the UK singles chart and led to an appearance on The Old Grey Whistle Test and Top of the Pops.. That year Melody Maker declared him the ‘Best guitarist of the world’, above Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page.

 ‘Close Beauty’ is the return of the distinctive ‘Akkerman-sound’, which runs like a thread through twelve compositions; acoustic, electric, solo performing and accompanied by his own band, Marijn van den Berg (drums), David de Marez Oyens (bass) and Coen Molenaar (keyboards). Molenaar also produced the album, which was recorded at Marten Haak’s Studio.

From the panoramic sound of ‘Beyond The Horizon‘, ‘Tommy’s Anniversary‘ and ‘Meanwhile In St. Tropez‘, the melancholy of ‘Passagaglia‘ and ‘Reunion‘ to the fun of playing in ‘Good Body Every Evening‘ and the sophisticated opening track ‘Spiritual Privacy‘, ‘Close Beauty‘ is hard to categorize, in the best Akkerman tradition.  Talking about the new album, Jan says: ‘I’ve always been able to tell that none of my albums sound the same. Exploring new things is something that I’d always wanted to do. Harmonica player Toots Thielemans once told me: ‘your timing, that’s your signature, your autogram’. I consider ‘Close Beauty’ exactly like that. If you stand very close to a cow, you can’t tell it’s a cow, after all.’

He has collaborated with a number of musicians including Alan Price (The Animals), Jack Bruce and Ice T and counts fans in Brian May who said Akkerman was “totally a hero of mine, there are some people in life that no matter how old you are, you feel nervous if you meet someone, he’s one of those, he’s a real role model”. B.B. King has also talked highly of him saying, “How can you forget a guy like Jan, usually with people that are as great as he is, you know of them, but you don’t always get to know them or their music, but you know their reputation. The nights that we played together was great, I wish I could play the things that he did.” Whilst Yes guitarist Peter Banks has also lauded him calling him “an almost perfectly formed musician, his classical playing was tremendous and his improvising was second to none.”

For generations, he has impressed and inspired large numbers of guitarists with his timing, harmonics, virtuosity and his ability to perform with a wide range of musicians from various musical backgrounds.

Close Beauty‘ can be considered as one of Jan’s most varied works, while this record is his first album in almost 30 years that also gets a vinyl release. The album took well over a year to complete and talking about it Akkerman says, “The title was inspired from a simple notion, that when you are too close to an object you cannot see the real value. The same applies to music.” “My aim is to create beauty in my music,” he continues. “I like diversity and freedom.”

Track listing:

1. Spiritual Privacy (Sunset Tango)
2. Beyond The Horizon
3. Reunion
4. Close Beauty
5. Retrospection (Emotional Debris-The Power Behind The Throne-Hear The Trees  Whistle Doe The Dog-Euridice)
6. Passagaglia
7. Tommy’s Anniversary
8. Don Giovanni
9. Meanwhile In St. Tropez
10. French Pride
11. Fromage
12. Good Body Early Evening

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Jason Becker is thrilled to reveal the official video for his brand new song ‘Hold On To Love’ featuring singer Codany Holiday, taken from the new album ‘Triumphant Hearts,’ which will be released on 7 December 2018 via Music Theories Recordings/Mascot Label Group.

Jason Becker’s story is one of brilliance, talent, determination, adversity, and, ultimately, triumph. A child prodigy on guitar, Jason rose to prominence as a teenager when he was one half of Cacophony, with Marty Friedman. In 1989, at only 19 years old, the young virtuoso became the guitarist for David Lee Roth, following in the huge footsteps of Eddie Van Halen and Steve Vai. He wrote and recorded on ‘A Little Ain’t Enough’ and was poised for superstardom when a nagging pain in his leg was diagnosed as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Motor Neurone Disease (MND). The same condition Stephen Hawking had. A fatal condition with a life expectancy of maybe five years. Maybe.

That was 29 years ago.  He lost the ability to play guitar, walk, talk, and breathe on his own. Communicating through a series of eye movements with a system developed by his father, Jason spells out words as well as musical notes and chords. He imparts his musical vision to his team who then can input the notes into a computer, edit the parts to his exacting standards, and then generate charts for session musicians. His inspiring life story was the subject of an award-winning documentary, Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet.

Talking about the new song he says; “This is my story, and in a way, everyone’s story. Life – we are all just trying to be happy. People are baffled that I can be happy after almost 30 years with ALS. Even I sometimes wonder how it is possible. This song is the simple answer. Most of this video takes place in my mind. I am talking to myself, looking for answers, thinking about the past and some of the people I love, and it all comes out in music.

The song was written by Becker and features California singer Codany Holiday, the highly rated guitarist Daniele Gottardo, who also counts fans in Steve Vai as well as Matt Bissonette (bass) and Gregg Bissonette (drums) who between them have played with Joe Satriani, David Lee Roth, Ringo Starr, Jeff Lynne, Elton John, Santana and more. The video was directed by Mike Sloat (Lynyrd Skynyrd, Tom Waits, Staind, Machine Head, Testament)

Elaborating further on the song he says; “I wrote the first melody years ago on a flute sample and the chords on a harp sample. I knew I would want a guitar to play it, so I phrased it like I would play it on guitar. It was going to be an instrumental, but after I wrote the chorus with lyrics, I knew I had to tell my story, and explain how I can continue living without feeling hate. I hadn’t written many lyrics before. Most of them came to me, along with the melody phrasing, as I lie in bed alone at around 2AM. Silence is good for writing music. The following day when I got in my wheelchair, I would put the melody in, and then type the words. “

He continues; “You know, people feel sorry for me, and I understand that. I feel lucky though. I am surrounded by loving people, and I can still make music. I don’t miss playing guitar anymore. I am sure that is out of necessity, but I am grateful for so much more. My sadness comes from seeing everyone else suffer. No matter how well off a person is, they are going to die like everyone else. We all are just trying to be happy. I am trying to find the answer like everyone else.”

In addition to its beautiful, gospel-tinged choir, the heartfelt song features Bay Area singer Codany Holiday, who came to Jason’s home to record in his living room. He did it in 5 straight hours, with no break. “Dan (Alvarez) and I were blown away by his emotional and soulful take on the message of the song. He really brought it to life,” he remembers. “A fan/friend named Andrew Jay played the intro guitar solo. The rest of the guitar is by my friend and fellow composer, Daniele Gottardo. Daniele’s wonderful mom wrote to me, asking if I would find a place on the album for Daniele. That melted me. That is something my mom might do. I am already a fan and friend of his, so we happily made it so. He worked so hard to make me happy.

The album’s 14 tracks showcase Jason’s gift for melody and his deep knowledge of classical composition and orchestral arrangement. Many of the guitar parts are performed by a who’s who of 6-string gods including Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Neal Schon, Steve Morse, Paul Gilbert, Joe Bonamassa, Marty Friedman, Uli Jon Roth, Richie Kotzen, Gus G and many others. And, in what will absolutely delight his fans, Jason’s amazing guitar playing—recorded in the ’80s and ’90s—features throughout.

Jason Becker will release a brand new album, ‘Triumphant Hearts’ on  7 December 2018 via Music Theories Recordings/Mascot Label Group.

The album features Marty Friedman, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Neal Schon, Steve Morse, Paul Gilbert, Joe Bonamassa, Uli Jon Roth, Richie Kotzen, Gus G., Jake Shimabukuro, and many more.

Pre-Order Live Here: http://smarturl.it/JasonBecker

Jason Becker’s story is one of brilliance, talent, determination, adversity, and, ultimately, triumph. A child prodigy on guitar, Jason rose to prominence as a teenager when he was one half of the technical guitar duo Cacophony, with his great friend Marty Friedman. In 1989, at only 19 years old and after wowing audiences all over the world, the young virtuoso became the guitarist for David Lee Roth, following in the huge footsteps of Eddie Van Halen and Steve Vai. He wrote and recorded on his 3rd solo album ‘A Little Ain’t Enough’ and was poised for superstardom when a nagging pain in his leg was diagnosed as Motor Neurone Disease (MND), also known as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, the same condition Stephen Hawking.. A fatal condition with a life expectancy of maybe five years. Maybe.

That was 29 years ago.  He lost the ability to play guitar, walk, talk, and breathe on his own. But never lost his will to live or his desire to create music. Communicating through a series of eye movements with a system developed by his father, Jason spells out words as well as musical notes and chords. He imparts his musical vision to his team who then can input the notes into a computer, edit the parts to his exacting standards, and then generate charts for session musicians. His inspiring music and life story have been the subject of countless news articles, magazine cover stories, and an award-winning documentary, Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet.

The album’s 14 tracks showcase Jason’s gift for melody and his deep knowledge of classical composition and orchestral arrangement. Many of the guitar parts are performed by a who’s who of 6-string gods including Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Neal Schon, Steve Morse, Paul Gilbert, Joe Bonamassa, and many others. And, in what will absolutely delight his fans, Jason’s amazing guitar playing—recorded in the ’80s and ’90s—features throughout.

The first song to be released from the album is the beautifully mesmerizing 9 minute and 5 second instrumental ‘Valley of Fire’ that features The Magnificent 13Steve Vai, Joe Bonamassa, Paul Gilbert, Neal Schon, Marty Friedman, Michael Lee Firkins, Mattias IA Eklundh, Greg Howe, Jeff Loomis, Richie Kotzen, Gus G, Steve Hunter and Ben Woods. A phenomenal cast to feature on a single song.

The album opens with the title track, featuring Jason’s old bandmate Marty Friedman and an astounding violin performance. “I wrote ‘Triumphant Heart’ and it made me feel triumphant,” says Becker. “When Marty found out I was making this album, he told me he would play anything I needed. I sent him this, and his wife, Hiyori Okuda, who is a cellist, also offered to play on it. The great violinist, Glauco Bertagnin, recorded my violin parts in Italy. That fast solo section I wrote is way too hard; I don’t know how Glauco pulled it off. He put so much soul in the whole song.

‘Hold on to Love’ is the first vocal song on the record, although it didn’t start out that way. “It was going to be an instrumental,” explains Jason, “but after I wrote the chorus with lyrics, I knew I had to tell my story, to explain how I can continue living without feeling hate. I hadn’t written many lyrics before.” In addition to its beautiful, gospel-tinged choir, the heartfelt song features Bay Area singer Codany Holiday on lead vocals.

‘Fantasy Weaver’ displays the 4-string magic of world-renown ukulele master Jake Shimabukuro and harp arpeggios that were written back in his Cacophony days. ‘Once Upon a Melody’ not only features two Jason Becker guitar solos from his Cacophony era, but also audio of him as a three-year-old. The full-circle nature of having little boy Jason, guitar virtuoso Jason, and modern-day composer Jason all on the same song is a breathtaking accomplishment while ‘We Are One,’ features soulful Flipsyde vocalist Steve Knight, and more Jason Becker guitar delights.

Uli Jon Roth appears on ‘Magic Woman,’ along with ex-Megadeth guitarist Chris Broderick who counts both Uli and Jason as big influences. Fans of Jason’s work with David Lee Roth will be thrilled by the inclusion of two previously unreleased outtakes from the ‘A Little Ain’t Enough’ sessions, the hard rocking ‘Taking Me Back’ and the blues-infused ‘Tell Me No Lies.’ There are also performances by Joe Satriani, Guthrie Govan, Steve Morse, Trevor Rabin, and many others.

Some people feel sorry for me,” he concedes, “and I understand that. I really feel lucky though. I don’t miss playing guitar anymore. I’m sure that’s out of necessity, but I am grateful for so much more. I am surrounded by loving people, and I can still make music.

More about MND – MND is a fatal, rapidly progressing disease that affects the brain and spinal cord. It attacks the nerves that control movement so muscles no longer work. MND does not usually affect the senses such as sight, sound, feeling but it can leave people locked in a failing body, unable to move, talk and eventually breathe. Over 80% of people with MND will have communication difficulties, including for some, a complete loss of voice.  Around 35% of people with MND experience mild cognitive change, in other words, changes in thinking and behavior. A further 15% of people show signs of frontotemporal dementia which results in more pronounced behavioural change. It kills a third of people within a year and more than half within two years of diagnosis, a person’s lifetime risk of developing MND is around 1 in 300.Six people per day are diagnosed with MND in the UK and it affects up to 5,000 adults in the UK at any one time. It kills six people per day in the UK, this is just under 2,200 per year and it has no cure. Information curtesy of the Motor Neurone Disease Association, you can see more info HERE.

2018 marks the 20th Anniversary of the phenomenal ‘Into The Electric Castle’ by Ayreon and to celebrate this Arjen Lucassen has remixed the entire album, which will be released on various formats on 26th October 2018, via Music Theories Recordings/Mascot Label Group.

After ‘The Final Experiment and Actual Fantasy (Revisited)‘, it’s time for part 3 in the Ayreon-on-vinyl saga. The stunning 20th Anniversary Limited Edition Box Set of ‘Into The Electric Castle‘ will include a framed 3D-sculptured version of the cover, 4 CDs (20th Anniversary Remix + 20th Anniversary Remix Instrumentals), 1 DVD (5.1 Remix + Documentaries) and 3 LPs on exclusive gold marbled vinyl (original mix) + download card for the 20th Anniversary Remix plus a certificate of authenticity, signed by Arjen Lucassen. The gold marble vinyl is only available in this box, and won’t be available separately. The Box Set will only be available to pre-order between July 19 and August 6.

There will be a 20th Anniversary Deluxe Earbook which contains a harddcover book with archive photos, lyrics and new liner notes, 4 CDs and 1 DVD.  Also available is ‘Into The Electric Castle’ as 3LP 180 gram vinyl (original mix) + download card for the remixed and remastered recordings. All pre-orders will be signed by Arjen Lucassen. You can pre-order HERE

Into the Electric Castle‘, the third album by Ayreon was originally released on 30th August 1998 and was an incredible eclectic blend of Prog, Metal, Folk, Electronica, Psychedelia, Pop, Gothic and with even hints of Blues and Jazz. Like all Ayreon projects it featured a stellar cast of guests; Fish, Sharon den Adel, Damian Wilson, Edwards Reekers, Anneke van Giersbergen and Jay van Feggelen.

Talking about the significance of this album Arjen Lucassen explains; “Although my first Ayreon album, ‘The Final Experiment‘ released in 1995, was an (unexpected) success, my second album, ‘Actual Fantasy‘, wasn’t received with the same enthusiasm. So I had to make sure that my third release would be absolutely mind-blowing, otherwise it could well have meant the end of Ayreon! Fortunately I had written a lot of material that I was happy with, enough for a double album. Even though it was a bit risky, I decided to make it a no-holds barred, totally over-the-top musical adventure. I poured my heart and soul into it, investing everything I had both financially and creatively, and enlisted the best instrumentalists and singers that I could find in the world at that time. When making this album I was unconstrained by any musical or stylistic boundaries, and incorporated many of my favorite musical styles. ‘Into the Electric Castle‘ received an overwhelmingly positive reception from both the press and the fans. This firmly established the Ayreon name, making Ayreon the perfect project to pour all of my time and creative energy into.

The 20th Anniversary is a significant milestone that deserves to be celebrated by something really special. Arjen began the long process of remixing by finding the old ADAT tapes from the original recordings and transferring the songs to his studio computer and over the space of two months he began remixing the album song by song.

It was a particularly daunting task” he adds. “My goal was to give it a bit more of a contemporary feel, without losing the charm of the original. As chance would have it, I even found a few little surprises on the original tapes that hadn’t been used on the original. To make this re-release even more special, I didn’t stop after finishing the stereo mix, but went on to do a 5.1 mix as well. This album was practically begging to be mixed in the 5.1 format because of all its spacey effects, weird sounds and strange voices! I did my best to make the listener feel like they are a part of the whole experience, as if they had physically entered this ‘new dimension’.

Into The Electric Castle‘ is a spectacular record that has been lovingly remixed and remastered to make it even more mesmerising and with the re-issue packaging is one that not only any Ayreon fan will love, any fan of adventurous music will also adore.

Internationally acclaimed guitar hero Michael Romeo has dropped his brand new video for ‘Djinn‘.

The epic, theatrical rock roller coaster on which the rhythm section of John “JD” DeServio (bass) and John Macaluso (drums) provides a muscular backdrop for the guitarist’s elastic soloing and Castellano’s full-throated vocal chops comes from his upcoming solo album, ‘War of the Worlds / Pt. 1‘. The album comes out on July 27th via Music Theories Recordings / Mascot Label Group.

The wildly ambitious 10-song disc sees the founder, chief songwriter and prime mover of the progressive titans Symphony X furthering his reputation as one of the world’s preeminent axe slingers and composers of adventurous, multi-faceted orchestral metal.

“It’s me putting all the things I love about music in a blender,” says Romeo. “Somebody might listen to it and say, ‘What is this guy thinking?’ But it’s all about being creative and having a good time with it.”

No doubt there will rapturous responses from Romeo’s longtime fans. While  ‘War of the Worlds / Pt. 1‘ brims with the kind of thrill-seeking guitar chops that have placed the Garden State shredder in numerous “all-time greats” lists, it also offers some unconventional twists: Along with classic metal textures, Romeo pays homage to film score giants Bernard Hermann and John Williams, and there’s even some surprising EDM/dubstep elements guaranteed to turn heads – all of which makes for an enthralling and immersive journey.

Romeo recorded the bulk of War of the Worlds / Pt. 1 over a year-and-a-half period in the comfort of his home studio (nicknamed “the Dungeon” by his wife) in Hazlet, New Jersey. The project gave him the perfect opportunity to work with the rising Long Island star Castellano, a singer he’s had his eye on for some time, as well as fellow Jerseyans Macaluso and Black Label Society member DeServio. “JD and I went to high school together,” Romeo notes. “We always wanted to do something together, so this was the perfect opportunity. The planets finally aligned, and we were able to work together. It was great to have him play on it.”

Symphony X fans have been waiting two decades for an honest to goodness Michael Romeo solo album (not counting his 1994 demo recording, The Dark Chapter, which was released in several countries), and the arrival of ‘War of the Worlds / Pt. 1‘ will be no doubt be cause for celebration. And the guitarist promises a sequel – “Most of Part II is already finished,” he says, “It just needs a few vocals, a couple solos, a few tweaks here and there. I want people to absorb the first one for a while, and then we’ll put out the second record. They’ll complement each other, but they’ll also be a bit different.”