Dream Theater

The Astonishing

Written by: RD on 25/02/2016 15:42:35

When Dream Theater announced they would release a double concept album called “The Astonishing” (well, we expect no less from a two hours and ten-minute double concept album by Dream Theater) you could see a glimpse of hope in the eyes of prog metal fans. Indeed, the band had spent their last decade in a sort of routine, releasing one album every two years, touring, writing and recording the next album and so on... That routine led their former drummer, Mike Portnoy, to leave the group because he felt he needed something new and different. So, a few years after he was replaced by another Mike, Mangini, the band did do something new and different with “The Astonishing” (and Portnoy was certainly delighted).

The story of the album - In a dystopian world, a man fights against oppression with music which is banished - is clearly inspired by fantasy and science-fiction epic Hollywood movies (or “Footloose”). But let us be honest for a moment, if an album that tells the story of a deaf, dumb and blind kid who somehow becomes a Pinball prodigy and cult master after a horrifying childhood is one of the greatest records of all times, then we shouldn’t hold Dream Theater’s story against it and concentrate on the most important, the music!

The tracklist shows that the band has not written any long compositions. Dream Theater has chosen to simplify their music and it is clear, from the beginning, that it is a positive direction for them. The introductory tracks are short and rather well written with catchy melodic lines that suit vocalist James Labrie perfectly. On the overall album, his singing is particularly good especially on theatrical songs on which he seems to genuinely have fun. The two soloist have also improved on this record. Guitarist John Petrucci has dropped his over-intricate solos to focus more on the melodic aspect of his range plus, he uses a classical guitar (“A Life Left Behind”) which feels like a fresh and new feature. As for keyboard player Jordan Rudess, he has finally given up his cheap sounding keyboards and chosen piano as his main instrument, which is probably the best idea he ever had this decade. For “The Astonishing” the band spared no expenses: Symphonic orchestra, bagpipes, everything is here to make this epic come to life. And yes, of course, it is cheesy, it is predictable, but the fact that the band believes in it so much gives this project a certain truthfulness. It is also quite refreshing nowadays when most cultural creation has to have some sort of post-modern ironic distance to itself to be appreciated.

But, as you probably guessed it, this two hours and ten-minute album is way too long. It is somehow depressing to see all these bands trying to make double albums when only two or three have been true artistic achievements in the history of rock and the rest suffers the exact same problem I mentioned. Take the first disc, it starts with engaging tracks before the enthusiasm completely drops with “Act of Faythe”. The second disc is the same story, a strong first part but disappointing ending.

This 2016 album is not quite "Astonishing” for sure, but it has its qualities and it is worth listening to for those who have lost faith in the band over the last ten years. The members of Dream Theater try to explore new ways to express themselves with “The Astonishing” and even if it is flawed it is certainly not deprived of interest.


Download: “A New Beginning”, “Moment of Betrayal”, “A Life Left Behind”
For The Fans Of: Symphony X, Shadow Gallery, Ayreon
Listen: facebook.com/DreamTheater

Release date 29.02.2016

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