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Dream Theater: The Astonishing

Dream Theater have long been one of the more polarizing bands of the progressive rock & metal scene; their loyal, dedicated fans hang on their every note as if the gods themselves delivered it to them, while the casual listener and non-enthusiast often accuse the band of bloated, endless exhibitions of musical excess and releasing one repetitive album after another. Now, 17 years after the release of their first concept album Scenes From a Memory, the band have created what could very well be their magnum opus, the 2CD, 2 hour plus rock opera The Astonishing. While it's still early, with the album only just released a few weeks ago, The Astonishing seems to have divided the fanbase more than ever before, as people either seem to love it or hate it, proclaiming it the greatest prog-rock concept album ever (and DT's crowning achievement), or a boring, meandering foray into Broadway styled pomp. Surprisingly, many of the critics who normally fault the band for their excesses have seemingly congratulated them for this lengthy epic, a sign that perhaps the band have truly 'matured' in their eyes.

The main storyline of The Astonishing, written by John Petrucci, is of a futuristic nation that is being run by a tyrant, the population tremendously oppressed, until a 'savior' comes along that, with the help of music, brings triumph and happiness back to this formerly miserable population. While it's not the most original story ever written for a prog concept album, a lot of love & care obviously went into the creation of this rock opera, especially from a musical & lyrical perspective. Clearly not as heavy an album as we've come to expect from Dream Theater, and less inclined to dive into instrumental dexterity like we normally see from the band (though there certainly are plenty of dazzling passages), much of the album is dominated by the vocals of James LaBrie, who portrays all the characters of this story, and the majestic keyboard work of Jordan Rudess. Mike Mangini and John Myung play supporting roles, but very important roles here, each one rock solid throughout, with Mangini delivering some acrobatic drum fills later in the second half of the album but for the most part avoiding the overly showy style that his predecessor Mike Portnoy often fell into. For his part, Petrucci is brilliant as always, but there's far less shredding on his part, instead replaced by wonderfully melodic lines that complement the gorgeous piano & synth melodies from Rudess. Just listen to the Yes-like splendor of "A Life Left Behind" for some spectacular work from Rudess as well as sinewy bass courtesy of Myung. LaBrie though carries the weight of this ambitious project on his shoulders, easily giving the performance of his career, especially on the soaring ballads like "When Your Time Has Come" or the melodic prog of "A New Beginning".

Sounds like The Astonishing is nearly a masterpiece right? Well, I'm not ready to proclaim it as such just yet. There are clearly a few too many ballad segments here, and for many this epic album will be too mellow and too long for multiple, repeated listens. Many of the short little musical interludes that bridge the main songs just come across as filler, and you have to wonder if the album as a whole could have been shortened by about 30 or so minutes. Another interesting topic that seems to be popping up a lot is the fact that there are a lot less moments of extended instrumental sections here, which, in the past, many have chided the band for, now when they include less of the shredding, people miss it. The truth is, Dream Theater seem to be a band that no matter what they do, their music is put under a microscope, by their fans, critics, and detractors, and that's not going to stop here with the release of The Astonishing. While it's certainly not your typical Dream Theater album, The Astonishing is without a doubt an adventurous accomplishment that the band clearly put their heart & soul into. Part prog/metal concept album, part Sci-Fi themed Broadway theater, and part Trans-Siberian Orchestra styled bombast, The Astonishing might not be what you expect from Dream Theater, but give it a chance and it will likely open up plenty of rewards for you over time.Love it or hate it, there's no way to ignore it.

See more about this release on our recent YouTube show!

Track Listing
Act I
01. "Descent of the NOMACS"
02. "Dystopian Overture"
03. "The Gift of Music"
04. "The Answer"
05. "A Better Life"
06. "Lord Nafaryus"
07. "A Savior in the Square"
08. "When Your Time Has Come"
09. "Act of Faythe"
10. "Three Days"
11. "The Hovering Sojourn"
12. "Brother, Can You Hear Me?"
13. "A Life Left Behind"
14. "Ravenskill"
15. "Chosen"
16. "A Tempting Offer"
17. "Digital Discord"
18. "The X Aspect"
19. "A New Beginning"
20. "The Road to Revolution"

Act II
01. "2285 Entr'acte"
02. "Moment of Betrayal"
03. "Heaven's Cove"
04. "Begin Again"
05. "The Path That Divides"
06. "Machine Chatter"
07. "The Walking Shadow"
08. "My Last Farewell"
09. "Losing Faythe"
10. "Whispers in the Wind"
11. "Hymn of a Thousand Voices"
12. "Our New World"
13. "Power Down"
14. "Astonishing"

Added: February 15th 2016
Reviewer: Pete Pardo
Related Link: Band Facebook Page
Hits: 4069
Language: english

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