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Dream Theater - The Astonishing CD (album) cover


Dream Theater


Progressive Metal

3.37 | 710 ratings

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4 stars Whoa. I'm looking for an angle to start this review, so I'm just going to tackle the first impressions and perhaps harsh realizations I had, 130 minutes into this massive album. The first one is: "whew. I didn't make a mistake three months ago when I bought tickets to this opera without even a glimpse into what it would look like. My DT fan instincts didn't fail me this time, it's going to be massive". Then, "It's exactly as I had expected it to go" whether or not it's a good sign, I'm going to describe that feeling later. And finally, I'm still not decided if any song will make it into my Top 30 Dream Theater Playlist. Which definitely is a bad sign. I do hope some will grow on me, though.

Yep, if that's what you were looking for: nothing comes close to the epicness you could find in any album other album. To give you an idea, even the recent 'Illumination Theory' and 'The Enemy Inside' made it into that playlist, yet no song, at least on my first two listens stood out that much. On the other hand, I found out that the double album is much more, and perhaps too much, leveled. And in that respect, more pleasing to hear as a whole (bar the 5 transition tracks that I erased because 'hey, those are fine on stage, but don't waste CD time on robot noises') than Dream Theater or A Dramatic Turn of Events. Come to think of it, it's way more creative than these two, and I loved the prog vibes that went back to "The Dance of Eternity". Perhaps this album's biggest flaw lies in its length, since all the awesome chill-giving riffs, mind- bending solos are there, are diluted in a way that could have probably been mixed into the best 60-minute disc out there, but lose too much to recycled material. The good songs I'm going to mention are simply there because I found them consistent and 'new' enough to deserve repeated listens.

Let's bounce into the specifics: Petrucci has given us a wide array of sounds in this album, and although his solos are as good as ever, I couldn't find any novelty out there. Rudess, on the other hand has a much more important role, and broaches through the entire palette of sounds that his keyboard could offer ? maybe too much, 'Losing Faythe' sounds as if it were played on a child's keyboard. Some might criticize both of them for using old sounds, but I thought that they immediately linked back to the atmosphere in older songs, so that I could follow the theatrical direction without paying too much attention to the lyrics.

Lyrics, which I'm sorry, but are way too explicit and 1st degree not to be cringe worthy. No deep, profound meaning to be found (or maybe I'm not ready for such a level of abstraction yet). And no genuinely cool/interesting story la 'Count of Tuscany' either -despite a similar tune at times, this one is way too intricate and filled with characters that no one cares about (American Idiot, anyone?). I just hope some visual clues will guide us through this pretentious "Jupiter Ascending"-like quest, but fortunately the music is good enough not to be a deal-breaker. Still, it's a shame, because the vocals are better than ever, LaBrie has traded his very wide range for a more controlled Bb2-Bb4 which has a pleasant timber. That's more or less playing it safe, but it does lack a bit of impact that uncontrolled screams sometimes have. It also results in some rehashed samples being too recognizable because the tonality does not change very often.

The great two missing from this album are Myung and Mangini: The former definitely lacks a decent bass line. Hell, give the guy some solos, he's a technical machine! The latter suffers from a similar problem: his technical skills are beyond reproach (and some tracks do give him justice in that aspect). But in the same way that Rudess managed to put some jazzy vibes inside this album, some bluesy/jazzy fillers that gave us something more than a mechanical drum track would have had me regret Portnoy's departure a little less.

On the positive side, the five-men band gains a lot of momentum thanks to the full-size orchestra that backs it. I do hope (even though it's unlikely) that the chorus and orchestra follow DT on tour. I also hoped that the opera side would blend a little more than it did on 'Illumination Theory' and I wasn't disappointed. All it lacks is some metal-classical fusion: the album is a little softer than the previous ones to my demur, and some epic classical music can be blended into metal, as sometimes is hinted throughout the album.

All in all, this is as good as I expected when I learned what project Dream Theater had gotten themselves involved with. Nothing amazing as Scenes From a Memory, as punchy as Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence or as gut-wrenching as Octavarium, but great nonetheless. Even though I still have trouble distinguishing songs which I liked more or less among those 34, here's my pick: 'Moment of Betrayal', 'The Path That Divides' and 'A Better Life' all are original in some way, gave me chills upon first listening to them and are the main reasons for my good grade to this album. Those three aside, the 'Overture' is nice to hear (but doesn't count since it merely summarizes most melodies to be heard further in the disc), 'The Gift of Music' is more varied in theme and aptly mixes a lot of DT signature bits into one great song. 'Ravenskill' and 'Three Days' are those progressive tracks that made Dream Theater famous. 'A New Beginning' is one of the harder songs, in which Petrucci delivers a great solo (maybe the best in the album? I don't know for sure yet). And finally, 'Our New World' is a great end track, and quite radio-friendly to be honest. Don't mistake my words, there is one last song after that, 'Astonishing' (and one quickly-deleted filler noise track) which is fantastically underwhelming and certainly not nearly grand enough to wrap up 2 hours of material, but I don't think it comes close to the nine previously mentioned.

I still hope that in the future they give us a more compact album with the same level of production, but until then, I am more than content with this great disc. The Astonishing may not be as revolutionary as DT may have been in the past, but as a whole is the best since Black Clouds and Silver Linings, which is a pretty good feat considering they've almost been around three decades.

alessbelli | 4/5 |


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