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Dream Theater - The Astonishing CD (album) cover

THE ASTONISHING

Dream Theater

 

Progressive Metal

3.37 | 710 ratings

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novasolis
5 stars As a long-time Dream Theater fan, I have to admit I fell out of love with the band after the last two lackluster albums, so I went into this one with pretty low expectations. Would they do something new? Something fresh? Something I would want to listen through more than once before unchecking it all off my itunes? Would those cheesy preview promos of the story concept ruin it for me? Would they ever find their creative groove again, after losing it once Portnoy left?

After just the first few songs, I knew that this was probably their best release in a decade. It was not only incredibly ambitious for them, but they also actually somehow pulled it off.

I'm already reading a lot of criticism fly every which way on the internet, so I'll get this out of the way now - the metalhead bedroom guitarists and the technical proggers might be saddened to find that there's not a lot of metal to be found, or any of their expected 20+ or even 10+ minute epics, or much Dance of Eternity-esque odd time signatures, or many crazy pyrotechnic exercise runs that people always make fun of the band for engaging in. There's no Glass Prison type extravaganza type track, with chunky seven string riffs and typical trade-off solos.

Instead, the album is defined by 4-5 minute vocal-led, major-key, lush symphonic rock songs, many piano pop ballads, and a few heavy tracks and sections all mixed in between. Even the heavy songs usually have 1 or 2 piano ballad verses included in them. Think of a longer version of the Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence suite, which was largely symphonic and pop/rock/ballad oriented. Being a listener who really prefers that side of the band, this album was a big treat.

Like with most concept albums for me, I honestly don't really understand the exact intricacies of the story very well. I can best describe it as some kind of 2112 meets Romeo & Juliet fantasy tale with rebellions and betrayals and swordfights and character drama. But even just listening to it blindly, it hit some strong emotional highs with me due to the album's great pacing, the surprisingly well-integrated use of orchestra and variety of outside instruments (including bagpipes), and especially LaBrie's incredible voice and delivery. It's his absolute best recorded work, no doubt. The lyrics he's singing are very simplistic and pretty cheesy, but sometimes that works best. To be honest, the whole album is dominated by Rudess's piano and LaBrie's voice more than anyone, the rest of the band tend to play a supporting role. Including Petrucci, who even when playing the heavy metal riffs, doesn't really dominate the scene like he usually does. When he does have a role, it's also usually with Rudess piano as well, which reminds me a lot of An Evening With (especially State Of Grace).

A lot of people will compare this to Scenes From a Memory, but this one really goes all the way as a "soundtrack" or Broadway play. And while SFAM is derided as being cheesy to some, The Astonishing is even more so - far FAR more, so you should be prepared for that coming into it. You also have to prepare for listening to over 2 hours of music (there's only a few minutes worth of non-song interludes with the machine noise). Something I have to point out that I really appreciate though, is that it's clear they wrote the story first, and wrote the music afterwards to match the story, like proper soundtrack music should. It's only heavy or soft or symphonic when appropriate, and just makes the album work very well as a cohesive whole.

I think this release will end up being very divisive for the fans, very "love it or hate it", but that's nothing new for this band. For me, after too many years of being fairly disappointed with them, I'm happy to say that it's definitely a "love it."

Standout tracks: A New Beginning, A Life Led Behind, Brother Can You Hear Me, Saviour in the Square

To be honest, I don't actually dislike any of the songs, since they all work so well with each other and all have something to offer. It's hard to take them apart from each other.

novasolis | 5/5 |

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