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Dream Theater - The Astonishing CD (album) cover


Dream Theater


Progressive Metal

3.37 | 724 ratings

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The T
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
2 stars I never imagined it would come to this, but I finally had to start justifying my liking Dream Theater.

No, not to others. I think no one should ever feel the need to justify musical tastes to other people, whether one likes Bach or Coltrane, or Justin Bieber or Nickelback. There is no such a thing as "guilty pleasures" (a case could be made against reggaeton, but anyway...)

The problem is, I have finally felt the need to justify my liking Dream Theater to myself. As I was listening to "The Astonishing", I had to constantly ask myself if this was the same rock band I used to regard as my absolute favorite (they probably still are), the one I have seen the most times live, the one I used to carry around mentioning it to everyone, as a banner representing a large part of my musical taste.

But as the question surfaced, I kept reminding myself that, yes, this is the same band that gave me "Images and Words", "Awake", "Scenes from a Memory", and many other great albums that made them dear to me. So, what happened?

To be fair, I have to disclose that my musical tastes as of late have shifted, in one way, back to the beginning, back to the music I enjoyed the most as a child and a young adolescent (classical music), but they have also moved to the raw and the dark, as the styles of rock I currently listen to the most are the most extreme forms of metal (black and death). While this development has not only musical but also emotional reasons behind it, the fact is, even as this has occurred, when I put "Pull me Under" or "Metropolis" in a CD player, when I press play in "Scarred" or "Home" in my phone, I still feel exactly the same sensation of awe at the great rock music these guys were capable of making. They were capable of playing rings around other bands, but they were also able to create great songs.

And that is what has disappeared from "The Astonishing", the song. The song has been the great victim in this difficult-to-understand exercise in ostentation that Dream Theater has recorded and just released to the market. There are NO SONGS. There's almost not one single track that one could take and could stand on its own and be enjoyed on its own. It's no wonder they chose "The Gift of Music" as their first "single" (so to speak), as it's the closest the album ever gets to a memorable 5 minutes (another strong candidate would be the Scenes-from-a-Memory-sound-alike "Moment of Betrayal"), even if the taste of Rush-iness is impossible to ignore.

Don't get me wrong, this release has tons of great moments, but please take that term in its most literal way: extracts, sections, bits that sound brilliant, that show 5 guys who can play whatever they want in any way they want, and who could still make decent songs...if they wanted to. But they never allow these moments to persist, to create a memory in the listener's mind, for they will immediately obliterate any hope of permanence by switching gears and going to either the most outrageous display of instrumentalist pyrotechnics they can put out, or the most incongruous slow-piano-led section that, while nice-sounding, makes absolutely no structural sense if the purpose of it all was to create a long, extended concept piece.

I always imagined that, at their current age, the guys in Dream Theater would be releasing something simpler, more song-oriented. They have already proven they can play really well. I would've imagined "Falling into Infinity 2" as their midlife album. But I was wrong by a mile. These 5 have regressed back into their 20's, trying to convince everybody that there is absolutely nothing they can't play, no solo that is beyond them, no idea that can't be stopped in its tracks and completely put aside in favor of another one in a blink of an eye. In a word: they are still showing off.

Rock music is simple by nature. What these same guys and others in the past (and current) waves of prog (and other rock styles) have managed to do is to make the genre go beyond its traditional boundaries, instrumentally, structurally, harmonically, or in other ways. But in the end, it still needs to have a simple core, a center that can hold an edifice that, by itself, doesn't lend itself too well to 2-hour exercises in non-stop music. Dream Theater in "The Astonishing" have decided that no center is necessary: section after section after section can come and go without any consequence (that's what they seem to think), and this album thus becomes basically a series of snippets of great musicianship buried under a big pile of egomania. To elaborate on the common expression, in "The Astonishing", one can't see the forest for the trees, and on top of that, each tree individually belongs to a different family and therefore should go in a different forest.

I'm sure one can still be impressed by the talent these 5 guys have in their fingers. They can still play scales and fills faster and more smoothly than nobody else in the rock world....

... What they have forgotten is how to write a damn song.

The T | 2/5 |


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