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Dream Theater - The Astonishing CD (album) cover

THE ASTONISHING

Dream Theater

 

Progressive Metal

3.33 | 777 ratings

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Mebert78
5 stars If you're looking for a traditional Dream Theater album, it's not The Astonishing. No, this album is much, much more than that. In fact, I'd suggest that people not even view this album as an "album," per se. It's a musical. And fans who approach the two-disc conceptual rock opera expecting the band's usual formula of long songs and blistering instrumentals might be a little disappointed. Luckily, I am not one of those fans. To me, everything about this unique dystopian masterpiece is astonishingly phenomenal.

Before discussing these discs, I should disclose that I'm one of the band's biggest fanboys. For example, I have a Dream Theater decal on my car and I attended the group's induction into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame in 2010. Despite my super-fan status, I was still skeptical when details about the album began to emerge in 2015. Everything seemed so over the top about The Astonishing -- from the elaborate map of a fictional kingdom to the flying noise machines that resembled something out of the science-fiction film, "Oblivion." But I trust the judgment of guitarist John Petrucci. Dream Theater has released a dozen studio albums since the late 1980s, with Petrucci steadily guiding the band lyrically and musically. He always comes through. And, in the case of The Astonishing, he's come through again -- with flying colors. New moments mesmerize me with every single listen, and I even feel my heart racing at its climactic parts. Also, the storyline is so well-crafted that it created a "theater" within my mind, which is fitting for a band named Dream Theater.

Musically, there's a little bit of everything on The Astonishing, which exceeds 130 minutes. There are a number of conventional Dream Theater songs like the album's first two singles "The Gift of Music" and "Moment of Betrayal," there are beautiful ballads like "When Your Time Has Come" and "Chosen," and there are unpredictable tunes like "My Last Farewell" and "A Tempting Offer." There are also countless sound effects that bring the story to life, along with a full orchestra and choir. Oh, and vocalist James LaBrie plays the role of eight characters. "This is his tour de force," Petrucci recently said of LaBrie in an interview with The Huffington Post. "Vocally, I think this is his greatest work to date." Some people have said online that the band should've recruited different singers to play the various characters (similar to Arjen Lucassen's Ayreon), but I disagree. LaBrie's performance was perfection.

If you've seen any of the band's recent interviews, Petrucci has made it clear he didn't write these tunes in typical Dream Theater fashion. Instead, he and keyboardist Jordan Rudess wrote music to accompany the futuristic story that Petrucci had penned -- a tale about an oppressive world without human music that is rescued by a "chosen one" named Gabriel, who possesses the "gift of music." This is a huge departure from their standard approach, and a big risk for such a popular group. But let's be realistic. Dream Theater has given us three decades of great music and if they want to experiment for an album cycle I'm all for it. It's one of the reasons I respect this band so much. They're willing to challenge themselves.

My only criticism is Roadrunner Record's poor handling of the album's pre-order distribution. I didn't receive my copy in the mail by release day, so I had to spend my Friday night trying to find a store that had it in stock. I won't listen to new records online. I need the complete package in my hands, so I can experience the music how it was meant to be experienced. Oddly enough, I ended up enjoying this album so much I kept both copies -- one for home, and one for my car. It's safe to say that I'll be listening to lots and lots of The Astonishing.

All in all, The Astonishing is an incredibly ballsy album that shows us Dream Theater's creative spirit continues to evolve, expand and explore new places -- even 30 years into their career. The progressive metal pioneers swung for the fence with this two-disc rock opera and knocked it out of the park, in my opinion. I can't wait to see what they do next.

- Michael R. Ebert (progzombie.blogspot.com)

Mebert78 | 5/5 |

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