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Dream Theater - The Astonishing CD (album) cover

THE ASTONISHING

Dream Theater

 

Progressive Metal

3.38 | 709 ratings

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TheMasterMofo
4 stars It took me a long time to review this. As a long time DT fan I had mixed emotions when this album came out. While there are plenty of excellent, standout songs on this double concept album, I also felt like it was too long and had too many filler tracks that took away from the overall quality of the album. Still, overall I think this is a worthwhile album to give 5-10 full listens before passing judgment. Most prog fans understand that not all great music jumps out at you right away; sometimes prog music takes a few listens to fully appreciate what you're hearing. When Haken's "The Mountain" came out, I remember actually being disappointed my first listen, finding Aquarius and Visions to be better at the time.... That feeling didn't last very long as it's one of my favorite albums now. So don't be turned off by the negative reviews of this album until you've given it a fair chance. This album doesn't have as much constant heavy metal riffing and mind-blowing shred sessions as the rest of DT's body of work, but those moments are absolutely still present, just in shorter supply. It has plenty of ballads and soft interludes that, while perhaps overdone, are a nice change of pace coming from DT. This is definitely not my favorite DT album by any means, but it's also not my least favorite. Here's my take:

The Excellent:

The Gift of Music Lord Nafaryus Three Days A New Beginning Moment of Betrayal

The Good: Dystopian Overture A Better Life Brother Can You Hear Me? A Life Left Behind Ravenskill The Path That Divides The Walking Shadow My Last Farewell Our New World

The OK: All of the NOMAC tracks (For obvious reasons) A Savior in the Square When Your Time Has Come Act of Faythe Chosen The X Aspect The Road to Revolution Heaven's Cove Begin Again Losing Faythe Whispers On the Wind Hymn of a Thousand Voices Astonishing

As you can see, there are a lot of songs that I consider just OK... Most of those songs aren't bad songs, they're just arranged in a similar manner with similar melodies, tempo, and lightness. If you take away all but three or four of these OK ballads, suddenly the remaining ones sound a lot better because they aren't watered down. One of the things that stood out to me was a conversation I had with my dad after we saw The Astonishing Live tour in Atlanta back in December (Yes, I'm a 28 year old that still goes to metal concerts with my 58 year old dad, and proud of it!) . He was describing a ballad he really liked and when he described it asking me which song it was I responded with, "Dad, that could be like 8 different songs on the album." With all of that being said, I still listen to the Astonishing on a regular basis because it has so many good things to offer, it's worth it.

I'd recommend giving it enough listens to sort out what you enjoy and what you don't and create a playlist with just the songs you enjoy if you feel like there's too much filler. Some of Dream Theater's most unique and exciting songs in a decade can be found on The Astonishing and it'd be a shame for anyone to miss out on them just because this double album is a little lengthy.

As far as the band members go, James Labrie easily steals the show, displaying a ridiculous range of vocal techniques and notes. He delivers an emotional, inspiring performance in line with how amazing he's been live for the last few years. Labrie gets a lot of trash talking for some reason, but every time I've seen Dream Theater live (The first Gigantour with Megadeth, the Score DVD show in NYC, The Dramatic Events Tour, and the Astonishing Tour) he's been absolutely on point.

John Petrucci is obviously toned down a bit on this album overall, but he still delivers some fantastic guitar solos, both in speed and in melody, and he has some very different approaches to his metal riffs on this album compared to everything else he's done in the past. Hearing Petrucci play some lighter chord progressions and acoustic guitar in general is a nice change up.

One of the biggest changes in terms of sound on this album is Jordan Rudess. I've always preferred Rudess' playing when it's a more traditional-sounding piano style rather than a layered keyboard sound with lots of shredding and bends. Rudess truly shines throughout the entire album, providing subtle but very valuable additions to virtually every single song. This is honestly my favorite DT album when it comes to Rudess' keyboards. I hope he goes forward with the same basic approach and style because it suits both him and DT.

John Myung in recent years has become know for providing a steady rhythmic bass that is so low in the mix that it's often hard to hear without turning up the bass on your equalizer. That's not the case on the Astonishing. In fact, as far as the overall mix goes, I can't think of another Dream Theater album where the bass is more perfectly balanced. You can actually hear Myung on just about every song and he sounds great. The bass adds a lot to each song, especially the ballads where Myung is often one of the highlights.

Mike Mangini is a wonderful drummer and he's had the basically impossible task of living up to Mike Portnoy after joining DT. Mangini doesn't really do a whole lot that wows me on the Astonishing but everything he plays seems to fit the music really well and his rhythm is extremely tight. For an album like this, that's what you're looking for in a drummer.

In summary, this is a good album with some amazing songs, a lot of good songs, and a few songs that blend together. At more than two hours long, it's not something you can just jump straight into and make rash decisions about. This isn't an album for the casual listener, though many of the individual songs would appeal to casual listeners. I can't fathom the people I've seen who say the songs aren't tied together... Almost every song has motifs, riffs, melodies, even lyrics from other songs on the album. It's honestly tied together very neatly musically. The extreme metal heads who started listening to DT after Train of Thought might not be big fans of this album, but I feel like most fans of symphonic or classic prog will come away with great enjoyment from The Astonishing.

TheMasterMofo | 4/5 |

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