Dream Theater, ‘The Astonishing’ – Album Review
In today’s world of singles, short attention spans and immediate gratification, it goes against the grain to release a double disc concept album that clocks in at more than two hours.
But Dream Theater have never been a band to go along with the crowd. They have always pushed boundaries, expanded their musical horizons and have never been afraid to experiment.
Their latest opus The Astonishing is an ambitious undertaking of 34 songs. The album’s concept is described as “a retro-futurist post-apocalyptic dystopia ruled by medieval style feudalism. It’s a place aching for a Chosen One to rise above the noise and defeat an Empire defined by the endless drone of noise machines and the illusion of safety in bland conformity.”
The nearly three-dozen tracks run the gamut from short interludes to cinematic instrumentals to mellow ballads to Dream Theater’s patented prog metal. It’s an enormous amount of music to absorb in one sitting, but when you think about it, most movies are around two hours in length, and The Astonishing is very much like a movie in the way it delivers the storyline.
Guitarist John Petrucci came up with and developed the album’s concept, and along with keyboardist Jordan Rudess wrote the music for The Astonishing. The songs are meticulously arranged and expertly produced, and as you’d expect from Dream Theater, are played flawlessly. They also used a real orchestra and choir that provides depth, texture and atmosphere.
Like in a movie, there are parts that are needed to move the story forward that aren’t necessarily all that compelling. That’s the case here, with periodic filler and slow-moving sections. There are also many outstanding songs that are really well-done, such as the reserved “A Savior in the Square,” the epic “A Life Left Behind,” the progtastic “A New Beginning” and the soaring “Losing Faith.”
A concept album with different characters puts a lot of pressure on the vocalist, and James LaBrie lives up to the challenge. From mellow crooning to Broadway belting to edgier singing, he utilizes every style in his arsenal and delivers a first-class performance.
An album like The Astonishing is bound to be a polarizing one. Its length and scope make it a difficult entry point for casual listeners, but hardcore DT fans will look forward to the challenge and digging into an album with a lot of depth. Keeping with the movie analogy, it’s a lot like the Revenant: beautifully crafted and executed, perhaps a little bit too long, but ultimately an enjoyable and rewarding experience.
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