Dream Theater
The Astonishing


2.5
average

Review

by Xenorazr CONTRIBUTOR (120 Reviews)
January 31st, 2016 | 798 replies


Release Date: 2016 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Dream Theater, uncharacteristically.

John Petrucci is playing us. He's at a point where demonstrating mastery with the guitar just doesn't cut it anymore. Time and time again Dream Theater have come under fire for crafting prolonged and overindulgent music, so how do they (John more specifically) retort" Simpler, shorter songs spread throughout a 2-hour double-album. Oh, but it doesn't stop there. Rather than be an intriguing double-album akin to Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, the band's latest effort, awkwardly titled The Astonishing, is a concept album that depicts a future where the long-forgotten treasure of music is used to fuel the crusade against a dystopian empire. And as icing on the cake, all the lyrics are written like a stage play.

All jokes aside, how surprised can we be" Dream Theater are nothing if not extravagent, so taking a direction as overzealous as this after the decidedly streamlined Dream Theater isn't exactly uncharacteristic. What is uncharacteristic, however, is how they've elected to take this direction. From inception to present day, the Boston quintet have thrived off their complex-to-a-fault progressive metal style, be it in a concept album, multi-track suite or their political skepticisms. It's a style that is definitively theirs, regardless of acclaim or disdain. So it's quite bizarre to see them abandon so much of their tried-and-true nature this late into their career. What Petrucci and company have bestowed upon us in The Astonishing seldom (if ever) challenges the listener in a technical way. Instead, the biggest challenge every listener will face is, as you might've guessed, the length. That The Astonishing is this long (2+ hours) almost makes the easygoing nature of the music seem logical. Except listeners will find themselves begging for something more complicated than piano-laden tracks with soft guitar notes.

This stylistic retract Dream Theater have taken isn't necessarily devoid of enjoyable moments, because in the span of 34 tracks, something has to work and stand out. "A Better Life" is an early, par for the course taste that features an "Evangeline" reprise of sorts; meanwhile "Ravenskill" and "A Tempting Offer" both hint at the album's greater musical potential. Things do get more interesting on the second disc (the shorter of the two). "Moment of Betrayal," the album's second single, is a welcome slice of drama that leaks into "The Walking Shadow," demonstrating that the band can indeed handle brief songs. It isn't that The Astonishing is without shining moments, they're just few and far between. One can easily get the gist of the entire album with almost none of the filler in less than 10 tracks. Similar to how the Dream Theater of old were proficient to the point of fault, The Astonishing is cleanly dull the point of fault. Likewise, the entire band perform in a way that makes you forget you're listening to the forefathers of progressive metal. Mike Mangini and John Myung blend into the background like green screens in the Star Wars prequels; Petrucci similarly resigns himself to a less-is-more approach in his guitar playing. In layman's terms, he's kind of a bore here. James LaBrie and Jordan Rudess are the only members who ever seem to stand out. Rudess comes to mind strictly due to the frequent piano introductions throughout the album. They're casually enjoyable and would make an instrumental version of the entire ordeal all the more preferred

LaBrie comes out as the one member who consistently delivers in a memorable way. His performance isn't remarkable, but it's always smooth and melodic enough to complement the music's corresponding nature. Many of his key moments honestly have to do with the album's theatrics, such as "Lord Nafaryus" and the comically awkward "Three Days." Otherwise, he's tasked with relaying the poorly written lyrics, which may explain why he's particularly noteworthy. A chief complaint with Black Clouds & Silver Linings was that the lyrics simply weren't up to snuff. They were beneath a band as thoughtful and accomplished as Dream Theater. Now The Astonishing eagerly creeps up to snag the award for Worst Dream Theater Lyrics. Petrucci envisioned and realized much of the album, but it's clear he didn't take the time to edit or proofread, much less remember the simple lesson of show-don't-tell. Imagery and ambiguity" Nowhere to be found. Simply put, The Astonishing is as generically written as you can get. This is part of the reason LaBrie earns some brownie points: He rolls with the groans and eye-rolls that have to ensue from reading (and singing) material of this nature.

The Astonishing is an unfortunate tale in bloated ambition, a band with the rough idea of a worthwhile piece. Nevermind the piss-poor lyrics and up-front runtime, Dream Theater's true failure is in managing to captivate their listeners as they've done time and time before. Even when they misfired, there was substance and intrigue to find in a new Dream Theater album. They were like treasures that kept on giving when you broke beneath the surface. The desire to dig further was always present. That desire is all but absent on The Astonishing.

If you want my tl;dl (too long; didn't listen) version of The Astonishing, I recommend:

Dystopian Overture
The Gift of Music
A Better Life
Ravenskill
A Tempting Offer
Moment of Betrayal
Begin Again
The Path That Divides
The Walking Shadow
The Astonishing



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user ratings (619)
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other reviews of this album
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Comments:Add a Comment 
Xenorazr
Contributing Reviewer
January 31st 2016


1438 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0 | Sound Off

Barely on here anymore, but seeing as I reviewed their discography last year...



It pains and frustrates me that this album is such a misstep. I want to love it like I do most of DT's albums, but I can't bring myself to even say that I like the whole thing, just small little things, like the "Evangeline" riff in "Dystopian Overture."



Really hope whatever they do next is better, but I'm also skeptical. They should at least take Portnoy's advice after BC&SL and "recharge the batteries."

Beardog
January 31st 2016


2764 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0 | Sound Off

Great review dude!

ChaoticVortex
January 31st 2016


777 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

Very well written review that perfectly captures my thoughs about the album. Now I know why it left me so cold: It doesn't sounds or feels like Dream Theater at all. Even at the past albums there were faults: bloated length, reruns of familiar territories but the music and the feel was still DT to the core. This one...not so much.

Mythodea
January 31st 2016


4271 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0 | Sound Off

Most of the songs we agree on. Excellent review. I'v chosen the songs I like and they make a decent album of 50 minutes, so I'm fine.

Hoppoman
January 31st 2016


719 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Agreed.



Now if only they made those songs, worked on them a bit more.... Boom, instant 4+. I know they still have it in them.

Beardog
January 31st 2016


2764 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0 | Sound Off

They just need a good producer and let Myung write more

Titan
January 31st 2016


19299 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

'I'v chosen the songs I like and they make a decent album of 50 minutes, so I'm fine.'



same here myth, but i'm at about 90 minutes

Digging: Arch/Matheos - Winter Ethereal

Titan
January 31st 2016


19299 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

also, this is a great review and obviously very well written.....i must say that i haven't paid any attention to any lyrics yet and i could only imagine how off the mark they are going to be as i dont agree with their approach or concept with this album

However, I do like a lot of the 'sound' that comes from these songs

djr2
January 31st 2016


31 Comments


@Beardog 100% agreed. Myung did amazing lyrics for breaking all illusions. They need to give him more of the spotlight.

Also good review. Pos

Mythodea
January 31st 2016


4271 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0 | Sound Off

My new DT album has now some additions, so its length is 1h and 3 minutes. The rest is skippable, while there are some parts in the chosen ones I would want erazes. Bottom line, though, is that Dream Theater made another album, which is grandiose, pleased some, pissed off some others and some left numb. As always.

djr2
January 31st 2016


31 Comments


And completely ruined the bass... I played classical bass in high school and college so not hearing it 90% of the time makes me sad inside

Xenorazr
Contributing Reviewer
January 31st 2016


1438 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0 | Sound Off

@ Titan: See, I usually don't pay lyrics much mind. I'll hear the vocals without actually listening to the words, because there have been times I was put off from music simply because the lyrics weren't good (has less to do with DT and more in general). However, because this album is really trying to push its concept and premise, I'm going to hold its lyrical merit up as such. And boy does it make the album hard to get into. I actually originally had a 2/5 assigned and wrote a review that read like a 1/5, but then I gave it another listen without paying as much attention to the lyrics, and I enjoyed it more.

ksoflas
January 31st 2016


1271 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Ace review, pos'd.

TalonsOfFire
Staff Reviewer
January 31st 2016


18398 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

I remember when you posted your other reviews for this band, good stuff. Can't pos this one enough, 100% agreed.

Digging: The National - I Am Easy to Find

Ebola
January 31st 2016


3576 Comments


this needs to be the main review for this album

Darkwatch025
January 31st 2016


355 Comments


I agree with most of the songs on the list that you recommend to listen to from this album, but how in the hell can you not include A Life Left Behind? That song stands out as one of the best on this entire album in my opinion.

Mythodea
January 31st 2016


4271 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0 | Sound Off

I would also add A New Beginning and Three Days.

Titan
January 31st 2016


19299 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

i really enjoy Our New World, particularly the verses

SgtAenema
January 31st 2016


484 Comments


well great review

Mythodea
January 31st 2016


4271 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0 | Sound Off

@Titan It has a cool Rush-y riff and I dig it, but I'd put it as a bonus!



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