Dream Theater
The Astonishing


3.0
good

Review

by crashandridemusic USER (18 Reviews)
February 3rd, 2016 | 21 replies


Release Date: 2016 | Tracklist

Review Summary: "The Astonishing" is aston... just kidding, not going there.

To limit this review was a daunting task, almost as daunting as listening to it in its entirety. But nonetheless, it felt necessary to give my two cents on the most anticipated and fan-dividing album of the year: progressive metal giants Dream Theater’s concept double album “The Astonishing.” It seems everyone has something to say about this one, at polar opposite ends of appreciation. I’ve read both harsh contempt and deifying praise for “The Astonishing,” which has only confused my expectations. But after two listens to this album lasting over two hours, I have finally formed an opinion. And where do I stand, you ask? Somewhere in the middle.

“The Astonishing” is truly remarkable considering its size and scope. I like to think of all of the what I call “mega-concepts” ever made, being concept albums lasting over a span of multiple albums. Older albums like Genesis’ “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway,” Pink Floyd’s “The Wall,” and The Who’s “Quadrophenia” come to mind quickly, cinematic and operatic in nature. This album falls right in line with the others, being less of a metal album and more of a soundtrack instead. Something about these mega-concepts bring out a lighter, dramatic side of the bands performing them, which Dream Theater succumbs to here. There is a noticeable lack of shredding, instrumental duels between different members, or keyboard-driven wankery of the Wizard, but they’re not altogether absent. Instead, this album relies heavily on two members: singer James LaBrie and pianist (not keyboardist) Jordan Rudess.

Singer LaBrie gives the performance of his career in “The Astonishing,” probably one of his better showings in their long discography. Being coached by lyricist/guitarist (and creator of the concept) John Petrucci, LaBrie provides different vocal deliveries for each character in the concept, approaching each set of lyrics as the character would. I admit sometimes it’s hard to tell which character is talking, but in some cases the deliveries are quite noticeable. The ponderings of Lord Nafaryus in “Nafaryus” and the conversation between its two main characters in the following song “A Savior In The Square” are spot-on, with the antagonist’s snarl and protagonist’s hopeful voice. There are other instances throughout “The Astonishing” that LaBrie’s vocals shines, particular in notable piano arrangements by Rudess. Something I particularly enjoyed about this album is the increased piano presence compared to the over-the-top keyboard effects. The piano is something that isn’t particularly focused on in prior work, so it becomes a breath of fresh air after listening to older albums like “Train of Thought” and “Black Clouds and Silver Linings.”

As for the remaining instruments, they are basically left in the background. There are moments when guitar chords and soloing are brought to light, but not nearly as focused as in other albums. In fact, I was surprised by the lack of bass guitar and drums on “The Astonishing.” John Myung’s bass rhythms are always complementing Petrucci’s ridiculously fast guitar solos, but are not given the opportunity in the more piano-centric album. In addition, drummer Mike Mangini feels left out on every album he’s played on, instead used as a pendulum for the others. I would never think in my years of listening to Dream Theater that one of its members would be used in a way that didn’t accurately portray their talents, but Mangini’s contributions to “The Astonishing” (and to a lesser extent their previous self-titled album) leave much to be desired. If only Mangini was used to strengthen dramatic moments in the album’s concept, it would provide another needed dimension.

As for the album’s concept, it’s a longwinded tale about a post-apocalyptic, dystopian future, kingdoms and rebels, saviors and the importance of music. Cheesy indeed, following the current trend of young adult, sci-fi movies. Honestly, I haven’t been able to tackle this beast in my two listens through, so I will have to leave this for you all to figure out. Ten bonus points to those that can comment below and summarize the album’s concept. What I have noticed is that much of the album’s lyrics are quite predictable, following similes and metaphors written by infinite others bands (like a phoenix rising from ashes, David versus Goliath, etc.). In this case, though, it serves as a positive in tackling the album’s concept, making it much more approachable and relatable.

An album with 34 songs, it was hard to pick which songs rise above the others. Since a majority of them follow the same flavor of orchestral, cinematic vocals and piano arrangements, I had a hard time deciphering which song was which. Much of the album uses repetitious arrangements to string the songs together, which doesn’t help matters. With that said, I can think of two that stand out: the single “The Gift of Music” and “The Path That Divides.” I feel these two stand out to me the most because they remind me so much of the culmination of their sound. Reading so many arguments about what influenced the album’s sound, I can definitely hear moments of albums like “Awake” and “Falling Into Infinity,” while at the same time hearing newer albums like “A Dramatic Turn of Events” and “Dream Theater.”

Despite the positives and negatives, praise and scorn, there is one pressing matter about “The Astonishing,” the elephant in the room: Who has time to listen to a two hour, eleven minute album nowadays? Since its release on Thursday evening/Friday morning, I’ve listened to “The Astonishing” a total of two times over several interrupted listens. With a wife, a child, a job, and a time-consuming hobby, I have little left in my day to devote to anything, let alone listening to an album longer than most movies. Don’t get me wrong, I love long albums, especially long concept albums. But devoting 130 minutes to anything is absolutely insane. The worst part is despite the cries of filler material in this album, nothing could be taken away without sacrificing its quality. As much as I’d love for this album to elapse over one album instead of two, every song is essential. This format might work perfectly in a live setting, but I simply don’t have enough time to listen to “The Astonishing” in its entirety. This album will be one of those that one act will be listened to more than another.

To summarize my thoughts of this album, I’ll answer these three important questions:

Is it better than their last self-titled album? Absolutely, since I considered it one of their worst they’ve ever released.

Is it their best album? Absolutely not. Nothing can (and will ever) touch “Metropolis Part II.”

Is it worth listening to? If you have the time and patience, of course!

So do give the ol’ college try on “The Astonishing.” I won’t be cliché and say it’s astonishing, but I will say that Dream Theater left everything on the table with this album. With its positives and negatives, they weren’t afraid to pour their soul and push the boundaries of progressive metal.

Taken from crashandridemusic.com



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user ratings (792)
2.5
average
other reviews of this album
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Comments:Add a Comment 
Mythodea
February 3rd 2016


7457 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0 | Sound Off

good review, even though it reads more like a 4 in the beginning. Afterards you talk more about its negatives, so it justifies the rate. Can't see how people think of it as up there with 2112, The Wall, The Lamb... etc, but I'll hold my voice.

Tunaboy45
February 3rd 2016


18435 Comments


Eagerly awaiting the first 5 review

Mythodea
February 3rd 2016


7457 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0 | Sound Off

Well, there's this 4.5 one, so that's what you have for now.

Davil667
February 3rd 2016


4047 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

Great review! A very reasonable approach for reviewing this album, many accurate observations backed up in a rational way. Have a pos!



Still don't know what to make of this, have to let it sink in some more days.

zakalwe
February 3rd 2016


39163 Comments


"But devoting 130 minutes to anything is absolutely insane."

That two and a half hours I spent rescuing trapped crew members from a sinking passenger liner was a complete waste of time then. I feel useless.

Davil667
February 3rd 2016


4047 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

Haha, yeah, out of context this sounds a bit drastic indeed but referring to the situation he describes it makes sense to me.

ksoflas
February 3rd 2016


1433 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Nice writing man, pos'd.

Album is between 2,5 - 3 for me.

I need to listen it again.

Rastapunk
February 3rd 2016


1556 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Nice rev, although the conclusion isn't very pro to me... Another thing is that your rev reads more like 4 or at least a 3.5.



This album is growing on me, I'm very surprised. I don't get why you all complain about the length though, you get more music, be happy.

Underflow
February 3rd 2016


5297 Comments

Album Rating: 1.5 | Sound Off

I think if you're not happy with what the album is doing in the first thirty minutes you're not as excited for the next 100.

JJKeys
February 3rd 2016


1322 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

>Ten bonus points to those that can comment below and summarize the album’s concept.

Game of Thrones in the future but has the writing quality of that of a 12 year old.



When you argue that songs couldn't be removed from the album without sacrificing its quality, you're saying that the concept is the foundation that couldn't have been changed. The 'filler songs' are so because the story stagnates when building obvious character relations - there was no need for them to be so long. If the story was condensed, the album woud've been easier to digest. But even that doesn't save the album from the god awful lyricism

Great music, otherwise - I'm hoping there's an instrumental release of the album.

TwigTW
February 3rd 2016


3938 Comments


2.5 hours--ugh--oh well, here goes . . .

insomniac15
Staff Reviewer
February 3rd 2016


6199 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

Read the concept behind the album and turned me off completely. Listened to the first CD and it's already too much + too many ballads.

TwigTW
February 3rd 2016


3938 Comments


Nice review--You're right, it's "more of a soundtrack." It seems ready-made for Broadway, or an animated film. Is that the plan?

DoofusWainwright
February 3rd 2016


19991 Comments

Album Rating: 1.5

Has any album on sput ever had a review for every score rating on the scale?



This now has 1.5, 2.5, 3, 3.5, 4.5



Surely there's a lunatic with a 5/5 review in them out there? I could drop my rating a .5 and write the 1/5 lol

JJKeys
February 3rd 2016


1322 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

Kid A? There's so many reviews it -must- have

DustyTill
February 3rd 2016


234 Comments


The rating chart is more fascinating than the album

Titan
February 3rd 2016


24946 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

any publicity is good publicity.....keep feeding it boys!

Limoncello
February 4th 2016


21 Comments


I used to love Dream Theater back in the day. But Octavarium for me was their last good album. Since then they are becoming more and more irrelevant. This album is awful from what I've heard, can't imagine being able to stomach an hour of this, much less two.

TheSonomaDude
February 4th 2016


9098 Comments


I listened to a song off of this and it was like the most blatant 3/5 song ever

Tunaboy45
February 4th 2016


18435 Comments


Is this album a meme?



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