Greetings fellow music lovers, I really can’t think of anything that can create more of a buzz with The Lady or her staff as much as a new Dream Theater album. They are the band that brought most of us together, and for this author, have been a critical part of my life’s soundtrack dating back to when I first heard Pull Me Under in 1992. As for The Lady, I honestly believe her main reason for starting this venture we call Lady Obscure Music Magazine was to interview James LaBrie, Dream Theater’s enigmatic lead singer (which can be seen here and here). Our appreciation of the band goes to the point where most of us ask for the release day off from work.
And the day off was needed, as the album released was a behemoth sized double disc rock opera, The Astonishing. With a central sci-fi theme of a dystopian future three hundred years distant, the prog metal pioneers once again pushed themselves to the limit. As the release date approached and more and more details popped up, a lot of the excitement was mixed with trepidation, at least for this fan, DId they bite too much off this time? Did Dream Theater finally go over the edge? After getting a few listens in, I can confidently say with resounding confidence that the gentlemen succeeded in one main thing, that of proving once again why they are the icons of the progressive metal game.
Let me say right off the bat, The Astonishing is a rock opera, a musical in every sense of the word. It has two acts, an overture and an underture, recurring characters and themes to go with them. It’s vastly different from anything Dream Theater has done before, and this is reflected in the initial reaction to the album. But for those patient enough to let the album sink in, they are treated to a really wonderful piece of work. The Astonishing was the brainchild of guitarist John Petrucci, and most of the composition was his and keyboardist Jordan Rudess’ work. The hype machine was over the top in the months leading up to the release, especially since it was the band’s first true concept album since 1999’s Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory. Unlike the dark and convoluted concept of that album though, The Astonishing is fairly light and blatantly predictable, and as much as some fans may want to dig into the story and find the hidden nuggets, the depth just isn’t there.
As to the music and the musicians, what most fans will be missing will be the endless instrumental wankery that Dream Theater is known for. While it does make an appearance here and there on the album, and shines when it does, for The Astonishing, the story comes first. The music is merely a way of telling it, which the band does an admirable job of. Now this isn’t saying the band doesn’t shine, they do, especially drummer Mike Mangini who really has settled into his place and delivers a stunning performance without having to rely on his blazing speed. Finally we really see the soul of his drumming. The true star of the album though is singer James LaBrie, who is casted into every character of the story, and does an unbelievable job of it. For this author, it’s quite possibly a career performance for LaBrie. Just outstanding on all levels.
The album, even though a complete and flowing work, surely has a few standout tracks. The pre-release tracks of The Gift of Music and Moment of Betrayal will linger in setlists for a while. Ravenskill, A Life Left Behind and A New Beginning also shine on the first act, and in act two the better numbers are The Path that Divides, Hymn of a Thousand Voices, Our New World and Losing Faythe. It’s very hard to say that they are standout tracks though, the individual strength of the tracks come from the emotion of the complete story.
There is so much more to say about this amazing album, and since the Lady Obscure staff is a collective group of fanboys and fangirls, I’m sure they will. But just to let you our readers know, this album is worth every cent. Dream Theater pushed the edge of the envelope once again, and in their usual fashion, absolutely nailed it. I think the real magic of the album will come in the next few months, as the band embarks on tour to perform The Astonishing in its entirety. That will be the medium where the album’s strengths will truly shine.
Also check out Phoenix’s review of the album here.