Review: Dream Theater- The Astonishing

Progressive metal legends Dream Theater have just unveiled an album that is so epic in nature and grandiose in scale, that it will single handedly redefine the genre of progressive music forever, raising the bar for everything that will come after it, firmly cementing their place in the annals of music history. The Astonishing, which is available through Roadrunner Records is the band’s 13th studio album and even with an extraordinary back catalog that has always pushed musical boundaries such as theirs, is by far their most ambitious undertaking to date. With a colossal running time of over two hours, spread over two magical cds, The Astonishing is a bold concept album that tells the tale of rebels defying an oppressive empire through music and circles around eight central characters that are brilliantly brought to life by the other worldly vocal abilities of James LeBrie who gives each one their own unique vocal interpretation. It’s not just LeBrie’s impeccable vocals that make this album so damn impressive. Guitarist John Petrucci and bassist John Myung’s playing on the album will no doubt go down as their finest hour and since the album showcases a considerable amount of piano, Jordan Rudess is really allowed to shine. Add to that Mike Mangini’s precision technical drumming and a full orchestra under the direction of David Campbell and you’ve got something really special to behold. The album was produced by Petrucci and engineered & mixed by Richard Chycki at Cove City Sound Studios and while there may not be any one song as long as their masterpiece Change of Season, since each cd essentially plays as one continuous Act, it still feels massive in both scope and size. The album is just too much to try to break down track by track so let’s focus on some of the highlights shall we. From songs like “A Better Life,” “A Savior In The Square,” “The Road To Salvation” and “Begin Again,” which sound like lost tracks from the Falling Into Infinity sessions to “Another Day” styled ballads such as “The Answer” and “Chosen” or the “Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding” vibe of “Dystopian Overture,” the album covers a lot of musical ground. “Whispers on the Wind” has a pink Floyd aura about it and there are even nods to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra on cuts like “Lord Nafaryus,” “Three Days” and “2285 Entr’acte.” While more operatic tracks like “Act of Faythe,” “Brother Can You Hear Me,” “Losing Faythe” and “Hymn of A Thousand Voices” take their musical cues from Broadway legends such as Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. For you old school fans of the band, “The Gift of Music,” “When Your Time Has Come,” “The X Aspect” and “Our New World” are similar to Images And Words and Awake era Dream Theater and for those of you that prefer the more progressive side of albums like Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence or Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From A Memory, cuts like “A Tempting Offer,” “My Last Farewell,” “A New Beginning” and “The Path That Divides” will keep you happy. All you need to know about “A Life Left Behind” and “Moment of Betrayal” is that  not only are they among the best on the album, but they are among the best the band have ever done and title track “The Astonishing” closes the affair in the time honored opera tradition, driving it home with an epic crescendo. Here’s the bottom line. Simply put, The Astonishing is exactly that…Astonishing! 9 out of 10 -Eric Hunker