Album review: Dream Theater - The Astonishing
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★★★★★ Progressive metallers Dream Theater have been wowing fans and critics alike for over thirty years. And The Astonishing demonstrates that time has had no effect on the band’s creativity. Dream Theater’s thirteenth album clocks in at two-and-a-quarter hours over the course of two CDs, using 34 tracks to tell the story of a dystopian future (reminiscent of the one played out on Rush's 2112 album) in which music has been outlawed by a totalitarian regime. Not since 2002’s Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence has the band tried something as ambitious as this, and I had high hopes for The Astonishing: if my “best metal albums of 2015” list proved anything, it’s that I love my music progressive, rule-breaking and anthemic. And the album delivers on those three fronts and more. This is the first rock opera that legitimately feels like a film: a visceral, narrative-fuelled experience with clear conflict and characters. Many concept albums have tried and failed where The Astonishing undoubtedly succeeds. This achievement can be attributed to vocalist James LaBrie’s diverse voice – which has the ability to range from sombre and emotive to louder and powerful – and guitarist John Petrucci’s insightful lyrics, along with his and Jordan Rudess’ amazing compositions. The Astonishing sees LaBrie’s vocals and Rudess’ keyboards come to the foreground: a decision which helps the band capture a sound that lies somewhere between progressive rock and a film soundtrack. The grand, emotional sound of the piano truly brings LaBrie’s musical narration to life. For some, the sheer length of The Astonishing may be alienating, and I understand that. But allow me to assure you that it is an album that is worth your time: it is a rock record that possesses the orchestration of a classical score, featuring short songs – at least, by Dream Theater standards – but using each preciously to explore every musical avenue available. And when you’re a thirty-year-old progressive rock band, there are a lot of avenues you can explore. The Astonishing is available now in physical and digital formats via Roadrunner Records. Click here to see our review of the album’s lead single, ‘The Gift of Music’, in our “Most anticipated metal album of 2016” list.