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Saturday, February 6, 2016

CD-Review: Dream Theater - "The Astonishing"

Although American Prog Metal heroes Dream Theater are around for so many years now and they've gained a large fanbase, their newest piece of work "The Astonishing" is my first contact with this band. As far as I've seen it, this album splits the fanbase pretty much. Some people think it is a boring record, others praise it as a true masterpiece. Maybe the truth lies between those opinions. Because I never listened to Dream Theater before I can give you a more objective opinion on this album in my review.

For sure I have my own taste in music, so I can just be "objective" to a certain level, but sometimes it is very advantageous if you've never listened to a band before, because then you don't make the mistake to compare new records with the older ones ... and you guys know, that every fan of every band always says "back then everything was better". Many memories are connected to music and so this is a normal reaction. I'm pretty sure there is a large number of Dream Theater fans who feel the same way and if your favorite band dares to try something new the backlash is preprogrammed.

And this is exactly what Dream Theater did: they tried something new with "The Astonishing". The reason why I didn't buy any Dream Theater records so far was the fact that I'm not so much into the genre of Progressive Rock. "The Astonishing" wasn't announced as a Prog album, instead Dream Theater created a Rock Opera, a Rock Musical if you want so. To me, as a fan of Avantasia and Sonata Arctica, it sounded pretty interesting so I gave it a shot. 

The result is that "The Astonishing" keeps up to its promise: it is an ambitious Rock Opera project that tells the story of a young men in a distant future. A future, where music has vanished and an evil empire rules over the land, but this young man will rise to bring back the magic of music. You see, the story is a bit clichéd, but still interesting. To make this record sound like an epic Rock Musical Dream Theater reduced their progressive elements and replaced them with more symphonic elements and catchy melodies that remind you sometimes at the classic melodic rock genre. All that is mixed up with some orchestration and a huge portion of pomp. For many Dream Theater fans this is a slap in the face, I can understand that, but to me it is very appealing, because I'm a sucker for infectious melodies and song structures where I can see a red line somewhere. You won't find this red line on every track on "The Astonishing", but this album is still much more accessible than usual Progressive Rock records.

I don't want to concentrate on particular songs here because this album is way to complex to discuss every track. The 34 songs on "The Astonishing" are a mixture between very melodic rockers, instrumental tracks, some typical prog tunes and many atmospheric ballads. That might be a bit too soft and a bit too cheesy for some people but as a whole this mixture works pretty well. And you simply have to listen to this album as a whole to follow the story and to get the full experience out of it. With over two hours of playtime it's quiet difficult to listen to this from start to finish and be concentrated. Because that is what you have to do: sit down and listen attentively. Otherwise the pure mass of creative ideas and song fragments will strike you down at your first runs. This is another important aspect: you have to give this album various spins and the time to grow on you. You'll notice, that you will like it more and more with each new listen. That is what happend to me, so I discovered some brilliant melodies and ideas on "The Astonishing".

Usually Rock Operas consist of various characters, who tell the story. This is the same here. So I can't understand why Dream Theater didn't make use of different singers, who bring those characters to life. Instead we hear James LaBrie singing all parts alone. He even "plays" a woman and a child. LaBrie is a gifted singer and I enjoyed his performance very much, but the thing is this: his singing style isn't that different from character to character. So if you don't read the lyrics while listening you often have no clue which role he is playing at the moment. That can be pretty confusing at times and they could have dealed with that matter much better. Look at Avantasia and you see how it should be done.

Another point is the production. It all sounds very polished and crystal clear, there is no doubt about that, but escpecially the orchestration could have been a bit more powerful. For such an epic project I would have liked a brighter and more bombastic sound (look at the new Serenity record). Nevertheless the band sounds damn tight and there is no doubt that all involved musicians belong to the best in their field.

To come to an end: "The Astonishing" is a very varied, ambitious and complex record that will please fans who are more into the melodic side of Rock. Progressive die hards may not find what they are looking for. Otherwise fans of Rock Operas in general or people who like Symphonic Rock can give this a listen. With a few exceptions this is a very enjoyable album if you give it time and space to grow on you. Now excuse me, I have to get back to the gift of music. ;)



CD 1:

01. Descent Of The Nomacs
02. Dystopian Overture
03. The Gift Of Music
04. The Answer
05. A Better Life
06. Lord Nafaryus
07. A Savior In The Square
08. When Your Time Has Come
09. Act Of Faythe
10. Three Days
11. The Hovering Sojourn
12. Brother, Can You Hear Me?
13. A Life Left Behind
14. Ravenskill
15. Chosen
16. A Tempting Offer
17. Digital Discord
18. The X Aspect
19. A New Beginning
20. The Road To Revolution

CD 2:

21. 2285 Entr'Acte
22. Moment Of Betrayal
23. Heaven's Cove
24. Begin Again
25. The Path That Divides
26. Machine Chatter
27. The Walking Shadow
28. My Last Farewell
29. Losing Faythe
30. Whispers On The Wind
31. Hymn Of A Thousand Voices
32. Our New World
33. Power Down
34. Astonishing

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