Three years ago Dream Theater released their twelfth studio album called Dream Theater and it was not the album I was waiting for as it still lacked something.... Now DT bring out a double album which clocks in over two and a half hours and which could best be described as a full-blown rock opera avant la lettre! In 1999 Dream Theater released their first true concept album Metropolis Part 2, Scenes From A Memory, but The Astonishing is more than just a concept album, it is a melodic rock monster, which you could best compare with Rush's 2112, Pink Floyd's The Wall or Andrew Lloyd Webber's Jesus Christ Superstar.
After a couple of spins I really love this album, although I can imagine that for a lot of listeners the album will be too long and maybe too ambitious. The Astonishing features great progressive rock music with some extremely catchy melodies, complex instrumental passages, completed with a cast of characters and a fantastic plot. James LaBrie really shines on this album, as his vocals are probably the best I have heard in a very long time, and the guy enacts no less than eight different characters! The album features 34 tracks ranging from movie-like instrumentals to almost mellow-sweet ballads to the band's well-known prog metal songs. You can also hear a real and complete orchestra and choir on the album and this gives an extra musical dimension and provides depth and lots of atmosphere. As there are so many songs that are so well played I cannot go into all of them individually, but I will stick to the highlights of this monumental album. A short orchestral song called Descent Of The Nomacs is the opening track, followed by one of the highlights of the first CD, namely the amazing instrumental Dystopian Overture, filled with strings, great melodies, piano passages, a choir and a breathtaking guitar solo by John Petrucci. The Gift Of Music, the third track is also a favourite of mine, featuring typical DT riffs and melodies and again a very fast melodic guitar solo. A Life Left Behind, clocking in at almost six minutes, is another musical masterpiece kicking off with an acoustic guitar intro, followed by piano and keys melodies and then James sets in with his amazing emotional vocal work. This track has a very catchy chorus and the melody is absolutely stunning. The first disc almost ends with the rather long A New Beginning (7:41) and this one is Dream Theater old school, meaning prog metal pure with staccato guitar riffs, a long ferocious guitar solo and a top notch melody.
In my humble opinion CD 2 is even better as the second song Moment Of Betrayal is probably my favourite track of the entire rock opera. The track is really a DT classic and the chorus is so melodic and catchy that this song has been sticking in my head for days already and I will not get it out.....Petrucci's high guitar solo is sheer magic as well. Another highlight of the second disc is Begin Again, again a song that has a breathtaking melody with superb vocals and again, I am sorry to repeat myself, a very, very catchy melody. This song would also be very suitable for their older concept album Metropolis PT.2, Scenes From A Memory. The last song I would like to mention is Our New World which is really ready for radio single treatment.
The Astonishing is a fantastic album and without any doubt Dream Theater's most ambitious and daring studio album in their almost thirty years of existence! James delivers a first class performance and the piano and keys of Jordan Rudess are very much present, but the real Dream Theater fans will master the challenge of listening to the album in one take and they will, just like me, really dig this amazing album. However for some listeners the album might simply be too long and too much DT music for one sitting. Dream Theater have set the bar very high and I wonder if they can ever top this epic rock opera... I really do not care, because I will cherish The Astonishing for a very long time, maybe forever.... This album will stay in my CD player for months and I think that my wife will get crazy if she hears this album over and over again, but I cannot get enough of it. For me, this is the best album of 2016, play it loud and very often. Dream Theater is back and with a f..... vengeance!!!
***** Martien Koolen (edited by Robert James Pashman)
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