Dream Theater are a band that either entertain you or completely bore you. As my favourite band of whom I've followed closely for over a decade, I wish I didn't have to say this album does the latter.
The Astonishing is an ambitious double album with a storyline that echoes Star Wars and Game of Thrones. Hard to follow and a little too complex – the concept for Dream Theater’s 13th album would be tolerable if only the music made up for it. The album ricochets a little too familiar with Rush’s 2112 but this is understandable given both bands connections and contributions to the progressive genre.
The single release of “The Gift of Music” was promising, but with 34 tracks – a few of which are fillers with less than 1 minute and 30 seconds of random noises – the album is difficult to grasp onto at first and second listen. The album lasts a total of 2 hours and 9 minutes and at least a quarter of that shines as some of Dream Theater’s finest work – the rest however, feels multifaceted and tedious.
Vocalist James LaBrie performs each character himself in first-person. The versatility of his voice shows throughout the album but there are parts you definitely think could benefit from additional vocalists or narration like the concept albums you hear from the likes of Ayreon, Avantasia and Devin Townsend. The drums feel a little bit lacklustre at times which is upsetting as we all know what Mike Mangini is capable of.
The single “Chosen” for example is a beautiful love ballad and shows how dynamic LaBrie and keyboardist Jordan Rudess can be. Sadly, though, the song feels as though it needs a female vocalist providing backing and could even benefit from being a duet with said female singer. The album is filled with these types of ballads – all of which follow the same formula.
The album benefits from a full orchestra, performed by the City of Prague Philarmonic, and is arranged by the legendary David Campbell, who is no stranger to rock music nowadays, but even the bombastic choir and orchestra arrangements don’t bring out the power of the music that is featured on The Astonishing.
In closing my brief but to-the-point impressions of Dream Theater’s The Astonishing I say it’s not a bad album, just maybe not what you’ve come to expect from the progressive giants. It’s worth checking out and is guaranteed to blow many people away as their finest efforts and maybe it will grow on you – but overall, The Astonishing is yet another over-hyped record.