Dream Theater – The Astonishing

To move away from politics, because I could drone on about that all day, like Rush Limbaugh does (he’s A LOT better at it though), and talk about Dream Theater’s newly released double concept album with 34 “astonishing” track to its credit.

Looking back at what the guys were releasing as far as plot line goes, it was hard to tell what the album was going to sound like. Would it be a prog-metal record, a rock opera, a Kansas sounding record? Just my thoughts…but once the two songs came out, we could get some sort of idea of what the album sounds like.

But it’s hard to judge just based on that. I’ve listened to the album about 23 times so far (about 52 hours, listening about 2 times a day), and those two songs aren’t even the tip of the iceberg. Dream Theater put their fans on “the path that divides”, but they truly did give us “the gift of music”. The Astonishing takes you on a futuristic/medieval dystopian journey where real music is dead from an evil dictator who controls people, acting like “Big Brother” by controlling what people are exposed to thanks to the NOMACS. Synthesized sound is now in the minds and ears of citizens, but the savior of music arrives. Whatever preconceived idea anyone has about the album before listening to it, you might as well fold. This album is a musical masterpiece. It isn’t as heavy as Awake, Train of Thought, Systematic Chaos, or Black Clouds, but it spans the musical spectrum from orchestral to straight up rock to progressive rock and metal. It’s really all inclusive stylistically. But this is the album that will further divide the fans, whether or not you are a fan of Mangini or not.

Subjectively, I think this album is great because they’re musicians that aren’t one sided to the prog-metal and heavy songs. They can pull at all emotions. They can play everything. This album proves it. It’s both beautiful and creative. It’s not directed at teenagers. Not to insult probably half of DT Forums, but it’s meant for people who appreciate the patience and time it took to not write a song, but orchestrate a concept. It’s cheesy, sure, but think of all the emotions expressed. It’s a complex concept, with the main plot of revolution, the forgotten son wanting attention from his dad, the princess falling for the savior but is a major daddy’s girl, but also the desire of creative and different music than the constant sound and obnoxious noise produced by the NOMACs (representing today’s musical shift). Not many rock or metal bands will record with an orchestra or choir, and if they do, they aren’t a prominent and integral part of the song and concept. Dream Theater has significantly changed since Mangini’s arrival. This album is another testament to that. Dramatic Turn was pre-written, and didn’t give Mangini much time to prep the songs before recording and touring. Dream Theater was already the most apparent shift towards different styles, just how the album began and ended. Illumination Theory was a deep concept and an emotional one, too. That was orchestrated. They still do their instrumentals and the songs in general are pretty hard, each one alone and yet together like two passing ships. Mangini was classically trained as a drummer. This album didn’t feature completely polyrhythmic drumming and complex patterns, with the exceptions of The Gift of Music among others, but it shows that he knows what to play to fit the mood. Every part was meticulously placed alongside another, and looking at it from a conceptual and musical point of view, I and a lot of other people have seen their true musicianship. Think of the soul that was present in the Spirit Carries On, think of the deep complexity of songs like Learning to Live and Illumination Theory, I could go on, but it’s for the reasons so many dislike it that I like it. I didn’t know what to expect from them. I didn’t want more of the same, and before we heard music, it already wasn’t. I love all of Dream Theater’s music because it’s representative of their collective musicianship and what they were feeling at the time. This is probably far from what people either wanted or expected, but I’m glad. Maybe it’s not an original concept, people can argue they took from Rush (I mean, the original 3 members were all Rush geeks) but the music, the passion, the discontinuity of the continuing line of metal, they’re just keeping it fresh. It’s some of James’ best vocal parts in my opinion and is very lyric centric, which means he had to embody each character to portray it correctly.

This album awakened a musical side of me that I have not experience. I cannot get enough of this masterpiece, this work of art, and though many will not like it because it’s not heavy enough, I think it’s worth the time to give it a listen. If you don’t like it, then add it to your Dream Theater collective of CDs. You really can’t go wrong with this album regardless of what you think of it.

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