Album Review : Dream Theater – The Astonishing
27th January 2016, 14:00
Posted by Tristan

Innovation and ambition have always been Dream Theater’s bedrock. Creating some of the best records in the Progressive Metal arena the band are visionaries in their field. Now gearing up for the release of their most ambitious release yet The Astonishing sets the benchmark unbelievably high for sheer all out creativity.


Disc One :

1. Descent of the NOMACS

2. Dystopian Overture

3. The Gift of Music

4. The Answer

5. A Better Life

6. Lord Nafaryus

7. A Saviour In The Square

8. When Your Time Has Come

9. Act of Faythe

10. Three Days

11. The Hovering Soujourn

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

Disc Two :

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

Length: 120:00
Label: Roadrunner Records
Release date: January 29th 2016

Setting the scene to our concept we’re introduced to a future where humans creating music has become obsolete. Describing an uprising from a small rebel faction The Ravenskill Rebel Militia against the faceless edifice that is The Great Northern Empire. Traversing musical landscapes peppered with musical cues that suggest certain characters’ emotions or dramatic set pieces instantly from the moment “Descent of The NOMACS” begins its four minute warning style meltdown, Dream Theater demand your attention.

Working closely with Petrucci The Astonishing is governed by Labrie who does an exemplary job performing each of the many characters. Giving not only the story a believability but retaining a sense of narrative. Single, “The Gift of Music” is our introduction to our hero and his wonderous musical powers. Whereas “Three Days” sees a different character Emperor Nefaryus take over also changing musical tonality with the song taking on a more menacing sound.

As with many classic double albums there is an element of contrast, with many of the first disc’s songs retaining a positive melody to mirror the idea of hope. “A Saviour In The Square” for example highlights a moment of discovery for our protagonist in the story . Much like The Matrix where Neo begins to truly understand that he is the one. Moving into our second act tracks like “Heaven’s Cove” become more sinister as our tale develops.

Though at first seemingly hard to follow after repeat listens the thread that’s handed to us in “Dystopian Overture” leads us to be able to navigate the labyrinth of songs on The Astonishing. Recurring musical motifs act as a form of chorus for the listener to latch onto giving the album a sense of accessibility.

Musically however The Astonishing is the most accessible release yet. Retaining more of a linear sense of songwriting rather than the off the wall musical showmanship. Sprawling solo’s are still definitely present but know their place instead of overstaying their welcome. “The X Aspect” is one of Petrucci’s definite high points on the album instrumentally wowing the listener. Diving into the concept album a band can lose focus on the musical aspect of the record cheapening it’s content and essentially making the album if anything good for a couple of listens. Walking the line between narrative and musical prowess the band find a perfect balance that neither eclipses musicality or story telling whilst also not retracing their steps from previous concept tour de force Metropolis.

The amount of consideration gone into the ideas that are exhibited on the record is simply gargantuan. From swelling orchestration sections like “Act of Faythe” to the impending electronic doom of “Hovering Sojourn” bring a sense of the cinematic to the record making for Petrucci’s idea of this new world to be tangible. However I would say what makes the album an absolute masterpiece could also be its downfall. It’s long. It is very long.

At the running time of one hundred and twenty minutes and with thirty four tracks it’s impossible to digest the rich creativity in one sitting. Soon to be making their live debut of The Astonishing no doubt in a musical setting it will enhance the listening experience to the nth degree. Nevertheless in creating smaller tracks, which are of a more suitable portion than the filling twenty minute sagas, makes it easier to latch onto the story and in turn the music. At times momentum is slightly lost throughout its lengthy listen, however it can be redeemed in an instant “Ravenskill” for example fluctuates both dramatically and musically summoning our Act II.

Intended to be a sprawling, living, entity the record needs to be heard to be believed. Though don’t be put off by it’s daunting length, like a huge robotic onion The Astonishing contains almost limitless layers. Capitalising on all the elements that made us all fall in love with the band from their eighties beginnings. The Astonishing is ostensibly dramatic from “Moment of Betrayal” to the denouement of title track “The Astonishing“. A fantastic marriage of the conceptual arc and Dream Theater’s seemingly limitless musical virtuosity. The focus might have been shifted on a storytelling dynamic this time mind, but the musical assault course laid out by Perrucci is navigated brilliantly by Jordan Rudess opting for a more contextual playing of keys rather than the usual widdling. Building from their past whilst embracing the future Dream Theater have created their magnum opus, not only exceeding all expectations but in doing so have created a limitlessly engaging album that will have Prog fans swearing allegiance to The Astonishing for years to come.

Tirelessly reinventing themselves, The Astonishing is a thirty four track odyssey that sees a band thirty one years into their career take on their most ambitious release to date which has eclipsed expectations truly living up to it’s name.

Are you ready to be Astonished? Pick up your copy of the brand new album here!