Written By Lucas P. Jones
On January 29th, progressive metal legends Dream Theater released The Astonishing, easily their most ambitious album to date. A double disc concept album, The Astonishing features 34 songs and clocks in at around two-and-a-half hours. At first glance, this behemoth of an album might seem daunting to Dream Theater fans, let alone a casual listener, yet by the midway point you begin to get lost in the story and theatrics of the music and the lyrics, anxious for the next track to continue the story. Drawing inspiration from the likes of Rush’s 2112 and Queensryche’s Mindcrime, The Astonishing whisks you through a futuristic plot backed by over the top song structure, complex solos, and enough tempo changes to make your head spin.
The album’s storyline, written by guitarist John Petrucci, is set in the future. A militia has begun a rebellion against an oppressive empire led by Lord Nefaryus. The militia gains power after it discovers its savior, Gabriel, who only discovers his own power and leadership abilities after discovering the gift of music. Ok, fine, its super cheesy. I’ll admit there were certain parts of this album which are slightly eye-roll inducing, whether that’s from the constant over embellishing of James LaBrie’s vocal style or the lyrics themselves, I’m not sure. Thematically, the heavy influence of Rush’s 2112 is present, but Dream Theater has never shied away from wearing their prog influences on their sleeve.
As a Dream Theater fan, you could almost see something like this album coming. Both On the Backs of Angles and the self-titled album Dream Theater contained almost exclusively shorter songs, something that both myself and other DT fans noticed. The band has long been known for complex and lengthy songs with overarching musical themes, and their absence was strange, especially with the inclusion of the 22 minute epic “Illumination Theory” at the end of the self-titled album. Perhaps that was a taste of things to come, a way for the band to let us know that their reign as prog metal gods was not yet over.
The complex instrumentation and orchestration from “Illumination Theory” is spread out over the entire album. The rich orchestration of David Campbell, long passages of lyrical music, and short, intense sections of pure technicality, spell out what is undeniably an epic rock opera. Dream Theater shoots for the moon here, and while some parts of albums are weak, when taken as a whole, this album shines brightly. I highly recommend at least two or three listens, one of which should be a listen with no distractions on a good pair of headphones, in order to grasp the full weight of this album.