When Dream Theater announced that they would be releasing’ The Astonishing, a rock opera which is also a concept album, clocking at around two and a half hours long, a lot of people felt that this would either be a disaster or absolutely phenomenal.
High expectations were held for this album since the band is no stranger to the world of concept albums to begin with. Metropolis PT.2 (Scenes From A Memory) is probably one of their most potent and critically acclaimed album and then the second disc of Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence is nothing short of a masterpiece.
This concept album is very different in nature though; it is quite possibly their longest concept album, or the longest album in their discography, and it is a rock opera as well.
This rock opera has a theatrical story line, characters, and a world map.
John Petrucci, who is the guitarist and producer of this band, conceived the concept of the album. The music was composed by Jordan Rudess(Piano/Keyboards) and John Petrucci (Guitars/Production).
This album was a huge undertaking by the band, as it has no midi instruments. The amazingly talented David Campbell who has many great projects to his name assisted Jordan Rudess and John Petrucci in arranging all the orchestral and choir parts on this album. Real musicians recorded all the choir and orchestra.
The biggest difference in this album is that only two musicians are primarily writing the core of this album; this was never the case in the past for this band.
This is also the first concept album with drummer Mike Mangini.
The story of the astonishing revolves around 8 characters.
These characters are Gabriel,Empror Nafaryus, Arhys, Fayth ,Daryus, Empress Arabelle, Evangeline, and Xander.
Gabrielle is the main hero of our story here; he has been blessed with the gift of music and belongs to the Ravenskill Rebel Militia. The people of the Ravenskill Rebel Militia love the arts and music and they believe that Gabrielle is the chosen one who would set them free from the ruthless yet peaceful looking Great Northern Empire with his power of music. The great Northern empire control the humans by having no organic music and no artistic expression by the humans in their dystopian society and the only music the people hear there is by computerized drones called the Nomacs.
My theory is that the Nomacs create a hypnotic effect on the people due to which they do not rebel against the dystopian Great Northern Empire.
This story is not only about a war between two factions but is also a love story between Gabrielle and Faythe,who is the daughter of Emperor Nafaryus.
Emperor Nafaryus is the leader of the Great Northern Empire.
Now I know all this sounds very much like a script of Star Wars fusing with Hunger games but the cool thing is that it works!
I would actually say that this is more of a modern day Romeo and Juliet in many ways. I will not give too much away about the story. Just get a good pair of headphones and take out time to enjoy the album because it requires attention.
The music is wonderfully arranged and executed. John Petrucci and Jordan Rudess have composed some wonderful melodies on this album, James Labrie hasn’t sounded this good since “Scenes From A Memory”, John Myung and Mike Mangini lay down a powerful rhythm section and foundation on this record.
So it all sounds wonderful right?
Well there are certainly a few minor flaws here in my personal view. I think this project was a huge undertaking as I’ve mentioned earlier. James Labrie brought on his best vocal delivery in years but since he represented so many different characters, he definitely captured their vibe but it still sounded like James Labrie because he is a versatile vocalist, no matter how much criticism he gets for his singing at times. I genuinely feel that if they gave the female parts to an amazing female guest vocalist it would have really made the entire purpose of having different characters a lot stronger.
The mix was definitely a lot better than the previous two albums; my only gripe with the mix is Mike Mangini’s snare. It sounds too over-processed and less organic.
I mean honestly, Mike Mangini is so precise when it comes to his drumming that he can easily be the metronome himself. This is actually a compliment to his ability; so when you have a drummer that is super perfect in executing his parts, try not to add too many effects in the chain of his organically recorded parts, specially the snare. Overall his playing was fantastic but I really felt that he needs to be given a little bit more freedom to express himself musically.
Some people complained about the length and the album having a bunch of fillers but I didn’t see it like that. I think the story gelled well together from track to track.
This album needs multiple replays, attention, and time so that it can really be understood.
Overall I am really impressed with Dream Theater’s offering. This is the first album that I really enjoyed from the Mike Mangini era. The whole band took their music to a whole different level: they gave us golden nuggets from the past that we loved about them and then gave us a whole new feel in terms of their musicality. I think this album really unleashed Jordan Rudess’s arranging abilities to a whole new level. The man is a wizard at his respective instrument and it really shows on this album. John Petrucci’s solos were flawless but at times a few of them were a little overdone in my view. I mean I love shredding so I enjoy them a lot but some listeners might find some of the solos a little distracting from the overall music. With that said kudos to him for writing some beautiful melodies.
My final verdict on the album is that it’s Dream Theater’s best album in the last 10 years. Musically this album gets full marks. It is the closest that they have come to Scenes From A Memory and Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence. Both of these albums besides Awake are probably my all time favorite records from the band and this album is astonishingly now right up there.
Overall Rating: 95/ 100
Interview playlist - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G3M7_y6bZPA&list=PLVGtVqdII0CcARZpid9sbMBoHyFptoP4y
Pick up THE ASTONISHING at:
Google Play: http://Smarturl.it/TheAstonishingGP