There is something to be said about the enduring legacy of Dream Theater. In a day and age when bands and scenes come and go and music is seen as being as disposable as fast food, it is somewhat commendable that have continued to forge on and create music that is both challenging and completely unfiltered. Its theirs and theirs alone.
I both love and hate Dream Theater in equal. Let me clarify that statement, their album 'Images and Words' is one of my all time favourite albums, and I love what they do, especially in their later, heavier years, but I also don't have the kind of attention span that will sit through songs that are generally north of 6 or 7 minutes. So when I saw that their latest album 'The Astonishing' would be a 35 track, 2 hour, 2 disc concept album with visual media elements and an online strategy game, my heart did sink a little bit. But for the purpose of this review I have committed and listened to the album top to bottom a good couple of times to really see if firstly I could make it all the way through, and secondly if I could make some kind of sense of it all.
Firstly, I will commend Dream Theater for cooking up something this elaborate and seeing it through, the concept as tried and tested as it is works within the parameters the band have set themselves and the story unfolds through the music in the way you would expect. As far as concept albums go, it's one of the more cohesive and consistent I have ever heard.
The musicianship on display is as good as you would expect it to be from Dream Theater, a band who have created some of the most thought provoking and breath taking music in the realm of metal. There are drawbacks though, and those tend to be the same with any album that features some kind of story and that is that you cannot take a lot of the songs on their own away from the rest of the album and just have them there without context, but also there are parts of the album that drag. At just over 2 hours, it makes for a long and somewhat exhausting listen if you listen to it top to bottom. I feel that some of the musical interludes could have been taken out just for pacing to make the album flow a little better. But that is just personal opinion.
There are so many moments on the album for the full spectrum of Dream Theater fans to appreciate. You get the heavy, the light and the dark. I think this is probably the best James LaBrie has sounded in a decade and his voice is really given a full range workout on this album. It has taken 3 albums now to integrate Mike Mangini into the fold, but he has proven himself time and time again and gets his own moments to shine on here as well.
But you don't need me to tell you how great Dream Theater are as musicians you will have formulated your own opinion of them by now I'm sure. But there are no major curveballs here in terms of sound, as this is 100% pure Dream Theater through and through. Saying that though, there do appear to be a few instances where the band does appear to show restraint and there are moments where the songs are more streamlined than on previous releases. Yes, the songs are still longer than most but the soloing or more frivolous musicianship seems to have been toned down a tad
The Astonishing is definitely not an album you would put on to walk to the shops or at the gym but it is an album that will reward the people that want to invest the time in it and fully immerse themselves in the world that has been created around it. As much as I enjoy Dream Theater though and feel like they have created something unique here, I can't see his being an album that I return to regularly. However, that is more down to my attention span and how i listen to music than the quality of the music on display here.