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Album Reviews : Dream Theater – The Astonishing

By on February 4, 2016

Dream Theater The AstonishingWhen you hear the term “concept album” in the metal genre, Dream Theater’s Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory is an album that springs to mind. A widely admired album for its musicianship and themes, it is to date one of the band’s most famous and successful releases. Seventeen years have passed and now Dream Theater has unleashed their second ever concept album upon the world. It took two years for John Petrucci and the rest of the band to complete The Astonishing, and the result is, well, astonishing (come on, I had to!). The story takes the listener out of our own world into a dystopian future where love, hope and despair entwine to create something unique.

It goes without saying that this is Dream Theater’s most ambitious project to date. The album is split into two acts (discs), and it is 133 minutes long. Now, I was worried when I noticed the length of this “rock opera” (I hate the term, but it is what it is). It just seems too long, but the story will keep you interested throughout most of the album, just like a good movie. I won’t spoil the story in this review, as I believe that this release is as much about the experience itself as it is about the music. But it is pretty straightforward. There is a big focus on the characters and their relationships. Speaking of the characters, James Labrie offers the vocal performance of the year, portraying both men and women in a very convincing way.

In my opinion this is far from a perfect album.  It could have been shorter to begin with, as it feels like there is quite a lot of filler material spread across the two acts. But they’re also not evenly balanced, as the end of the second act is a bit repetitive. If you would put the two acts next to each other, I would much rather listen to the first part of the story.

Production-wise you can’t fault Dream Theater at all. The sound is perfection right across the board, and I think what really separates The Astonishing from the last album is the guitar work by John Petrucci, which feels a lot more powerful this time around. Jordan Rudess is in one way the very focal point of this release, creating an elaborate soundscape which enhances the experience. Mike Mangini and John Myung are left in the background for a lot of this record, however, they execute their parts perfectly. I mentioned James LaBrie before, and I will do it again. In total he is portraying eight characters – eight. He manages to portray them all with sufficient emotion and honesty. This is probably the best work he’s done in his career with Dream Theater.

I do not think that I am a big enough Dream Theater fan to fully appreciate the enormity of The Astonishing.  I do believe, however, that this is a release that in twenty years time will be able to stand together with Metropolis Pt. 2 as one of the landmark prog metal albums of our time.


Martin is an aspiring music photographer/videographer. He is originally from the southern parts of Sweden and now he's living in Sydney, Australia. Thanks to his older sister, he got into Rammstein at the age of 9, and since then he's been into all types of metal/rock. He loves to combine photography and music, but also filming concerts and produce live material. Follow him on Twitter and check out his website.