Release Date: Jan 29, 2016
Record label: Roadrunner Records
While the title of prog-metal’s premier quintet’s 13th studio set smacks of megalomania, the 130-minute double-album vies with 1999’s Metropolis 2: Scenes From A Memory as their concept opus par excellence. For fans of the more bruising Portnoy-era, there are pedal-to-the-metal workouts in the likes of The X Aspect and looming The Path That Divides (with trademark LaBrie vocal flourishes). But the vision is as grand as anything in the band’s 30-year history, their tableau of 23rd century dystopia sharing its messianic salvation-through-music theme with Styx’s Kilroy Was Here (and Queen’s We Will Rock You), while the scene-setting Act 1 features introductory narrative, Jordan Rudess’ futuristic synth-scapes (plus vaudevillian interludes), and echoes of Wakeman, Wayne and Parsons’ sci-fi outings.
US prog metallers go conceptual on 13th LP. Opinion on Dream Theater’s music tends to be divided roughly equally between those who absolutely adore every last virtuoso second, and those who would rather be boiled in their own arse-syrup than sit through one of the band’s wilfully intricate epics. .
Few bands could have conceived of, let alone pulled off, the exercise in excess that Dream Theater have with The Astonishing. In a vast catalog that includes several album-length conceptual statements -- Metropolis, Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory, Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence -- this is so extreme that it pushes at what their fans (a fanatical lot) may accept.
Let’s face it: Being a prog rock band in 2016 requires a very specific amount of fearlessness, where taking yourself and your music seriously may compromise how seriously others may take you. If you’re willing to create a two-LP prog concept album inspired by popular sci-fi franchises like Star Wars, Game of Thrones, and The Hunger Games, then you better be willing to put everything you’ve got into it. (Read: ridiculous character names, fictional locations, a goddamn symphony.) Anything less simply wouldn’t do.
Subtlety and economy aren't words that typically come to mind when pondering a new Dream Theater album, much less one that arrives in the form of a double-disc epic with 34 tracks spanning two-and-a-half hours. Yet counterintuitively, those qualities help the veteran prog-metal quintet's 13th album, The Astonishing, live up to its title. The band's customary pyrotechnic chops, machine-tooled precision and soaring anthems are all present and accounted for.