Although I'll be the first to admit that as a disturbingly dedicated fan of all things Dream Theater and Dream Theater-related, there was once a time (i.e. the Falling Into Infinity and Once In A LIVEtime era) when I entirely avoided the group. Having already shamelessly devoted untold hours of my undeniably misspent youth and early adulthood to the hairspray and mascara-encrusted offerings of Guns N' Roses, L.A. Guns and, to a lesser extent, Mötley Crüe, I initially found myself less than receptive to the group's compositional complexities and introspective, thought-provoking lyrical vernacular. However, with the release of the woefully-underrated Train Of Thought (2003), my now unthinkable aversions to their unabashed Progressive wizardry at last eroded amid the gleefully, histrionic strains of “This Dying Soul” and the The Davidians-fueled “In The Name Of God”. Now, with the release of their latest conceptual opus The Astonishing, I again find myself completely enthralled.
On the brilliant The Astonishing (2016), an expertly assembled two disc, thirty-four (!) song collection of Progressive Heavy Metal, each track, beginning with the delightfully thunderous instrumental “Dystopian Overture” the soaring, quasi-operatic first single “The Gift Of Music” and the maddeningly infectious lament “A Better Life”, instantly commands the rapt and undivided attention of even the most jaded and unimaginative of listeners, myself most definitely included. Wisely attempting to capitalize on the tidal wave of momentum initiated with the release of the universally-heralded Dream Theater (2013) and A Dramatic Turn Of Events (2011), the group unleashes a genre-defying blend of soaring, multi-octave vocals, razor-sharp fretwork and imaginatively punishing rhythms. Engulfing the proverbial average listener amid a previously unparalleled, all-consuming auditory landscapes, the group easily distances themselves from their few legitimate contemporaries.
Continuing with the patriotically over-the-top ballad “Brother, Can You Hear Me” the scathing, emotionally-charged “A Tempting Offer” and the somber--albeit highly-effective--dirge “The Road To Revolution”, the impossibly airtight combination of MullMuzzler/ex-Winter Rose vocalist James LaBrie, guitarist John Petrucci (Explorers Club, Liquid Tension Experiment), keyboardist Jordan Rudess (Dixie Dregs, Vinnie Moore), Explorers Club/Platypus bassist John Myung and drummer Mike Mangini (Annihilator, Extreme) steamrolls ahead at what can only be described as a carefully-calculated pace. Armed with an unnervingly complex story line that primarily focuses on a band of rebels attempting to defy an oppressive empire with music playing a central role, the group drives home each key focal point without overwhelming the proverbial average listener. Flexing their more-than-considerable creative muscles early and often, the group scores major points with ease.
Co-Engineered and Mixed by the acclaimed Richard Chycki (who also co-helmed the ingenious 2014 in-concert testament Breaking The Fourth Wall: Live At The Boston Opera House) and fortified throughout by a series of entirely stunning contributions from The City Of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, other standouts, including the slow-building tirade “The Path That Divides” the acoustic-laden serenade “Hymn Of A Thousand Voices” and the mournful yet equally impressive closer “Astonishing”, only further reinforce the group's well-deserved reputation as bona fide creative and commercial forces not to be ignored. While the premise of such an undeniably exhaustive tome may seem pretentious to the point of absurdity and perhaps even ridicule to the uninitiated (particularly those without a genuine and sincere appreciation for all things Progressive Metal and Progressive Metal-related), the result(s) of the group's truly monstrous efforts are nothing short of extraordinary.
But is it really that good? Absolutely! Arguably their most thoroughly ambitious and, as a result, thoroughly satisfying conceptual effort to date (surpassing both Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From A Memory and Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence), the majority--if not all--of the decidedly exhaustive wares contained herein are, without a doubt, guaranteed to appease the improbably long-running group's oft-rabid fan base, making The Astonishing a much-welcomed addition to their already sprawling lineage. Remaining atmospheric, ambient and undeniably grandiose while avoiding the pretentious, self-indulgent tendencies of their few legitimate contemporaries, this is quite possibly as good as it gets. Needless to say, if you've once again found yourself in search of a thought-provoking alternative to the Pop and Hip Hop-fueled frivolities that are so often force fed en mass, then this, my friends, might just be the high-octane cure-all for what it is that ails you. Trust me, you will not be disappointed.
The Astonishing (2016)
Breaking The Fourth Wall: Live From The Boston Opera House (Blu-Ray/DVD) (2014)
Live At Luna Park (DVD) (2013)
Dream Theater (2013)
A Dramatic Turn Of Events (2011)
Wither (EP) (2009)
Black Clouds & Silver Linings (2009)
Chaos In Motion 2007 - 2008 (DVD)
Greatest Hit…And 21 Other Pretty Cool Songs (2008)
Systematic Chaos (2007)
Live At Budokan (2004)
Images And Words: Live In Tokyo/5 Years In A Livetime (DVD) (2004)
The Majesty Demos 1985 - 1986 (2003)
Train Of Thought (2003)
Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence (2002)
Metropolis 2000: Live Scenes From New York (DVD) (2001)
Live Scenes From New York (2001)
Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From A Memory (1999)
Once In A LIVEtime (1998)
Falling Into Infinity (1997)
A Change Of Seasons (EP) (1995)
Images And Words: Live In Tokyo (DVD) (1993)
Live At The Marquee (EP) (1993)
Images And Words (1992)
When Dream And Day Unite (1989)
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