The Astonishing – Dream Theater (Music Review)
I deliberately took a few months to let this work digest through my system before I tried to write a review. There really are no words to describe the width, depth and breadth of this musical en devour. Dream Theater have brought every influence, inspiration and creative flavor that they have amassed over their 30 plus year musical careers and weaved them amidst a wonderful concept story line in “The Astonishing”.
You can easily find many internet resources that will parse the story into endless details. I will not attempt to duplicate those efforts. The story has received mixed reviews from my vantage point. Some commentators and critics (professional and amateurs both) say that the story has been done before, nothing new to see here. Well I think you can say that about any story really. I believe it was Shakespeare that said there really are only two plot lines in literature; a comedy or a tragedy. For me, and many others, its all about the context, the characters and the story telling. The Astonishing plot line is interesting enough with it’s futuristic, dystopian sci-fi manner, but the added nuance of mixing in the musical aspect really brings a fresh new angle to the tale. Like the concept story line or not you can not deny the rich musical genius and virtuoso performances that provides the context and the method of delivery.
“Our New World” Official video from “The Astonishing” by Dream Theater
I watched many videos and listened to the album in my car for the past few months trying to gain an overall lasting impression of my feelings and insights, the thoughts and feelings of the band’s faithful following as well as the views of the greater musical community. I wanted to gauge the lasting effects of this album. In my opinion it is a work of musical genius and should and will set the benchmark for years to come.
Yes there are many dissenting viewpoint throughout the intertubes. Youtube commentators, tweets and facebook posts abound with the standard tripe; “Bring back Portnoy!”, “They’ve gone soft!” and my favorite “This sounds exactly like X, Y or Z (insert your favorite old DT song here)!!” In retort to those simplistic comments I say the following. Mangini is a fabulous drummer. Portnoy is a fabulous drummer. I love them both. They both have major contributions to their respective DT works. Get over it already and enjoy the music. As for the soft quip. Yes the older DT music could be described as more METAL \m/ arrrgh! but the old stuff also had some really great soft musical moments as well. I think “The Astonishing” is the perfect and most mature blend of METAL \m/ moments and soft musical passages. Plus the story needs to be supported by the proper musical mood in order to be an effective score. Relax and enjoy the dynamic variety of musical moments found in the entirety of the album.
It seems to be human nature to try and compare a new song to an old song in order to convey a critique of the new song. To me it’s a little shallow to boil down a critique of a song as simplistic as that. Music is a growth journey, taking influences and bending and shaping them into some new presentation. There are only so many notes and tones a musician can use to create a melody. It is how you string them together that make the song. Just like DNA in the human body. We are all made up of the same ingredients but no two of us are the same. I think the older and more experienced a band becomes the more mature, evolved and polished their music becomes. “The Astonishing” is a perfect example of this. There are moments and riffs that rival the most metal that metal can be but there are also passages and melodies that rival the best that a Broadway musical can create. The mix of the two and the added context of the story line are what makes this work special and memorable.
As an example the reoccurring melody that opens and closes “Our New World” and “Savior in the Square” is pure musical bliss that I guarantee to you Beethoven, Bach and Brahms would be kicking themselves in the ass for not writing. It gives me chills every time I hear it. That is the sign of musical genius. There are a number of the musical passages sprinkled throughout the album that qualify as such genius, in my opinion.
In summary, please take a moment to think about the years of musical training and practice, the years of trial and error, the years of melody writing, riff writing, tone tweaking, all the sore muscles, blisters, sweat and pain that went into the making of this wondrous musical work. Please think about how your best musical effort would compare in quality, scope and execution to The Astonishing. Think about how well you would be able to recreate the score on stage every night in every concert hall across the world. Think about those factors before you press enter on that comment box with the simpleton, falsely clever “Portnoy would not have written such a soft Disney-ish melody that sounds just like “Metropolis Part I”.
I have tickets to The Astonishing concert. Stay tuned for a concert recap blog post.