The Astonishing (2016): Dream Theater’s 130-minute dystopian epos

Dream Theater released their latest album The Astonishing on January 29, 2016, via Roadrunner. It encompasses 130 minutes, which can be considered the soundtrack to a story that “is set in a dystopian United States and follows the Ravenskill Rebel Militia in their efforts to defy the Great Northern Empire of the Americas using the magical power of music”[1].

This long-awaited epos has been reviewed back and forth and up and down. Therefore, here, just my 2 cents: Yes, it might be very bold to bring out a concept album that lasts 130 minutes in times when singles downloads outsell albums by far and the attention span of music listeners is said to be shorter than chirp. However, every trend has a anti-trend and Dream Theater are going for that one. Personally, I really enjoyed The Astonishing. Sure, when I walk through the urban streets of the big city, trying to dodge hasty corporate soldiers and shopping wifes, it might be a bit less appropriate to listen to this album than maybe AC/DC’s Highway To Hell. But if I can take my time, sit down with a coffee or a drink, put on my good headphones to create an environment where the music will provide a fine soundtrack for a couple of hours, Dream Theater gave me a wonderful album in typical, if not even better, Dream Theater manner. See what others wrote about The Astonishing:

“All in all, Dream Theater continue to strive for new heights, all the while remaining grounded in their own inherent limitations – it’s safe to say at this point that the band’s instrumental virtuosity will always greatly outshine their songwriting prowess – but, while they remain essentially critic-proof, some albums are obviously better than others, and if you can get past the cheesier elements and the demanding length, The Astonishing is one of their better albums in years, even if its singular vision doesn’t offer easily excised “hits” like some of the older material affords.” – Jeremy Ulrey, metalinjection.net

The Astonishing is an absolutely unique experience. Even at two hours, it demands your full attention. … You might want to laugh at points, because a good deal of it is very silly, but somewhere within the second half, you’ll become just a little invested. By the grand finale, you might even feel inspired.” – Sean Barry, consequenceofsound.net

“I’m giving the record an overall 8/10. It’s not perfect. It can get a little tiring to listen to at times. I wish there were more metal and shred elements. James‘ vocals are great but his voice doesn’t change enough to really differentiate the characters based on that alone. But if you’re looking to be blown away by a huge, theatrical piece of music, or are willing to listen to something new and different that will take you on a journey, this album will… well… it’ll astonish you!” – travislausch, ultimate-guitar.com

“The results [of The Astonishing] won’t please every Dream Theater partisan, nor will they convert the skeptical. But it would take a hard heart to deny Petrucci, co-composer and keyboardist Jordan Rudess and their mates credit for the boldness of their aspirations and the assurance with which they achieve them.” – Steve Smith, rollingstone.com

“An album like The Astonishing is bound to be a polarizing one. Its length and scope make it a difficult entry point for casual listeners, but hardcore DT fans will look forward to the challenge and digging into an album with a lot of depth. Keeping with the movie analogy, it’s a lot like the Revenant: beautifully crafted and executed, perhaps a little bit too long, but ultimately an enjoyable and rewarding experience.” – Chad Bowar, loudwire.com

Sebastiano Mereu

YouTuber + host of the #FHTZ online music show with co-producer @simonkurt + marketing & digital content producer + university lecturer