Greg: So first off, I should say that I really wanted to like this album. Dream Theater were getting back on track with their self-titled album, and with Iron Maiden knocking it out of the park just months ago with a stellar double album, my hopes were high. I figured if they could pull off a concept like Six Degrees or Octavarium again, this could be a late career highlight. What I got was the 45 minute album I wanted, and another hour and a half of repetitive power ballads and prog rock showtunes that go nowhere.
Danny: Well, the opening track ends with a noise that can only be described as one of the Reapers from Mass Effect, which means we’re getting a sci-fi concept album for sure. The album certainly opens promisingly enough, with a quite typically Dream Theater-esque overture to set the tone for the album as a whole. We’re already sounding a lot like old school Scenes from a Memory era Dream Theater. Certainly got my hopes up. Heck, even James LaBrie sounds better than he has on previous albums. It seems they finally got him to stop screeching for the high notes. Unfortunately, he also sounds a lot more… dull than he has before.
G: Dream Theater lyrics have always been a mixed bag, yet even coming from a staunch apologist for all things high-concept, they really saved the worst for last. Imagine putting a high school Rush cover band on the spot to play something original and you’ll have an idea of what to expect. If you’re hoping it all somehow gets salvaged in execution, all I can tell you is that Coldplay should have James LaBrie on speed dial in case Chris Martin ever quits. He sounds smoother than he has in years, but he barely explores the limits of his range and sounds disappointingly one-note for someone tasked with portraying a large and varied cast.
D: And it’s not like he hasn’t done the “varied cast” thing before. This certainly isn’t Dream Theater’s first concept album! But really, the only Astonishing thing about this album is how bad the writing is. If you’re like me, and just kinda zoned out from paying close attention to the story, you can always follow the plot summary on Wikipedia. Yes, that’s right. The bad guy is actually named “Lord Nafaryus,” the love interest is “Faythe,” and the entire plot is about the “magical power of music.” This is what I expect from the kind of hack that sends unsolicited manuscripts into Tor Books on a monthly basis. And it’s not like Greg and I are opposed to some nice cheesy lyrics. Hell, we’re both ardent fans of Pyramaze, a band who, on their debut album, has a song about a god damn unicorn!
G: The saddest part is, there are elements of The Astonishing that work. LaBrie sometimes hits on a genuinely catchy melody, and the instrumental interludes are all solid. When they’re at the forefront, which is rarely, Petrucci, Mangini, Rudess, and Myung are still doing what they do best.
D: You know, I’d totally listen to an instrumental version of this album. Just cut out some of the repetition that’s needed to give the singing a place and some of the non-musical sound effects and you’d have a really solid instrumental prog rock album. But instead I have to suffer through 2 hours of this damn thing. Actually more like 4, as this is my second time listening to it.
G: Yup, if I had to sum up The Astonishing in one sentence, it’s Dream Theater overdoing everything they do well in moderation.
D: Except for the song lengths. This is actually the first album Dream Theater have ever put out without a track that goes over 8 minutes. I guess that’s their way of making up for the length of the album. “So you’re gonna have to put up with 2 hours of this tripe, but don’t worry, because we’ll at least vary the type of torture you have to go through!” When I mentioned we were doing a Dream Theater review, a friend of mine said “Never enough Dream Theater.” I think this album proves them wrong; this is officially too much Dream Theater.
Greg's verdict: 2.5 Iron Atoms
Danny's verdict: 2 Iron Atoms