"The Astonishing" might be a name to reflect the bands ambitions on this humongous record spanning over two hours in length. Its a theatrical piece, a Metal musical, an opera that will test the short attention spans of many listeners. Dream Theater are the kings of Progressive Metal, fusing Prog Rock with Metal at the end of the 80s they have released a string of well received records over the years, now spanning over 30 for the American band. "The Astonishing" is a bold and audacious endeavor, throwing all caution to the wind and defying convention by loading a truly lengthy record with a meticulous story line to inspire illustrious, expansive music. Unfortunately its issue is indeed the audience of whom many may struggle to endure a record so lengthy and too I fell to this struggle. Its hard to get through 130 minutes of music without interruption and so experiencing the full might of the groups intention is difficult, yet they cannot be criticized for aiming high and to do something truly different from expectation.
So this grandiose story is set in the future where humans no longer make music and machines make noise. There is a royal family who rule over the lands and in a far away town a peasant, or commoner, posses the gift to compose and play music. The family travel to see the man play and the Princess falls in love with him. From there its a blur of ups and downs, triumphs and betrayals where my ability to follow the lyrics like reading a book lets me down. You can feel it in the music though, the progression and mood lets you know where the setting however the last thirty minutes of the record seems to consist of song after song with climatic endings that feel like the curtain close... and then it goes into another track. It has its moments, the fight for a cause, talks of revolution and a savior who brings gifts however it is much easier to understand reading the online synopsis than through the music.
The record is far less metallic than you'd expect, there is far more acoustics and a greater involvement from the pianos which seem ever present winding around the guitars lead. The amount of electric guitars leads and ever progressing melodies is quite remarkable, the band flesh out every moment without repeating themselves and it comes in a healthy dose layered compositions only such experienced musicians can pull off. Aside from the rather broad theme a few twists and turns pop up in the form of cultural and genre styles. Imperial marching music, swing, big band and trumpets and horns explode into life in their moments and of course there are a fair few ballads as one might expect. In between the main run of music a few short industrial, electronic, noise oriented sounds play in what I believe represents the noise machines, the final "Power Down" makes this kinda obvious, its a nice accompaniment.
In conclusion such a large piece defies understanding as even somehow having listened to this five or more times it is still a bit vague and at the mercy of the musics flow. And that's not a bad thing, if in the mood for following along the bands musicianship holds up, however to connect on a deeper level that familiarity and understanding alludes me. Its a double edged sword to create such an ambitious feet of work, however that's only if the listeners expectation is your concern.