Dream Theater "The Astonishing"
I was really really hoping this was where Dream Theater would turn it around. I REALLY wanted this to be good. And the first single was promising: "The Gift Of Music" is a unique approach for the band, clocking in at a lean, mean 4:00 on the dot. Dream Theater has been stuck in a rut for so long of writing songs between eight and twenty five minutes in length that it started to feel forced around a decade ago. So when I saw they were trying something different (only one song breaks the seven minute barrier), and trying it in the risky fashion of a full-blown concept album telling a movie-length story, I was pretty interested in hearing what they had come up with.
And despite the opening being a minute long noise-piece dedicated to the drone-like creatures on the cover and track two being an overture (which this band has only gotten right once, on "Scenes From A Memory"), I was still with it through track four. "The Gift Of Music" is a really on-point song that has the band sounding fresh for the first time since about 2002. "The Answer" is a short, interstitial major key ballad that sounds decent enough in context.
"A Better Life" is where things start to get boring, and "Lord Nefaryous" is where they get downright cheesy on a badly-written show tune level, but compared to what follows, they're masterpieces because after that...
THE WHEELS FALL OFF.
Do you like major key piano ballads? Ultra-sappy, hold up your lighter and wave it back and forth shits from back in the early to mid-80's? Then holy SHIT have we found the album for you, because THAT'S BASICALLY ALL THERE IS FOR THE REST OF IT. Seriously. Two hours and ten minutes, and only about a half hour of that isn't Michael Bolton singing about...what the fuck is this album about, anyway?
I'm amazed (Astonished, even) that the lyrics are so damn literal, yet the story is so hard to follow because there's no real story there. Everything is so painfully plain but I can't make out what's happening. Or maybe I can. Nothing. Nothing is happening. For Two hours. It's a really vague post-apocalyptic plot about music being the key to salvation and the forces of darkness something something I'm already asleep. And I can only really infer the post-apocalyptic part from the artwork and the booklet. This is SUPER bad story telling. You have two HOURS to tell your story, and none of it comes across because the music is so boring I can't pay attention. Come to think of it, the story is SO dragged out that...
Oh shit. I've figured it out. Dream Theater could have made this whole thing so much better if they'd told it as the same fifteen minute song they've been doing for the last fifteen years. That actually would have been better, because there's only enough story and substance in this two hours of dreck to make fifteen minutes of material out of. (I'm not saying it would have been good, necessarily, but it would have been better.)
"Three Days" is fucking VELVEETA. It had me wide-eyed and biting my knuckles at how lame it sounded. And this is the only real rocking moment between track seven and thirteen. I'm not exaggerating; for fourteen minutes before and six minutes after, there's nothing but major key piano ballad. And then there's a minute of hope at the beginning of "A Life Left Behind", reminiscent of early Yes, but then it goes back to the same 75bpm lighter-waving BULLSHIT that plagues the rest of this album.
And then there's "Ravenskill". This is SO soft...so weak until the three minute mark where it starts being a good song for thirty seconds, then sinking back down to the same dreck as the rest. "A Tempting Offer" teases the listener that this might be a little different, then...well, okay the freaky piano part is cool, but since all we've heard for almost a half hour at this point is cheesy piano, I can't honestly recommend it.
Then there's the second disc, which is built pretty much the same: Harder intro, this time with a heavier song about betrayal that sounds the most like a Dream Theater song out of anything in the batch, but that's to its detriment because it sounds like the most generic DT song in history. Then there's one or two attempts at rocking numbers out of the next fourteen and I really feel like I wasted my two hours and twenty dollars, since I'm dumb and still buy CDs. (Also, one last note of pepperjack: The sound effects of people sword-fighting, and especially the ones where they're crying after some character bites it are laughable to the point of incredulity.)
This is easily the worst Dream Theater album. It's not even close. I've bagged on this band for so long about being boring, but that was because they'd become so predictable. So of course when they try something new, it's all a sick joke, because they write an ultra-cheezy one-hundred-and-thirty-one-minute long Peter Cetera song.
And what I can't understand is how all the critics are going ape shit for this album. AllMusic: Four stars. Classic Rock: Four stars. Cross Fire: 9/10. Kerrang!: Four stars. Metal Hammer UK: 8/10. Metal Hammer (Germany): 9/10. MetalSucks even gave it four and a half stars. Record Collector: FIVE Stars. Rolling Stone and Consequence of Sound were the only ones who thought it was merely okay, at three and a half stars and a B Minus respectively. It has a fucking Metacritic score of 80/100, which is one point off of UNIVERSAL ACCLAIM. Anthony Fantano of TheNeedleDrop thought this album was the drizzling shits, but he's always hated Dream Theater. This band used to be my favorite, and I have no choice but to indict them for this musical banality. Hell, I only gave it a zero instead of a Negative One because of "The Gift Of Music".
Even from a musical theater perspective...I mean, I hate musicals with a passion, but I can at least understand their appeal. I don't see how this could be appealing or compelling to anybody. The story being told has NO substance, the songs aren't catchy, there's certainly no character to any of this bloodless endeavor...yet the band who critics loved to ignore or burn at the stake their whole 25 year career is now having a line formed so everyone can come suck their cock. [They didn't used to need anybody to; they were sore from all the technical wanking!] [Four stars!]
I never Dreamed I'd see this band fall this far. If this is what they're going to do from here on in, you can count me the fuck out.