Of all the commentary on the new Dream Theater album, take a look at this excerpt which makes me speculate that maybe not everyone in the band was totally on board with this dumb idea of an album:
The Astonishing is replete with filler tracks, songs that really have no right existing other than as obscure parts they play in this (rather underwhelming) story that the album attempts to tell. And that’s not enough: cliche guitar parts mix with over-sweetness in LaBrie’s voice and bounce off the most cliche lines that Rudess can make from his keyboards.
And they’re repetitive as well. There’s no reason for “Act of Faythe”, one of the cheesiest songs ever made by Dream Theater, to exist when a track like “The Answer” exists as well. There’s supposedly a common theme being iterated upon here but it’s not interesting enough to carry the tracks forward. Nor are the ways in which the band iterate upon it interesting in anyway: they include shifting the mood just a bit to give it a lighter or darker spin and nothing else.
All of these flaws extend to the second “CD” as well, and then some. “A Life Left Behind” for example is a track which could have come right out of Awake but it’s successor, “Ravenskill” is completely pointless, taking too much time with its intro and failing to deliver when the main theme is introduced. Since the flow between the tracks, a famous trope of progressive records, has been completely abandoned here in favor of the “track by track” structure of rock operas, the second CD is hard to pin down and connect to the first.
By the time you’ve reached it, so many filler tracks have gone by without a clear approach to thematization that the thread is almost impossible to grasp. The narrative has been completely lost and every track, even the good ones, start to sound the same. That’s no accident: even the good tricks utilized on this album are the same old tricks that we know from this album itself and from past entries in the Dream Theater discography. While the overall style of the album is new, in that it taps into tropes that were only lightly present in their careers so far, the track progression is the same tried and true method.
OK, we’ve saved the best (worst) for last. Sharp-eyed readers might have noticed that we haven’t mentioned two current members of the band. The first, John Myung, might not surprise anybody; his absence, both in sound and words, from the band is a thing of legend by now. On The Astonishing, or at least on the copy that we of the press received, he is almost 100% missing. Whether in the mixing or in the recording, the bass was completely swallowed by the other instruments and is completely absent from the final product.
However, now we come, here at the end, to the most egregious and unexplainable flaw in this record: Mike Mangini. Throughout the album, Magini displays an almost impressive amount of disinterest in what’s going on around him. The drums line are not only performed in a lackluster way, they also sound as if zero effort was put into their writing. We know Mangini is a talented drummer but that talent is nowhere to be found here: obvious fill after obvious fill churn out under paper thin cymbals and pointless kick drums, ultimately amounting to nothing much. There’s literally no moments on the albums that are worth mentioning for their drums and this infuriatingly frustrating, given what we know of his obvious ability.
At the end of the day, when you put all of the above together, you get a disappointing album. If this had just been a bad album, we could have chalked it down to age, momentum and being out of touch. That’s impossible though, since when the album is good, it’s really quite good. If only it had been cut to about ten tracks and purged of the incessant repetitions, it might have been the best Dream Theater album in years. Instead, it’s a puerile attempt at a grand gesture that ultimately falls on its face, caught too close to the sun with wax spilling over, giving all its features the same, bland, indecipherable structure.
I don’t know how much to make of this. Aren’t there, like, only about two decent guitar solos on the whole double album (and, even so, ruined by the mix)?
I think, rather, that any absence of quality on the album is simply due to DT’s incompetent foray into the genre of musical theater.
2 thoughts on “The Astonishing Absence”
Poor Dream Theater! We just keep beating the snot out of them.
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Couldn’t agree more with this review. I have been a die hard Dream Theater fan for a long time, but just could not see anything good about this one.
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