Exciting news for Dream Theater and Mike Portnoy fans everywhere. While many of us have been suspecting it for a while, Mike officially announced yesterday that he is going to play all of the DT 12-Step Suite at his 50th birthday celebration on Cruise to the Edge. The cruise takes place February 7-11, 2017. Find out more info on the cruise here.
For those unfamiliar with the 12-Step suite, it as a series of 5 songs released across 5 DT albums, all intended to make their own concept album. The songs were written by Portnoy after his struggle with alcoholism, and they represent the Alcoholics Anonymous’ 12-step program.
I have been a DT fan from the beginning. This review is spot on. Astonishing was the biggest pile of crap I ever heard. I too got tickets to the show before listening and trusting my fav band would deliver. I was so wrong. They played the entire pile of crap for hours. I was looking around and everyone in audience was trying so hard to get into but just couldn’t. Fan’s faces looked so confused. All the applause was sympathy in my opinion. I think the only way to save this train wreck is for Portnoy to come back and grab the steering wheel!
The Dutch Progressive Rock Page posted their latest batch of reviews, featuring a Round Table Review of Dream Theater’s The Astonishing. Yours truly contributed one of the four reviews. A bit surprised myself, mine was the only negative review. I’m glad some people are able to enjoy the album.
Also, Sunday, March 13 is the last day to fill out the DPRP 2015 poll of your favorite albums, artists, etc. There are 10 prog prize packs available for lucky winners – all that’s required is that you fill out the poll: http://www.dprp.net/dprpoll/2015/
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.
Recently, I said some rather negative things about the new Dream Theater album, and I meant every word of it. However, that does not mean my opinion of the rest of their music has lessened at all. I just thought I would share these outstanding live videos (one with Portnoy and one with Mangini) with you. They combine all of the emotion you could ever want with fantastic musical prowess in two of their best songs. Enjoy.
Dream Theater decided it would be a good idea to make an album telling the story of a possible New England a couple hundred years into the future – a dystopic New England. If they really wanted to tell a dystopic story about that area of the country, they would have been better off telling the depressing story of that region as it is now. Instead, they wrote a story about an overlord refusing to let the people listen to music. Very original. Because no band named Rush ever wrote a song called 2112 about that very thing.
I am simply shocked by the positive reviews of this album, including from people I very much respect and look up to, even here at Progarchy. I really don’t know what they see in this story. If this were just a random album from some random rock band making their first album, I would say it is mediocre and I would move on. But no. This was made by the biggest name in progressive metal, a band that has been around since 1985. Dream Theater is a band with a very strong catalogue of music, including, arguably, one of the best albums ever made in Scenes from a Memory. This is a band that has continually sought to break and re-break the artistic molds and standards that it has created. This band has some of the greatest and most talented musicians in the world in it. Yet, The Astonishing is the best they can come up with? Wow.
So what exactly sucks so much about this album? That question would take way too long to answer, so let’s just run through some of the highlights (or bloopers).
The story blows.
If you want truly great concept albums about dystopic worlds, go listen to Rush’s 2112 or Clockwork Angels. If you want a more recent album, check out Muse’s Drones, which is a much more compelling, interesting, and shorter story/commentary on where we might be headed as a society. The Astonishing is neither compelling, interesting, nor short. It is over 2 hours long, and it is a long 2 hours. I’ve never gotten bored in the middle of a DT album, but congrats, boys, you did it! You bored the hell out of me.
The story also sucks because it all works out so perfectly. The main character, who should sacrifice his life for what he believes instead lives happily ever after. Look at any good story, from 2112, to the Lord of the Rings, to the Bible – somebody important and beloved has to die at some point. This is a given in Western stories, and you just don’t mess with that. Real life doesn’t end like a Disney story. Belle doesn’t always get to marry a beast that turns out to be handsome. Sure, someone does die in The Astonishing, but he is never central to the plot.
This isn’t metal.
A few songs, such as “Moment of Betrayal,” have their heavier moments, but this music is most certainly not metal. You could argue that it is prog, but that would depend on your definition of prog. There is more symphony and quiet piano pieces than there is shredding. If I want quiet music, I’ll find someone that is good at that. If I want prog metal, I listen to DT. It is really quite simple.
This isn’t “Dream Theater.”
Dream Theater albums have certain things in common: endless shredding, overboard technicality, long instrumental passages (where the live listener is given a much needed break from Labrie’s off-key live vocals), and, generally, decent enough lyrics. This album has none of that. I love the displays of technical prowess that some people consider arrogant and unnecessary. That is part of who DT is, so why change it? In The Astonishing, we get boring song after boring song, with no breaks from Labrie’s singing. If you don’t like his voice, you will hate this album. The lyrics, as Time Lord aptly pointed out, are cheesy, corny, and clichéd. Songs that should illicit spouts of emotion (like “The Spirit Carries On” does) fall utterly short. “Hymn of a Thousand Voices” should have drawn us to tears, with a majestic choral ensemble belting their way to heaven. Instead, we barely hear the choir behind Labrie’s voice. Fail.
Now for what I liked about the album. I really enjoyed Jordan Rudess’ piano work. I’ve always thought he should include more traditional piano playing with his DT work. Too bad it had to be on such a crappy album. The problem is, there is almost too much piano. It takes away whatever metal edge they might have had.
James Labrie does display a remarkable variety with his voice here, I will begrudgingly grant him. He plays at least 8 specific characters, which isn’t easy to do. The problem is, he sings too much, which gets old. I don’t know how he will do it live.
The artwork and the “Brother, Can You Hear Me?” theme are pretty good, so there is that. Although, the artwork looks like it was copied from George Lucas’ Star Wars prequels. Lawsuit anyone?
The sound quality is slightly better than the last few albums. The drums no longer sound like they were recorded in an outhouse, so that’s a plus. However, there is still no bass in the mix. Fail.
I’m sure that The Astonishing will reignite the Portnoy vs. Mangini debate over who is the better drummer. They are both excellent. I would hate to live on the difference of who is better. DT’s mistake with Mangini is not letting him contribute enough creatively. Portnoy’s hand was always clear in DT’s work. Mangini seems to add nothing creatively, and I place the blame on Petrucci and Labrie, who are clearly running the show at this point. For me, I would much rather have the happy Mike Portnoy that we have right now, because he is making a lot of great music that he wouldn’t have time for otherwise.
Maybe I’m being overly critical, but I have gotten to know DT’s music really well this past year and I maintain certain expectations of them. They did not meet those expectations with The Astonishing. In the end, nobody wanted to hear this story, and I really wish someone in the band would have had the guts to tell Petrucci that this was just a bad idea. If Portnoy were still there, the most this idea ever would have been was a long song, in the vein of “Count of Tuscany.” Instead, we got two hours of garbage. I feel sorry for all the people that paid a lot of money to see this live.
If you want to hear a good rock opera that doesn’t drag on for hours, listen to Ayreon, not this crap. Even The Astonishing could have been good if they had shown some restraint, instead of jamming in over an hour of filler. The few songs that are bearable are simply drowned out by junk. Maybe it is time that DT take that hiatus that Mr. Portnoy wanted 5 years ago.