The art of storytelling can go beyond just a book. However, in The Astonishing’s case, a novel might be necessary. Dream Theater’s thirteenth studio effort, The Astonishing, is a musical told through a two hour-long epic double album. Along with an epic storyline that captures its listener, The Astonishing is a musically impressive and diverse album sure to stun any listener.
The story of the album takes place in 2258, in the northeastern United States, which has become the dystopian territory of the Great Northern Empire Of America, ruled by Emperor Nafaryus, Empress Arabelle, Prince Daryus, and Princess Faythe. All entertainment has been sacrificed, the robotic NOMACS’ electronic noise. There exists one man, Gabriel, who has the power to sing and unite the people. This album tells the long epic tale of his journey to free the region from oppression.
Before addressing the storyline in detail, the music of the album should be addressed. It’s everything you’d expect from a musical: operatic (not an opera, since the album contains some spoken word), grand, and invigorating. The album’s opener tracks, ‘Descent Of The NOMACS’ and ‘Dystopian Overture’ paint a vivid picture of the setting of the story: dark, oppressive, and moody. Every single song is this album perfectly represents each point of the plot. You’ll rejoice at the uplifting sounds of ‘The Gift Of Music’ and ‘Our New World’, but tense up at critical parts of the story such as ‘A Tempting Offer’ and ‘The Walking Shadow’. The performing is just as great as the story - massive orchestra under intense riffs define the album sonically. Epic, soaring guitar solos can be found in ‘The New Beginning’, ‘Moment Of Betrayal’, and more. That doesn’t leave out some softer moments, too: beautiful piano ballads like ‘When Your Time Has Come’ and ‘Ravenskill’ are present, as well as some tracks beginning with acoustic guitars like ‘A Life Left Behind’ and ‘Astonishing’. Some diverse elements find their way into the album, too. Bagpipes are present at the end of ‘The X Aspect’, ragtime and jazz influences can be found in ‘Three Days’, and marching band influences make their way into the epic conclusion of the album, ‘Astonishing’. There are too many epic moments on this album to count. Every song has its niche and tells its part of the story perfectly.
The story of the album has very carefully been written into every song. The introduction tracks introduce the setting, ‘The Gift Of Music’ introduces Gabriel, the protagonist, and ‘The Answer’ tells of his significance. The album starts taking a darker turn with ‘A Better Life’, when Xander, Gabriel’s brother and leader of the Ravenskill Rebel Militia, is introduced, and this dark then continues when Nafaryus makes his way to Ravenskill to see Gabriel for himself. The beauty of the album returns after ‘A Savior In The Square’, and the love arc between Gabriel and Faythe begins in ‘Act Of Faythe’. ‘Three Days’ returns to the urgency of the plot, and the action of the story begins to rise and take form. No song on this album serves as a filler - every song tells its progressive part of the plot, not leaving anything untouched, and inspiring the emotion of the characters and scene in its listener. Tragedy strikes in the second half of the record, leading to the tragic conflict in the love arc (in ‘Losing Faythe’). The following track, ‘Whispers On The Wind’, describes how Gabriel can’t use his gift to save his love after being accidentally attacked in ‘The Walking Shadow’, due to his scream causing him to lose his voice. But, what follows is one of the most beautiful moments of the album: ‘Hymn Of A Thousand Voices’, where his followers give him the strength to save Faythe and complete his quest. By the closure track, Gabriel has triumphantly freed his people from oppression and can move the region into a new and bright future.
Something as grand and electrifying as this can only come from the likes of Dream Theater. Every note plays a part in the story, and every song is crucial to the plot. The mood of the story is perfectly captured in each song, and in such a vivid way it’s as if you’re watching it all unfold before your very eyes. Dream Theater has proven themselves as one of the most eclectic and exciting bands of progressive rock, delivering one of their most brilliant works. The Astonishing is a timeless classic, for sure.
Favorite Tracks: Moment Of Betrayal, Hymn Of A Thousand Voices, Three Days
Least Favorite Tracks: The Answer, Digital Discord