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Concept albums are great in theory, and often times prove to be phenomenal in execution. When an album has a narrative or an overarching story or meaning, it's so easy to get invested in them and engrossed in its message as if you were reading a novel. The best examples in recent times are Dream Theater's The Astonishing, a dystopian tale of love and war, and Muse's Drones, a commentary on the increasingly heartless ways of drone warfare. Sure, we don't have any legendary concept albums like Pink Floyd's The Wall knocking at our doorbells every year, but there are still definitely standouts that show up.
Of course, on the other side of things, there will be flops; and trust me, there are few things worse than a failed concept album. Unfortunately, that's what experimental hip-hop clipping. has achieved with their newest record, Splendor & Misery.
It went for something interesting, and it deserves at least that much credit. It's story follows the sole survivor of a slave rebellion that's traveling through space on his Interstellar cargo ship. In his thoughts of loneliness (besides the ship's computer that has fallen in love with him), he discovers music in the ambience of the ship's creaks and shudders. Unlike the classic representations of anthropocentric insignificance in the face of an endless space, the main character finds comfort in knowing there's an infinite realm of possibility ahead of him, without the pressures of mankind bearing down on him.
While the story may seem fresh, the music that tells it really isn't. In an album of fifteen tracks, it's split almost half and half - eight "proper" tracks and seven interludes. The interludes add up to pretty much nothing more than unneeded ambience. The intro track 'Long Way Around (Intro)' hypes up the record nicely, segues into a confusingly fast verse (not in the line of Eminem, but more in the line of someone reading an instructions manual really fast) that is all of 'The Breach' before the first real track begins, and it's really underwhelming. 'All Black' sounds like somewhat of a mission objective being explained, and at six-minutes long, it just drones on and on.
There are some good moments on the record, but most are ultimately ruined by something in the end. Take 'Break The Glass' for example, it's a pretty solid track with a haunting instrumental (sounds like that's the engine room of the ship) and distorted verses that build up into an almost industrial rap track. Of course, they had to end it with an ear piercing screeching that is pretty painful to listen to, but at least the meat of the song is good. There are some great gospel moments on the record too, but they're used as individual tracks, and I have absolutely no idea how they fit into the album. 'Long Way Away' and 'Story' are the tracks that consist of these. 'Long Way Away' eventually distorts into white noise while 'Story' follows the piercing noise at the end of 'Break The Glass'.
The only track on the album that really doesn't have a problem surrounding it is 'A Better Place'. It's the album's closure and it feels like an appropriate ending to the narrative and the record. It's upbeat with its proud organs and vocals, resonating hope and an challenging disposition to the frontier ahead of the escaped slave. It's a shortlived victory, though, since the album ends right as it gets off onto a good footing.
Perhaps a concept album just wasn't the right move for clipping. It's interesting to see that the group that usually raps about monotonous stories of living in the hood can branch out into this weird, afrofuturistic story about escaping the world. Granted, the music doesn't really support the effort put that narrative. No tracks really do well as a standalone item, and few of them actually do well in the context of things. But hey, they tried, right? Can't fault them there.
Favorite Tracks: A Better Place, Break The Glass, Long Way Home
Least Favorite Tracks: EVERY Interlude.
Rating: 30 / 100
2016 is off to an extremely strong start. Here’s just a list of all of the new albums I’ve listened to from January to March and links to reviews, if applicable.
Doing it a bit different this time, doing it by rating, from greatest to worst. Alphabetical just seemed trivial.
5-Star Albums (8.5 - 10)
- AURORA - All My Demons Greeting Me As A Friend: 10
- Panic! At The Disco - Death Of A Bachelor: 9.5
- Deftones - Gore: 9.5
- Dream Theater - The Astonishing: 9
- Foxes - All I Need: 9
- Daughter - Not To Disappear: 9
- Lacey Sturm - Life Screams: 8.5
- HÆLOS - Full Circle: 8.5
- Weezer - Weezer (White Album): 8.5
- LIGHTS - Midnight Machines: 8.5
- The Last Shadow Puppets - Everything You've Come To Expect: 8.5
4-Star Albums (6.5 - 8)
- David Bowie - ★: 8
- BANNERS - BANNERS: 8
- Savages - Adore Life: 8
- Kanye West - The Life Of Pablo: 8
- Jack Garratt - Phase: 8
- Macklemore & Ryan Lewis - This Unruly Mess I've Made: 8
- Sia - This Is Acting: 7.5
- Grizfolk - Waking Up The Giants: 7.5
- The Drones - Feelin Kinda Free: 7.5
- Yeasayer - Amen & Goodbye: 7.5
- Kendrick Lamar - untitled unmastered.: 7.5
- Textures - Phenotype: 7.5
- Rihanna - ANTI: 7
- Megadeth - Dystopia: 7
- Hands Like Houses - Dissonants: 7
- Miike Snow - iii: 7
- BABYMETAL - Metal Resistance: 7
- The Jezabels - Synthia: 7
- Amy Lee - Recover, Vol. 1: 7
- Steven Wilson - 4 ½: 6.5
- Chairlift - Moth: 6.5
- Porches - Pool: 6.5
- Polyphia - Renaissance: 6.5
3-Star Albums (4.5 - 6)
- ZAYN - Mind Of Mine: 6
- Mogwai - Atomic: 6
- Låpsley - Long Way Home: 6
- Baauer - Aa: 5.5
- Asking Alexandria - The Black: 5.5
- The 1975 - I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It: 5
- Explosions In The Sky - The Wilderness: 5
- School Of Seven Bells - SVIIB: 5
- Krallice - Hyperion: 4.5
- Future - EVOL: 4.5
- Anderson .Paak - Malibu: 4.5
- Wiz Khalifa - Khalifa: 4.5
2-Star Albums (2.5 - 4)
- Killswitch Engage - Incarnate: 4
- Cozz - Nothin Personal: 3.5
1-Star Albums (0 - 2)
- None! :D
Top Albums Of 2016 (so far)
- AURORA - All My Demons Greeting Me As A Friend
- Panic! At The Disco - Death Of A Bachelor
- Deftones - Gore
- Dream Theater - The Astonishing
- Foxes - All I Need
- Daughter - Not To Disappear
- Lacey Sturm - Life Screams
- HÆLOS - Full Circle
- Weezer - Weezer (White Album)
- LIGHTS - Midnight Machines
Top Songs Of 2016 (so far)
- AURORA - 'Murder Song (5, 4, 3, 2, 1) (Acoustic)'
- Panic! At The Disco - 'Emperor's New Clothes'
- Deftones - 'Hearts/Wires'
- Foxes - 'Better Love'
- Lacey Sturm - 'Rot'
- AURORA - 'Through The Eyes Of A Child'
- Deftones - 'Phantom Bride'
- Dream Theater - 'Moment Of Betrayal'
- Daughter - 'New Ways'
- Jack Garratt - 'My House Is Your Home'
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