Dream Theater – The Astonishing (2016)

Have you ever been to Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus” I have, and it was exhausting. Fires, tigers and acrobats repeated variations on a singular theme for hours on end, punctuated only by brief intermissions of empty calories. Sure, it was exhilarating for a while – the gaping-mouthed attendees staring in bewilderment, captured in time by the company’s public relations photographers, stand as testament. But there’s only so much excitement, so much drama, my seven-year-old-self could handle. If there’s one thing The Astonishing does right, it’s emulating that vivid experience. Essentially, the album plays out like a Broadway rendition of Star Wars, except our hero uses a guitar instead of a lightsaber. Here, Dream Theater goes big – bigger than Tommy and Quadrophenia combined. It’s epic in every sense of the word. Vocals soar higher than the bravest tight-rope walkers, and the strings rise and fall like lions through flaming hoops. It does this for only two hours and ten minutes, making the experience slightly less tedious than the carnival. By the time the twelfth ballad comes around it’s difficult to remember if it’s better than seventh one. Regardless, the album’s six-or-so riffs are kind of cool, but riffs have been heard before. There is a bass guitar in some songs. As Dream Theater reaches the final circuit of its grand performance, it’s likely you’ll have to hit pause and take a restroom break because the album is over two hours long. Pausing doesn’t work at carnivals, but thankfully it does here.

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