Originally named Majesty and formed back in 1985 by guitarist John Petrucci, bassist John Myung, and drummer Mike Portnoy, American progressive metal band Dream Theater came into being around 1988 and also had keyboardist Kevin Moore and vocalist Charlie Dominici in their ranks for debut album “When Dream And Day Unite” which was released in 1989.
Realising that Dominici’s style wasn’t versatile enough for what they had in mind, the singer was sacked late in 1989. It wasn’t until early 1991 that the band found a replacement vocalist in James LaBrie. The new line-up recorded the breakthrough album “Images And Words” (1992) and it’s successor “Awake” (1994) before Moore decided to leave the group.
Derek Sherinian became the new keyboardist, appearing on studio releases “A Change Of Seasons” (1995) and “Falling Into Infinity” (1997) before the band replaced him with current keyboardist Jordan Rudess in 1999.
The line-up of Petrucci, Myung, Portnoy, LaBrie and Rudess would go on to produce a series of increasingly successful studio albums, starting with the 1999 concept record “Metropolis Pt. 2 : Scenes From A Memory” and continuing through double album “Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence” (2002), “Train Of Thought” (2003), “Octavarium” (2005), “Systematic Chaos” (2007) and “Black Clouds & Silver Linings” (2009).
However, in September 2010 Portnoy announced that he was leaving the band. He had apparently first requested that the band take a five year break, then reduced it to a one year break. The other band members did not wish to take a break though, leading Portnoy to quit. By November the band had chosen Portnoy’s replacement, former Extreme and Steve Vai drummer Mike Mangini, who had spent five years teaching full-time at the Berklee College of Music.
“A Dramatic Turn Of Events” was the first album to feature Mangini, and despite some concerns that the loss of Portnoy’s creative vision would negatively effect the group was their highest charting album to date in the UK and showed no loss of quality in terms of material or performances. A self-titled album followed in 2013, which again hit a new high in chart terms in the UK.
In 2013 Petrucci had the idea for a new concept record and began writing a story for it, which he shared with the band in 2014. A sprawling two-hours and ten-minutes long double disc release, the resulting album “The Astonishing” was issued in January 2016.
Inspired in part by the likes of “Game Of Thrones” and “Star Wars”, the dystopian story behind the music is set in a future where the world’s societies have returned to the feudal system where the aristocrats held the majority of the land, money and power with the ordinary people slaving away day after day. The band’s website provides far more information about the characters etc. than I would want to try to convey here!
A comment on how the band perceive the world to possibly be heading, as well as the fact that so many people these days don’t actually listen to music with LaBrie stating that he believes “…people have become disconnected… we need to help re-educate people that it’s OK to sit down with one thing and immerse yourself in it. It’s one of the great joys in life…”. Regular readers of my ramblings will know that I am one of those folk who enjoys listening to complete albums and has really enjoyed a number of quite lengthy albums that have appeared over the past year, indicating something of a renaissance for this kind of thing, certainly in the rock world.
For sure this is an album that requires immersion to fully appreciate it and takes a bit of getting into. I thought the band’s last album was superb but this one tops it, not just in terms of sheer scale and ambition, but in terms of musical and vocal performances too. A small idea of what’s going on can be found in lead single “The Gift Of Music”.
All five band members are at the top of their game and deserve much credit for producing a truly astonishing piece of work. There is a wide range of moods and soundscapes to get into – some very technical sections and some far more song-based parts too. It rally does need to be listened to to be appreciated. Another impressive chapter in the Dream Theater story…
1. Descent Of The NOMACS / 2. Dystopian Overture / 3. The Gift Of Music / 4. The Answer / 5. A Better Life / 6. Lord Nafaryus / 7. A Saviour In The Square / 8. When Your Time Has Come / 9. Act Of Faythe / 10. Three Days / 11. The Hovering Sojourn / 12. Brother, Can You Hear Me? / 13. A Life Left Behind / 14. Ravenskill / 15. Chosen / 16. A Tempting Offer / 17. Digital Discord / 18. The X Aspect / 19. A New Beginning / 20. The Road To Revolution / 21. 2285 Entr’acte / 22. Moment Of Betrayal / 23. Heaven’s Core / 24. Begin Again / 25. The Path That Divides / 26. Machine Chatter / 27. The Walking Shadow / 28. My Last Farewell / 29. Losing Faythe / 30. Whispers On The Wind / 31. Hymn Of A Thousand Voices / 32. Our New World / 33. Power Down / 34. Astonishing