By Carl Begai
Progressive metal and concept albums seemingly go hand in hand, yet prog kings Dream Theater have ony two to their name despite a 25+ year career that has yielded 13 studio records. Additionally, some fans might be startled when they realize 17 years have passed since the release of the band’s first concept album, Scenes From A Memory, which is widely regarded as one of their best works to date. In January 2016, Dream Theater unleashed The Astonishing on an unsuspecting fanbase, which turned out to be a much bigger and very different animal from its Scenes From A Memory counterpart. The band then chose to take The Astonishing on tour and perform the 34 track rock opera from beginning to end rather than present a “typical” Dream Theater show: no “Pull Me Under”, no “Afterlife”, nothing from Falling Into Infinity, Awake, Train Of Thought or Systematic Chaos, and no cover songs. A potential recipe for career suicide or at least a disaster, but the band’s early 2016 run through the UK and Europe turned out to be a huge success.
Sure, some fans have slammed the band for not bringing their classics to the party, but anyone who follows Dream Theater religiously should have expected this. Fortunately for the band many fans did and weren’t disappointed. Starting April 14th, fans in Canada and the US can experience The Astonishing in a live setting for themselves.
“It’s actually been incredible,” vocalist James LaBrie says of the feedback Dream Theater has received. “It’s as great as we could have expected because, let’s face it, you’re taking a risk doing this when you have a discography as expansive as ours. A lot of fans are expecting to hear songs from any given Dream Theater album, but we thought that since it’s been 17 years since our last concept album and we never played Scenes From A Memory through live, it’s something we want to do for The Astonishing. And we wanted to do it right. We were preparing this tour as far as production goes a year before we hit the first show because it’s quite elaborate. It’s unprecedented as fas as anything we’ve done, and it’s something we want to look back on and say ‘Yeah, but we did do it and had a great time.’ It’s been very successful. We knew we were going to leave some fans upset and digruntled, maybe alienate them to a certain extent on this tour, but we also knew that we have a worldwide fanbase that would want to be a part of it and gravitate towards it.” Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
Dream Theater can lay claim to devoted international fanbase, with some of those followers bordering on fanatic. It’s just a question as to which side of the room is waving that particular banner. There are the ones that find worth in every album the band puts out regardless of how much Dream Theater deviates from what’s been deemed their signature sound (established by their first three records, When Dream And Day Unite, Images And Words, Awake). Then there are those that pick and choose their favourite DT records and will gladly cyber-stomp on anyone that tells them they’re out of their proggy little minds. So it went that when music from the band’s new self-titled album started circulating, the widespread accolades for a job well done (save for the expected Mangini versus Portnoy bitching) was surprising. Sure, some folks have dismissed the new music as a letdown, but guitarist John Petrucci couldn’t be happier with the result or the positive feedback that’s been coming his way since the record landed in the laps of the press.
“One of the great things is that the press has been very genuine and very up front about the way they feel about our music,” says Petrucci. “The album has been getting a very positive response, and what’s interesting is that we set out to do certain things on this album and people have picked up on those things without us really saying what they are. That makes me feel that we were successful in following through on what we initially planned to do.”
Ditching the journalistic neutrality schtick for a moment, my long-standing personal view on Dream Theater is that somewhere down the road they forgot how to write songs. Hard to say when, but as much as I enjoy prog rock and metal, the widdly 10+ instrumental virtuoso epics that have dominated the last several albums sucked the enjoyment out of the listening experience. It felt like math class; the foundations of the exercises were familiar but they’d become too damn complicated to follow. The new Dream Theater album, however, feels like a step back to the era of real songwriting for the band some 15+ years ago.
“It was definitely a conscious decision to do that,” Petrucci insists. “Every album that we make, we do what we feel at that time. Whatever the strength is that we focus on for any particular album, it’s definitely done on purpose. In doing that, I think it’s done a couple of things for us. It’s created a lot of variety, but it can also be divisive because the albums are very different. Fans might like a certain period of Dream Theater history or a certain style, but I don’t think that takes away from the overall catalogue. The new album is so different because we went in wanting to write a more focused album.” Continue Reading