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Dream Theater Level-Up on ‘The Astonishing’

In Music
CONCEPTUAL ART: 'The Astonishing’ is a 34-track, two-act concept album about a dystopian feudal future.

CONCEPTUAL ART: 'The Astonishing’ is a 34-track, two-act concept album about a dystopian feudal future.

For more than three decades now, Dream Theater has been exploring and charting new territory in the realms of progressive rock and metal, continually redefining both themselves and the musical genres they have long championed.

With the release of their latest record, The Astonishing, earlier this year, the band has further cemented their reputation for breaking new ground and pushing the boundaries of rock, incorporating a vast array of elements into the 34-track concept album.

According to a press release for the album, The Astonishing “paints a tale of a retro-futurist post-apocalyptic dystopia, ruled by medieval style feudalism. It’s a place aching for a Chosen One to rise above the noise and defeat an empire defined by the endless drone of noise machines and the illusion of safety in bland musical conformity.”

Sound familiar?

The group will be performing The Astonishing, live and in its entirety, when they play at the City National Civic on Nov. 20. The show—by all accounts a massive undertaking—will incorporate an immersive visual show to complement the music and narrative arc of the album, which is set in a post-apocalyptic world.

The brainchild of founding member and guitarist John Petrucci, the themes underpinning Dream Theater’s 13th studio effort did not come in an instant of inspired reverie. In fact, Petrucci had been working on The Astonishing for a couple of years before he brought it to his band.

“When he came to us at the end of the last world tour with the story, I read it and was immediately inspired and felt a rush of musical ideas to contribute,” says Jordan Rudess, DT’s keyboardist since 1999. “It was the most intense writing project that we’ve done together yet. At times it was almost more like writing music for a film score or a musical—supporting the story and developing themes for the different characters, there’s a lot of recurring motifs.”

Once the writing process was complete, the band enlisted the skills of David Campbell, an arranger, composer and conductor, who has worked with the likes of Aerosmith, Michael Jackson, Adele, Beck and many more.

“David did a beautiful job of taking what John and I put together in the studio and bringing it to a real orchestra and real choir and getting these great soloists to come in and add a magic touch to it,” Rudess says. “It was a lot of work on every level, it was the biggest Dream Theater project I’ve ever been involved in, and it continues on the road.”

In bringing the album to the stage, Dream Theater wanted to make it a larger-than-life experience for fans—hiring a specialized production company to add visual components to the mix. As Rudess explains, the type of venues that were booked for this tour were also chosen specifically for their acoustic properties and intimate settings.

“We wanted people to be seated,” Rudess explains. “There’s a lot to watch on the screen, so we thought this would be the best way to enjoy this record, which is more dynamic. It has more soft points on it than most Dream Theater albums—but that’s not to say it isn’t heavy as well.”

The veteran musician promises that the concert experience, which will be performed in two acts, is one that fans new and old will come away from thoroughly satisfied. “It’s an emotional, dynamic musical ride.”

The Astonishing follows Dream Theater’s 2013 self-titled LP, which garnered them a second Grammy nomination and landed at the top of Billboard’s “Hard Rock Albums” chart, and even peaked at No. 7 on the “Billboard 200” rankings.

Dream Theater
Nov 20, 8pm, $50-$70
City National Civic, San Jose

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