Monday, February 29, 2016

Only For The Week: Part 4

Here I am, delivering another "Only For The Week", the day after my dear Liverpool Football Club lost on penalties in the league cup finale. But you guys probably do not care about that at all, so I will just go on and present the last OFTW of this Febuary. Its been a good week, lots of metal being released, and my keys are hot from my frantic typing. Anyway, here it is, enjoy.

All of the songs on this segment is gathered in a Spotify playlist, you can find it here

The classic: Black Sabbath - Black Sabbath

What would a metal playlist be without the track that more or less started it all. While there are songs in the Black Sabbath discography that I think are better, there is no other song that has had the same impact and meaning to metal in general. Those evil riffs, the demonic drumming, the looming bass, and of course, the menacing vocals of Ozzy Osbourne all ties together to a horrific track that set something that is larger in life in motion, and we are forever thankful to these legends.

Check out my review of the album this track is from, "Black Sabbath"

The newcomer: Anthrax - Evil Twin

This is Anthrax to the freaking bone, a frantic, riff filled, meaty sandwich that you just want more of. The new guitarist Donais works perfectly with Scott Ian to create a awesome track that ties together the old and new Anthrax. And then we have Joey Belladonna, who does not at all sound like he is 55 years old, doing a great performance. Ladies and gentlemen, the best band of the Big 4 nowadays!

Check out my review of the album this track is from, "For All Kings"

The personal favourite: Scar Symmetry - Quantumleaper

"Holographic Universe" is an amazing album, and I can still remember the first time I listened through it. When "Quantumleaper" started playing, I was star struck by that groovy "du-du-du dun-dun" riff. It is still up to this date one of the catchiest riffs I have ever heard, and it is one I can listen to for days without getting tired of it. The rest of the song? It kicks just as much ass. Every band member delivers a flawless performance, making this a amazing highlight of a amazing album. Go get it now!

(somehow, I couldn't find the song, so here's the full album where it comes from :))

Stay Metal!
Robert "Sharkruisher" Andersson

Anthrax - For All Kings (2016)

I have always seen Anthrax like the ugly duckling of the thrash metal family. While they have created some great tunes and some amazing albums, like "Among The Living" and "Spreading The Disease", during their 30+ years, they still struggle to create some credibility to their work, especially since two of their most famous songs, and most played on stage, are covers ("Antisocial" and "Got The Time"). So when they returned in 2011 with "Worship Music", I was more or less shell shocked. It was not an amazing album, but it was way better than I could have ever expected it to be, containing a great pack of cool songs like "Fight 'em 'til You Can't", "Devil You Know" and "Revolution Screams".

The newest addition to the band is the guitarist Jonathan Donais, whom is most known for his work in Shadows Fall, and replaces Rob Caggiano (whom later joined Volbeat (!?)). Jonathan does not really bring too much new to the band, maybe some more modern thrash riffs, but that is pretty much it. Still, he does a great job together with Scott Ian, and he seems like a good fit for the future.

As for the rest of the band, they seem to enjoy themselves in this record. Joey Belladonna delivers some great vocals, Frank Bello drops some good bass lines and the drumming of Benante is pounding on like it should. The band has certainly found a chemistry that brings harmony to each other, which ultimately leads to some great music.

And yes, the music on "For All Kings" is great... most of it. I am really unsure if I should consider this to be a pure thrash record or not, because while it does have a foundation of thrash riffs and beats, the band tends to float away to more strange territories, and the bottom of this barrel is further down than it should be (blame "Defend Avenge" and "Blood Eagle Wings"). While "Worship Music" had around the same overall feeling, it did compensate it with great song writing. "For All Kings" is surely a little more inconsistent effort, but fortunately, the tops here are higher.

The first single "Evil Twin" is definitely one of those tops, a fast, frantic thrasher that embodies everything that Anthrax is known and loved for. The title track also shines with its dominant lyrics, and a solo that simply kicks ass. Then we have the opener "You Gotta Believe", that sets the bar high with a strong attitude. Also wanna give a shout out to two other songs, "Breathing Lightning" for being innovative and interesting (although I think it will be a song fans either love or hate), and "Zero Tolerance" that ends the album on a really high note.

It is crazy when you think about it, but out of all the Big 4 of Thrash, Anthrax is the most consistent one. Slayer suffers from the death of Hanneman, Megadeth is inconsistency personified, and Metallica keeps procrastinating, but Anthrax is delivering some solid thrash. This is a album that will probably divide most of the fans, but if you enjoyed "Worship Music", this should be right up your alley. For me, this is a good album that will not make me worship Anthrax as kings, but I will still salute them for a job well done, and showing that they are not done yet with their reign.

Songs worthy of recognition: Evil Twin, For All Kings, Zero Tolerance

Rating: 7,5/10 Suzerains

Friday, February 26, 2016

Raubtier - Bärsärkagång (2016)

It is that time again for me to give you some good lessons on Swedish, or more accurately, it is time once again to indulge ourselves in the Northern predator known as Raubtier. The Haparanda trio is once again back to rage against the urbanization of our society, and to bring some northern attitude into our dull lives. A mission that never seems to end.

So what is Sweden's answer to Rammstein bringing to us this time? Yes, you guessed it, more of the same thing that we have heard in the previous 4 albums. "Bärsärkagång" (berserk) is filled with adrenaline-fueled, fist pumping industrial metal that is angry, heavy, and reeking of moonshine. While this is the thing that the band is known for, it could also be considered as their weakness, because they have not really evolved their music enough to make it feel relevant or exciting. While I do enjoy such speed freaks as "Tropaion" and "Hymn" (anthem) from time to time, I will still turn to the older material if I want a song like that.

But it is not the fast songs that makes "Bärsärkagång", it is instead the slower songs that are shining. It is still not like the band has changed, it is still the same structures and themes as we are used to, but these songs have a tendency to be more impressive since there is a nerve to them. Take "Genom Allt" (through everything) for example, a slow, almost ballad like song that is beautiful, and the band still maintains the toughness that they are known for. It really shows that the band can make other songs, just that they are not fully willing to.

And it is for that reason why I consider Raubtier to be suffering from a disease I would like to call the "Motörhead syndrome". In other words, they make the same album over and over again, just with tiny differences. However, the difference between Motörhead and Raubtier is that Raubtier rarely changes their song structures nor their lyrical themes. It has gone so far that you get a deja-vú moment at every other song, something you definitely do not want to experience while listening to new music.

Individually, I find every song to be quite decent, but together in a album, they make a thick swamp that is not only tough to go through, but also gives you the feeling like you are going nowhere, crossing the same spot over and over again. The things that makes me endure this are few, one being the rugged voice of Pär Hulkoff, who ones again leads his band with his overly manly voice. What would this band be without him?

When I listen to "Bärsärkagång", I feel like Arnold Schwarzenegger, because I do not care for this Predator guy anymore. Raubtier has its niche, and it is nice in small doses, but it can easily be boring when you consume it in big quantities. There is not a single song in this album that cannot be found in a better version in any of the band's previous 4 albums, which of course makes this my least favourite Raubtier album up to date. It still tingles a little bit, but it is obvious that the bite of the predator is not as strong as it used to be.

Songs worthy of recognition: Genom Allt, Bothniablod, Tropaion

Rating: 5,5/10 Praetorians

Monday, February 22, 2016

Only For The Week: Part 3

Another week, another three songs to sink you teeth in. So far, I feel like this segment is coming along nicely, and the playlist is already up to a whooping 9 songs! Okay, that is not so much, but it is about  the length of a regular full length album, which is a start. Anyway, let us get to this week's songs.

All of the songs on this segment is gathered in a Spotify playlist, you can find it here

The Classic: Iron Maiden - Hallowed Be Thy Name

Obviously, there are tons of Maiden songs that I could have chosen, but there is no other song in the band's catalog, or any other band's catalog for that matter, that is so grand, so epic, and just embodies all of the elements of metal that we know and love. "Hallowed Be Thy Name" is the song that silenced all of Bruce's doubters, and also showed the true potential of the band. A perfect song that no one has ever matched since.

The Newcomer: Primal Fear - We Walk Without Fear

I found Primal Fear's new album "Rulebreaker" to be a little two faced. Some songs are typical Primal Fear songs, while other just sound like some Manowar knock off. Anyway, "We Walk Without Fear" reminds me a lot of "One Night In December" from the predecessor "Delivering The Black", a long, epic song that tells a grand story and stands as the large pillar of the album. Just a stunning track that certainly lifts the album.

sorry, no video for this song :(

The Personal Favourite: Quartered - Africa

I keep blaming Harmonix (creators of the Rock Band series) for my music taste, and this is just another proof of this. Quartered is an alternative metal band from Canada that was one of the early hits in the RBN (Rock Band Network) era. "Africa" is taken from their debut "The Falls of Autumn" that was released in 2007, and is a amazing track with a lot of nerve. Starting of with a drum beat taken straight from the tribes of Africa, it later develops into a melancholic journey that gets more frantic by the second. The mood in this track is some of the best I have ever heard, and the drum beat here is incredibly intoxicating. Such a shame the band has turned more into a bland metalcore act in later years, but the debut is still a fine lump of work that should be recognized.

Stay metal!

Robert "Sharkruisher" Andersson

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Judas Priest - Killing Machine (1978)

Even if it was released in the same year as its predecessor "Stained Class", "Killing Machine" (also known as "Hell Bent For Leather" in the states) shows a evolution that took them more towards the more accessible sound, with simpler structures and catchier choruses. So yeah, this is a album where we will not find a new "Victim of Change" or "Behind The Realms of Death".

But does this more accessible sound mean that the band has started selling out? I do not think so, because "Killing Machine" is just as heavy and dark as its predecessors, maybe even heavier. Not only does Rob Halford go wild with tons of different vocal styles, but both Tipton and Downing impresses with their diversity, showing both heavy and blues riff, and even including some tapping into the album. So despite being a simpler album, it still has some nice complexity in it.

It was also around this time where the band started to adapt their now patented style of leather clothing to the band's image, and that image was also reflected in the music. The music in here just feels much more macho and straight forward here, which does fit well with the band's new personality, and to the now classic Harley Davidson entry by Rob Halford.

However, the change is not all for the good. I feel like "Killing Machine" does lack something special to take it to the next level. It is good, just not brilliant, and even if there is diversity in the album, I feel like there is not enough of it. Also, the song quality is a bit underwhelming. It is overall fairly good, with no song that I fully dislike, but except from the classic "Hell Bent For Leather" (which is a little too short for me), there is no other track that I love.

There are however small details that I find very enjoyable in some of the songs. I appreciate the ambition to create a sort of sing along anthem in "Take On The World", and the straight forward "Delivering The Goods" and "Rock Forever" does have their charm. Then we have some cool riffing in "Running Wild" (even if the beginning sounds a lot like Iron Maiden's "The Wicker Man", a song that was conceived over 20 years later), and "Before The Dawn" is a nice and dark little ballad. So even if this feels like a middle of the road album, it still have some nice things in it.

"Killing Machine" is far from a killer album. With a bigger simplicity and a more accessible sound, it feels like the band is in a middle of a evolution phase. Personally, I think this album may have been a little rushed, being released only 8 months after "Stained Class", but you can't blame the band since they were on fire during this time, expanding in a rapid speed. Oh well, "Killing Machine" is still a enjoyable album that should keep fans entertained for some time. The band still delivers the goods, just not as good as the previous ones.

Songs worthy of recognition:

Rating: 7/10 Evening Stars

More reviews of Judas Priest
Rocka Rolla
Sad Wings of Destiny
Sin After Sin
Stained Class
British Steel
Point of Entry
Screaming For Vengeance
Defenders of The Faith
Ram It Down
Angel of Retribution
Redeemer of Souls


Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Holy Grail - Times of Pride And Peril (2016)

I have waited three long years for Holy Grail to unveil their follow up to the amazing album known as "Ride The Void". These guys have really been a personal favourite of mine, mixing traditional speed metal with more modern power, creating a intoxicating serum that I must inject directly through my ears. Naturally, my expectations for their third album, entitled "Times of Pride And Peril", were quite big, but I still kept my cool, because I knew that they would not be able to match the diversity and greatness in "Ride The Void", no matter how hard they tried.

In many aspects, "Times of Pride And Peril" is a natural follow up to "Ride The Void". The band has come to the point where they have developed a own sound that is fully recognizable, and that sound is of course highlighted a lot in this album. The soaring vocals of James-Paul Luna, the twin guitars shredding from time to time, and the mix of old and new all makes Holy Grail to what they are today, and I cannot state enough that I am loving it. My god, these guys have really grown up to the band I hoped they would become.

But the thing that separates the two albums from each other is what most would call maturity. "Times of Pride And Peril" is a more controlled album, maintaining a set mode throughout most of the album that certainly feels more mature. However, I would call this a lack of passion, not that the band is not passionate at what they are doing, but it feels like they are holding back for reasons unknown. The biggest evidence of this is in the guitar work. While Eli Santana and Alex Lee does shred in this album, they are not displaying their most impressive work of their career. Oh well, there are still some tasty bits of riffs and solos in it to salvage.

As for the song quality, it is not as exciting as I would have hoped for. Most of the songs are pretty safe, good on the ears and has a fair share of enjoyment in them, but nothing that gets me excited. And the diversity is not that great either. But there are some songs that does kick ass. "Those Who Will Remain" is a slower song, but makes up for it with a great drive, heavy riffing, and a cool chorus. "Descent Into The Maelstrom" and "Crystal King" both have that speed and attack that I look for in a Holy Grail song, while the ender "Black Lotus" is a song I did not expect at all. A nine minute piece about how you can be immortal if you take care of the environment. A diverse track that shows almost all of the band's sides (even the metalcore part, something I could live without).

"Times of Pride And Peril" is, in its whole, a pretty okay album. It is not a album that draws the biggest of attention, but it is still there, doing its job. Compared to its two brothers, "Crisis In Utopia" and "Ride The Void", it stands pretty clear that it places in the bottom, but to be honest, I really do not mind that at all. Every band has its dips and hopefully this is just one of those "middle-of-the-road" albums. It is decent and enjoyable, but I would be surprised if I still remembered it three years later.

Songs worthy of recognition: Black Lotus, Those Who Will Remain, Descent Into The Maelstrom

Rating: 6,5/10 Psychomachias

Monday, February 15, 2016

Only For The Week: part 2

A new week is upon us, and guess what, I have actually been somewhat productive! While it it small for now, the official "Only For The Week" Spotify list will grow in time

The Classic: At The Gates - Blinded By Fear

This is the song that more or less laid the foundation of the modern death metal sound that we all know and love today. The full album that it is from, "Slaughter of The Soul", is one of the most legendary albums of all time, and it contains several killer tracks, but it is this one that steals the show, starting in a menacing manor, then steps the pedal to the metal until the end. Great riffing, aggressive vocals, and a horrifying beat that twitches your inner headbanging nerve.

The Newcomer: Borknagar - Winter Thrice

It was hard to select just one song from the excellent album "Winter Thrice" by the progressive black metal veterans Borknagar, but there is something with the title track that is pure magic. The nice blend of smooth vocals and Nordic black metal tunes are really intoxicating. A dark, but extremely beautiful track, just like the Nordic landscape in the darkest of winter.

The Personal Favourite: Black Tide - Shockwave

There once was a time, when the land was surprised and overwhelmed by a young force known as Black Tide. Their debut album "Light From Above" was extra ordinary, and was a sign of fantastic things to come. Ultimately, it was the devils work, and we were all deceived. But enough of the story telling, "Shockwave" is still a hell of a song, showing off insane shredding, groovy drum patterns, soaring vocals, and a speed that is hard to keep up with. A insanely fun song to either listen to, or to play in the video game Rock Band

Stay metal!
Robert "Sharkruisher" Andersson

Friday, February 12, 2016

Judas Priest - Stained Class (1978)

During the time that I have got to know the 4th Judas Priest album, known as "Stained Class", I have become mightily confused over it. In one way, it is their heaviest and darkest album up to date, taking on grim subjects in the lyrical department, but it still felt like they had one foot in that sort of disco groove. I could be wrong there since I am more of a custom to the 80's version of the band (which we have not reached just yet in this discography review series), but there is no denying that Judas Priest was far groovier in their earlier days.

Oh well, "Stained Class" was a very notable album in their career for several reasons, one being that it was the first Judas Priest album to reach success across the pond. The album reached the Billboard 200 chart in USA and was also certified gold status. Another notable thing with this album is that it had song writing contribution from all five members, even the new drummer Les Binks. Yay team work!

The team work is greatly displayed as well in the performance. The bond between the guitarists Tipton and Downing keeps on getting stronger, delivering some amazing solos and riffs here. But it was at this point where Tipton started to emerge as the leader of the two, taking care of most of the solo parts, except on "Savage", "Heroes End", and solo 2 in "Beyond The Realms of Death".

Looking at the quality of the songs in this album, this is certainly one of the more even Priest albums so far, because even if this album is pretty diverse in its sound, all the songs still have a common denominator that makes perfect sense to why they are put together. For example, the opening track "Exciter" may be a fast and crazy steam roller, but it still falls in the same groovy category as the rest of the tracks does. It is just another proof that Judas Priest was ahead of its time, pulling out another thrash song before thrash existed.

The heavy attitude continues in the title track, that chugs along with in classic "Barracuda" style in the verse, just to burst into a simple, but really classy chorus that will make your hair rise. Another speedy track is "White Heat, Red Hot" that is driven by a smooth groove and some frenetic drumming and riffing. But my favourite song here is without a doubt "Beyond The Realms of Death", a strong song about the wish to leave the world behind and die in peace. Not only is this song driven by its heavy lyrics, but also its emotional musicality that strikes every nerve in your system. And like that was not enough, Tipton and Downing delivers a couple of awesome solos to enhance the experience even further. A extremely amazing song that certainly show the band's range.

Then we have the duo "Invader" and "Saints In Hell", two songs are fairly decent, but in some way, also kind of corny. There is something with these songs that I cannot point my finger towards that feels awkward. It is a shame since this hiccup hinders the album from staying fully classy. Besides those two songs, I can't really find anything that annoys me with this album, except the fact that it can be a confusing experience from time to time.

"Stained Class" has the perfect title, it is a classy album that feels polished in so many ways and it certainly stands out from the crowd. However, it does still have some stains that takes away from the complete picture, fortunately for us, those stains are just a small part of the album and can easily be ignored. This is a album that both celebrates the time during which it was conceived, but also looks forward to the future of not only the band itself, but music in general. As shining as chrome, as heavy as steel.

Songs worthy of recognition: Beyond The Realms of Death, Exciter, Stained Class

Rating: 8/10 Savages

More reviews of Judas Priest
Rocka Rolla
Sad Wings of Destiny
Sin After Sin
Killing Machine
British Steel
Point of Entry
Screaming For Vengeance
Defenders of The Faith
Ram It Down
Angel of Retribution
Redeemer of Souls


Monday, February 8, 2016

Only for the week: Part 1

Welcome to a new segment here at Forsaken At The Gates called Only For The Week. Obviously, this is a pun of the famous In Flames song "Only For The Weak", and just like you probably already have guessed, this will be a weekly thing. Every Monday, I will pick out three songs from the vast metal library, and there are two main reasons to why I am doing this.

1. To present great music for those who have just discovered metal
2. To create a amazing music playlist that everyone should listen to

I will break it down into three, pretty self explanatory categories. The Classic is just as it sounds, a classic song that all veterans know and love, but that more inexperienced people should start with. The Newcomer is a song from one of the more newly released albums that has made a good impact. Finally, we have my personal choice, where I chose a song that may, or may not, be famous, but has leaved with a great impression in my life. So, what are we waiting for? Let us begin!

The Classic: In Flames - Only For The Weak

Did you expect me to start with any other song? Look at the title again please. Anyway, this is a song from the time when In Flames was one of the greatest forces on Earth, and the undisputed leaders of the Gothenburg metal movement. Even if this was one of the more melodic tunes from that era of the band, it is still a fantastic, heavy song with a presence that makes it magical when played live.

The Newcomer: Avantasia - Let The Storm Descend Upon You

As I wrote in my review of "Ghostlights", this 12 minute epic is a fantastic spectacle that both entertains and amazes. Joining Tobias Sammet here are Jorn Lande, Ronnie Atkins, and Robert Mason, all playing a big part in making this mastodon a great highlight of the album. So do not be scared of the length, just dive in and indulge yourself.

The Personal Favourite: Angel Dust - The Human Bondage

I really wished the makers of "50 Shades of Grey" would have used this song instead of "Love Me Like You Do", because... well, its better. Angel Dust is a old German thrash/power metal band that unfortunately does not exist anymore, but during the time they were active, they managed to create some amazing music. "The Human Bondage" is the opener of their last album "Of Human Bondage", and it contains a butt load of force. The vocalist Dirk Thurisch has this scary tone in his voice that really gives this song a frightening personality, and the guitarist Ritchie Wilkison performs this sort of wave riff that is so awesome that it alone would be enough to make this song great. A very underrated gem from a very underrated band.

Ultimately, these songs will be included in a Spotify list that I have yet to make (blame my lazy ass), and that list will of course be filled with three new songs each week.

Stay Metal!
Robert "Sharkruisher" Andersson

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Avantasia - Ghostlights (2016)

The original "solo project with tons of guest artist thrown into the mix" band is here again. Edguy singer Tobias Sammet has once again gathered his forces for an full frontal attack, I could be wrong, but this might be the strongest army Tobias has gathered thus far. Or what do you say about Sharon Den Adel, Dee Snider, Michael Kiske, Jorn Lande, Marco Hietala, and some unknown dude named Geoff Tate. Good guy Tobias Sammet, giving small names a chance to shine.

Anyway, "Ghostlights" is just what you would expect from a Avantasia album. It has its distinct sound, with small little tweaks so that the guests can perform at their best. For instance, we have a heaviness and power in "Master of The Pendulum" that fits Marco Hietala like a glove. It is just like he was singing a Nightwish or Tarot song. Tobias certainly balances on that thin line between originality and straight copying a little more than he usually does, but it still feels like a pure Avantasia record.

The most worth noting thing in this album is that it could contain a future Eurovision Song Contest participant. Yes, you read that correctly, Avantasia is competing to be the German entry for this year's ESC (which is in Stockholm, Sweden). It is the opening track "Mystery of A Blood Red Rose" that is competing, but not in its original state. Because of the rules of the competition, the track is shortened to about three minutes when it competes. The original song is a great one, bombastic and grand, just like Avantasia is, and I do think it fits the whole spectacle that ESC is. I hope it makes it to the main competition, because then I know who I will vote for :).

Back to the album, a album that is one of the heavier ones in the band's history. Well, maybe not heavier, but it is not as melodic as previous efforts. I do not mind this at all, because as long as it sounds great, I am in. Of course, the main portion of the album is still pure, bombastic power metal, and especially the three Kiske songs (the title track, "Unchain The Light", and "Wake Up To The Moon") are really bursting in a classic way.

This album may not have a big concept like the last album had (or I have just missed it completely), but it does have a big, epic story within it. "Let The Storm Descend Upon You" is a 12 minute epic that not only features an epic line-up of Jorn Lande, Ronnie Atkins, Robert Mason, and of course Tobias. It is without question the song that makes the biggest impact, with its ultra epic chorus and fantastic musicality. Each singer makes a awesome effort to make the listener sit on the edge of their seats during the full play time, cooperating in an impressive manor. Sammet sure knows how to create some epic mastodons.

I still think the album misses some kind of edge, something to take it up to the next level. Oh well, it is still a really nice album that fits really well in Avantasia's discography. It is a classic Avantasia album, bombastic, epic, lots of different voices and characters, but still a unified sound that is instantly recognizable. Tobias never ceases to amaze me, he still manages to create great new Avantasia records, despite it only being a side project from Edguy. Great job Tobias, and good luck on "Unser Lied Für Stockholm" (Our Song For Stockholm).

Songs worthy of recognition: Let The Storm Descend Upon You, Mystery of A Blood Red Rose, Master of The Pendulum, Unchain The Light

Rating: 8/10 Babylon Vampyres

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Dream Theater - The Astonishing (2016)

During the last couple of years, I have felt that Dream Theater has been more laid back in their approach, sort of leaning on their previous accomplishments like they have nothing to prove anymore. This has of course been apparent in the music, with the releases of two fairly mediocre and uninspiring albums (at least by the band's standard). This takes me back to Portnoy's departure, and why it happened. He wanted the band to take a small break, something the others was not on board with. Thinking of it now, it might have been a decent idea, to step down for a year or two to refresh those batteries.

But like a shot in the dark, the band unveils this, the band's 13th album entitled "The Astonishing", the band's biggest project up to date. A full on concept double album (or quadruple LP (!?!?)) that consists of 34 songs and a total play time of 2 hours and 10 minutes. And if you get scared by the pure size now, then you will probably run like hell when you start to dig in on the concept. The band has created a opus that is so humongous that it is hard to even know where to start. To make it easier for the listener to understand the story, the band has created this website that explains literally everything. You can read about the characters, look at an elaborate map of the places, and even follow the story while you are listening to the album, track by track.

In short, the story is set in the year 2285 and in the north east region of the United States, or as it is called in that time, G.N.E.A (the Great Northern Empire of The Americas). It is a time were creative expressions such as dance, art, and most importantly, music are a thing of the past, controlled by these robots called NOMACS (or Noise Machines) and the emperor Lord Nafaryus. However, far away from the main city, in a small town called Ravenskill, a boy has emerged as The Chosen One. His real name is Gabriel, and he possesses the gift of music, knowing how to control ancient instruments and sing. He is the main weapon of his brother and his rebel group, that aim to take down the empire, and bring back real music to the land once more.

I do not think the story in itself is anything original, it is sort of a modern mix of Romeo And Juliet and Star Wars (obviously without the light sabers and the force). However, it is well thought out and very elaborate, and I am not just saying that because it has tons of text and content. Once you understand the story, it is easy to follow with it in the actual lyrics of the music, you picture the characters and what they are doing and saying.

But here lies the problem, there is so much to take in that you run the risk of losing the music. It feels more like a musical than a prog album, like something Mozart and Shakespeare would cooperate on. This of course makes "The Astonishing" a unique piece of art the likes none has ever seen or heard. It is big, full of elements and layers, and still, the music plays the back up role in this story.

While the band performs splendidly as always, I feel like the only one who is pushing his boundaries are James LaBrie. He does some of his finest vocal work up to date, with an impressive range and emotion to really lift the album. The rest of the band are just tagging along for the ride, rarely taking the center stage. Without giving out too many spoilers, I know of at least 2 places where the band could have gone all in with not only their heavy side (which is mostly absent), but also their competitive spirit. That's right, I miss a classic solo battle in this album that otherwise has close to everything a prog lover could dream of.

Obviously, this is a album that should be experienced in all of its 2 hour and 10 minute length, but there are still some songs that are pretty enjoyable on their own. "The Gift of Music" is not only a great introduction to the concept, but it also works as a good introduction for the band as well, showing almost all of the things that defines Dream Theater. Then we have "A Savior In The Square", a song that has a small part that is really epic, and lifts the song from being good to being great. "Chosen" has one of the more striking solos and structures in the album, and "Moment of Betrayal" contains a really good and memorable chorus (unlike the rest of the 33 songs). Oh, and the two opening instrumentals "Dystopian Overture" and "2285 Entr'acte" are amazing ways of opening up the 2 acts, which I am sure will do even better once the band goes on tour (they are performing the entire album from start to finish) So there are some material for the impatient ones here, but since they all are a part of a bigger picture, I still recommend a full listen through.

"The Astonishing" is a huge accomplishment for Dream Theater, because they have not only managed to create a grand story that is rich on detail, but also baked in more or less their entire career in one double album. Sure, there are several fillers, and that patented Dream Theater 10+ minute epic is missing, but this is a album that should be viewed as a artwork. You should look and enjoy it from a distance, not go in and detail every single brush stroke. I love the fact that the band is not taking the easy route and try to reinvent themselves, something they have not done for the last couple of years. With that said, they may have bitten of a little more than they could chew. It does not feel as complete as "Metropolis Pt. 2...". I like this album, and it is their best in some time, but if the band would have killed some of their darlings, and tighten the whole thing up, then I would have loved it. A for effort and courage, B for the content.

Songs worthy of recognition: Moment of Betrayal, The Gift of Music, A Savior In The Square, The Path That Divides

Rating: 8/10 NOMACs