Sunday, January 31, 2016

Quick Takes: Dream Theater and Megadeth

Dream Theater - The Astonishing

When word came down that Dream Theater was going to be releasing a 34 track, 2+ hour sci-fi concept album, whatever affection I have for the band was thoroughly deflated. Despite releasing my #1 album of 2011 ("A Dramatic Turn Of Events"), I struggled with the premise of this new record. I was fearful, and it turns out that was for good reason.

"The Astonishing" is, to speak frankly, too epic for its own good. The story is, like almost all concept albums, under-developed, while the length makes it nearly impossible to sit through as one piece of music, as intended. I had my complaints about Iron Maiden's double album from last year, but this is another half an hour on top of that, which is simply too much music. Dream Theater are not masters of variety, and over the course of this many tracks, and this much time, it all begins to blend together into one incoherent mass of music. There are good moments, because they're a good band, but there isn't enough here to justify the length.

With all of the interludes and vignettes, the band is asking us to spend a lot of time listening to them build the world for their cliched story. A proper album of this sort would be able to show us all of that through the music itself, but that is Dream Theater by-the-numbers. I can't even judge this properly, because I don't know how it can be considered an album, when it is clearly aiming to be a stage production or a movie.

Megadeth - Dystopia

Megadeth is in the running for the most overrated band in metal history. They have been coasting on the success that came with being in the right place at the right time for decades, and have very little music to their name that is essential. "Rust In Peace" is fantastic, and I have always been a big fan of "The System Has Failed", but that's not much to speak of in a thirty year career. And for the last decade, they have been putting out albums that switch from melodic rock to thrash and back again, shamelessly pandering to whatever Dave Mustaine thinks will sell the most records that year.

"Dystopia" returns the band to thrash again, which seems to coincide with lineup changes. This time around, Dave's thrash sounds even weaker than before, partly because he's shown he has no connection to it anymore, and partly because it's more of less the exact same record as "Endgame". If you've heard that record, you know everything you're going to get here, except for the even more extreme bent of the political lyrics, which Dave does not have enough of a grasp of the issues to write in a potent, powerful way.

What you get with "Dystopia" is an album that panders to his musical base and his political base, feeling forced at every turn. Of course it's better than the career embarrassments that were "Thirteen" (I refuse to spell it in the childish manner Dave did) and "Super Collider". Those records were disastrously bad. This one is just bland and forgettable.

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