The Astonishing Prog Opera That Could Have Been

On January 29th, Dream Theater released their thirteenth studio album: a two-disc “rock opera” simply named The Astonishing. Amongst a mixed reception at first, the band’s second ever concept album received generally favourable reviews, but nowhere near their more acclaimed releases, such as Metropolis, Part 2: Scenes from a Memory, Images and Words, and Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence. Recently, the band shared an updated version of the song “Our New World”, with Halestorm frontwoman Lzzy Hale. Now, why would Dream Theater create a new version of their song more than seven months after its release, and what does it say about The Astonishing?

Rock (or metal) operas are an awesome beast. They are an interesting medium through which to tell a story. Given the long structure, interconnected elements and overarching themes of the endeavour, it’s no wonder why most operas nowadays come from prog bands. And Ayreon might be at the forefront of the movement, with eight studio releases – seven of them being rock operas. Arjen Lucassen, the mastermind behind this project, always invite many musicians, and most particularly singers, to complete and play his creations, as well as impersonate the characters of the piece. The various voices, each with their respective register and timbre, help to create a distinction between the roles as well as showcase many talented artists.

Dream Theater, on the other hand, never opted for this option, and rather gave the responsibility of singing eight totally different characters. The problem wasn’t one on 1999’s Scenes from a Memory, because it simply wasn’t an opera. Sure, it was a concept album with a handful of characters, but they were rarely – if ever – in dialogue with one another, and if they were, it was clear from context what was happening. Just like that time where James Labrie takes his falsetto voice for embodying Victoria. It’s a whole different story on The Astonishing. “The Road to Revolution” is the extreme example: five different characters in short succession, including a female one. Apart from minute difference in voice effects, there is nothing to tell us which character is which, and, let’s be honest, you don’t recognize a person based on whether there’s a chorus or a phaser on when they speak, but on their voice.

Dream Theater‘s new take on “Our New World”, with Lzzy, is exactly what the entirety of The Astonishing should’ve been: one singer for each role in the story. Now, there’s a very slim chance that they are planning to release, one song after the other, a revamped version of the album with new singers in their proper roles, but this is unlikely. What’s left, then, is our imagination. Who could’ve filled the shoes of Lord Nafaryus, Arhys, or Daryus?

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