When the progmetal pioneers Dream Theater were formed almost 31 years ago, first under the name Majesty, it soon became clear that the band would provide musical highlights and delicacies in the area of tension between progressive rock and metal. On their way to becoming one of the leading progmetal institutions, Dream Theater even landed a hit in 1992 with "Pull Me Under" from the album "Images And Words". Self-ironically they titled their first compilation "Greatest Hit (...And 21 Other Really Cool Songs)" in 2008.
Since "Pull Me Under" or "Images", the second Dream Theatre album, Canadian James LaBrie has been the singer of the East Coast band. Much criticized, especially by the former tape drummer Mike Portnoy, LaBrie has long been an extremely important component of the Dream Theater sound. But Dream Theater have always been greater than the sum of their parts. Whether "The Astonishing" is actually a masterpiece or even her masterpiece, time will show as always. At least Petrucci and LaBrie tried to convince us on the couch of a Berlin noble hotel.
John Petrucci: (looking at the cover of the last eclipsed issue with the title theme Roger Waters' "The Wall") Basically we don't need to talk at all. That's it: "The Wall" is the great model for our new work. Like "The Wall", "The Astonishing" claims to stand for itself. It's supposed to be more than just a Dream Theatre record. Maybe it could and should work outside the band context - theatre, film, whatever. I can imagine a lot of things. The album of course has all Dream Theater trademarks including James' charismatic voice, but like "The Wall" or "Quadrophenia" or "Tommy" are not just Pink Floyd or The Who albums, "The Astonishing" is not just a Dream Theater album.
eclipsed: Before we go any further in that direction, please tell us what the story is about.
Petrucci: The story of "The Astonishing" is set in a post-apocalyptic dystopia. The feudalism there is reminiscent of the Middle Ages. Machines dominate. Some people in this gloomy society long for a chosen one to rise up with them and fight the joyless, evil kingdom.
eclipsed: It's hard to agree on a song, a single piece on "normal" albums that stands out or is programmatic for the whole work. How hard must it have been for you at such a monster work.
Petrucci: We released "The Gift Of Music" in advance because it stands out, but also because it shows what really matters in the world I have drawn and of course in the beginnings of our present society. Besides, it's one of the few pieces I think you can separate from the rest.
eclipsed: James, to what extent does "The Astonishing" differ from the eleven albums you recorded with the band before?
James LaBrie: When John came to us with the idea about two and a half years ago, the rest of us were excited, but also waiting. As it became more concrete, it also gripped John [Myung; bassist], Mike [Mangini; drummer] and me. I guess you get even more out of yourself if you can guess the size of the work being created. It's not an album developed by four or five guys in a rehearsal room. But John has always been the musical head of Dream Theater, so it's not much different than before. With one difference: It was clear from the beginning that nobody but John and Jordan would compose and write lyrics.