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Music / The Astonishing

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Far in the distant future,
Beyond the pages of our time.
Cold blooded wicked tyrants,
Threaten the freedom of mankind.

"The Gift of Music" - Act I

The Astonishing is the 13th studio album by Progressive Metal band Dream Theater. It is a Rock Opera about a dystopian future where the Great Northern Empire of the Americas is ruled by the tyrant Lord Nafaryus. In this story, all music is produced artifically by “noise machines”, or NOMACS for short. Human-made music no longer exists in society.

This all changes with Gabriel, a young man from the impoverished town of Ravenskill who possesses an angelic singing voice. Because of the effect his singing has on other people, he is proclaimed a Chosen One who can restore music to the world. Gabriel’s brother Arhys (pronounced “Ares” like the Greek god) is the leader of a militia planning to revolt against the empire. The battle between the empire and the militia plays out with as many twists and turns as can fit in the lyrics of the album.


Other characters in the story include:

  • Arabelle, the wife of Lord Nafaryus and the voice of reason against Nafaryus’s more villainous personality.
  • Faythe, the daughter of Nafaryus known for her beauty and kind heart. Later falls in love with Gabriel, much to the chagrin of her father.
  • Daryus, the son of Nafaryus and heir to the throne. He is envious of the attention that Faythe gets from their father, and will do anything to get the same respect.
  • Evangeline, the deceased wife of Arhys, who died during childbirth. Aryhs promised her to give their son a better life than the poverty of Ravenskill, which is what motivated him to form the militia.
  • Xander, the 8-year-old son of Arhys and Evangeline.

Musically, the album veers away from the Epic Rocking of previous Dream Theater albums (the longest song is 7:41, and most are under 5 minutes). The members of the band have described the style as closer to that of musical theatre, though still firmly in the progressive metal genre. Before the release of the album, there were numerous non-traditional marketing tactics, many of them revolving around Audience Participation by allowing fans to choose a side in the battle. There is also a section of the official Dream Theater website devoted exclusively to the album, including pictures of the characters and settings as well as extra information about the story.


In late 2016, Dream Theater announced that the album would be novelized, set to be released on March 16th, 2018. A turn-based strategy game based on the album was also released in early 2017.

The Astonishing contains examples of:

  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: The NOMACS. On the website regarding track by track information, it says the NOMACS were made for the good of mankind, but became corrupted, which would explain their behavior later on.
  • Album Intro Track: “Descent of the NOMACS”, a collection of noise and sound effects that represents the artificial music of the future.
  • Album Title Drop: But not until the very end of the album. The story description on the website uses the word “astonishing” much more liberally.
  • All There in the Manual: The official website for the album explains a lot of the holes left in the plot from just the lyrics.
  • Big Bad: Lord Nafaryus. Counts as a Non-Action Big Bad as well, as the most he does personally is give the three days ultimatum and state his dominance over everyone with his royal guards. His son Daryus, on the other hand, is a much more active threat.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Lord Nafaryus has a Heel–Face Turn after nearly losing Faythe and decides to shut down the NOMACS, all while Gabriel is able to bring back Fathye to life with his singing, thus the world of The Great Northern Empires of America is at peace. On the downside, Daryus loses his hearing and Arhys is dead.
  • BSoD Song: “My Last Farewell” is this for Gabriel, culminating in a blood curdling scream which shatters Daryus’s eardrums and makes Gabriel lose his voice.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Faythe’s music player is already important to her character arc, but it gains added importance with The Reveal that it belonged to Nafaryus. This is the first sign of his eventual Heel–Face Turn.
  • The Chosen One: Gabriel, though he says It Sucks to Be the Chosen One because of the expectations that people have of him.
  • Crowd Song: “Hymn of a Thousand Voices” is this in-story, though on the album it’s only James LaBrie singing.
  • Cyber Punk Is Techno: The music produced by the NOMACS.
  • Dark Reprise: “Chosen” gets one after Faythe almost dies.
  • Deal with the Devil: Daryus offers one to Arhys. Surrender Gabriel to the empire, and he will ensure that Xander lives a life of freedom and prosperity, which is what Arhys promised to his dying wife. Arhys is about to go through with it, but he rejects the offer last minute, and pays for it with his life.
  • Death by Origin Story: Evangeline died during Xander's birth eight years before the main story takes place.
  • Death Wail: Gabriel emits one after Arhys and Faythe are both killed. The scream is so powerful that it shatters Daryus’s eardrums and makes Gabriel lose his voice.
  • Disney Death: Happens to Faythe. Daryus accidentally attacks her, thinking she is Gabriel. As she is about to die, however, Gabriel’s singing brings her back to life.
  • The Dragon: Daryus.
  • Drone of Dread: At the end of “Descent of the NOMACS”.
  • Epic Rocking: Although there are no incredibly long songs on the album (the longest individually is over seven minutes, but that's because it has a roughly four-minute shredding solo that was left on), the fact that the album as a whole is over two hours long is an example of this.
    • There are, however, many songs that lead into others. For example, "A Savior in the Square" cuts in the middle of the lyrics when transitioning to "When Your Time Has Come"; individually, they are under four and a half minutes (average length), but together they are shy eight and a half minutes (solid epic rocking length). The longest of these combinations is "A Life Left Behind" and "Ravenskill", which clocks at 11:54 (roughly average Dream Theater song length).
  • Everything's Louder with Bagpipes: The melody at the end of “The X Aspect”.
  • Evil Laugh: "You only have three days!"
  • Expy: Let's see: A story about a world where there is no man made music with one person having to save the day from evil tyrants. If you haven't guessed it by now, the album is an expy to Rush's 2112.
  • Fanfare: In “A Savior in the Square”, as the royal family arrives in Ravenskill.
  • Fate Worse than Death: What happens to Daryus. From the website:
    • ’’…Daryus is not so lucky. The scream shatters the prince’s eardrums causing irreversible nerve damage and rendering him hearing-less. He is now doomed to live inside of his own soundless prison with the rest of his lifetime left to lament in a barren wasteland of silence over his despicable actions.’’
  • Headphones Equal Isolation: Faythe has a music player that she uses to escape the world. Later works in her favor. Her headphones protect her ears from the sound of Gabriel’s scream.
  • Heel–Face Turn: In the end, Lord Nafaryus decides to embrace human-made music and shut down the NOMACS. This is a result of Gabriel bringing Faythe back to life with his singing.
  • "I Am" Song: “Act of Faythe” for Faythe.
  • Instrumentals: This album has them in two flavors:
    • The Nomac Instrumentals, which are nothing but the robotic noises of the Nomacs ("Descent of the Nomacs", "The Hovering Sojourn", "Digital Discord", "Machine Chatter", and "Power Down")
    • The Overtures, which are regular instrumentals that cover the album's main musical motifs at the start of each act ("Dystopian Overture" and "2285 Entr'acte")
  • Ironic Echo: A musical version. The bagpipes section at the end of "The X Aspect". The melody reprises "Brother, Can You Hear Me?" and plays right after Arhys decided to betray Gabriel and bring him to Prince Daryus.
  • King Incognito: Faythe disguises herself in order to travel through Ravenskill unnoticed looking for Gabriel.
  • Leitmotif: Several of the characters (like Faythe and Gabriel) have their own individual themes that reoccur in various guises throughout the album. Heaven's Cove also has its own theme in Act II. Some characters are represented through certain styles as well, like Nafaryus being represented with more classic genres like tango and dixieland.
  • The Lost Lenore: Evangeline is this for Arhys.
  • Love at First Note: Faythe falling in love with Gabriel.
  • Love at First Sight: Gabriel falling in love with Faythe.
  • Love Theme: The melody of “Act of Faythe” serves as one for Faythe and Gabriel.
  • Massive Multiplayer Ensemble Number: “The Road to Revolution”, though the characters never sing at the same time.
  • The Male Ingenue Must Be A Tenor: James LaBrie is always a tenor, but he tries to accentuate this for Gabriel.
  • Meaningful Name: Several examples:
    • Arhys is the leader of a militia, and Ares is the Greek god of war.
    • Lord Nafaryus is indeed nefarious.
    • Faythe is a symbol of faith.
    • Gabriel shares his name with an angel.
  • Medley Overture: “Dystopian Overture” and “2285 Entr’acte” are both medleys.
  • Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness: On average, this album is noticeably lower on the scale, but it still runs the gamut from 1 to 7 depending on the song.
  • My Nayme Is: Lord Nafaryus and his daughter Faythe. Both names double as Meaningful Names.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Arhys, upon realizing that he had made a mistake in betraying Gabriel.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Again, Lord Nafaryus.
  • Noisy Robots: The sound of the NOMACS has elements of this.
  • No Name Given: Despite being a major character in the album, Daryus is never once named. Made even more ironic when in "A Tempting Offer" he asks for recognition from both Arhys and Xander.
  • Ominous Latin Chanting / Victorious Chorus: The choir on the album serves both purposes.
  • Parental Favoritism: Lord Nafaryus gives more attention and admiration to Faythe then to Daryus. This is a sore spot for Daryus.
  • Power Ballad: There are a lot of these on this album, especially for Dream Theater standards. Examples include "The Answer", "When Your Time Has Come", "Act of Faythe", "Losing Faythe", and "Hymn of a Thousand Voices".
  • Rebellious Princess: Faythe, to an extent. She never outright disobeys her family, but she listens to music when no one is watching despite it being forbidden, and she falls in love with Gabriel, an enemy of the empire.
  • Repetitive Audio Glitch: Happens when the NOMACS are turned off.
  • The Reveal: Nafaryus is the former owner of Faythe’s music player. Nafaryus rejected music from his life when he became emperor, but his love of music eventually leads to a Heel–Face Turn.
  • Setting Introduction Song: “The Gift of Music” helpfully describes the dystopian future in which the story takes place.
  • Title Track: The final track of the album.
  • Triumphant Reprise: “Brother Can You Hear Me” is already pretty uplifting, but the reprise when music is restored to the land is that much more triumphant.
  • Uncommon Time: It's Dream Theater, so it shouldn't be much of a surprise that this shows up a lot throughout the album.
  • Villain Song: “Lord Nafaryus” and “Three Days" for Nafaryus.
    • To some extent, Prince Daryus has "A Tempting Offer", as it sets up not only his motivation, but also how far he's willing to go to get what he wants.
  • "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Daryus, despite being heir to the throne, is overshadowed by his sister Faythe, and his primary motivation in the story is to get his father’s approval.

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