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Dream Theater - Dream Theater CD (album) cover

DREAM THEATER

Dream Theater

 

Progressive Metal

3.44 | 518 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Andy Webb
Forum & Site Admin Group
Site and Forum Admin
3 stars And so Goliath fell...

Almost to the day it has been one year since I have posted a review on ProgArchives. Why, I can't say, perhaps a degree of ennui, a lack of free time, or just other priorities around the site. But with the release of a new Dream Theater album, I, as a well-known Dream Theater fanboy, feel the obligation to share my thoughts on my once favorite band of all time's latest work. And the sad fact is, this album heavily contributed to my word choice of my 'once' favorite band. Dream Theater, as anyone who has read my biography for them may agree, have been one of the most influential and powerful progressive metal bands of all time. With simple non-repeatable opuses such as Images and Words, Awake, Scenes from a Memory, Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, and Octavarium, these behemoths of the prog metal world were kings. In the past 6 years, however, they have experienced a truly disheartening fall from grace. I embraced Systematic Chaos as a new look at a classic sound with heavier, darker, grittier, and perhaps more 'mainstream metal' sounding tones. Black Clouds and Silver Linings, the band's darkest album to date, had its moments, with songs such as The Count of Tuscany listing among my favorites, but alas, it was the last album to feature key member and founder Mike Portnoy.

But have no fear! Dream Theater had not been making music for 25 years to give up at a little bit of a setback. With a cheesy reality television program and all, they announced the legend (among drummers, at least) Mike Mangini would be filling in at the throne. The world record holder for fastest drumming was a professor of percussion at Berklee, for heaven's sake. The man knew how to pound them skins! With the release of the aptly named A Dramatic Turn of Events, I saw a miniscule glimmer of hope for my beloved Dream Theater. The tone had softened, the creativity knob was turned up maybe 3 notches, and by golly, I could hear John Myung for the first time in ten years. While Dream Theater had done better in the past, this album gave the classic die hards hope, myself included. And this album had not even included Mangini as a composer!

So when the band announced, in another dramatic turn of events, that their 12th studio offering would be a self-titled album, I expected heavenly greatness. Soaring guitar lines, gorgeous keyboard lines, thumping bass lines, mathematical drums, and angelic vocals were sure to greet me as, in a typical way of a DT fanboy, unnecessarily ordered the Special Edition (I don't even own a 5.1 surround sound system, why did I need a DVD of it?). The single The Enemy Inside left much to be desired, however, but I felt confident. For years Dream Theater had released their most commercially satiable song first ' Constant Motion, Rite of Passage, On the Backs of Angels (well maybe not that one). When my preorder came in a day before the release date, I scurried back to my stereo and inserted this new offering from the prog metal gods.

And oh did they deliver. At first. The False Awakening Suite was just that ' a terrible false awakening to sub-par Dream Theater. The introductory track is phenomenal. Crushing riffs, epic instrumentation, and a righteous display of Dream Theater's raw power opened their new album showing this group of mid-40s metal heads can still kill it. The short fragments of powerful prog metal actually flow into each other beautifully, which is something that was severely lacking on their last album. I was ecstatic. When the Enemy Inside followed, I got nervous, but another tactic of Dream Theater is to plop a popular song second on an album (e.g. The Answer Lies Within, Constant Motion, A Rite of Passage, Build Me Up, Break Me Down). I forged on. The Looking Glass wasn't terrible, but it was not what I was expecting. The cheesy major scaled riffs, much in a key of Rush, mixed with James Labrie's terribly predictable vocal melodies, was not the hottest combination for the band. With one out of three satisfying me, my worry began to grow.

The Enigma Machine is where I realized this album would not be what I thought it would be. The song was advertised as Dream Theater's return to crushing instrumental tracks ' their first bona fide instrumental track since Train of Thought's killer Stream of Consciousness. This song, however, truly proved to be an enigma to me, a humble Dream Theater enthusiast. The introduction, a horrible over-synthesized riff written by our good wizard Jordan Rudess, called to mind the beauty that is Erotomania from Awake, a delicate showing of the band's instrumental prowess but keeping the showmanship to a respectable level. This song, however, was a showing of how the band does not know how to responsibly mix cool riffs, instrumental ferocity, and transitions. Awkward key changes, immature section transitions, and far too many childish instrumental flourishes. While impressive four bar solos have their place and are impressive under certain circumstances, when they are awkwardly juxtaposed within an already awkward song, they show that the band is trying way too hard.

After my turbulent journey was complete with The Enigma Machine, the first predictable Dream Theater power ballad showed its face. In the bigger picture, The Bigger Picture is not a bad song. In general, I am not a huge fan of Dream Theater's incessant dedication to forcing these songs into their albums, but in general this how the band can pull them off. Delicate, whilst cheesy vocal melodies actually blended will with John Petrucci's predictable power riffing. While fairly textbook Dream Theater, it was a nice slice of home pie. To increase my serving of nostalgia with typical Dream Theater plays, Behind the Veil, while perhaps being one of the freshest and most exciting tracks on the album, filled a slot that every Dream Theater album needs ' the moody, dynamically expressive, somber metal song. We see this in the form of Outcry, The Shattered Fortress, The Dark Eternal Night, Sacrificed Songs, etc ad naseum. A welcome sight, and I was pleased to see that Dream Theater effectively pulled it off.

Perhaps one of my favorites, Surrender to Reason is indeed a very nice and creative breath of fresh air on this drab album. While the tonality of the guitar and keyboard dynamic screams Rush, it serves as a nice salute to the band's main influence. The dynamics throughout the album are nicely represented, transitioned to, and elaborated on. The vocal melodies don't make my ears bleed with predictability, and there is a fair amount of fresh riffing. The solo section, as well, brings to mind many of Dream Theater's finest moments in the category.

And of course, before we arrive at the main attraction every Dream Theater fan was waiting for (Illumination Theory), we have to make the dreadful stop at James Labrie's favorite moment of the album ' the hopeful major scaled ballad. Another familiar play in the Dream Theater playbook, Along for the Ride pretty much explains my experience throughout the song. I listen and enjoy James Labrie's predictable melodies as much as I can and John Petrucci's emotive playing that is accented by Rudess' tasteful piano and string accompaniment (my favorite tone of his). While is not even in the same league as The Spirit Carries On or The Silent Man, it provides an adequate plug for this Dream Theater album requirement.

And finally, the 20 minute epic. A staple of many a successful Dream Theater album, the long form progressive metal epic is an ambitious undertaking by any band. The numerous sections, interludes, overtures, themes, riffs, instrumentation, arrangement, lyrical themes, and flow are difficult to master in order to make a tolerable epic. The classic band Yes was perhaps the most proficient at crafting epics of this type and even produced an album made solely of four of them. Seeing as Yes is one of Dream Theater's main influences, one can see why Dream Theater was also fairly good at creating memorable 20+ minute songs that were not painful to listen to all the way through.

Thank god for that influence, because Illumination Theory may have been the one song that saved this album from being a 2 star Dream Theater album, an unheard of concept in my book. While not matching to the epic beauty of A Change of Seasons or Octavarium, Illumination Theory is a powerful weapon in the Dream Theater arsenal. Perhaps one of the more metallic of their epics, the first half of the epic is a truly amazing display of Dream Theater's creative ability. If this type of compositional skill had been utilized throughout the album, the album would have been monumentally better. The organic riffs, wizardly keyboard work (despite the fact it screamed of Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence), and actually creative vocal lines were a treat. Half way through, however, is where I was truly wowed. I knew Jordan Rudess had composed some string quartet work that was recorded by an actual ensemble, but the actual classical piece that shows off the man's Julliard education was incredible. A truly beautiful work, a string quartet works its beauty into a transitionary role by breaking the epic into two halves.

The second half, however, is so much better than the first. When the strings pull their final draw, Petrucci and Labrie soar in in perhaps one of their most emotive and expressive moments in years. Labrie has a new force behind his pipes that remind me of his 90s glory and the communication between the four instrumentalists is sublime. The actual instrumentation has every ounce of their 90s creativity mixed with their modern day sheen, which surprisingly makes for a nicely polished sound. Near the mid-19 minute mark the song fades and I almost went into an epic rage over Dream Theater tricking me out of 3 minutes, but have no fear, it is only a 30-second silence before Petrucci and Rudess duet in a way not seen since their duet album of 2000. A passion, emotion, and grace is felt in their motions that reminded me why I liked this band's music to begin with.

And I wish I could just use those last two paragraphs for this entire review. But alas, the album has so much more, which accounts for so much less, that I cannot. Immediately after listening to Illumination Theory the latest time, I respun the A Change of Seasons EP to see how their epic writing has changed over the last 18 years. I was sadly reminded that while Illumination Theory was in fact a gorgeous display of Dream Theaterian magic, I had lowered my standards while listening to the album in whole. While reviewing music requires the author to make a delicate balance between comparison and analysis, I could not help myself but compare the pure passion that was expressed through each instrumentalist in their 1995 23-minute epic, the very first the band had ever produced. The soul emitted by this song, compared to the almost plastic nature of their latest effort, is demoralizing to an avid fan of the band.

As a reviewer, however, I can't give an album negative one stars because I feel like they've become worse over two decades of composing. Analytically, this album is not technically bad. The album has many impressive moments that give me hope for the band. In general, however, Dream Theater has taken one step forward and two steps back with this album. They pushed their boundaries since their last effort, but they kept their creativity in such a formulaic, crowd-pleasing mold that I couldn't truly enjoy. Dream Theater has figured out the shape of their own musical cookie cutter and they used it excessively on this album.

The predictability not only of the structures and makeup of many of the songs but also of the actual riffs, instrumentation, and vocal melodies especially also made for a rather lackluster experience on the album. While of course there were exceptions in certain songs, overall I felt as though the band wasn't trying at all when it came to new vocal melodies. The lines felt cold and uncreative and they meshed with the music only on a surface level. The over produced sound to many of the songs, as is they were desperately trying to please their label, also made much of the album sound terribly plastic.

Overall, however, this album is not bad. Granted, as a former die hard Dream Theater fanatic, I'm hard wired to not hate anything the band does, but this album truly tested my dedication. The album has its high points in conjunction to its (very) low points. Given the fact that this review ranks as one of my very longest, I don't think I can say anything more without repeating myself. My only wish is that for their next album, Dream Theater takes a hard look at how they want to creatively represent themselves. Do they want to ferment into a cookie cutter metal band reproducing the same song or do they seriously want another shot at pushing the envelope of their genre? At this point in their career, every member of Dream Theater is financially safe enough to risk not making a Billboard top 10 album, so I dearly hope it is the latter. I can't give this album any more than under 3 stars. 3- stars.

Andy Webb | 3/5 |

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