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Dream Theater - Black Clouds & Silver Linings CD (album) cover


Dream Theater


Progressive Metal

3.44 | 1569 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
5 stars 4.5 stars This is not just another Dream Theater album, this has the most inspiration and focus I've heard from the band in ten years. I do not hesitate in calling this as good as "Images & Words" and "Scenes from a Memory", if not the best album they ever did, especially if I focus on the last three songs of the album. (it is unusual how the best is in the end rather than the beginning, though at least their opener is very good)

Yes, the band is finally back. It does not mean that it sounds completely like their 90s period ('Best of Times' and 'Count of Tuscany' are heavily influenced by that period though) because it doesn't sound too different sonically from the previous two albums. On a positive note, they have improved on the riff department and generally avoided doing complicated riffs that don't work. Most riffs are tight, heavy, and appropriate to the mood. In addition, Portnoy (drummer) works with the riffs very well. Finally, "The Count of Tuscany" is probably the best epic they ever did. Apart from a couple of very slight flaws and some silly lyrics, it's nearly perfect.

To show the focus on songwriting, I'll describe in detail the first epic, which isn't really a highlight of the album but it's still excellent for the most part.

A Nightmare to Remember begins with a piano and then explodes into a massive wall of gothic metal chords, a dirty and tight metal riff introduces the rough vocals introducing the story of a brutal car crash that Petrucci experienced. A different riff with soloing on top is there for variation, the previous riff comes back. After it, there is a seamless transition into a more melancholic and beautiful chorus with a different tempo and time signature. Yet another riff introduces another section describing the car crash. The vocals/lyrics could have been a bit better tho but it quickly redeems itself with a beautiful vocal melody with instrumentation similar to the gothic intro, I'll call it the "Main Theme"

Another seamless transition introduces the hospital scene in an acoustic gothic fashion. There are various soft guitar motifs in this piece and Labrie is sounding much better than usual. It gets better when it gets to the longish chorus, with beautiful vocal harmonies in the 'beautiful agony' and 'wonderful misery' lines. The 2nd half of the choruses are fuller and uplifting. The second verse/chorus are variations of the first with electric guitars this time.

The soloing section is a bit flawed. While I am glad it brought back a previous riff, the guitar/keyboard duels go for a bit too long for a studio. Fortunately, it easily transitions to the "Main Theme". The guitar shreds very tastefully and carefully finishes in a way so that there is another great transition:

A very metal guitar melody introduces Mike Portnoy's rhythmic rough vocals and I can see why many criticize them. While I tolerate them , I do not like the two growls that come afterwards: he's no Opeth. What I should criticize are the lyrics nearly the end. It sounds odd hearing tough metal vocals with lyrics such as "it's a miracle he lived" "it's a blessing no one died" "everyone survived graaarg". I love how the cool metal riffs start blending and transitioning into more playful riffs only to reintroduce the 'dirty riff' in a different time-signature, which sounds awesome in 3/4 and the 6/4 chorus from the first section then is brought back. After a brief reference to the car crash riff, the "Main Theme" reappears while having in the background references from the part where Mike growled as well as the keyboards from the gothic wall of sounds that introduced the song.

Does this sound like a typical Train of Thought epic? No! They finally went back to writing songs! As a previously mentioned, the sounds of the guitars, keyboards, drums are more reminiscent to the modern Dream Theater albums. It's just the focus in songwriting (how the ideas seems connected especially), the inspired drumming, and Labrie's much improved vocals that is so refreshing (I dare call it his best moment in Dream Theater). I usually don't like his vocals but in here I almost always enjoy them.

There is a short ballad to show that they can write a nice radio-friendly song. It's called Wither and fortunately Labrie sounds excellent here, multi-tracking his vocals in the choruses. My favorite moment being when it's just a piano and Labrie until Petrucci plays an uplifting Queen-inspired guitar solo. Not a highlight and a bit poppy, but I like it.

The Best of Times shows more songwriting chops: it is a heartfelt song written for Mike Portnoy's father who died. They managed to write it before he passed away and showed it to him. While the introduction is very acoustic and melancholic and some lyrics in the middle can be heartbreaking, this is a positive song full of major chords, especially in the hard-rock parts that sound very much like Rush (instead of criticizing the band, I'll assume his father is a big fan of Rush). The ending of the song is similar in style to the soaring end of "Ministry of Lost Souls" of their previous album and is one of the very best Petrucci solos I've heard so far.

Also, showing their heavy chops, they succeeded in Shattered Fortress , the last part of the AA suite, regarding Portnoy fighting alcoholism. Many of the riffs and melodies in this song are variations of themes from the AA suite, usually improving on the originals. Therefore, this song has a very complicated structure and may seem a bit incoherent and all over the place at first listen, especially the first half. It makes sense after many listens and along with "The Count of Tuscany" is one of the best songs they ever did. The second half of the song, starting with the bone-crushing guitar riff with a synthesizer solo on top, is incredibly enjoyable.

Before writing about "The Count of Tuscany" which might be the best extended song they ever did, I'll talk about the weak song of the album: A Rite of Passage . It is unfortunately the single of the album, I suppose due to an excellent chorus that is catchy in a good way. It doesn't have that much more to offer and shows the weaknesses of the previous albums: weak transitions (chorus to verse), uninspired main riff overstaying its welcome (despite sounding cool in the undistorted intro), overlong soloing, and Ruddess playing aimlessly with atrocious timbres that just aren't metal.

Now, the masterpiece, I will not describe it in detail as it has as many musical ideas. You know from the elegant introduction that this is something special. This epic is quite like a summary of their discography, minus the soloing. You have the 00's wacky and/or catchy synthesizer riffs (they're all very good, especially the ones after the 2nd chorus), you have the Awake-inspired metal moments, Portnoy's rough backup vocals, stadium-friendly choruses like their modern albums and soundscapes that remind of Octavarium (song) and Trial of Tears. If you pay attention in the soundscapes section, you notice a melody that is played in the finale. The finale, by the way, is what does not fit as a 'summary' since it's different. It starts with acoustic guitar strumming and a gradual build up to a surprisingly restrained climax where you can notice in the background motifs from the beginning.

4.5 stars, but I round it up because I made my own version of the album with only the four long songs. In this tracklist that I recommend (Shattered Fortress after A Nightmare to Remember), you get an hour of non-stop entertainment, which is something I do not get in any album of theirs. This tracklist (without "Rite of Passage" and "Wither") is the best Dream Theater album.

Zitro | 5/5 |


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