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

BLACK CLOUDS & SILVER LININGS

Dream Theater

 

Progressive Metal

3.44 | 1207 ratings

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Una Laguna
3 stars Closer to 3.5 stars than 3, but I can't bring myself to round it up.

Systematic Chaos wasn't a bad album, but it was shoddy by Dream Theater's standards. Octavarium was a good album, but lacked the punch of earlier releases. I would say that BC&SL is overall better than both these albums.

On Systematic Chaos the not-so-good stuff outnumbered the good stuff. BC&SL has more good stuff than not-so-good.

The good: the first ten minutes of A Nightmare to Remember (more on the rest of it later). Wither (which reminds me of Another Day from Images and Words and is of similar quality, except more atmospheric). The music from The Best of Times and The Count of Tuscany.

The not-so-good: the rest of A Nightmare to Remember. ANTR starts as a good track, plenty of variation, metal bits, more ambient keyboard bits... it's good stuff. It reminds me of the better moments from Systematic Chaos.

But then Jordan Rudess does a generic play-as-fast-as-you-can solo. Why? My hypothesis is that he wants to play as many notes as possible: like any musician who loves their instrument he just wants to play, play play.

Let's backtrack to Awake for a minute. Think of the songs on there. 6:00. Caught in a Web. Innocence Faded. Erotomania. Lifting Shadows off a Dream. Space-Dye Vest. What do all these tracks have in common? They're keyboard-led. Now think of all the tracks from the Rudess era. How many of those tracks are keyboard-led? The only ones I can think of are These Walls from Octavarium (which is a cracking song) and The Ministry of Lost Souls (another good song).

My point is, maybe Jordan Rudess plays so many notes in his solos because he doesn't get to play many notes anywhere else. Dream Theater's music has been almost entirely guitar-driven for the past few albums. Good for Petrucci: he's a fantastic guitarist and deserves the chance to shine. But the lack of prominent keyboard parts means that the atmosphere of Dream Theater's music suffers.

I'm not saying Dream Theater should go back to making albums like Awake and Images and Words. Far from it. They've already made those albums - they don't need to make another one! What I am saying is that part of what made those two albums - particularly Awake - so great was their atmosphere. And that's what Dream Theater are missing a lot of the time in the music.

...and then, shortly after Rudess' solo in ANTR, Portnoy starts singing/shouting. Yes, yes, I read his explanation of it on his forums. But Labrie would've sounded better. End of. If you want to create an atmosphere, then talk to Jordan! He's a fantastic keyboard player and composer! Actually use him to his full capacity!

No offense to Portnoy, I'm sure he's a nice guy... but I just want to put duct tape over his mouth. That way, he can't sing/shout. It also means he can't produce. He's a great drummer, but it seems as if many of the production decisions which I don't agree with are because of him. I'd like to see an album with Petrucci and Rudess producing - I think that would solve the lack-of-keyboard dilemma.

A Rite of Passage was missing from my list of good things... just because it's not that great. The chorus is enjoyable enough. I'll give them that. But the rest of it, the riffs, the verses, the pre-chorus, all that razzmatazz... it just doesn't have much feeling to it. Oh, and the continuum solo actually HURT.

The Shattered Fortress was also missing from my list of good things. I just don't get what's with the whole Twelve-Step Suite. I know it's about Portnoy dealing with alcoholism, the lyrics have been good enough, but I just haven't enjoyed it musically. Some of the reprises at the end were a nice touch, but the whole thing just lacks that atmosphere I was talking about earlier. Next, please.

Aha! Now things start getting interesting. The Best of Times and The Count of Tuscany are two very different songs, but they have the same strengths and weaknesses. The Best of Times starts off a bit cheesy, musically, what with the whole violin thing and stuff, but the emotion you feel in the music is much more uplifting than anything else from the album. This is the stuff! Yeah! Whoo! etc.

The Count of Tuscany starts off with some retro Dream Theater stylings, nice and atmospheric and all that. A few goofy moments spoil it (similar to that really bad bit from the Metropolis Pt 1 instrumental section), but musically it's one of Dream Theater's great accomplishments. ESPECIALLY that almost ambient section about two-thirds of the way through. Man! I'm, like, totally feeling the music!

Except there are lyrics. Mmhm. I get that Portnoy wanted to write a tribute to his dad, and good on him, but... man... did he have to make the lyrics so... cheesy? At least he cares, I guess. And The Count of Tuscany... the lyrical style reminds me of Scenes From a Memory, with the pseudo-conversations and story-driven nature. Except unlike SFAM, The Count of Tuscany's lyrics... are... well... trash. "Get into my car/Let's go for a drive/Along the way/I'll be your guide/Just step inside"? Yehwhatnow? It's not that it's a bad story to base a song's lyrics on, it's just so poorly-executed.

So... some of Dream Theater's finest musical work is on this album (though only really towards the end). It's just a pity that it's coupled with some of their worst lyrics ever. Those other four tracks... aren't bad, they just lack the emotion and atmosphere which makes the final tracks so good. Come to this album once you've exhausted the other great albums of their material.

Una Laguna | 3/5 |

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