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Dream Theater - A Dramatic Turn Of Events CD (album) cover


Dream Theater


Progressive Metal

3.84 | 1541 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
5 stars Over the course of the year leading up to their eleventh full-length studio album, American progressive metal legends Dream Theater have withstood a dramatic turn of events indeed. With the departure of longtime drummer and founding member Mike Portnoy, the band went on a long search for a replacement behind the kit, and after auditioning seven of the most talented drummers on the scene, Dream Theater eventually agreed upon seasoned veteran Mike Mangini, best known for his work with Annihilator, Extreme, James LaBrie, and Steve Vai. Although Dream Theater's fanbase may be split on whether or not Portnoy is a replaceable element of the band, Mike Mangini does an excellent job on this album, and rest of the quintet shines as brightly as ever. A Dramatic Turn of Events features some of the best songwriting in Dream Theater's catalog, some of the most impressive instrumental runs you're likely to ever hear, and a more light-hearted sound that has been missed on their last handful of albums. This may not shatter your perception of Dream Theater's distinct progressive metal style (in a positive or negative way), but it's a refreshing change of pace after the darker atmosphere of their previous few outings. I'd confidently regard this as one of the best Dream Theater efforts since Scenes From a Memory, as well as one of the year's most impressive progressive albums.

Whereas albums like Black Clouds & Silver Linings and Systematic Chaos focused on a heavier, darker, and edgier metal sound, A Dramatic Turn of Events shows Dream Theater returning to the lush, progressive rock soundscapes of albums like Images & Words and Scenes From a Memory. Despite my immense enjoyment of both styles of Dream Theater, it is nice to see them focusing on lighter atmospheres with progressive arrangements and integral keyboards. Although this is jam- packed with heavy riffs and hard-hitting instrumental sections, Dramatic Turn rarely strikes me as a dark album, largely due to the wide array of keyboard tones. Jordan Rudess has taken a bit of a backseat on the last few Dream Theater albums, but the keyboards on A Dramatic Turn of Events are just as dominate and tasteful as they were when Kevin Moore was still in the group. Jordan Rudess's thoroughly integrated keyboards don't come at the expense of the other musicians, though - John Petrucci delivers plenty of hard-hitting riffs and blinding leads, Mike Mangini show his expressive drumming abilities, James LaBrie delivers helpings of memorable vocal melodies, and John Myung's bass playing has more personality than ever before.

Prior to hearing this observation, I was openly skeptical about Dream Theater's songwriting abilities without Mike Portnoy - although I have never had any doubt about the members' abilities as songwriters, Portnoy was obviously responsible for a big chunk of the band's compositions, lyrically and musically. It appears that my initial predictions were entirely incorrect, though, and A Dramatic Turn of Events showcases some of the strongest songwriting in Dream Theater's large catalog. Like most Dream Theater albums, this misses the 80 minute CD time limit by just a hair, and somehow the entire disc is filled to the brim with some of the best songwriting you're bound to hear all year. "On the Backs of Angels" tends to be the most instantly enjoyable track, with its hard-hitting riffs and progressive instrumental portions kicking the album off in high gear. The rest of the album strikes me as a bit more of a "grower", so to speak, than previous Dream Theater albums - whereas I was humming tracks from Black Clouds & Silver Linings after just one spin, it takes a bit longer until all of A Dramatic Turn of Events puts its hooks in the listener. This shouldn't at all be interpreted as a bad thing, though, and I tend to think that it's a sign of Dream Theater turning their compositional depth and finesse up an extra notch.

A Dramatic Turn of Events is without any weak tracks, but a few stand out a bit more than others. "Breaking All Illusions" should be the one that really makes every prog fan's mouth water - this twelve minute opus seamlessly blends relentless technicality with a sense of melody and soul, very much similar to what the band did nearly 20 years ago with "Learning to Live". A Dramatic Turn of Events also contains something that has been noticeably missing from some of their post-new millennium albums - soft, semi-acoustic ballads. Before all of the metalheads shake their head in disgust, let me say that both of the drum-free ballads here are some of the finest I've ever heard, and easily rank up there with the masterpiece "Wait for Sleep". "Far From Heaven" is a touching song with just piano and strings accompanied by James Labrie's soft vocals. "Beneath the Surface" is a slightly more uplifting track, featuring gentle acoustic guitars and James Labrie's powerful vocals. Jordan Rudess's synth solo is also truly spectacular.

There are a few other tracks that should also appeal greatly to fans of progressive rock, particularly "Bridges In the Sky" and "Outcry", both of which are fantastic ten-plus minute epics with some of the best vocal melodies ever put in Dream Theater's music. "Lost Not Forgotten" has a slightly power metal-influenced vibe that brings Symphony X to mind, and "This is the Life" is a gentle track with some excellent acoustic guitar harmonies reminiscent of Pink Floyd. "Build Me Up, Break Me Down" is probably the most unremarkable and conventional song on the album, but it still has a memorable enough chorus to keep it from being anything mediocre.

A Dramatic Turn of Events was produced by John Petrucci and mixed by Andy Wallace (known for his work with Slayer, Faith No More, Nirvana, Avenged Sevenfold, Guns N' Roses, and many others), so of course the sound is professional and well-done. I can't say I'm a huge fan of the way the drums are mixed, but that's been a small issue of mine with every Dream Theater album from Scenes From a Memory onward. It's worth noting that this is the first album in quite a bit of time where John Myung's bass is actually audible at a reasonable level without being drowned out by the other instruments - definitely a plus in my book.

Regardless of your opinion about Dream Theater, they are an unstoppable and unignorable force in the progressive metal world, and their ability to constantly churn out top-notch albums is the reason why I've remained a huge fan since I first began listening to them. Even though A Dramatic Turn of Events was made under unusual circumstances, the band sounds as inspired as ever and it'll be very interesting to hear where they head in the coming years. My faith in Dream Theater has not only been renewed by this album, but it has also been increased to a higher point than ever before. A near-flawless masterpiece, this stunning observation deserves to be cherished by every progressive metal fan who gives it a spin. This is definitely among my favorite Dream Theater albums, and an easy 5 star recommendation from this humble reviewer. One of 2011's best albums? You bet!

J-Man | 5/5 |


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