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

A DRAMATIC TURN OF EVENTS

Dream Theater

 

Progressive Metal

3.90 | 1242 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Starhammer
Prog Reviewer
4 stars The Curious Case of the Prog in the Night-time...

As one of the few Dream Theater fans that really considers Black Clouds and Silver Linings to be one of their best albums to date, I was slightly disappointed with the first single from this album, and the various other track previews did little to impress. But after reading the glowing early reviews enjoyed by A Dramatic Turn of Events I felt slightly more optimistic and was looking forward to hearing it.

After the first listen...

Overall it is a decent effort with some nice moments, although few which entice me into revisiting any time soon. The best songs are the shorter ballads, which is somewhat unusual as I'm normally underwhelmed by these efforts, but James Labrie sounds surprisingly good.

Whilst the production of the album sounds a bit 'shallow', and you can tell that the drum parts were not written by a drummer, the keyboards are what ruin it for me. I had initially been excited to see what direction the band would take with the absence of Portnoy, but it just seems like Rudess had a sugar rush and absolutely plastered the release with weird and 'cartoon-esque' sounds. Whilst his quirky fills and interludes had always been a favourite of mine in the past, they are far too frequent to be enjoyed here. Imagine the "Beyond this Life" breakdown from Live at Budokan, but lasting well over an hour. And when he isn't dredging the archives of his solo projects, he's flooding the mix with layer upon layer of pseudo-strings and gothic choirs. It's all slightly ironic considering I congratulated his use of alternative sounds and samples in my review of their previous album, but the 'water feature' which opens "Beneath the Surface" take an idea similar to maudlin of the Well's "The Ferryman" and then falls flat on its face by utilising it in a totally alien context. Pointless. Another example is the 'shaman's wail' from "Bridges in the Sky" which should have sounded something like the intro to Spock's Beard's "The Great Nothing", but instead conjures up images of a paranormal fart.

In addition, the album artwork designed by Hugh Syme is his least impressive contribution to the band. I can appreciate the metaphorical imagery, but the love-child of Ronald McDonald and Tin Tin? Seriously?!

For me A Dramatic Turn of Events is a step backwards for Dream Theater.

After the third listen...

At just over 77 minutes the band's latest effort pushes the CD to its limits. Whilst most Dream Theater songs tend to be fairly lengthy, A Dramatic Turn of Events lacks the holding linchpin found on each of their most recent releases, namely "The Count of Tuscany", "In the Presence of Enemies" and "Octavarium". Instead we find no fewer than four tracks clocking in at over ten minutes which gives the album a structure more akin to Train of Thought. For me "Breaking All Illusions" is the strongest, closely followed by "Lost Not Forgotten" then "Bridges in the Sky" and last but not least "Outcry". All are excellent compositions but also sound quite similar, and lack the characteristic individuality of Black Clouds and Silver Linings.

Nestled in amongst these behemoths is "This is the Life", a thoughtful little piece with lyrics that remind me of latter day Rush.

The album closes with another ballad, "Beneath the Surface", which has drawn comparisons to the final track on Awake, "Space Dye Vest ". Whilst I appreciate that "Beneath the Surface" shows a slightly different approach when compared to the rest of A Dramatic Turn of Events, it still feels very much at home where "Space Dye Vest" sticks out like a ginger cousin on crack cocaine.The second ballad "Far from Heaven", is not quite as memorable at the other two but still betters the likes of "Vacant" and "Disappear". Similarly the album's lead single, "On the Backs of Angels", and the radio friendly "Build Me Up, Break Me Down" are slightly weaker than the rest of the tracks, but still stand above their recent counterparts such as "The Root of All Evil" and "Constant Motion".

Another strong release from the godfathers of progressive metal.

After the tenth listen...

Many have compared this to Images & Words, but for me A Dramatic Turn of Events is more akin to Octavarium in sound, albeit with compositions of increased complexity, and ballads that are genuinely emotive.

The albums opens with "On the Backs of Angels" and hits a low point straight away. It was originally conceived as a sort of welcoming doormat which showcases the aggregate Dream Theater sound, and whilst it certainly achieves that, the resulting average is, well, average! It's not particularly bad and has a few cool moments, but instead of saying 'here is a diluted sample of what to expect' they should have just skipped it altogether and got on with the main event!

The second track is "Build Me Up, Break Me Down", a catchy song with vocals reminiscent of "Burning My Soul", and an electro-industrial twist. I think this would have served the album better as its lead single, not only is it shorter than "On the Backs of Angels", but also more memorable.

"Lost Not Forgotten" is for me where the album really gets started. A modern tribute to the now mythical Achaemenid empire, it's the home of incredible guitar, incredible keyboards, and an opening bass-line that makes you feel like you're actually riding a horse through the deserts of ancient Babylonia!

"This is the Life" is equivalent to the likes of "I Walk Beside You" or "Anna Lee", with the main difference being that it's actually a really good song!

"Bridges in the Sky" had a working title The Shaman's Trance and describes exactly that!. Complete with throaty gurgling and avian samples, this is the album's second longer track, and its world music influences make some parts of it sound like Orphaned Land, which is no bad thing. This is followed immediately by the similarly lengthy "Outcry". It's an incredibly technical piece, maybe too much so as the intensity sacrifices some of its musicality, but a strong finale makes it live long in the memory.

"Breaking All Illusions" is special for two reasons. Firstly its the final epic of a Dream Theater album, and I haven't been disappointed by one of these since "In the Name of God". Secondly, it's the first Dream Theater song to feature lyrical contributions from John Myung for over ten years! This format of a shorter piano driven track ("Far from Heaven") which preludes a sprawling counterpart, draws parallels with "Wait for Sleep"/"Learning to Live" from Images & Words, another John Myung classic! Overall its probably the best composition of the album, I just wish that amazingly funky guitar breakdown would last a bit longer.

"Beneath the Surface" was written entirely by John Petrucci then suggested to the band later. An excellent piece with pensive lyrics and haunting synth work. Excluding the irritating high pitched vocals near the end, I could not imagine a more fitting closing to A Dramatic Turn of Events.

Jordan Rudess has an absolute field day on this album and utilises just about every piece of tech he owns. The overall effect is both grandiose and engaging, but i'm not a huge fan of the recycled sounds from Rudess/Morgenstein Project.

Whilst the album's longer tracks are far from unique, their incredible intricacy more than make up for this. Unfortunately the sound engineering isn't amazing, I wouldn't be sad if Andy Wallace didn't produce the next one, but it's still nice to hear John Myung's bass guitar get more of a look in.

The vocals from James Labrie sit amongst his most accomplished studio performances. Sure his voice might never return to its former glory, but the tracks laid down here seem warmer and less nasal than in recent outings. In addition the lyrics penned by Petrucci, Labrie and Myung are the band's best since Awake, that is something I certainly won't be missing Portnoy for!

Overall this is a more than worthy successor to Black Clouds and Silver Linings, and paves the way nicely for Mike Mangini's first real contribution on their next album.

The Verdict...

By documenting my thoughts and impressions at different stages of my experience with this album, I think it has become clear how essential it is to give A Dramatic Turn of Events plenty of time before passing judgement.

Starhammer | 4/5 |

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