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

BLACK CLOUDS & SILVER LININGS

Dream Theater

 

Progressive Metal

3.44 | 1203 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Juan.Pablo.Gonzalez
3 stars As I write this, it has been more than 2 years since Black Clouds & Silver Linings' release. Obviously, a lot has happened. Mike Portnoy has since left the band, and a media frenzy has assembled around the band's happenings since that and Mike Mangini's controversial (not because of him, but because of the way the announcement was carried out) inclusion as Portnoy's replacement.

Flashback to 2009. It's two years after Dream Theater has seen mixed reviews of their ninth album, Systematic Chaos. They had struggled, and apparently failed, to reach the bar set by Octavarium, an album that was an undeniable masterpiece and an instant classic. They had failed to do what they had done with 2002's Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence: keep up with themselves.

From Portnoy's current claims as to the situation of the band at the time of his departure, Black Clouds & Silver Linings saw the band deep into exhaustion, despite the break taken after the Octavarium tour, and the less intensive touring in promotion of Systematic Chaos.

But, resilient as they are, they kept their schedule, and put out Black Clouds & Silver Linings. An album that, like its predecessor and successor, is good in the short term, but not so in the long term.

I was disappointed. This, for me, is the album that sees DT jump the shark. They are one of my favourite bands, but I was frankly shocked to see more of the same.

My Track by Track

A NIGHTMARE TO REMEMBER: Dream Theater like to enter with shock, be it from a heavy track like this one, or with a suspenseful piece like Regression in SFAM. This is Dream Theater going into goth metal, with eerie keyboard effects, inhumanely fast double bass patterns, and the ever-so-horrifying thunder at the very beginning. It's overall a good track, a nice showcase of what DT have been doing since SFAM (The Intro-Verse-Chorus-Verse- Insane instrumental section-Bridge-Verse Reprisal-Epic ending formula). I like it, but it ultimately is more of the same. Despite a wonderful middle section, which has some of the most rescuable lyrics in the album, I couldn't help but feel disappointed, wanting more from a band that has marveled me so much. It's one of my favourites of the album, and a great listen, but the fact that I can predict it just makes it less than great.

RATING: 7/10

A RITE OF PASSAGE: Okay, so John Petrucci has been known to write some indescribably good lyrics since the very beginning of the band, having come up with lyrical masterpieces like About To Crash in SDOIT which really heighten the music behind them and create... well, none other than what we have come to expect from Dream Theater. But the angst and paranoia in the lyrics for this song, which deals with religious cults, is frankly very unlike John. I'm not saying it's a bad topic to write about, I mean look at lyrics like the ones to The Blind House, by Porcupine Tree. Hell, even John himself dealt greatly with this in In The Name of God. I'm saying that there's that less artsy feeling to it, less maturity, like if portraying the thrill of the feared. And the music is good, but again, more of the same. I do like the middle section a lot. Very strong.

RATING: 6/10

WITHER: I think the fact that Dream Theater came up with this beautiful ballad, and gave it lyrics about writer's block may have something to say about their situation (this of course backed by Mike Portnoy's claims that the band were worn and needed a rest). I like Wither a lot, and I don't need to say much about it. Have you heard the piano version? It is absolutely beautiful, and the fact that LaBrie goes down an octave for that mellower version gives it a sorrowful touch that I had come to miss since Losing Time in SDOIT. A truly great song.

RATING: 8/10

THE SHATTERED FORTRESS: This my friends, is the reason why this album had so much hype around it. The end. The last chapter. The final installment of Mike Portnoy's wonderful own conceptual "album within albums". The Twelve Step Suite is one of the finest progressive music conceptual pieces out there, and I even chopped all of the songs into one track, which resulted in a 55 minute behemoth that is a pleasure to listen. Although I expected a more epic, unique approach to what must have been an emotional song to write (and was even required, TTS songs became a staple of Dream Theater during the 2000s, and I don't think anyone would like to see an album without one until the whole thing was over), Mike and the band came up with what is a true genius move. Taking the best from the suite and doing something (relatively) new with it. A review of his journey. A final reflection. This is what Zappa taught Mike. I love it, but I think that it could have been PART of a much more unique composition.

RATING 8/10

THE BEST OF TIMES: Gosh, Mike Portnoy did have a heck of a load to bear when writing songs for this album. A requiem for his recently-passed father, The Best of Times is refreshingly good. I mean, after Nightmare, Rite of Passage and Fortress, all utterly heavy songs, a fast, yet mellow song, with obvious traces of Rush within is what I have been coming to expect from Dream Theater. I don't quite like the chords in this song, and the fact that the sections don't really stick together, but this is a song that I respect because of the context. But the ending is true Dream Theater. Hope.

RATING: 6.5/10

THE COUNT OF TUSCANY: Ah, The Count of Tuscany. The customary beast in every DT album. Musically it is the best Dream Theater came up with in this album. A balanced epic, mixing their heavy metal side with their time-signature frenzies and their melodic-without- sounding-cheesy grandiose. A piece that at 19 minutes long, lacks nothing nor deserves a shorter running time. The build up to the verse is fantastic, and is heart-warming. The angst that cuts this happiness is simply masterful. The textures in the middle section are aahhh, supremely tasteful, and the ending, while lacking a proper epic final note, is excellent. Sounds like this song is bound for a perfect rating, right? No. The lyrics, man. This is a topic that, for me, is not appealing, sounds forced and doesn't really come together with the moods set in the music, save for the part where it's only vocals and acoustic guitar. John, I love you man, I admire you. This is not what I grew up with in SFAM, SDOIT, Octavarium, I&W, Awake and FII. Hell, even Train of Thought had some awesome lyrics. I'm sorry, but being as impressive as it is, The Count of Tuscany is let down by its lyrics.

RATING 8.5/10

THE ALBUM AS A WHOLE

I'll say it straight. The mix is terrible. You can barely hear Mike's crashes, splashes, choppers, hi-hat, ride, stacks, chinas, and all the shiny metal in his massive kit. The guitars are too loud, and the percussion is too.

Jordan went overboard with strange keyboard sounds, most of which are not bad, but don't blend in. This is great musicianship, however predictable, shadowed by less-than- corresponding production.

Some may say this is to deliver that metal album fans wanted, but they did that with TOT and it didn't sound this terrible.

The album is good by 1999 standards, but having come out with so much that is basically the same, DT needed to evolve and they didn't. I was disappointed, but this is by no means a bad album. It's not my favourite but I don't hate it. I like it.

I'm giving it a three star rating for two reasons. The sound is awfully chunky (a trend started in its predecessor), and because of its predictability.

Juan.Pablo.Gonzalez | 3/5 |

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