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

A DRAMATIC TURN OF EVENTS

Dream Theater

 

Progressive Metal

3.91 | 1233 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Miguel Pereira
5 stars When in 2010 the prog scene found out about Mike Portnoy leaving Dream Theater, considering the band's fan base, a compromise solution would not be an option for the band. It was clear that only two things could happen. Either the band would fall apart or they would find a killer drummer that would propel them to even higher levels. The aptly titled A Dramatic Turn of Events gives the answer to that conundrum.

Mike?

The first task was to find the right drummer, and after watching the documentary depicting that, no one could argue that Mike Mangini would be the perfect fit. Not only he looked the most technically capable musician but he had the right flow and feel that seemed right in line with the remaining musicians.

The album was written prior to the band signing-in Mike Mangini, so he's not credited on any composing, nevertheless I bet that a lot of cool rhythms and breaks were suggested and composed by him. I just think that the band tried to protect the drummer from the fans, so if there are some moments that the fans don't like drum-wise, they can just blame John Petrucci (assumingly the one compose the drum parts), who has the resilience of dealing with all the criticism.

Regarding Mangini's performance, it is absolutely spot-on. Never going over-the-top and always keeping the groove with some touches of virtuoso playing. There are some moments you would swear it's Portnoy playing and sometimes you just think: "oh, I didn't expect that". That gives the album a good balance of old and new, in terms of drumming. He tries to take full advantage of his crazy drum setup and wildly succeeds, but to be honest you will only find that out when you see him live. He plays the simplest parts with such gusto that actually makes it look demanding, and the hardest parts so effortlessly and in a fun way that you can't help yourself but laugh when you see it. He's 48 years old and apparently he still practices on a daily basis, so that's an example to all aspiring musicians out there, and that just matches the kind of commitment that each and every member of Dream Theater has.

Songs

The album begins with the single On The Backs of Angels, and it's a great starting point. Very close to the sound of the last albums, this certainly served as a statement, proving that they are still capable of creating a good song based on their usual guidelines. Long intro, great riffs, catchy bridges and chorus, nice piano interlude and godly guitar solo. The keyboards are a standout, very upfront, layered and creative. It looks like Jordan Rudess now has more space for creating complementing melodies instead of just doubling the guitars like he did so many times on the last albums. The lyrics talk about greed and politics, so it's a very present-time theme. This song has been nominated for a Grammy Award in the Best Rock/Metal Performance category, and that's quite a feat for a progressive band.

Next is Build Me Up, Break Me Down. A very different track, with some drum loops and industrial sound, but at its heart it's still a typical Dream Theater short song (for progressive standards) a la Lie (from Awake) or Forsaken (from Systematic Chaos). It's a very concise track, with a likable chorus and without many other highlights. A great live song though. The lyrics are bit vague but certainly refer to the way that general people relate to celebrities and vice-versa.

Lost Not Forgotten it's where the real dramatic events start turning (pun intended). The in- your-face crazy instrumental intro sets the tone for the song. Overall it's a very syncopated song with lots of breaks and pace changes. Riffs reminiscent of some old Megadeth ones compose the verses. Haunting keyboard textures gives the song an eerie feel. A great guitar solo (7:07) over some very cool accented bass lines it's one of the many highlights. The last chorus of the song (9:22) always gives me the chills, with the insane one-hand 16th notes on the ride cymbal by Mike Mangini. Lost Not Forgotten talks about an ancient Persian empire and the way they fought and eventually disappeared. A metal-like theme, but not very proggy.

This Is The Life is more of a lighthearted piano-driven tune. This song seamlessly transitions between 5/8 and 6/8 as it evolves from a simple and subtle melody to a strong ending, with some touching chord changes and the epic guitar solo you would expect from John Petrucci in a song like this (The Spirit Carries On from Scenes From a Memory comes to mind). Mangini really sounds like Portnoy on this one, but that's not a bad thing at all.

The 11+ minute long Bridges In The Sky continues the ride and starts with some tribal sounds and a shaman-like chant (that's actually the ancient sound of Tuvan throat singing from Siberia, if that sounds familiar to you that's maybe because Bela Fleck used to have an amazing guest throat singer in his shows). The aural experience continues with textured landscapes, but quickly comes down to a low-end heavy riff. Almost every riff note is doubled with the bass-drums, this gives a very punchy and heavy sound to the all song. Heavy verses lead to the most memorable chorus on the whole album with inspired lyrics. James Labrie sounds as good as ever on this one. The "fabric of reality is tearing apart" part is really awe-inspiring. At 7:15 the crazy instrumental section starts. The interplay between all the instruments sound very connected and composed. To my dislike, the song fails to have the grand ending that it should, instead it ends on a dark feel. Apart from that, Bridges In The Sky is a superb progressive masterpiece.

Talking about masterpieces, Outcry may very well be it. This is definitely the grower song of the album. It took a lot of spins until I totally understood how good this is. This song defines everything that Dream Theater still has to offer and it has this fresh appeal throughout. The song boasts inspired riffs, infinite mood changes and a memorable chorus that every fan will sing live. The highlight though is the 4 minute instrumental madness starting at 4:44. Admittedly the most challenging piece of music ever written by the band, it's a breathtaking rollercoaster ride through all the instruments. The impossible-to-play piano solo (6:25) and neat bass solo (6:56) are just examples of the craziness of this section. The song then eases the pace with a soft bridge leading to the chorus and it ends with a majestic theme that always reminds me of Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence. Lyrically the song talks about the uprising in middle-east countries, very strong and dramatic theme.

Far From Heaven is a short piano and strings piece that serves as the intro to Breaking All Illusions (much like Wait for Sleep is for Learning to Live on Images & Words). As usual, James Labrie resonates feeling and expression.

Breaking All Illusions is another contender for best track in the album. The awesome intro guitar-riff (later doubled by the bass) is a prog-fan wet dream. Complex and hard to decode, even after several listening. At 1:35 the song descends into a spacy vibe based on a mesmerizing ostinato bass line by John Myung and guitar a piano background textures and appointments. Another outstanding bridges and choruses give the song the "easy-listening" edge that balances all the mad interludes and technical bits. The Pink Floydish guitar solo starting at 7:11 it's one of the finest moments in Petrucci's career (I really think that this solo stands head-to-head with Falling Into Infinity's Lines In The Sand and Awake's Voices). It slowly builds up from bluesy licks to epic phrases that will be cherished forever by any fan. The lyrics written by John Myung (who has kept away from the lyrics department for quite a long time) are very emotional and uplifting and talk about how to become a better person and learning how to live (does that sound familiar?).

Beneath The Surface is maybe the biggest surprise on the album. A music totally composed by John Petrucci, it shows the subtle and intimate side of the band. A really strong melody and touching keyboard solo (actually is an iPad solo) gives the listener a fantastic closing chapter, posing like a relaxing tune after an extremely demanding album (like every good prog release should be). The acoustic guitars sound so clear and unproduced (in a good way). The song builds-up to a dramatic finish with James Labrie singing the same theme one octave higher. The lyrics revolve around relationships, the way we lived them and how they (eventually) end. Almost a cliché theme, but absolutely the best lyrics written by the band in many years.

Sound

The production is a few notches above the last couple of releases. All the instruments have more space to breathe and shine when they have to. Only the drums seem to be too far back in the mix, but that's maybe because I was so used to the presence of Mike Portnoy's sound. Vocals are as bright as ever. Some people complained about everything sounding a bit too compressed, but I beg to differ, just play the CD on a nice stereo system or through some fine headphones and you will notice the sonic quality of it. There is a noticeable cinematic approach to some of the sonic landscapes, mostly in the intros and outros of some songs.

Artwork

My first complete listening of this album was on a plane, so the cover seemed so convenient. And the funniest thing is that I started writing this review on a plane again three months later. So I'll always associate the cover with this particular personal experience. In any case, the booklet and cover are typical Hugh Syme, with clever interpretations of words by the means of photos and composition. Not his best work but very pleasant still.

Overall

Based on the events that led to this album, I couldn't imagine Dream Theater pulling a better record that this one. Everything about it sounds focused, committed and most of all FRESH. Bridges In The Sky, Outcry and Breaking All Illusions stand out as the pinnacles of the album. There are some people around that found out that most of the songs are structured exactly like most of the Images & Words album (On The Backs Of Angles ? Pull Me Under; Breaking All Illusions ? Learning to Live and Outcry ? Metropolis are the best examples) After analyzing myself, I really think that's true. I imagine that Dream Theater did that just for fun, and not because of any shortage of ideas. The concept of creating a totally new song based on a given structure is a very good challenge, and in the end I don't think that 80% of the listeners will even notice the similarities. In any case, if this proves to be true, it would pose as a great argument for the band in case the fans started saying: "oh, the songs in this album are so lame and badly structured", the band could just answer: "Oh is that so? Then you should go to rethink your opinion about our magnum opus Images & Words".

The current world tour supporting the album is being a success and I encourage everyone to catch one of the shows if possible. You'll see a band with a quarter-of-a-century career in their pocket and still creating and playing songs that are challenging for them and rewarding for the audience. You'll have the pleasure of seeing the great relationship between the band and the "new guy" on stage. It's touching just to see the very-kept-to-himself John Myung judiciously giving little cues, during a song, to Mangini to make sure that he's on the same page as the rest of the band.

A Dramatic Turn of Events is certainly one of my top picks of this year and, unlike the last four albums, I bet I will be revisiting this CD very often just like I do with the band's classical albums such as Images & Words and Scenes From a Memory. The bottom line is that the response to Mike Portnoy's departure was given with flair. 4.5/5

Miguel Pereira | 5/5 |

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