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


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5 stars Their Best Album since Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence and definitely better than the last effort Systematic Chaos, a balance between the six songs from the darker of Nightmare to Remember and Count of Tuscany to the joy of life of Best of Times, the end of the 12 step site saga of the last part of Portnoy's AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) Shattered Fortress,and the calm of Whiter, the only exception is A rite of Passage from my view a is little bit commercial, but I think Dream Theater is back to their roots.. I?m glad to see that my favourite band is back again...
Report this review (#216711)
Posted Wednesday, May 20, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars I want to apologize with being hasty in giving this album 5 stars when I first got it. I was too excited for my 2nd favourite band's new release. And indeed it is an amazing album, so all the good things about this album somewhat blinded me to the fact that it DOES have its faults here and there, though few they are.

I'll start by changing my rating to 4 stars, and saying that it's still an amazing album! I was very excited to hear that they were entering a gothic terrain for some of the material on this album, which shows their willingness to diversify, while all the same continuing with their old Dream Theater tradition. Though they have defined themselves as a modern progressive metal band in recent years, you can still always hear that hard rock and classic rock influence in their music.

A Nightmare to Remember is an awesome song, however I cannot listen to it while driving in a car because it makes me feel very awkward and paranoid, the reason being that the subject of the song is a traumatic car accident. It begins with a very gothic sounding chorus that sounds very awesome. And it has a few elements of symphonic black metal in it, for anyone who likes bands like Dimmu Borgir and stuff. Just elements, not the entire sound. Musically I thing the song is absolutely amazing, but the few faults I find in it are this:

First of all, the lyrics are written in a somewhat cheesy way. Some of the lyrics are very poetic, but others, such as the repeating oxymorons of "Beautiful agony" and "Wonderful misery" get a bit old after a while. What I like about the lyrics is that they're both explicit and ambiguous... they have heavy use of metaphors and things of that nature, but you still can know exactly what they were talking about. The only other thing I have is of Mike using an almost-growling voice near the end. Now I don't mind growls at all, but towards the end of that short growling stanza, he's saying things like "It's a miracle he lived, it's a blessing no one died, by the grace of God above, everyone survived," which sounds like a very happy ending. Talking about miracles and the grace of god in a growling voice sounds a bit funny to me.

But of course that's a very small thing that doesn't matter that much.

I have nothing against a Rite of Passage except that the music is a bit boring at some points, but it's still an amazing song.

Wither is an ok song. I can't really take it seriously because it's just one of those 5 minute fillers. It's a nice tune, although a bit depressing (it's about writer's block, and l happen to be a writer and know how it feels).

Now I think the main fault of this album, though few it has, is in The Shattered Fortress. Don't get me wrong, the song is absolutely stunning, but what I found a bit disappointing was basically, I had heard the song before. There was almost nothing new in The Shattered Fortress, almost (if not) the entire song was made up of parts they had previously on the other 12 Step songs. I know it is continuing a tradition and that the 12 steps songs all echoed each other, but there was absolutely NOTHING that surprised me about the song. I basically had heard the song before l even heard the album. But then again, this was probably planned, because it's a medley of them all. So having basically heard the song before, all I could really do was rock out, because though it wasn't very new to me, it was still an awesome song.

The Best of Times was beautiful. It was very different from anything I had heard from Dream Theater before, but I thought it was sweet of Mike to write a song like that for his father, and when I listen to the lyrics sometimes I think of my own father. And l'm sure the song evokes those feelings in many other people as well. I love the optimistic mood that it has, despite the situation.

The Count of Tuscany, in my opinion, rivals A Nightmare to Remember as the best song on the album. Petrucci's lyrics in this one were way better than Nightmare I think. I just liked the story better, I thought it was very mysterious and interesting. I really like Jordan in this song, his keyboards really add the the whole effect, and the sound of the music reflects the story, with a quiet overture leading up to a fast and heavy section that makes your heart race, followed by it slowing down to a calming tune, and ending with an acoustic and optimistic note.

Overall, another fault this album might have is I found the lyrics were a bit boring. The music of Nightmare definitely sounded to epic to be about a car crash. Hearing the tune, I would picture the lyrics about some kind of battle or something. I guess I just prefer lyrics with fictional stories rather than personal experiences, although the Count of Tuscany was a very interesting personal experience that made good lyrics, I think. We know a lot about car accidents, but how often do you hear on the news about a crazy count who basically kidnaps you in his car and takes you to a gothic estate where you see a bunch of occult and weird phenomena that scares you enough that you think you're going to die?

This album is very good, and a while ago I gave it a perfect 5/5, but that was before I realized a couple of faults. It's still definitely an amazing album and worth getting. And with the special edition coming with 6 great cover songs and an instrumental mix, it's pretty darn awesome.

But now I see that it's not worth quite 5 stars, because I don't see it as a landmark in the progressive genre, like Dark Side of the Moon for example. So I give it a 4. And I still highly recommend it!!!

Report this review (#216729)
Posted Wednesday, May 20, 2009 | Review Permalink
5 stars Welcome redemption

I had almost lost the faith. DT's previous album Systematic Chaos was appropriately named; it was a formulaic descent into an uninspired, chaotic (albeit technically masterful) mess.

Black Clouds and Silver Linings is a complete reversal. Welcome back melody, solid structure, moving harmonies and emotion-laced compositions to the hard-hitting riffs we know and love.

All the songs on the album are outstanding. My favorites include The Shattered Fortress, which satisfyingly concludes the 12-part recovery saga by touching on elements of the previous journey.

Wither is the most radio-oriented piece on the album, and for me is a highlight. Full of feeling, LaBrie's soaring harmonies offer a welcome break between the heavier pieces on the album.

The true masterpiece of the album is The Count of Tuscany. The epic 19-minute piece combines all the most progressive flavors we've seen from DT, and it stands shoulder to shoulder with another great epic one-piece, A Change of Seasons.

This is not an album I had to work to get into. It hooked me from the first measure and continues to delight. Consequently, I give it a very solid five stars.

Report this review (#216884)
Posted Thursday, May 21, 2009 | Review Permalink
5 stars Whenever you listen to a Dream Theater album you are always in for a treat. Whether it?s a 20 minute song with 5 parts or even a 3-5 minute song, there?s always something that gets your attention. The band is known for their definitively calculated musical arrangements and solid musicianship. Dream theater is arguably a band with some of the most talented musicians at their respective instruments. With that said ?Black Clouds and Silver Linings? is the bands newest album to date released June 23rd on Roadrunner Records.

The album this time has 6 songs. The album doesn?t have too much that you haven?t heard before but there are a few surprises. ?Nightmare To Remember? opens the album in typical Dream Theater fashion but about 4:30 in turns into a mellow breakdown of lush guitar tones and an flashback to the 80?s guitar clean tones blended with chorus and delay. I love those tones! (80?s fans will know what I am talking about.) The title track ?Rites of Passage? is nothing short of guitar solos, finger picking and heavy chugging guitars in the background; A die hard theater fans wet dream. The chorus gets into the time signature change and a catchy refrain. I think the choruses from the band gets better and better. ?Wither? has to be one of my favorites on the album. I don?t know why but I am always a fan of the radio friendly song and the one of the shortest on the record. I think the long songs are a little overdone sometimes and we get the point. Its nice to hear the regular tunes thrown in and see that they can write a regular jam and keep you interested. The more moderate songs catch me a lot. Like others ?Vacant? on ?Train of Thought? and ?I Walk Beside You? on ?Octavarium? ?Best of Times? reminds me of an almost Rush vibe with the more straight forward rocker but does bust into the crazy Dream Theater technicality thorough the song.

Most of the songs on the album in regular Dream Theater presentation could be a full 10 song album but they mash the tunes together in 6 songs and a million different parts. Kudos to the band for sticking true to their sound, even though (and I saying this as an outsider knowing I?ll never be able to play half the parts they play) they don?t show too much growth on this record. Die hard fans will the love the album as I am glad they stay to their roots. Definitely better than the last effort "Systematic Chaos."

Report this review (#217318)
Posted Friday, May 22, 2009 | Review Permalink
3 stars Listening to new Dream Theater's album, put me into the asking position of what's going on with this band? It seems like their decadence started with arrival of "new millennium", due to fact that they didn't release a full remarkable album for a while. The closest representatives to that are "Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence" and "Train of Thought". I am not saying that they don't have good stuff in this after-2000's period, there are a bunch of excellent songs, but the fact is that there's no more those identified Dream Theater seal which robed greatnesses, as "Images and Words", "Awake", "Scenes From A Memory". Those overstriking of the albums, without any progressive impulsion brought the band and us to have "the waterish" release band published after "Systematic Chaos". As it was the case with "Systematic Chaos" album, and on this one there are really great moments on it, but after every "attempt" of finishing "Black Clouds & Silver Linings", the listener gets those bittersweet feeling, which intrudes the question from the beginning of this review. Opening track for this release, named "A Night to Remember" will definitely show you that the band knocked under modernization in the sense of "creativity". Pretty dark atmosphere in the introducing part of the song, which takes over heavy riffs and classical James' singing with Portnoy's crushing of bass drums leads over guitar decomposition to maybe the best part of the song, while James tells:

"Hopelessly drifting, bathing in beautiful agony. I am endlessly falling, lost in this wonderful misery."

The best description. Follows, guitar solo which is pale, then continuation through keyboards, what leads to the closing part of the song. But what happens? Mike Portnoy on the vocals. Growling? Wow, that's something new and ridiculous. At least, they could engage someone to make it better, for example Mikael Akerfeldt (Opeth). The song comes to an end with the melodic line from its beginning, but this time with more accentuated blastbeating.

"A Rite of Passage" is definitely song which is supposed to be a "greatest hit" from this album, as that was case with "Forsaken" from "Systematic Chaos". The impression which follows from the first track and what's evident, James sings in low register, there aren't "huge" falsettos and mostly of fans will be disappointed by that side, but we couldn't expect otherwise. The refrain is "easy" to remember, nice melody, indeed.

"Turn the key, walk through the gate, the great ascent to reach a higher state, a right of passage."

The song has a simply "headbanging" moments, especially in the second part, with slow thrashy riffs which tricks out the latest Metallica record. Guitar solo fits well and Petrucci shows why he bears the title of the one of the best guitarists. As his antithesis, Jordan Rudess "plays" with his keys, what means that Dream Theater has a powerful combination, Petrucci-Rudess.

"Wither" was announced as a "Space-Dye Vest" succeeder, but it's for the hundreds of miles away from mentioned "Awake" masterpiece. Definitely, there are better ballads in Dream Theater opus, so far. This one is crowded with mighty keyboard and very nice piano decade, also very nice guitar solo, which encloses with refrain, and finally James starts to sing higher, not as before, but good to hear.

"The Shattered Fortress" is the last part of Portnoy's AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) saga, which together with "The Glass Prison", "This Dying Soul", "The Root of All Evil" and "Repentance" completes the story of "Twelve-step Site". This songs is exactly the medley of the whole suite and the title is derived from its first part, "The Glass Prison":

"A shattered glass prison wall behind me" and "A long lost fortress"

The song ends with the intros from "The Root of All Evil" and "The Glass Prison". As it was planned before, the idea is to perform live completely suite once in a (live)time.

Coming to "The Best of Times", which enters the story with nice piano passage featuring violin. Petrucci joins with acoustic, and this one sounds really promisingly. A strong riff which crushes quiescence, followed by "high-low tom" transgression into "A Change of Seasons" manner. Since the beginning, this is the best song until now. And also, another epic. The only thing I'm animadvert on is James' singing. Keyboards make perfect atmosphere with its deepness, it brings freshness and a bit dose of innovation. Additional plus is partially appearance of that symphonic touch which fits perfectly. Guitar solo is amazing. Definitely, the best song on this record from all previous ones.

And finally, the last one, called "The Count of Tuscany". Begins with guitar decomposition, followed by solo. The longest song on the album, with over than 19 minutes, brings all the trademarks of Dream Theater. Someone would say that such epic songs have its best moments by default. With "Count of Tuscany", the whole songs is one the best moment. "The Best of Times" made me shiver, but now "Count of Tuscany" has beaten me down and simply took the title of the best one. Everything is on enviably level, as we're accustomed to that, since Dream Theater used to make such epics.

Finally, what we've got here? Six songs, three of them (almost) perfect (of course, talking about last three), and three of them which undeceived. "Black Clouds & Silver Linings" for sure is not Dream Theater's best achievement, but speaking of after-2000s period, this album could be rated on the top, together (or after) "Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence" and "Train of Thought", maybe "shoulder to shoulder" with "Octavarium" and definitely in front of "Systematic Chaos". With hope that this progressive metal giant can contrive more from their perfection, to put aside everything else and just focus on their own ideas and style, I'm putting a point to this review with statement that this could be much better. And just because of my love towards this band, I'm rating this album as "excellent addition to any prog rock music collection", in contrary let other people bring their own decisions.

Report this review (#217328)
Posted Friday, May 22, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars Coming off an incredibly dark yet engaging album in Systematic Chaos, Dream Theater has gone back to its roots. Fans have desperately been waiting for Dream Theater to find the magic prog touch once more, and if your a prog nut, you will absolutely love this album, myself on the otherhand, not so much. Never before have I been so swayed in my opinion on a DT album, but here goes.

1."Nightmare to Remember" - Excellent album opener. Wonderful progressive elements and catchy heavy riifs. Perfectly timed instrumental sequences by Rudess and J.P Overall a very typicial DT song which essentially equates to awesome!!! Due to length and certain uninspired sections I won't say this song reaches epic status, but it's a great opener nonetheless 9/10

2 "Rite of Passage" - Ok, here's my problem with Dream Theater. SInce you're never going to get radio play, why write a song as putrid as "Rite of Passage"? This song is a snooze from beginning to end, and it's made even worse by the most annoying and ghastly keyboard solo in Dream Theater history. It's almost as if Jordan Rudess tries to simulate a John Sterling broadcast of the Yankees with his keyboard. It's hideously bad. 3/10

3. "Wither" - Oh no, another easily forgettable track. I guarantee this song will be skipped numerous times. Not to say it's bad, it's just etched in the same mold as Silent Man and Hollow Years which I'm getting sick of. 5/10

4 "Shattered Fortress" - Whew. A welcome listen to cap off the Portnoy AA saga. Heavy riffs with memorable and reminiscent DT goodness. Ode's to Glass Prison, Dying Soul and other songs in the saga appear. I wish a little more originality was involved, yet hearing old favorites are always good too. 7.5/10

5. "Best of Tmes" - Ok Dream Theater fans. You will either hate this song, or love it. There is no inbetween, It's an anthem song with little to no progressive elements. It's the type of song that will probably get stuck in your head whether you hate it or not. Therefore I'm going to give it two scores. Personally I love it, however it could be a bit shorter due to the lack of a progressive nature. 3/10 and 8.5/10

6. "Count of Tuscany" - Remember Images & Words? Of course you do. Well this song is quintessentail I.A.W. Not to mention it's almost 20 mins of pure progressive goodness. Epic in everyway, and is far and away the most progressive Dream Theater song since A.C.O.S. Fans who were worried Dream Theater could no longer tap into their roots are in for a welcome treat. Not to mention this may be an album saver as well. My only gripe is the song ended a bit too abruptly for my liking, however it doesn't deterr from a highly memorable experience. 9.5/10

So there ya go DT fans. A new album, not a great album. However, there's enough here to keep DT fans happy. 2 Great tracks, possibly 3 depending on your POV. 1 solid track, 1 mediocre track and 1 stinker. Overall it's a solid effort. I want to give it a 3.5 to be honest, but I'll round up to make all you DT fans happy, haha!!!

Report this review (#218111)
Posted Sunday, May 24, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars I disagree with the majority of people who claim that the prog giant has awaken from its lethargy. To my taste, Systematic Chaos is an underestimated album with clever ideas and adequate technicality. So,I would say that the band continues its good efforts. Black clouds and Silver linings is their new interesting effort. Let's say a couple of things for the new tracks. A nightmare to remember:Maybe the most interesting song in this album. Dark atmosphere accompanied by heavy riffing. Furthermore, the serene part is not boring and fits with the concept of this song. The last 3-4 minutes are an epic though. I like very much the black metal drumming in the end of the song. The only black spot in this is the not so successful wanna-be growling from Portnoy. Apart from this very good song 5/5. A rite of passage:Yes, it is catchy but it does not lack of quality. Especially when the thrash rhythm fades in, you cannot hold your head or foot from banging. Interesting lyrics about masonry, a not so known issue.Between the 5th-7th minute,Rudess performs a weird keyboard solo but you will be used to it. Another pleasant song 4/5. Wither:I like it because it is not the typical ballad. It has a different taste than the mellow boring love songs.LaBrie also performs satisfyingly(will he perform like this,live?I doubt so). A radio hit maybe, but in the good way. Because I am not a fan of these songs I put 3.5/5. The shattered fortress:As a part of the Portnoy's saga of alcoholism, it will remind you previous songs from Train of Thought, Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence and Systematic Chaos. I find the mix and the new elements very rigidly combined, that is why it is the second favorite song of mine.Because it is not a total new idea I rate it with 4.5/5 Best of times:The lyrics are very touching even more if you have experienced your father's death. But I find the minutes 3-5 very annoying due to the happiness that this song transmits. Maybe it is LaBrie's type of singing, maybe it is the music, I do not know. After this, the surrounding music which reminds me a classical music song but I don't remember which,the song gets better and better and Petrucci's astonishing solo gives the epic tone for finish. Overall, it is the weakest song on this album.3/5. The count of Tuscany: I have read all the previous reviews and expected of something above divinity level. Of course it is a very nice song with complex structures, catchy refrains and the always perfect perfomance, but it is not the best song. I like the ambient(if we can call it like this) after the 10th minute. The lyrics are not so clear about who is this notorious count but whatever. Summarizing, one of the best songs so it deserves 4/5. In retrospect, another solid effort from the progressive giants. Maybe it is their best 'child' after Train of Thought for the new millenium. Keep the good job, and please minimize the soft songs. New progressive emphasizes on the rough edge of this idiom. Symphony X did it brilliantly with their Paradise Lost CD(yes, they have 2 ballads in his CD but what ballads!).
Report this review (#218725)
Posted Thursday, May 28, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars At first listen i thought it was their weakest album yet. I've been listening to them since 95, and loved every single album at first listen with the exception of this one. Yet, i gave it a couple of more shots and found it loving it more and more. My least favorite track at first was Best of Times and now its my favorite. So lets get to the tracks.

A nightmare to remember: I like the tone of the song, but it still needs a little more listens to sink in. Very dark in mood, but with well executed changes and a very nice slow middle part. I still don't like the overly long ending, but still yet to listening it in high quality.

A rite of passage: Loved this song from the beginning. All riffs are round and perfectly excecuted. The instrumental part reminds me of Megadeth and Slayer, with DT crazy solos. Im getting a little tired of the uninspired Jordan Rudess solos, i think he needs to rethink what he is doing, but even so, he did a good job in this song, doing some different unexpected stuff. Overall one of my recent favorites.

Wither: Felt as an uninspired ballad first, nowhere near The answer lies within or Another day. But after a couple of listens it has been growing, don't think it will go past those two songs but im finding it real solid now.

The Shattered Fortress: This has to be the bummer of the night. Its very long, and a complete rehash as a song. When i heard This dying soul and The Root of all Evil, i knew they were continuations of The Glass prison, but Repentance and TSF are a mix of previously recorde Riffs, uninspired. Still i like the mood, and and if you listen to the AA Saga from beginning to end, it makes for a good ending. Weakest song of the album though.

The Best of Times: Wow. This has to be the most moving song since The spirit carries on. Those lyrics make this "Rush Like" Song stand out as maybe the best of the album, the slow part at the 7 minute mark is so good, i find myself rewinding it to hear it again and again. Also the solo at the end is so good, that it enhances the song to epic proportions. Don't let the first impression kill the joy of the greatness of this song.

The Count of Tuscany: This is the song that raises this album to another level. Like Gates of Delirium to the mediocre Relayer album, its a song that makes the whole disc be a must buy, a classic. From the very start of the song, listening to Petrucci's guitar coming to a moment where he uses harmonics to highlight the section, Portnoy comes in with cymbals, Jordan uses his imagination for once and gets a pretty good sound effect to make the moment stand out, until the distorted riff comes in, sounding so epic, and in the second part Jordan comes in with a synth strings melody that only stands as the introduction to what i would call a modern classic. The rest is up to you to listen its well worth it.

As a whole the album fails to deliver the package that Scenes from a Memory or Octavarium give you, but song by song its difficult to argue with the greatness of each song. The last two songs alone are the best songs they've written since Six Degrees.

Report this review (#218727)
Posted Thursday, May 28, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars Fantastic new album from the unstoppable Dream Theater. Black Clouds And Silver Linings is their most solid, balanced, and simply best album since 2002's Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence. In order of favourite tracks:

"The Count Of Tuscany" will surely rank among many fans' favourite DT songs of all time. A stunning epic with shifting moods, a gorgeous, haunting instrumental section, and one of the best choruses to be heard in a Dream Theater track. 5/5

"The Shattered Fortress" is a fine, fitting end to an amazing series of songs. Don't be put off by the sometimes jarring transitions - think of this piece as a 'Grand Finale' of sorts, reprising themes from the first four songs and adding some new ones. A really, really strong conclusion. 4/5

"The Best Of Times" - A simple, delicate and heartfelt lyric that needs no further embellishment to get its point across. A very beautiful and emotional piece with a stunning Petrucci solo to close it out. 4/5

"Wither" - Now THIS is how DT should sound doing a ballad-type song. Just excellent. 4/5

"A Nightmare To Remember" - The opening track sets the tone for the album - a strong, lengthy piece with all of the DT hallmarks. Complex, hard-edged metallic riffs that give way to softer, highly melodic sections. 3/5

"A Rite Of Passage" - The lone 'skipper track' for this reviewer. Has its moments but the chorus is weak and the soloing somewhat bland and uninspired. 2/5

All of the usual DT trademarks are present on this album, and the usual influences are displayed prominently in sections that were surely listed as "Rush section" or "Marillion keyboard section" on the band's charts during the writing/recording. Overall, a very, very, very good Dream Theater release that I can't stop playing!

Report this review (#218731)
Posted Thursday, May 28, 2009 | Review Permalink
2 stars This CD is typical of the Jordan Rudess keyboard era. His keyboards are mixed down except for a few solos and they are hard to make out and to short. There is also very little guitar keyboard interplay that is critical to great prog rock. This appears to be another Portnoy/Petrucci show. That is sad because it should be the DT show not just them. Highlight track is "The Count of Tuscany", not for the length but good prog sound. From the looks of it I'm in the minority on this one, but I can't give this one a good review.
Report this review (#218821)
Posted Friday, May 29, 2009 | Review Permalink
3 stars Dream Theater is (one of the) greatest(s) Prog Metal bands ever, and that is the only thing holding this album back. Everything is there, from great melodies and expert musicians rocking out, the thing is, this is one of the worst Dream Theater albums ever.

From the terribly weak All Nightmare Long, to the awesome Count of Tuscany, this albums keeps the fans doing what it has been doing since Train of Tought, it gives people a taste of how amazing this band can be, except that they are not at all amazing during the 70 minute album

The new single "A Rite Of Passage" is actually a good representative of the album, it just shows that Dream Theater is gravitating each time more towards their metal part, and leaving their prog roots, the only thing remotely close progressive rock found in this album are some sections of the longer songs that have some space rock influences, with long solos and notes sustaining forever

If this review is starting to sound unfavorable, it's not, i actually liked it, a lot, but it's just as i said, it could have been much more

i believe that most people will find The Count Of Tuscany as the best song in the new album, another very honorable mention goes to Shattered Fortress, the end of the AA saga that has been on development during the last 5 albums, as it is an awesome song on its own, even if it is almost entirely made out of parts of the other songs (Fun fact: i sang along during my first hearing of the song, and almost got the lyrics right!)

In the end, the whole thing just made me put the Awake album and listen to some fantastic prog metal and reminisce times that Dream Theater were a band, and not a duo, but every now and then i give a listen to it, and it doesn't disappoint me a bit

Report this review (#219034)
Posted Saturday, May 30, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars The album will certainly suffer because of the track order. Maybe it isn't "from the worst to the best" order, but after a solid opener, some really mediocre tracks follow, before an oustanding finale. Let's go straight to track-by-track review.

"A Nightmare to Remember" - The first five minutes are really mediocre. The instrumental intro is OK, but when the vocals kick in, the vocal melody isn't all that great, in fact it has a cheesy power-metal vibe to it. So far, this is the weakest opening to a DT album. Ever. But after 5 minutes the songs breaks into very slow acoustic guitar part, which is simply beautiful. It continues through next 3-4 minutes and it ALMOST redeems the bad impression from the first part of the song. Then the first instrumental part follows, which is OK. Not their best, but nice. Petrucci and Rudess exchange solos and most of them are OK except the last one by Rudess (the continuum solo which is quite uninspired). The rhythm playing in the background reminds a bit of "Scenes from a memory" days, and songs like "Fatal Tragedy" and "Beyond this Life". After that there is a really RIDICULOUS 'growling' section performed by Mike Portnoy. To include growling vocals into DT's music is probably the stupidest idea the band has ever come up with. It is completely out-of-place and unnecessary. What were they thinking? I cannot think of any purpose to include it in their music. They won't attract new people with it and they won't please old time DT fans also. Mike, if you are reading this, you're a great drummer but please, leave singing to James... Fortunately, the worst part of the song is followed by one of the best part of it - a typical DT instrumental section, technically perfect and impressive. Then the song returns to it initial melody and becomes mediocre once again. I don't really know what to think about this song. It has some beautiful and memorable sections as well as parts that are downright embarrassing. 7/10, but really some parts are 10/10 and some are 1/10...

Another song, "A Rite of Passage" is the album's "Forsaken", another attempt at a 'commercial' metal type of track, but is simply worse than its predecessor from "Systematic Chaos". I mean, the 'progressive' section, which is cut from the single/video version, is fine but the main "body" of the song (verse-chorus) is not nearly as catchy or memorable. Pretty average metal track. 5/10.

"Wither" is the album's ballad, another commercial song. The drum track of this song reminds me a song "Different Strings" from Rush. It has a similar tempo and style of drum playing. The melodies itself are quite catchy, but generally, the ballad isn't on par with some of their best slower songs, like "Misunderstood", "Surrounded" or "Vacant". 6/10.

"The Shattered Fortress" is a closer to the famous AA saga and probably the least original song in the entire suite. It is like an "Overture" or rather an... "Underture", since it is almost entirely made from the riffs and melodies from the previous parts. It doesn't make the song bad though. So far it is the best song on the album. Probably the easiest to 'get into' when you listen to it for the first time, because of all those familiar sounds. 8/10

"The Best of Times" is simply beautiful. This is a song written by Mike Portnoy for his dying father and when you have that in mind, it is a real "tear-jerker". Of course it is one of the most personal songs in the entire DT catalogue, but on the other hand it is a song, that everyone of us sooner or later will be able to relate to. It has a beautiful acoustic intro, then "The Spirit of Radio" section kicks in, before the song breaks into very mellow and melodic section, concluded with a brilliant JP solo, reminiscent of that from "The Ministry of Lost Souls". I don't understand other people's complaints that the song is not 'progressive' enough. Why? Because it doesn't have many odd time signatures? Pink Floyd also didn't have lots of them, but they are still progressive... 9/10.

"The County of Tuscany" - this is the kind of song, that even if the other tracks were simply 0 star stinkers, it would make the album a worthy addition to any prog collection. It is simply one of the best songs by DT EVER. In fact, the only thing that keep it from being THE BEST are the lyrics - quite cheesy to be honest, but since I never paid much attention to the lyrics in the first place (except for the concept albums) it doesn't really bother me that much. Instrumentally, the song is 100% perfect and satisfies me completely. It has everything - slow prog sections, art rock sections, space rock sections, metal sections... The ending is one of the most beautiful things you'll ever hear. That's how prog rock or prog metal should sound like in the 21st century.

To sum up, the album has some average tracks, but also some of the best tracks in DT history (the last 2). Since the weaker songs are shorter songs (two weakest are in total shorter than the best one), it doesn't really drag the album down. The only thing that does is the fact, that the weaker tracks come first and the best ones are at the end, so you have to patiently 'sit through' the beginning to be able to enjoy the marvelous ending. But if you do, you won't be disappointed.

Report this review (#219502)
Posted Tuesday, June 2, 2009 | Review Permalink
3 stars Redundant Dreams

Dream Theater's latest release certainly had many promises. One of which was that it would harken back to Images and Words. Don't hold your breath on that one. This isn't to say it doesn't have some old DT Progressive moments however but those moments are more closely related to SFAM and Octavarium. There are plenty of metal moments similar to ToT and SC. I was hoping that this release would mean a rebirth of the band that oozes talent. Well, we again are reminded, that the talent is in playing, not so much in the song writing department. All is not lost with this release because some songs do highlight segments of Progressive greatness expected of DT.

"A Nightmare to Remember" is exactly right. Welcome back Systematic Chaos. This track is so contrived it's almost unlistenable, especially lyrically. But I tried to focus on what is new musically. The midsection brings a nice ballad and Petrucci offers a nice lick at about the 6 minute mark. But words like "beautiful agony" almost leave me laughing. The lead sections are basically copy and paste DT. Probably the most difficult to swallow part of the entire album comes at ~11 minute mark with what may be called growl style lyrics. It doesn't work and is simply embarrassing.

"A Right of Passage" gives us something to sink our Prog teeth into. At least you think so when you hear the sweet intro. Is that Myung playing? What? I can actually hear him. The tasty intro is quickly forgotten with the smashing of Portnoy's drums and Petrucci's overdriven guitar. Too bad. I had hopes. Oh well, I'll keep listening and see what happens. Hmmm...decent chorus. As the song moves along, it abruptly changes. Something DT isn't known for is segues. Another cut and paste lead ensues from Petrucci/Rudess until Rudess pulls out a new solo idea! I like it even if it is short lived halted by another abrupt change to the chorus.

"Wither"...nothing but filler. If this is an attempt at the Space Dye Vest styling, it misses the mark completely. Sorry guys. You need Kevin Moore to write something that dark. None of you are disturbed enough.

The next song continues the growl mockery. "The Shattered Fortress" is pretty much a waste of time with more cut and paste DT. Please see Systematic Chaos for the origins. The spoken section sounds like something a la Rush's "The Necromancer" and spoken in the style of The Prayer of St. Francis. In my opinion, this is just plain wrong and frankly unoriginal. But all is not lost! A very nice adaptation/elaboration of "The Glass Prison" which is revisited and is thoroughly enjoyable through the end of the song.

Will "The Best of Times" offer more salvation to this release? A nice piano intro and listen to that! Violin! This is very welcome. Petrucci enters with some nicely placed acoustic guitar. Refreshing! The next section which fades in is really good. A nice 7/4 with a happy melody. LaBrie begins to sing and it is very fitting. I like this one a lot. It's a little poppy in sound but it works although it could be a little shorter. The soloing at the end offers little.

On to the song everyone has been hopeful about, "The Count of Tuscany". Listen to that at ~2 minutes. It harkens of Rabin-esque Yes and it works but transcends to little more new- to-DT stylings and we are right back to cut and paste DT. However there is a proper segue at the 11 minute mark. This is a great section of music which is nothing more than a keyboard hum overlaid with a very tasty Petrucci solo. Savor this. It is rare but very welcome. Petrucci is touching his soul with this one. The rest of the song doesn't disappoint especially LaBrie's singing. This is the type of material that fits him best.

Overall, the mix is decent but we again are left with little obvious presence of Myung. This is very frustrating for someone who likes to listen to bass. The mix for Rudess is decent and his presence is scaled back a bit, but he definitely made some solid contributions with new ideas and sounds. I was happy to hear his DT style of playing has changed. I can't say as much for Petrucci and Portnoy. While Portnoy offered nothing, except the obvious fact that he'd rather be a metal drummer and singer these days, Petrucci did give us that nice solo in TCoT. And Portnoy should learn that less is more. BC&SL would be a good CD to get someone who has never heard of Dream Theater because it basically captures their sound and styles from SFAM forward; however it might ruin their take on the much more Prog-like early DT years.

3.5 of 5 stars.

Report this review (#219529)
Posted Tuesday, June 2, 2009 | Review Permalink
1 stars Do you consider buying this album? I have better idea for you to save your money. Take Awake, Octavarium and Train Of Thought search for the most melodic parts and compile them makig new songs. That's what it is. I don't mind AC/DC recording same songs over and over again but Dream Theater appeared to be a progressive band. Am I wrong? I listened to this album in three takes. First one was that Nightmare To Remember nightmare I had to rest for a while from that noise after last tunes. I was considering not to even listening to this record cos I think last 3 or 4 albums even objectively are nothing to remember but when I read words from Portnoy 'it's gonna be something like Images And Words' I thought I should give this one a chance. Who will enjoy it? I don't know. Probably fans and kids who think that listening to DT makes them meeting true art. Wanna true art? Listen to Birth Control's Hoodoo Man or Jehtro Tull's Thick As A Brick. This one is a waste of time.
Report this review (#219534)
Posted Tuesday, June 2, 2009 | Review Permalink
2 stars When a new album of Dream Theater comes to light you always expect a masterpice of progressive metal.

That is because they create this type of prog rock.

But maybe as Genesis(one of the most important fathers of symphonic prog ) Yes, Rush(in the heavy prog)to be so much exposed to fans reactions(the ligther ones ,the easy listening ones) provocate a temptation to do more massive music.

Genesis,Yes and Rush went poppier....

But what happens in this DT album?

In the two last ones(before BCSL) I found a little lack of creativiness.

Black Clouds... has to much simmilarities to the melodies and arrangements of those ones,but is worst...And is worst because is very difficult to find in this album some originality,...melodies to put you "chicken skin".To much repetition of a melody formula and arrengements.

It seems the more heavier musicians of DT(Labrie,Petrucci,Portnoy)took the flag here.

Nothing remarkable with J Rudess.

And no compositions of these album I think ,will pass to prog rock history.

So very dissapointed.

Report this review (#219562)
Posted Tuesday, June 2, 2009 | Review Permalink
2 stars Black linings and silver eyelashes...

Dream Theater are a good old horse...

No, no time to reminisce. This is their new album, and what do I think? I think a lot of things. I think "Hm, I want some Dr. Pepper" and "Days of Our Lives is on, so I can't listen, now." As you have all expected, the album is heavier and more drums and guitar based than the previous release, which has been going on since their first few albums. They do incorporate some nice themes along the way, and still haven't lost their total adventurous nature, quite yet. The style is definitely metal, not the wishy-washy metal/rock hybrid taken on early albums.

A Nightmare to Remember is a solid affair. The guitars flail powerfully, and the musicians are showing well. But, it seems as if they lose a bit of luster. Labrie is a weak moment, and the special effects grate on me. A dark song, but executed in a bloated fashion. The soft moments are nothing to be amazed by, and the song's ideas are not new by any means. There is of course the requisite shredding guitar solo section, with some fine keyboard whips to go along, but this is certainly not new or experimental. The solos have been heard all before, as well. A competent beginning.

A Right Of Passage has a more interesting overall theme, and is implemented fairly well. This is an interesting song, and hammers deftly. Still, the sound clips don't rub off well, and detract to the overall song experience. When they get to trotting, it rocks like hell, though. Still, the extended length makes for a few watered down moments, and keep this song from being brilliant. Wither is a fair attempt at adding more diversity, but it is so absolutely derivative, that it would be the worst moment on the album if it didn't take up so little space, comparatively. It sounds forced, and it is rather simplistic in approach. The power ballad.

The Best Of Times recalls more upbeat metal, and Petrucci dominates it, as to be expected. I feel as if this album is just a collection of outtakes and demo recordings from previous, more focused and composed albums. And none of it conjures the same emotional effects. I also believe the lyrics are getting progressively weaker. That chorus is pretty damn catchy, though. Shattered Fortress is the AA end, and returns to more thick metal. The riff bored me, and the referenced material didn't amaze me. Dream Theater is just going through the Dream Theater process, and doing it without as much passion or feeling placed into it. It sounds epic, enough, but this is to mask the covert shallow nature of it all. the song flows poorly, and isn't assisted by any complex utilization. Those aggressive vocals are bland, and I'd have preferred the not go this route. Required solo segment follows. Yeah, we know you can play, now do something interesting with it. Although they punch furiously when they want to.

The Count Of Tuscany is the grand finale, and generally does what the new fans wanted them to do. It is an epic in the vein of A Change Of Seasons, but doesn't do half as much for me as that mammoth track. This seems to be just a vapid run through a few basic themes that sound stitched together haphazardly. The melodies are not carefully crafted, and the heavy metal amplification and presentation leaves a fine bit to be desired. To be honest, quite a few moments in the song bored me, and I wish it was not as long as it is. Not half as entertaining as Dream Theater's early epic songs, and banally derivative. There is almost no chance of real emotional impact, ether. A messy, but good end to a mediocre album. Well, on the high side of mediocre.

Best Moment - A Right Of Passage

Worst Moment - Wither

** Solid Stars

Report this review (#219579)
Posted Tuesday, June 2, 2009 | Review Permalink
3 stars Dream theater are always one of the biggest prog metal bands of the planet

Unfortunately, while the other bands which know their limits, try to find something new, something astonishing, DT prefer to draw some good riff from their past (Six degrees and Metropolis above all) and create a new album.

What I have found good in this new work is the more relaxed sound. They've abandoned (thanks God, at last) the extreme power playing to a softer one (even if in their own way! Please don't misunderstand me!).

What I have found bad is the lack of creativity: the riffs are quite good, sometimes very good, but the solos, especially the Petrucci ones, start enriched with feeling and lose themselves along the path, to give space to the (oh, my god!) poor usual speed of performing. Even Portnoy, while his hands perform beautiful things, his feet seem to be obsessed by the double bass drum and very often is exagerated and without any purpouse.

If a "mortal" can give advices to "gods": please, reduce speed and increase feeling, because you've been able to do this in the past!

Three stars, not more

Report this review (#219671)
Posted Wednesday, June 3, 2009 | Review Permalink
2 stars My eleventh grade English teacher once described my efforts as having "flashes of brilliance." This basically meant that for the most part, my work was fairly pedestrian and uninspired, although I was capable of pulling something special out of the bag on occasion. These same sentiments could also be expressed to describe the latest Dream Theater album, "Black Clouds and Silver Linings".

As their second offering on the Roadrunner label, BC&SL (as the acronym will be forever known) is a curious collection of songs that ultimately doesn't deliver what I hoped it would. Yes, there are indeed flashes of brilliance on this album...but that is about the most complimentary I can be towards this. To be honest, there are aspects of this album that are truly awful ? chief among them being the song-writing. Never before have I been so appalled at the lyrics on a Dream Theater album and I am honestly unable to enjoy large parts of this record, because I cringe. And then I cringe some more. And just when I'm about to press the stop button, a section of music comes along and redeems the record to a more palatable level. Somehow I've managed to get through to the end on several occasions, but I'm left with the same feelings of disappointment. The brilliant sections are simply not plentiful enough to save the record from the substandard lyrics which serve as an anchor, dragging this record down to the depths of mediocrity.

While I hate to harp on about the issue, I simply cannot express how bad some of these lyrics truly are. It appears that the band (namely, Mike Portnoy and John Petrucci, as the captains of this ship) have elected to write in a more literal, straightforward manner than ever before. At times, it's like listening to storytelling or poetry from a 15 year old, and it saddens me to think that these are the same people responsible for such heartfelt and deeply personal lyrics as "Scarred", "A Change of Seasons", or even the AA saga.

In the past, the band has written some less than impressive lyrics at times, but for the most part, they've maintained a reasonable standard. They were criticised for resorting to fantasy lyrics on the last record, "Systematic Chaos", but I actually found some of those lyrics to be quite metaphorical or symbolic in some ways (namely, the "Dark Master" component of "In the Presence of Enemies").

Although this isn't a review of that particular album, I do want to mention one major gripe I had with it: the band's apparent fondness for making songs with overly drawn out instrumental passages that lent nothing to the song. Some may argue that they've been doing this since their inception, but as someone that's enjoyed their music for 15 years, this hasn't always been my experience. On SC, there were several tracks which I grew very tired of listening to, simply because of the musical masturbation sections. I'll call them the Steven Segal moments, basically because they contain a lot of chops but ultimately no feeling, much like Segal's movies. Live in concert, this routine with the band showing off in almost every song, as James left the stage, was just ridiculous. We get it, we know you can play, so why not utilise your talent to craft some better songs?

On this record, there are again a handful of Steven Segal moments and I'm frankly bored of hearing the band go through this process of elongating a song just for the sake of putting in an instrumental section. The worst part of these sections is that they convey virtually no emotion and often feel very disjointed next to the regular parts of the song. Take "A Rite of Passage" for example. It's a very rocking track that has a great riff and some enjoyable verses (although it is let down slightly by the chorus). The album version includes some boring Segal moments then abruptly returns you to the track, and it feels like you've been slapped about a little ? it's very disconcerting.

This review actually started very positively, but the more I've reflected on BC&SL, the more negative aspects I seem to draw from it. At this point, it's probably a good idea to consider some of the positive aspects of it, so let's see what we've got here...

The album starts off interestingly enough with "A Nightmare to Remember", which has a very gothic, almost evil sounding vibe thanks to the keyboard layers, cool guitar swirls and double-bass drumming. Then the mood suddenly changes and the track begins to rock out with a really dirty guitar riff. Unfortunately, when James starts singing, the cringe factor hits ("A nightmare to remember, I'll never be the same. What began as laughter, so soon would turn to pain..."). Move ahead to about the four minute mark and this is where this track becomes truly enjoyable for me. It slows right down and has a very laid back feel about it, but the highlight is the singing here ?from James, John and Mike. This is the "hopelessly drifting, bathed in beautiful agony" section, and it's really beautiful, but gets ruined when they return to the Segal moments shortly thereafter. Petrucci goes nuts, Jordan Rudess then has a turn on the keys... it's just like they're competing with one another and it's a bore for me to listen to. At around the ten minute mark there are some new ideas thrown in, with some of the cheesiest vocal effects employed by the band. I'd describe them as growls except that they're more like imitation growls and sound horrible. It's nice to hear them attempt new things, but not for the sake of trying to be trendy or cool.

Sorry, I was supposed to be discussing the positive aspects. The best thing about this track, besides the mellow section, is the ending because "A Rite of Passage" is next and it's a pretty damn good track (despite the aforementioned Segal moments which do tarnish the song slightly even though they only last two minutes or so). I'd have to say that this is my favourite track on the album ? from an overall perspective.

The ballad on the album, "Wither ", comes next and it also has one redeeming value ? it's not very long so the blandness of the track will soon be forgotten.

The conclusion to the AA saga, "The Shattered Fortress" was initially a highlight for me but on repeated listens I seem to enjoy it less. The recycling of themes from "The Glass Prison", "This Dying Soul", "The Root of All Evil" and "Repentance" was kind of interesting at first but then seemed like a lazy way to wrap things up. It simply doesn't feel cohesive at times, as if smaller chunks of music have just been stitched together to make it. So there are time changes, mood changes and some more Segal's the epitome of DT these days really.

Additionally, with regards to "TSF", the ending had a very sinister vibe about it, almost as if there's a suggestion that overcoming addiction is never something that happens completely. My interpretation of this is that perhaps temptation (or a Dark Master) is potentially lurking around every corner. Kind of interesting I guess.

It's really touching that Mike wanted to pay tribute to his father who sadly passed away earlier this year after battling cancer. As such, I really had high hopes for the track "The Best of Times" but it also possesses some more awful lyrics that are also quite unlistenable. I respect the message behind the words, but the presentation is just...terrible. It sounds amateurish, basically. Consider the following sample, "My heart is bleeding bad...but I'll be okay...your spirit guides my life each day". Petrucci's soloing on this track is actually pretty impressive though, despite being of the widdly diddly variety. It manages to not stray too far from the recurring melody of the song and shows that he can indeed play fast but with heart.

"The Count of Tuscany" is a track that has received a fair bit of attention online, with some claiming it as the best thing the band has ever written. It starts off promisingly enough and for the first three minutes, this is exactly the kind of Dream Theater sound that I love. Petrucci sounds brilliant, Mike is Mike, John Myung is...somewhere in there, and Rudess is playing with a typically frenetic but tasteful pace...but then it escalates into another of those annoying Segal moments and the vibe is killed off for me. When James joins the fray and begins to "tell" us the story, it goes downhill very quickly. "Seven years ago, in a foreign town, far away from home, I met the Count of Tuscany. A young eccentric man, bred from royal blood, took me for a ride, across the open country side..."

Just reading through those "lyrics", it's hard not to smirk. This is monumentally awful lyric writing, but sadly, it actually gets worse! I can't help but wonder what the guys were thinking when making this album because these lyrics are really so incredibly poor. And I don't even want to sing along because it sounds so stupid to sing "I...want to stay alive...everything about this place just doesn't feel right...I....I don't want to die, suddenly I'm frightened for my life". I understand that this is based on a real experience that Petrucci had, but whatever serious mood they hoped to convey is lost in a torrent of laughter over the lyrics.

The track changes pace again at around the 11 minute mark and this is one of the highlights of the album for me. This section has emotion oozing all through it, showing me the aforementioned flashes of brilliance. Petrucci does some really nice ambient guitar work, reminiscent of "To Live Forever" (the Live in Tokyo version) while Rudess provides a subtle layer behind it. Acoustic guitar then accompanies James' final reflections - "Could this be the end? Is this the way I die? Sitting here alone. No one by my side." Rudess then adds a wonderful recurring melody, which sounds very unfamiliar (from his bag of tricks anyway) and it's a welcome sound to my ears. For some reason, I have thoughts of Porcupine Tree when listening to this section, probably because of the melancholy feel to the keyboard sound. Mike then rejoins the track as it starts to build up to the finale, and we go back to electric guitar again. Petrucci solos in a very tasteful manner, Mike provides some typically enthusiastic and energetic fills, and James throws in some "woah-ohs" to take it all out. Before you know it, the track has ended and it actually seems kind of abrupt. There's no grand finale, it's just a finale. It almost feels like a letdown!

For me, this is an album with a few highlights, but ultimately, too many lowlights. As I kept reiterating throughout the review, the lyrics are often stupefyingly awful. Even in that final Porcupine Tree-esque moment in TCoT, the lyrics aren't too impressive. Overall, I can't help but wonder what could've been as there are some really nice musical moments on this album.

Some final comments: In recent promotional interviews, Mike Portnoy has spoken of this album with a kind of nonchalance and robotic predictability (in terms of his answers), that seems to resemble a lack of real passion towards it all. In fact, in one interview he even said that it's just another album for them. It doesn't really fill me with any excitement if the creator or co-creator isn't that buzzed about their work.

Based on Mike's attitude, it's as if the band has moved from "Chaos in Motion" to simply "Going Through the Motions". Maybe that's what the upcoming tour should be called... They have a process (or formula) which they stick to without deviation and it seems to work for them. And somehow, they seem to be getting more and more popular with each album and tour, despite their gradually declining lyrical quality and increased musical wankery. Hey, if that's what the kiddies want to listen to and it provides Mike et al with a comfortable standard of living, then good for them. Maybe that's why they're happy to pose with a dark, "metal" image nowadays because it makes them look hip and cool. Personally, I think they look ridiculous.

I'd love for this band to again try and write songs that have depth, meaning, insightful lyrics and a balanced musical score. After all, they've done this in the past very well ? Awake, FII, SDOIT. And there are ways to show your chops without resorting to these ridiculously long shred-fests which have become so commonplace on DT albums of late (the last 3 at least).

Maybe it's time for me to move on though because I've clearly become rather bored with a lot of this band's music. Wishing for a band to alter their course is completely pointless too, especially when that band still seems hell-bent on achieving mainstream acceptance. As such, they'll more than likely continue in future to churn out the same kinds of records, which are mostly free of heart, soul and true feeling. Unfortunately, it appears that this is exactly what people want to hear.

So although I had high hopes for this record, I can only rate it 2 stars. Revised to 2 stars from 3 after more thinking and reflecting.

Report this review (#219926)
Posted Friday, June 5, 2009 | Review Permalink
2 stars "Black Clouds and Silver Linings", Dream Theater's 10th album; in general the album is much more coherent than its predecessor and the flow of the songs is much more natural and logical as well, here is a song by song review:

A Nightmare to Remember: from the very first moments into this song; you can tell that the band still insists on leaning more towards the heavier side of their music as apposed to the progressive one which they built their reputation and legacy on, after the seemingly out of place "gothic" intro comes a riff that reminds us once again that Metallica is one of the major influences for the band members (as if we still needed to be reminded of that), the acoustic break is a welcomed change of pace; then comes a chord progression that is reminiscent of "Hell's Kitchen" out of the "Fallen into Infinity" album which restores a little bit of what hope we had for this album prior to the intro, then comes the guitar and keyboard solos; I could be wrong but it seems to me with each consecutive album after "Train of Thought", John Petrucci is kind of losing his signature tone which for me is far more important than how many notes he can fit into a 30-second solo, towards the ending of the song, we get a growling vocal part that also seems to be out of place, I guess they were trying to pull off an "Opeth moment" but they fell flat on their faces, it was forced and quiet comical, the song ends on the same theme it started on, a side from the midsection, this song was truly a nightmare; at least for me.

A Rite of Passage: this is the single of the album, it is somewhat similar to the song "In the Name of God" out of the "Train of Thought" album but with a faster tempo; the vocal line is awful and annoying during the verses, but in my opinion it is redeemed by a catchy chorus, I especially like the middle eastern guitar lines during and after the vocal parts; and you can't help but think of Iron Maiden's Powerslave; after the second chorus a faster riff takes the song to -a less than stellar- different direction and then comes the usual solo parts by Petrucci and Rudess, then somehow the song goes back to the chorus again, in my opinion this song could've been a lot better if they tried to tune down the heaviness, again it just felt forced.

Wither: this is the second single I guess; and it is a straight forward rock ballad which is not necessarily a bad thing, the orchestration after the second chorus is great and for me it is the best part of the song along with the piano break and guitar solo which was melodic and well written and I wished if it had been longer.

The Shattered Fortress: the final part of Mike Portnoy's AA saga which started on Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, the intro is quiet impressive: it will have you thinking you're listening into something off of an Iced Earth CD; the song after that taps on several repeated themes and riffs from past songs namely: the Glass Prison, This Dying Soul, The Root of All Evil and Repentance.

The Best of Times: This is one of only two songs that in my opinion are relevant to Dream Theater's pre-Train of Thought progressive heritage, the piano/acoustic intro is also one of very few and rare moments where emotion surpasses technical ability, the song then heads into a totally different and uplifting atmosphere, the solo on this song is one of John Petrucci's finest moments on the CD; extremely well written and emotional, despite the fact that this song is 13 minutes long; you can't actually feel that which is a good thing, this is the second best song on the album (aside from the sometimes cheesy lyrics of course).

The Count of Tuscany: this is in my opinion the best song on the album, the intro is similar to the newer versions of the song "Another Hand-The Killing Hand" which are often played live, great progressive moments in here, especially right at the 2:19 mark, this is what a lot of fans have been missing in Dream Theater's music lately, the song then shifts moods and flows naturally into the first vocal verse of the song; the chorus is brilliant and catchy and it will have you singing along with it from the very first time, after the second verse the song goes into an instrumental section, the atmospheric part at the 11 minute mark is exceptional along with the soft acoustic strumming section that follows, the ending is epic and moving and it will send shivers down your spine, this is one of the best songs ever written by dream theater since 2000, for those who have been waiting for this CD to come out, this song alone makes it worth the wait.

All in all; the album starts off on its weakest point and starts to get better as it moves along, some songs were ruined by trying too hard to make them sound heavier; I realize that "heavy metal" is a big part of the band's identity; I just wish they incorporate that into their sound in a more subtle approach just like the way they did it in "Images and Words" and "Scenes from a Memory".

Report this review (#220089)
Posted Sunday, June 7, 2009 | Review Permalink
1 stars An excellent album from a band that for me has always consistently put out great albums. The opening track A Nightmare To Remember is a great epic song, one much in the tradition of Dream Theater's recent more metallic albums. The section about a third way through, best described as the mellow part of the song is stunning. This high is contrasted with the low of Portnoy's lead vocal section late in the song. His voice just doesn't work. Despite that the song overall is a great opener. Next comes A Rite of Passage, the lead single. This is a much more straight forward song compared to the rest of the materal on the album. Nice and catchy song, but not one that particuarly stands out. The third track is Wither, the mandatory DT ballad. Wither is one of the better ballads the band has done in a very long time, it really makes an emotional impact. The Shattered Fortress is up the next, the conclusion to the AA suite. This song is very much a nostalgia trip as it recalls moments from the previous 4 songs of the suite, a perfect way to close the suite. A really rocking tune. The Best of Times is a stand out track, an epic ballad type song about the death of Portnoy's father. Such an emotional and powerful tune. What makes this song most amazing is how tasteful it is, unlike other DT epics that are filled with instrumental wnakery. None of that is to be seen here. John Petrucci's solo in the clsoing minutes of the song is mind blowing, on eof his best. Finally we come to The Count of Tuscany, this song is truly incredible. It had become on of my favourite Dream Theater songs, each band member just excels on this track. Overall this is yet another fanatstic chapter is the Dream Theater story.
Report this review (#220237)
Posted Monday, June 8, 2009 | Review Permalink
3 stars Black Clouds and Silver Linings. I'm calling it now. Next album LaBrie is fired from being vocalist replaced by thr growls of Portnoy, and we are treated to a 20 minute jam duel between Ruddess and Petrucci as to who can break the speed of light first.

What to say about THIS album though... another poster has mentioned "Worst to Best" in terms of line-up and I tend to agree with him. I'll get straight on to the track by track run-down.

A Nightmare to Remember - Why the band couldn't just have left this song at about 8 minutes with the first part being the main theme i dunno. It was such a beautiful start, with effects and a story behind it. However, at about 7:40, it all becomes senseless, needless noodling between Ruddess and Petrucci. And it doesnt really have much structure to it either it's just "fit as many notes into your part bars as possible." The "growls" of Portnoy I can handle towards the end, even the Black Metal drums just to try something new. Overall, take out the 3 minutes of nonsense soloing and you have a passable song. 2/5.

A Rite Of Passage - Everyone knows now it's the first single off the album and it seems designed to keep the younger generation and Roadrunner fans into DT. The vocals in the first verse are slightly annoying too but pick up during the rest of the song. I believe the main riff is repeated too much though, to the point that the song becomes annoying after a while. Dream Theater then go all thrash metal with a half cheesy half rocking riff and some cool shredding from Petrucci. However again, for some reason (this happens on ANtR as well) Ruddess has something in his head that makes him believe he must play more notes than he needs to, not to mention creating annoying and unnecessary timbres with his keyboard. After this jam session, we go straight back into the chorus. And end. Think "The Dark Eternal Night" for this one. 2.5/5.

Wither - I do enjoy DT's shorter songs as it shows they're not all about needless noodling. This one is no exception. Definitely one i'll listen to long after I hang this album up. The instrumentals are beautiful, and Petrucci shows he can still play with his heart. why can't DT be more like this? Why indeed. 3.5/5 just based on the fact it's not really prog..

The Shattered Fortress - The final track in AA. Pretty much a mash-up musically of what came before in the suite. This song rocks out from minute one and it held my attention all the way through. One of the better songs on the album. I can still hear Ruddess doing needless things behind the scenes in part 10's chorus. Besides that there is no complaints. I still get goosebumps when the riff for The Glass Prison is performed to end the piece. An unrelenting song but a fun one, and a nice slow to give the listener a break from the chaos. Even the solos are okay. 4/5

The Best Of Times - The opening is already one hundred times better than a lot of Ruddess' work, with a nice string section over the top. The guitar is just as beautiful. More of this please DT. After this opening is something that reminds me of Overture 1928, and the actual Dream Theater sound which they've seemed to lose over the past couple of releases. A catchy chorus, a beautiful string section around the 6:30 mark and a nice change just after 7 minutes to build the piece back up again. and to end, a soulful solo by Petrucci. More of this! Mooooore! 4.5/5.

The Count of Tuscany - Again with this song, would be a 5/5 if you put the beginning and end together and cut out the middle. Don't get me wrong it's a nice little quiet moment in the piece however it just feels like it could have gone without. But really... thats the only problem I have with this song. And over 19 minutes thats a pretty awesome effort. The chorus is brilliant, the verses flow well, there's some awesome riffs throughout, and the ending is perfect for the song and the album. 4.5/5.

So overall we have 4 decent to great songs and 2 could-be-done-withouts on here. Listening to it throughout, i'm tempted to give it 3 stars as it IS good, but im also tempted to give it 2 due to it being the last album you'd want to give to someone looking to get into Dream Theater. I'll give it three as the 4 good songs on here make up for the horrible beginning.

Report this review (#220886)
Posted Saturday, June 13, 2009 | Review Permalink
2 stars I don't know what this is, and I'm sure neither do the band. Boring, overplayed, overdone, and now over and thank God for that. If you want to hear good prog from this extraordinary band listen to IMAGES AND WORDS. This is one very bad album from band that lost his inspiration some years ago. Now, it's time for them to let go and make place for younger and I'm afraid to say but BETTER bands that have ambition and know how. I'm not sure what is worst: 4 last albums or the cover stuff (Metallica, Floyd, Crimson ( I haven't heard their version of LARK II, but I laugh forward for the idea :) ), Queen, Rainbow).

This is a definitive 2 as there are several good (but nothing more) moments on the album.

Best song: The Count of Tuscany

Report this review (#221271)
Posted Monday, June 15, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars I'm not a musical expert, but sure i'm a long time listener of progressive music, since my (very far from here) 14 years, so i'm only capable to review and rate album from an amateur perpective based just in my taste. DT is a band i catch somewhere in the 2005, through a DVD, the Budokan. And was love at first sight: the ability, the strength of the music, the attitude of those guys made me become a follower. And then I start collecting DT music. This introduction lends me to their last effort, BC& SL. A bit irregular album, but very inmmerse in DT idiosincratia. It has it all: the ballad, the radio friendly theme, the end of the AA saga, and the epics. The lowest point of the record is the growling of Portnoy, i surely can live without it. The highlight is Count of Toscany, a song in the tradition of A change of seasons and Octavarium. Mention appart deserves Best of times: a little corny, but taked in its real context a nice homage from Portnoy to his father, and that reserve respect.

And now, the gradings song-by-song: A Nightmare to Remember : 7/10 A Rite of Passage: 6/10 Wither: 8/10 The Shattered Fortress: 8/10 The Best of Times: 9/10 The Count of Tuscany : 10/10 Overall: 48/60=4/5, or Four stars.

Report this review (#221403)
Posted Tuesday, June 16, 2009 | Review Permalink
3 stars There is nothing really bad about this album. Though through a lot of it, it seems to not be as much an example of Progressive Metal as their other albums (except Systematic Chaos). There are very good melodies, if you're talking about the album as its own thing. Isolated from the rest of their work, it holds up as very good, big budget, Heavy Metal. However, when you compare them, a big group of their previous albums (everything from I&W to Octavarium), it appears to keep the same general tone throughout. Their previous albums were more dynamic with the mood, especially Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence. Maybe DT needs to do a low-tech album next, to refresh their musicality, but I think a quick fix would be to put more major keys into the music, that's what I think I miss the most, and make it sound less like NU-Metal (e.i. the openings with guitar only, maybe keyboard, playing a boring, cliche, minor riff) and more like Progressive Metal.
Report this review (#222030)
Posted Saturday, June 20, 2009 | Review Permalink
1 stars sorry... i had intended my 1st review to be 'positive' and 'concerning a band i love' but damn!

i own all DT's stuff, the good the bad and the ugly. this is as 'ugly' as it gets. i thought we outgrew the whole "look at me mommy!" guys; whats up? we know ya can play; you've done it quite well on many audio (and video) previous releases, whats with this mess of 1/64-note 7/5-time wankery?

The discs have their moments ... mainly the last two tunes on discs 1 and 2, but the MP-growl (whats with that?) gets in the way too much even on them.

I am one seriously disappointed DT fan.


Report this review (#222432)
Posted Monday, June 22, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars Ok, well, I think I'm finally ready to review this beast. Suffice to say I'm hugely disappointed with the current rating. I really think quite a lot of people aren't listening to this album properly, dismissing it because it's been released after Scenes From A Memory and because it has a few MP backing vocals.

I'm not some religious DT fan, I can see some clear faults in this album. I'll go through those as I nail down the tracks:

1. A Nightmare to Remember (16:10) - Dark, gothic, and heavy. Opens with a thunderstorm and some ominous piano before a booming riff. I have to say, it's a great start to the album, hitting all the right late-era-DT-style things, what with the riffs and time signatures. It's not very surprising, but it is very heavy until a lighter bit takes over. The vocal melodies and lyrics for this section are fantastic. Later we get the guitar solo (good), keyboard solo (good) and continuum solo (not so good - I love the instrument and the sound it makes but he's played better solos). And then Mike opens his mouth. Whoops. He tries to go for the whole bad-ass, shouty vocals that we love bands like Opeth for, but he really falls short of expectations. It's actually physically embarrassing to listen to this bit, it truly doesn't fit and I really don't understand why it's on the album. However, the riffs from other sections return for the finale to bring the song back up to a reasonably state. It's good, but clearly not as good as other tracks on the album.

2. A Rite of Passage (8:35) - The single. Great riff, fantastic vocals, powerful chorus - this song is quite a lot better than the previous one. It does have a specifically bad section through - JR gets out his new keyboard toy and plays possibly is weirdest and his worst solo ever. I've seen him play it live, I have absolutely no idea why the hell he uses it, because it sounds crap. What would have been much better would have been exactly the same notes in a more reasonable keyboard voice. Still, the guitar solo and instrumental section riff is great. Decent finale too.

3. Wither (5:25) - Ah, finally a consistently good track. Wither is a ballad, very clam, slow, but with an emotional chorus. The bite of the emotion is taken out when you realize it's actually about Writer's Block rather than some sort of mental breakdown. Still, guitar is once again excellent, and Rudess and Mike don't get in the way and ruin it by experimenting. I can't really fault this one - I guess it's not really progressive but when it's surrounded by epics I can't complain. Great song.

4. The Shattered Fortress (12:49) - The long awaited 12 Step Suite finale. Opening with a fade in with a riff from This Dying Soul, it sets itself up to be very powerful and it succeeds - it is generally heavy (although, unusually, the acoustic guitar is brought out for a while in the middle), and reprises many riffs from the other parts. Sometimes it's not only riffs, but also vocal melodies. New lyrics are plastered badly on top, though. I begin wishing he was actually singing the other songs. However, the finale is excellent and it ends with exactly the riff the saga opened with. Great song.

5. The Best of Times (13:07) - This sentimental juggernaut is dedicated to Mike Portnoy's father. This is actually the song's biggest flaw - it is cheesy beyond belief. Opening with piano, a sad violin is also played, practically taking the piss with an over emphasized sadness. However, the pace is brought up by John P with a storming guitar riff which you would swear was straight from Glasgow Kiss, from his solo album. The riff becomes less chaotic but still in a bright, happy major key. Vocals begin. Whoops. The melodies are pretty terrible here, but what really kills this song is the lyrics. No mean to be distasteful, as I know it's a touchy subject, but the lyrics are actually really quite bad. There's an acoustic section which just seems to drag on and on, praising Mike's dad like he was a God. Alright, fair enough, that is the point of the song, and I can obviously forgive that, but I cannot ignore how cheesy these lyrics feel. Luckily, Petrucci steps back in with a soaring guitar solo for a finale. This will probably become known as one of JP's best solos. Come to think of it, JP's performance on this album is actually very, very good, clearly the standout player in the band on this album.

6. The Count of Tuscany (19:16) - Dream Theater's best song? Quite possibly. It opens with a fantastic, clean, major riff, introducing a glorious riff to be reprised later. It gets very progressive with many time signature changes. After the short overture it blasts into heavy mode where vocals soon begin. Contrary to most of the album's lyrics, these are actually very good. Maybe some listeners won't like Mike's involvement with some of the backing vocals, but I must say he can be quite constructive when used as a backing vocalist. The chorus for this section is fantastic, followed by various solos. This fades down into what has been dubbed the Xanadu/new age section with a slow guitar solo and slow synth chords. This section is a beauty to behold and takes up about 1/4 of the song. The album's grand finale then arrives, starting with acoustic guitar playing the mind blowing riff which opens the song, in chord form. LaBrie soon starts singing. The lines are simple and follow the chords well. Jordan adds keyboards to the mix, sustaining the atmosphere of the song. The vocals soon escalate and bring themselves up into a great, booming finale, which finishes into a short but sweet guitar solo. At this point, Mike is furiously playing all his drums as fast as he can, not so much in a display of skill but to emphasize the awesomeness of this section. LaBrie goes for some powerful "Woah, wooah, woooah, woah!" over some synth chords from an earlier riff and the song is finished with a lasting note from all the instruments. I really haven't described this section well enough - it's utterly the best DT moment ever. Truly a masterpiece.

So, some shoddy lyrics, some dodgy solos (Rudess), but I can't help but enjoy most of this album. Clearly mistakes were made and it would have only got 3 if it wasn't for The Count Of Tuscany at the end. I'd love to give this 5 stars but clearly there's far too many faults in it to do that. However, these faults don't drive it down so far that it deserves any less than 4 - it's an excellent album. If you can't seem to appreciate it, listen to the final track some more, particuarly the ending. If you can't appreciate that, you have no soul.

Report this review (#222504)
Posted Monday, June 22, 2009 | Review Permalink
5 stars I know DT since "Images and Words", but I am not a DT die-hard fan and I can understand why some progheads underestimate and bash this Dream Theater's last album. Well ladies and gentlemen DT gives us a real and authentic Progressive METAL work, and I underline Metal. Precisely I love Systematic Chaos, because is straight, hard and powerful metal, in fact the all lauded and praised "Scenes from a Memory" didn't stick so quickly on my taste, but everytime I listen to more prog I appreciate a lot more the non-so-metal-and more prog DT albums. But hey, I eat Hard Rock and Metal since 17 years ago, so when I listened this masterwork called "Black Clouds And Silver Linings" I couldnt believe my ears, DT rock as hell. This is without a doubt the heaviest and darkest effort to date, and of course we can say it's not the more original, but know what? I don't give a damn, because they deliver as brilliant as always. Heck, they can play polka and it 'll be a classic; maybe Metal, more than Prog, needs more this kind of solid and powerful masterpieces. Now, I 've got to say that LaBrie sounds to me less annoying, ( I liked him in MullMuzzler's "Keep It Yourself", though) but sometimes I wonder what if DT had another vocalist.

The only fly in the soup is what others have said: the growls! sorry, but If I want good growls I listen to my glorious Death Metal records, and I think that mix it with progressive is not a good result. That's why bands like Opeth don't stick hard on me. So please no more growls, DT don't need them.

The special edition is a delight. Just for the Queen's "Tenement funster - flick of the wrist - lily of the valley" medley is worth it. Has anyone covered these great pieces before? Wait, Maiden?, Rainbow? oh boy, DT, you made my day.

To sum up, this is an excellent album that maybe appeals to metalheads more than die-hard progheads, because is very, very heavy and darker than ever before, but hey there's still soft melodies and progresiveness. No track is disposable and "Black Clouds and Silver Linings" deserves a spot in the masterpieces' throne, although old progheads and close minded die-hard fans don't think so.

Report this review (#222570)
Posted Monday, June 22, 2009 | Review Permalink
3 stars Dream Theater ? Black Clouds and Silver Linings 3.5 stars

A nice return to form (sort of).

A new Dream Theater release always stirs a buzz around the progressive rock community. This one turns out be quite decent and my favorite since Train of Thought. Don't be expecting a softer album as this one remains marginally heavy, with some twists that were direly needed.

The first song is good, and Dream Theater seems to have a knack of starting their albums off pretty well, or making it deceiving depending on how you look at it. The first track 'A Nightmare to Remember' has some standard metal riffs and a breakdown that brings back the glory days from 'Images and Words'. Some vocals provided by Mike Portnoy are an absolute blunder and his worst yet, and that does in fact mean a lot.

The AA suite is wrapped up here in a good fashion, taking the best of the previous songs and throwing some original material in between was probably the only correct way of closing it, and it does get the job done.

The Count of Tuscany is also a song to take note of, one of Dream Theater's better epics, that started to build up in numbers after Scenes. Some string sections give this a good effect, but nothing is too different, just composed well I guess.

Other than that you can expect the same modern DT package. Hate to say the song devoted to Mike Portnoy's father 'The Best of Times' didn't grab me at all and while the lyrics are something that anyone would say to their passed father did not translate into a song setting, but a thoughtful thing to do. 'A Rite of Passage' is the single which if not liked, expect another 4 minutes of the same mess. Traditional DT ballad 'Wither' isn't too shabby.

DT fans can be a little surprised here. It's not too shabby of an album.

Report this review (#222783)
Posted Tuesday, June 23, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars Ok, Here we go... I have anticipated this release for the last few months. I am a fan of some of DT releases, but not all. I am most critical of Labries vocals. I feel that it really is the Achilles heel of an otherwise amazing band. With that said lets roll! Disc1 of the 3 CD set opens with the rumble of a storm and continues to roll on thru the second track. Great playing and singing. Yes-singing! Maybe Labrie has finally grown out of pubescence, but whatever the reason is, it is a major improvement. Wither slows things down a bit before emerging in the Shattered Fortress. Here we revisit some harmonies, melodies, and themes of old as we (hopefully) close out the AA saga. Next comes the Best of Times. I know, most kiss a** fans would blubber on about how touching the story and the tribute to Portnoys father is, and how it just compels this song to its beautiful ending blah, blah, blah. Sorry, not me! This song is the weakest on the album lyrically and vocally. The instrumental version on disc 3 is quite remarkable, without the distraction of the aforementioned. If I was in the band, I would have left the lyrics/vocals out and gone with the instrumental version. Thats just me though. Others appear to like it and hey, good on them. The final track is a true humdinger . The Count of Tuscany? Yes, please! Much more of this on the next album! I found the lyrics and story fascinating. I would love to know more of the story here. Perhaps a Part 2 as the next concept album? Oh, I think so!

Anyways, back to the rest of the Package: Disc 2- the Cover songs- Overall enjoyable to hear the boys play some of the songs that inspired them. I enjoyed the Rainbow and King Crimson covers the most. Again, personal taste. All are good, but none of them are essential.

Moving on, almost done- Disc 3-Instrumental- For me, the best of the lot! I love to hear the musicianship aglow, unfettered by vocals. Especially a group this talented. I can hear all of the nuances, all the notes, everything! Phenomenal!!

Final grade-3.8ish really, not quite 4, but hell, I really love that instrumental disc, so lets say 4 for sure! I would get the 3 disc over the single, for certain. Worth the extra money for that..well, you know! It is well produced and the packaging is pretty cool. I am not a fan of the mini-LP slipcases for the CDs, but other than that I enjoy the digi-case much more than a plastic jewelcase. The lyrics are presented in a nice foldout as well. Enjoy!

Report this review (#222784)
Posted Tuesday, June 23, 2009 | Review Permalink
3 stars A welcome return to form for Dream Theater.

After 4 years and the worst record since Falling into Infinity, we finally have the logical follow up to Octavarium. The new album continues the more commerical and straightforward approach that Octavarium began. While the record is less dynamic and layered than TOT and prior, the band seems to have capitalized on the more commercial sound. The result is that Black Clouds & Silver Linings has Dream Theater successfully merging a more accessable sound with the progressive tendencies that fans have come to love. However, the album is still not the return to form many would like to see. Ever since Octavarium, DT have stripped back the layers and created a more straightforward approach that many (including myself) have been dissapointed with. The band is still as progressive as ever, but in different ways which are in general less creative and more streamlined. Rather than having several key or time changes in a section, there may be one chord sequence in which the band solos over and bounce back and fourth on. In other words, less scripted events in a particular piece, and more solos and melodies within that piece. Us prog heads that cut our teeth on King Crimson, VDDG, or modern acts like Porcupine Tree or TMV have found that Dream Theater stopped pushing themselves on Octavarium. A Nightmare To Remember is one of Dream Theaters best pieces in their modern incarnation, with Yes like harmonies and a very strong melody which climaxes with an intense solo section. "A Rite Of Passage" and "Wither" are good songs, but seem to be the week point of the album and serve to unbalance the record and feel out of place. These songs follow the Octavarium blue print to a T and serve as the "hook" of the record by being the shortest and simplest songs on the album. The closer "The Count Of Tuscany" is also a DT classic and along with track one bookend the album with the two best songs on the record. In general, we find DT finding their footing with the more accessible sound while still not matching their best works from SFAM to TOT. However, the album is such a dramatic improvement over their previous record that it feels like a big step in the right direction for Dream Theater.

Report this review (#222810)
Posted Tuesday, June 23, 2009 | Review Permalink
2 stars After two years since their previous effort (Systematic Chaos), the Theater of Dreams returns with this "Black Clouds & Silver Linings". This was a really anticipated album for me (and for the majority of the prog-metal community). What I was expecting was a return to their more progressive roots while keeping a bit of the metallic edge found on Train of Thought and on SC. What I found here instead is a confused and uninspired mess. Everything, from the horrible growls of portnoy on "A nightmare to remember" (portnoy singing?? c'mon...) to the Iphone solo on "A rite of passage" seems so out of place. It's just like they've decided to take inspiration from the modern way of metalheads, blending elements from other bands to renew their sound and recurring to the Iper-speed playing to provide for the lack of inspiration and ideas. In this Theater of Decadence the real stars (negatively) are James LaBrie and Jordan Rudess. Let's face it, James's voice is probably gone. There's no sign of good vocals in this album, every single line seems forced, out of place and just doesn't fit the music. The utterly cheesy lyrics (never been so cheesy on any DT's album) just don't help LaBrie to reach the sufficiency. Sorry James, I just loved your voice even on SC, but this time I just can't stand it. While the lack of good singing it's forgivable thinking about the fact that James is now 46, what is really unforgivable is Jordan Rudess. I often find myself skipping song after song because of the clownish sounds that Jordan uses. Just listen to the beginning of "The Count of Tuscany" or the terrible solo of "A rite of passage" to understand what I'm saying. Even When Rudess tryes to be more romantic and naife, like in the beginning of "The Best of Times", he ends to be just cheesy. I know that one of the most discussed topics in DT's history is the eternal fight between Kevin Moore's fans and Rudess's ones, but after this record I'm sure that the first one had the prog- metal attitude and the emotional songwryting that Rudess will never have. I cannot say anything about Jordan's technical skills, that are just amazing, but if you are so good why you cannot write good music also?? This line fits perfectly also for the other musicians and for their uninspired performances. The only song that I wish to save is "The Shattered Fortress", that is a good ending for the AA Suite,recycling some parts from the other four songs in the saga while adding some tasty riffs (the Petrucci's ones). So in the end here we have probably the biggest letdown of the year, and I'm so disappointed because I've always considered them one of the best groups in the world and also because there are so many other 2009's releases that deserve a major attention and glory. (Klisias's "Cybion", The Mars Volta with "Octahedron", Vanghough with "Manikin Parade", Devin Townsend with "Ki", Mastodon's "Crack in the Skye" and so on...)

2/5 = 4/10

PS. sorry for my bad english, but I'm Italian and this is my first review on this site and also in a foreign language ^_^

Report this review (#222886)
Posted Wednesday, June 24, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars After listening to BC&SL about 20 times, I believe that I can now form a legitimate conclusion. To me, this is the best Dream Theater album since Metropolis part 2. Let's start with track 1:

Nightmare to Remember: This one starts out dark and sets to tell a story of a car accident. I like the textures provided by Rudess and Co., specifically with the choir vocals and organ. Very dark! When the singing kicks in, it is a little Hetfield-wannabee like. Even so, I think this is the most controlled that LaBrie has sounded in a decade, especially when singing in his lower register. The song goes through mood changes galore, and I think this is a great opener. 8 out of 10.

Rite of Passage: This one is a little more radio-friendly, but with some very nice riffs from guitar and keys. The lyrics are a little cheesy here, but the music is good riff-driven rock. Unlike many others, I really like to see Rudess experimenting with just funky sounds on the keys. The solo is not melodic and the noises are weird, but it is good to see him get out of the box a little. Only complaint here is the seemingly lazy break between the instrumental section and the chorus at the end. 7 our of 10.

Wither: Not too much to say here, but a nice catchy tune, but lacks progression. 5 out of 10.

Shattered Fortress: This song makes a great ending to the AA Suite. There are nods to many of their earlier songs in the suite, but with different melodies and/or time sigs. A very well-written song, and this one rocks pretty hard. 8 out of 10.

The Best of Times: This is the first song on the disc where I felt a lot of Rush influence, specifically in the guitar riffs. Despite the overly cheesy lyrics and opening section, the music on this track sounds very mature and well-composed. Also, is it just me or is Petrucci getting better and better? His riffs are as clean as can be, and are soulful and melodic. Kudos Mr. Petrucci! 8 out of 10.

Count of Tuscany: And finally, we have this beast...I honestly can say that I enjoy this epic song more than any other song in the entire DT library. It is wonderfully composed and the band plays as a BAND! This is the first DT song in a long while where I feel like they are all on the same page musically and not just showing off in different sections. Once again, I also get the vibe of more Rush influence, specifically between the keyboard and guitar playoffs. Once again, LaBrie sounds very good on this song, especially at the end. I can't write enough about this song, so I will end my review by saying that the entire disc is worth the purchase for this one track. Yes, it's that good. 11 out of 10...err, 10 out of 10.

Final score: 4 stars

Report this review (#222901)
Posted Wednesday, June 24, 2009 | Review Permalink
Crossover & JR/F/Canterbury Teams
4 stars This, to me is quite possibly the most enjoyable Dream Theater CD I've heard (not that I've heard all of them, but I have heard quite a few). The songs are bombastic and very progressive. Even the somewhat maudlin "the Best Of Times" has it's good parts. And James LaBrie's vocals seem to stay away from the irritating upper ranges.

There are some almost death metal like vocals on some of the songs, but even these, while low pitched, are not the throw up in the back of your throat type that ruins quite a bit of modern metal. And having them say things like "Strength and dignity" almost makes it sound like DT is making fun of the genre. But I like it.

And while I'm not yet certain if "The Count Of Tuscany" is the best song Dream theater has ever done, it's up there with the best.

I purchased the "limited edition" version, with the instrumental disk, and the covers disk. The instrumental disk is nice, but I actually prefer the versions with vocals. And the covers, all listed here in PA as singles, plus "To Tame A Land" originally by Iron Maiden is a nice listen. "Odyssey", by The Dixie Dregs, is one of my all-time favorite songs, and DT does a superb job on it, but I wish they hadn't mixed John Myung's bass so far down. Andy West's spectacular lines were out front in the original recording, and Myung's should not be hidden here.

4.5 stars

Report this review (#222914)
Posted Wednesday, June 24, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars Well, here it is. The new album by progressive metal masters that we have been waiting for, and the one that will IMHO produce their second mainstream success, but I will get back to that. It is quite different from what I have expected after Systematic chaos, which was exactly what the title of the record says. Good musicianship, but incoherent. Dream Theater has finally realized this issue, and decided to make an album more pleasable to the ear. Ok, let´s go through the songs :

1. A nightmare to remember This song reminds me a lot of " The ones ho helped set the sun " from the When dream and day unite album. I even think it is about the same thing. This is a more modern version of it, truly epic in proportion. It is a mix of heavy and mellow parts, accompanied by memorable melodies. It has a blastbeat section near the end which sounds really interesting. I dunno, but Mike´s roars sound kinda cute.

2. A right of passage The first single and video of the album is a really powerful and interesting song which speaks about freemasonry. I have no doubt that it is gonna become concert favorite. Oriental riff and catchy chorus.

3. Wither Remember the success Pull me under had ? Well, in one year, Dream Theater can make a new best of album and name it : "Both of our greatest hits". The beautiful ballad with lots of MTV potential is full of emotion and feelings. Typical acoustic intro - power chords chorus composition. It´s gonna be huge on MTV when the video comes out, just wait and see.

4. Shattered fortress Finally, the end of the AA suite. I am happy that Mike is off the booze, but this is now so boring that I am glad this is the last one. Recycled old riffs, an album filler.

5. The best of times And now, the best part of the album ! This beautiful song speaks about Mike´s late father, Howard. It has got everything in it, acoustic guitar/ violin/piano intro, great riff and an amazing solo. I consider this solo the best in John Petrucci´s career.

6. The count of Tuscany The epic in the true meaning of the word. A true story written by John Petrucci, about a count he visited and scared him to death. Really nice and memorable. The only thing I didn´t like was that section near the end with the slow solo. The end is brilliant, it starts with the acoustic guitar, and then blasts off to the end.

This is a great album , but not their best. The cohesion of songs is finally there, Petrucci is playing really well on this one. James´voice however, all though good, does not seem to reach the heights that it used to. But still, I recommend this record.

Report this review (#223097)
Posted Thursday, June 25, 2009 | Review Permalink
5 stars This is the album I was expecting for. Systematic Chaos and Octavarium were good albums, but this is something completely different. A Dream Theater classic.

1) A Nightmare to remember: Dark and heavy. I LOVE this track. A gothic feeling, interestng lyrics and a beautiful mellow part in the middle of the song. And Petrucci really shines, his sound is awesome. I don't like Portnoy's semi growl, but it's a matter of taste. I can handle it. Overall, great opener. 9,5/10.

2) A Rite Of Passage: Nice riffs, catchy chorus and amazing solos. Petrucci was really inspired. The song structure is simple for a prog band, but it was done as a single and it works really good as one. 8,5/10.

3) Wither: The ballad. Simple and beautiful. Jordan Rudess does an amazing job with orchestral and choir sounds, but James LaBrie gets the spotlights. Beautiful singing. This song would become a really nice single. 9/10.

4) The Shattered Fortress: The final song for the AA saga. It really works as a closer, everything seems really cohesive. I found really interesting how it was made with pieces from the previous AA songs. The way the riffs where used, the solos, the vocals... Really good stuff. 9,5/10.

5) The Best Of Times: This is the song Mike Portnoy wrote about his deceased father, and is touching. It starts with piano, a violin and accoustic guitar... And then it turns into a very uplifting song. It finishes with a stunning 3 minute solo by Mr Petrucci. 10/10.

6) The Count Of Tuscany: The new Dream Theater Classic. Awesome instrumental section during the first minutes. The lyrics of the song aren't their best, but it's an improvement over the DARK MASTER from Systematic Chaos. The song appears to be ending at 10:00, but a really nice experimental part comes on. Then, accoustic guitar appears, and LaBrie starts to sing. The song builds up in a breathtaking crescendo, finishing with a short Petrucci solo, a WHOAAAH from LaBrie, awesome sounding drumming and beautiful orchestral sounds. Truly epic. 10/10

(9,5 + 8,5 + 9 + 9,5 + 10 + 10) / 6 = 4,7. 5 stars for this amazing album.

Sorry for the mistakes, english is not my first language.

Report this review (#223238)
Posted Friday, June 26, 2009 | Review Permalink
Conor Fynes
4 stars 'Black Clouds & Silver Linings' - Dream Theater (8/10)

While Dream Theater is arguably my favourite band, I've found myself at least a little dissapointed by alot of the material they have released over the past decade. With the release of 'Systematic Chaos,' I was practically assured that the golden days of this band had long gone; and were condemned to releasing comparably mediocre material for the rest of their career.

I find myself fortunately mistaken.

What I found with 'Black Clouds & Silver Linings' is something that I can say as being the best thing Dream Theater has done ever since their double disc opus 'Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence.' With four of the six songs on the album exceeding ten minutes, this is definately a return to progressive form for the band. After the failed experiments 'Train Of Thought' and the excellent (but critically disdained) record preceeding this one, this is, in a sort of way, Dream Theater's equivalent of Metallica's 'Death Magnetic' in the sense that it's such a nice suprise to see the band retracing their steps back to where they work best. I mean, it's not such a bad thing that the band was trying out new things, but the direction they were taking simply was not working. It's a damn good thing they figured that out in time for their 10th studio release.

The only low point for the album is the overdrawn and very tame 'A Rite Of Passage' which frankly bores me, with the exception of a cool solo section. With the exception of this small black spot, the rest of the album is filled with some pretty inspired material.

'A Nightmare To Remember' for example, was the first song on the album that I fell in love with (ironically, it is in fact; the first track on the album.) It is a very dark song, and really shows a heavier side of Dream Theater without being overly raw or corny (IE: 'The Dark Eternal Night.) At 16 minutes long, it was a bit daunting to have an opening song of that length, but it certainly doesn't dissapoint. It's an emotional rollercoaster; shifting between a plethora of moods. The middle section of the song was exceptionally moving, and during the chorus ('lost in this wonderful misery...') I found myself at the brink of tears. It's that beautiful!

The song that should have been the primary single is the ballad 'Wither.' I like to think of it as a much better, moving version of the 'Octavarium' track, 'The Answer Lies Within.' Using a rather mundane lyrical topic as 'writer's block,' you wouldn't expect a song that can really trigger emotions. A charming suprise, and one of the best ballads they've ever done, losing only to 'Wait For Sleep' and 'Disappear.'

'The Shattered Fortress' is a very hard hitting, heavy track. Personally, I love it. It takes all of my favourite parts of the past four songs in the '12-Step Suite' and compiles them into an epic finale that's certainly worthy of topping of an 8 year project. However, my only concern with this piece is that for many people, this will be their first foray into Dream Theater. By listening to this without the background of having listened to each of the previous songs, they will find this very choppy and disjointed; a fair warning to anyone not already familiar with the band.

'The Best Of Times' was without a doubt, the most emotionally powerful song for me. It is also the most honest, sincere song the band has ever done, despite being three times the length of the average song. The song's topic revolves around the death of Mike Portnoy's father (who, on a side note, was the man who came up with the band's name.) Listening to the song, it's clear that Portnoy really loved his father; he really puts his heart on the line. Things build up to a gorgeous solo at the hands of John Petrucci; which easily refutes any of the non-believers who think the man plays without soul or passion. 'The Best Of Times' is my favourite track on this album. A Dream Theater classic.

Now we come to the monster track; the song that everyone is calling the next great Dream Theater epic. Hmm... I am torn about this song. 'The Count Of Tuscany' is a very epic, great song, to be quite sure, but it is wounded by one thing. The instrumentation is fantastic, and leads up to a perfect musical finale... So what would be wrong with it?

...the lyrics, to be quite awfully certain.

The lyrics of 'The Count Of Tuscany' are probably some of the most hilarious the band has ever done, which is saying quite a bit (after the band's galavanting with 'dark masters' and 'dark eternal nights' after the previous album.) The epic's concept essentially revolves around the narrator taking a car ride with an Italian noble and going to his estate, then going to his basement and feeling scared.... The Count talks about wine, and soldiers, and then the narrator feels very uneasy about his surroundings and the Count. He thinks he is going to die and then... wait! No, that was a big mistake. The Count of Tuscany doesn't want to kill him! According to the song, Tuscans just naturally act cryptic and pseudo- murderous.

And then the song ends. The lyrics are honestly hilarious, and it's beyond comedy to listen to Mike Portnoy growl in a very hardcore manner about drinking 'fine vintages of wines.' As a result, I much prefer to listen to the instrumental version of the song (having bought the 3- disc Special Edition.) If you can look past the lyrics however, 'The Count Of Tuscany' (while not being quite as good as 'A Change Of Seasons') is an amazing track.

'Black Clouds & Silver Linings' is the best work they have done in almost a decade. Despite it's flaws, it works very well, and there are some monumental tracks on here. A very good album to represent the band's talent and strength. One of the best albums of the year.

Report this review (#223248)
Posted Friday, June 26, 2009 | Review Permalink
5 stars "Alrighty then!" Here's the very much expected Dream Theater album: Black Clouds and Silver Linings, and after listening to it many times, as I always do before submitting any review I have to tell you, It's the best album by the band since SDOIT. Everyone seems to have found their place, well at least partially. Lets talk about some of the bad things first.

The lyrical work is at some parts cheesy and lacking emotion. For fans who were expecting a return to DT roots, well...the band has brought from the dead part of their original sound, but they are still sticking with the heavy sound of the recent albums. James does wonderfull singing here, but he's at some points clouded by Mr. Portnoys growls and screams, see what I mean by partially?

Back again with an overall view of the album, it rocks. Petrucci is still shredding fast, but he's still building up the solos and writing emotional ones. Myung is just...Myung. Rudess is wonderfull on the keys, incorporating a lot of sounds that are both original and great, but others are just weird and don't really fit in. Portnoy is as techincall as ever, but the growling and his insistancy for singing cloud James, who is very good on this album, thought he doesn't really push himself on this one. So, as said before, the most noticeable weak spot is the lyrical work, the vocals at some parts seem forced and cheesy.

The album kicks it with A Nightmare to Remember, wich is a great opener and holds some good ol' rush moments. The softer part in the middle is amazing, I almost cryed, it's some of the most beautiful work the band has pulled off. The story is about a car crash and the emotions, sensations that revolved around Petrucci at that time. (5/5) The weak song of this album is A Right of Passage. A song about freemasonery, you'll notice what I mean by Portnoys growls here. Still the song has a catchy chorus, extra points for that, and the solo section is out of this world. (3/5) Next up comes Wither. In my opinion this should have been the main single. It's beautiful. Petrucci plays really well on this one and Rudess is wonderfull near the end. I just love this one, it's the best ballad they've written since The Spirit Carries On. (4/5) Well, here it goes: The Shattered Fortress. The END of the AA saga, and what an end it is. It couldn't have ended in any other way, it brings back the best parts of previous songs while incorporating fresh material, for Portnoy fans, it'll be the best song in the album. (5/5) The Best of Times comes next, starting with a mellow tune that sounds a lot like their Liquid Tension work. Once the song really kicks off it's a return to Images and Words days, reminding me maybe of Surrounded. The lyrical work is good in this one as it develops around Portnoys feelings for his father. (5/5) The album ends with the epic: The Count of Tuscany. The lyrics are partially hilarious and partially amazing. The story is about Petrucci being toured around by a count and later fearing for his life because of the strange things he was being introduced to. The music however...let me just put it this way, this is a song I wish I could rate higher than just 5 stars. Near the end the heavy melody gives in to a slow mellow moment that reminds me of Yes a lot. The ending is just beautiful, a lot in the style of In the Name of God and Learning to Live. (5/5)

All in all this album is amazing, a proud return of Dream Theater that have seem to have found a perfect balance between heavyness and mellowness in this one. I recomend you get the 3 cd version as it contains the instrumental versions of the tracks and the cover songs wich are also perfectly performed.

Overall 5 stars (4.5)

Report this review (#223451)
Posted Saturday, June 27, 2009 | Review Permalink
2 stars When did one of the worlds biggest prog metal bands become so conservative?

I was realIy looking forward to hearing this album. Portnoy compared it excitedly to alotta gems from their back catalogue and early reviews were very promising with their talk of it being a return to form. I'm pretty disappointed unfortunately as I really don't like this album much at all. There are moments of sheer brilliance surrounded by bland uninspired mediocrity. The record manages to frustrate me more than anything, to the point that I don't think I'll be able to give it any more than 5 more good listens 'till it goes on the shelf for good. It proved to me that DT still has the spark that I thought was long lost, but the problem is that it only makes an appearance for about 5-10% of the album, making BC&SL feel like a teaser for what could've been.

The 'In peaceful sedation' section of A Nightmare to remember is one of those classic DT moments that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand on end. It's the best thing they've done in years. I was so pumped about the album from all the glowing reviews I had read that on my first listen, whilst listening to that section I was laughing in my head thinking, DT are back, where the hell've you been, this is awesome?! The magic was there.

Overall, the song is one of the better ones on the album but it still needs a good bit of work. I don't think the 'life was so simple' bit is very strong and it could've definitely been improved upon. If that was the demo stage, which IMO it should've been, then we would've wound up with another classic DT song. Look at what ACOS seasons turned into after years of reworking compared to the original around the time of Images and words. I won't get into the demoing debate as it's been talked to death amongst fans.(If anyone reading this is looking for your first DT album, you can't go wrong with Awake, Images & Words, Scenes from a Memory or 6 Degrees of Inner Turbulence. They have the magic that this album is lacking).

After further thought, it might've been a good idea to just taken the beautiful light section from the middle and made it into it's own song. Not much else'd be sorely missed. Portnoys vocals do nothing for me but detract from the song. I just think that that style sounds ridiculous in the context of DT. Especially when it's a fact that 4/5ths of the band aren't into that style of music. It feels like they're trying to go along with the Kerrang metul fad for a bit of cash. Just look at the state of the promo picures over the last few years.The solo section is yet another speed battle between Petrucci and Rudess. It doesn't entirely ruin the song like many of the obligatory ones have before(Great Debate) but the overall song'd be better off without it. There's so much unfulfilled potential that it's kinda frustrating to listen to it now, knowing that this is the version that's set in stone.

All these shredfests succeed in doing is ruining the atmosphere/vibe of the tune. Thankfully it's not as bad on BC&SL(this album) as it was on Systematic Chaos but it's still very noticeable. If they insist on having solo sections, then why don't they change the dynamics between soloists or take a full solo in each tune instead of having them back to back as if it's a contest to see who can fit the most notes into their solo as possible. I don't know? Anything really as long as it's different! The Yngwie trades have been done to death. The bebot solo in AROP is pretty cool as it's something new and unexpected at the very least but it's its placement in song that doesn't work.

Another reason the solo sections have become so monotonous is that for the past few years is that DT dropped chord changes in favour of riffy vamps. Look at A Trial of Tears for example. That solo section rocks. Very interesting chord changes led to a memorable kick ass solo section. The Holdsworth style guitar lead is followed by one of DTs best keyboard solos and the whole thing works perfectly within the context of the song. Nowadays they just vamp on some minor key with the double bass in 16ths. The Shattered fortress(guitar solo) and the best of times take the chordal approach and they sound so much better. I've read Rudess prefers the to play chordally and Petrucci likes the modal approach more but it always seems to be the other way around on the albums.

I amn't one for lyrics but there's no escaping them on this 'un. The complete lack of subtlety combined with such epic music make alotta of the singing cringeworthy, cheesy and hard to take seriously. I, like most of you I'm sure, love good cheese but I think you'll agree that there's nothing worse than bad cheese. Singing epic songs as if your life depended on it is all well and good if you've got great lyrics to back you up. It can be very effective and touching.(ie ACOS) The lyrics on this album really work against LaBrie whose voice sounds phenomenal for the most part. I personally, can't stand when DT use opposites such as systematic chaos, wonderful misery and beautiful agony. It just sounds a tad lame and immature. Another problem I have would be that they leave absolutely nothing to the imagination. They just describe stuff happening. It's boring.

If they wrote the words as they were writing the music then both aspects of the song would feed off each other. The lyrics would inspire more fitting sections in the music and there'd be no more out of place solo sections. Disasters like the 'Day after day' section in ANTR could be avoided. IMO, Portnoys metal vocals don't fit in with DTs music. This could just be me as I know a loada people love 'em but they definitely do not work if you try to do Opethesque vocals about how lucky people are that they survived a car crash and what a miracle it was. I also think that a lot of LaBrie vocals on the album have been ruined by doubling up with Portnoy.(TCOT TBOT)

There are some new problems unique to this album that I am pretty surprised at. Completely unrelated chord changes and musical ideas that I cannot believe Jordan was a part of, giving his thorough background in musical theory, can be found scattered throughout this album. The AA song is a good example. The Root of all evil singing section is so unrelated to the tune that it sounds like something you'd hear in a DT ad with a few songs played back to back in a medley fashion.(8:25) You're half waiting for that movie voice guy to start talking about Progressive Nation. I can't describe it. Just listen and you'll hear it. As for the rest of that song which is IMO, the weakest on the album(well maybe AROP but at least it's new), it feels like a cop out, a failed experiment that some kid's done with protools in his bedroom. There's very little new material and the second half of the song sounds just plain glued together and wrong to my ears.

There's a lot of 'been there, done that' going on throughout BC&SL. Everything is familiar, from the blatant Spirit of the Radio/RedBarchetta Rush tribute in The Best of Times to nearly all the half time epic sections sounding like variations of Octavarium themes or The Ministry of Lost Souls. The strange thing is that Portnoys playing on these sections seems kind of ropey and unsure as if the band aren't comfortable with the slow tempo or something. The instrumental at the start of TCOT sounds like a self parody or a bad DT clone band. Half those riffs sound more like fills that have been copied and pasted from previous DT songs and then looped for 4 bars.(3:42) Their unnecessary use of time signatures for the sake of being proggy feels so forced. They're in 6 but all the time sigs just sound like 6 + whatever number they choose because they accent every beat robotically instead of flowing and grooving naturally.

I noticed that you can really hear the editing throughout the album which is very off putting. Punch ins etc. Whole sections just sound thrown together in a computer giving the album an incomplete sound in dire need of polishing and refining. It soundslike one hellovan expensive demo. All this combined makes a lot of the disc feel dead and lifeless. At least the laid of the compression a tad. Petrucci's tone is a bit strange and digital and the cymbals sound a bit funky but it's a big step up from SC in terms of sound quality. The snare is pretty weak sounding too. It sounds like he isn't hitting hard enough or something.

The bands desire to fit in with the music scene of today really irks me. Many of the chorus' are so clichéd and cheesy that they ruin entire songs.(AROP TCOT I section etc) The band now write 2 obligatory pop song per album. They've said that they don't feel as comfortable writing short songs. Then why do it? It really shows. DT fans(most) don't listen for songs like I Walk Beside You or Constant Motion.(I hope). They say they like to mix things up on albums by having a contrast between the long and short songs. That's fine but a short song doesn't have to follow the DT pop song formula of riff verse chorus, riff verse chorus, solo section, chorus. It's incredibly predictable and dull. The jarring transition from the solo section of A Rite of Passage to the chorus at the end can be blamed on DTs formulaic approach. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that nearly every dodgy transition in this album can be blamed on DTs formulaic approach to song writing in general. Instead of going with the natural flow, like they used to, you can almost hear them saying, 'Crap, now we've gotta find a way to get back to this bit,' and then settling on an a sub-par transition in place of something creative, innovative and actually progressive that goes with the direction of the song. It's all because of DT's reliance on this 'formula' they've found that they say makes everything much easier for them. I'm pretty sure it's widely known that if you want to be truly creative, you need to get out of your comfort zone. Look at Scenes and I&W for example. DT need to have the carpet pulled from under them. Portnoy has openly says in interview that they treated it like just another album. Business as usual. That's not the way to go about making an album. If he put half the time he puts into other stuff and concentrated it on the music who knows what we'd have in our hands. Instead of doing the cover disc I would've much preferred the band to concentrate on their own songs. I'll say it again. How can one of the biggest 'prog' bands in the world be so conservative?

I know this review comes off as very harsh but as a huge DT fan I was convinced that they would've learnt from their mistakes on SC and taken into account the harsh criticism it has gathered over the past 2 years. I was wrong and I'm disappointed.

Here's some positives to lighten the mood. 3 Incredible JP solos. (TBOT TSF & Wither) Rudess' intros, outros and ambience are really nice. The clean guitar tone is so I&Wesque. James sounds incredible. Not much compression. A Nightmare to Remember has one of the best DT sections since 6'.

I just realised that I forgot John Myung was in the band. I didn't even notice until I thought about it. Ha!

To sum it up : A Nightmare to Remember(6/10): Best song with some really bad bits. I love the middle section though. A Right of Passage(2/10): One of DTs worst. Sounds like they trying to hard to be hip. Just plain, bland and predictable. Wither(6/10)It's not bad but it's not that good either. At least it works as a song. Shattered Fortress(1/10): Cop out. Terrible transitions and flow. TBOT(5/10) The lyrics, Portnoys vocals and the similarities to a loada other stuff ruins it for me. Good Melodies to be found though and a great solo. TCOT(3/10): It's just 3 below average DT songs stuck together with some excellent fleeting glimpses of classic DT sprinkled in to tease me some more.

Overall, it's a bit better than SC but not by much. Lightyears away from the top half of their back catalogue. There's a loada great bit's that overall don't gel well together. Maybe it's time to face the fact that the DT I love aren't coming back anytime soon. I got my hopes up for the last 3 albums and was let down. Hopefully in a few years time I'll randomly see a new DT album in the shop, pick it up and it'll blow my head off.(in the good sense of the phrase) Until then, JP does say that "all the finest wines improve with age". Hopefully the same can be said about this album. Ha! I wish.

Report this review (#223499)
Posted Saturday, June 27, 2009 | Review Permalink
5 stars 4.5 stars This is not just another Dream Theater album, this has the most inspiration and focus I've heard from the band in ten years. I do not hesitate in calling this as good as "Images & Words" and "Scenes from a Memory", if not the best album they ever did, especially if I focus on the last three songs of the album. (it is unusual how the best is in the end rather than the beginning, though at least their opener is very good)

Yes, the band is finally back. It does not mean that it sounds completely like their 90s period ('Best of Times' and 'Count of Tuscany' are heavily influenced by that period though) because it doesn't sound too different sonically from the previous two albums. On a positive note, they have improved on the riff department and generally avoided doing complicated riffs that don't work. Most riffs are tight, heavy, and appropriate to the mood. In addition, Portnoy (drummer) works with the riffs very well. Finally, "The Count of Tuscany" is probably the best epic they ever did. Apart from a couple of very slight flaws and some silly lyrics, it's nearly perfect.

To show the focus on songwriting, I'll describe in detail the first epic, which isn't really a highlight of the album but it's still excellent for the most part.

A Nightmare to Remember begins with a piano and then explodes into a massive wall of gothic metal chords, a dirty and tight metal riff introduces the rough vocals introducing the story of a brutal car crash that Petrucci experienced. A different riff with soloing on top is there for variation, the previous riff comes back. After it, there is a seamless transition into a more melancholic and beautiful chorus with a different tempo and time signature. Yet another riff introduces another section describing the car crash. The vocals/lyrics could have been a bit better tho but it quickly redeems itself with a beautiful vocal melody with instrumentation similar to the gothic intro, I'll call it the "Main Theme"

Another seamless transition introduces the hospital scene in an acoustic gothic fashion. There are various soft guitar motifs in this piece and Labrie is sounding much better than usual. It gets better when it gets to the longish chorus, with beautiful vocal harmonies in the 'beautiful agony' and 'wonderful misery' lines. The 2nd half of the choruses are fuller and uplifting. The second verse/chorus are variations of the first with electric guitars this time.

The soloing section is a bit flawed. While I am glad it brought back a previous riff, the guitar/keyboard duels go for a bit too long for a studio. Fortunately, it easily transitions to the "Main Theme". The guitar shreds very tastefully and carefully finishes in a way so that there is another great transition:

A very metal guitar melody introduces Mike Portnoy's rhythmic rough vocals and I can see why many criticize them. While I tolerate them , I do not like the two growls that come afterwards: he's no Opeth. What I should criticize are the lyrics nearly the end. It sounds odd hearing tough metal vocals with lyrics such as "it's a miracle he lived" "it's a blessing no one died" "everyone survived graaarg". I love how the cool metal riffs start blending and transitioning into more playful riffs only to reintroduce the 'dirty riff' in a different time-signature, which sounds awesome in 3/4 and the 6/4 chorus from the first section then is brought back. After a brief reference to the car crash riff, the "Main Theme" reappears while having in the background references from the part where Mike growled as well as the keyboards from the gothic wall of sounds that introduced the song.

Does this sound like a typical Train of Thought epic? No! They finally went back to writing songs! As a previously mentioned, the sounds of the guitars, keyboards, drums are more reminiscent to the modern Dream Theater albums. It's just the focus in songwriting (how the ideas seems connected especially), the inspired drumming, and Labrie's much improved vocals that is so refreshing (I dare call it his best moment in Dream Theater). I usually don't like his vocals but in here I almost always enjoy them.

There is a short ballad to show that they can write a nice radio-friendly song. It's called Wither and fortunately Labrie sounds excellent here, multi-tracking his vocals in the choruses. My favorite moment being when it's just a piano and Labrie until Petrucci plays an uplifting Queen-inspired guitar solo. Not a highlight and a bit poppy, but I like it.

The Best of Times shows more songwriting chops: it is a heartfelt song written for Mike Portnoy's father who died. They managed to write it before he passed away and showed it to him. While the introduction is very acoustic and melancholic and some lyrics in the middle can be heartbreaking, this is a positive song full of major chords, especially in the hard-rock parts that sound very much like Rush (instead of criticizing the band, I'll assume his father is a big fan of Rush). The ending of the song is similar in style to the soaring end of "Ministry of Lost Souls" of their previous album and is one of the very best Petrucci solos I've heard so far.

Also, showing their heavy chops, they succeeded in Shattered Fortress , the last part of the AA suite, regarding Portnoy fighting alcoholism. Many of the riffs and melodies in this song are variations of themes from the AA suite, usually improving on the originals. Therefore, this song has a very complicated structure and may seem a bit incoherent and all over the place at first listen, especially the first half. It makes sense after many listens and along with "The Count of Tuscany" is one of the best songs they ever did. The second half of the song, starting with the bone-crushing guitar riff with a synthesizer solo on top, is incredibly enjoyable.

Before writing about "The Count of Tuscany" which might be the best extended song they ever did, I'll talk about the weak song of the album: A Rite of Passage . It is unfortunately the single of the album, I suppose due to an excellent chorus that is catchy in a good way. It doesn't have that much more to offer and shows the weaknesses of the previous albums: weak transitions (chorus to verse), uninspired main riff overstaying its welcome (despite sounding cool in the undistorted intro), overlong soloing, and Ruddess playing aimlessly with atrocious timbres that just aren't metal.

Now, the masterpiece, I will not describe it in detail as it has as many musical ideas. You know from the elegant introduction that this is something special. This epic is quite like a summary of their discography, minus the soloing. You have the 00's wacky and/or catchy synthesizer riffs (they're all very good, especially the ones after the 2nd chorus), you have the Awake-inspired metal moments, Portnoy's rough backup vocals, stadium-friendly choruses like their modern albums and soundscapes that remind of Octavarium (song) and Trial of Tears. If you pay attention in the soundscapes section, you notice a melody that is played in the finale. The finale, by the way, is what does not fit as a 'summary' since it's different. It starts with acoustic guitar strumming and a gradual build up to a surprisingly restrained climax where you can notice in the background motifs from the beginning.

4.5 stars, but I round it up because I made my own version of the album with only the four long songs. In this tracklist that I recommend (Shattered Fortress after A Nightmare to Remember), you get an hour of non-stop entertainment, which is something I do not get in any album of theirs. This tracklist (without "Rite of Passage" and "Wither") is the best Dream Theater album.

Report this review (#223665)
Posted Sunday, June 28, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars Well here we go. The highly anticipated new Dream Theater album. There was a lot of buzz on this release and of course much of it from the band was that this was comparable to their older stuff. It isn't and like most bands, there is no way for a band to pull that off. And it's okay!!

The new album has elements of the last album "Systematic Chaos", it even has the same tracklisting blueprint (long songs, 2 shorter songs). There are elements of "Octavarium" as well which is one of my favorite Dream Theater albums. So here's a review, track by track:

1. A Nightmare To Remember: Musically dark and overall, the music works. It's heavy but doesn't do anything stupid. The problem with the song is Mike Portnoy's attempt at death vocals in the one spot in the song. I like death vocals but you have to actually be GOOD at it to pull it off. Otherwise it sounds silly which is the case here. If Portnoy wanted death vocals, call up Mikael from Opeth! Lyrically, the song is about a car accident that John Petrucci was in as a child. The lyrics are kinda dull since the song sounds evil musically but nothing really bad happened in the accident. Kinda pointless lyrically, which is a theme on this album.

2. A Rite Of Passage: The first single/video. Musically the song kicks ass and the chorus is one of their better ones. Melodic and still heavy. Lyrically, the song is about freemasonry. Yeah not very interesting topic. Petrucci tries to make it sound like they are some bizarre club but it doesn't work. The melody lines save the lyrics. The iPhone solo is odd but I like it.

3. Wither: Might be my favorite song. The power ballad. Completely written by John Petrucci. Great melody and music. Lyrically it is about writer's block which might explain all of his other lyrics on the album. Hot tip: the other 3 guys in the band all can write lyrics and can't do much worse than some of the lyrics on this album and the last one. I love this song through. They needed more like it.

4. The Shattered Fortress: The final chapter of the "12 Step Suite". It uses riffs and melodies from ALL of the other songs in the suite which on one hand is cool but on the other hand they sound rather "cut and paste". Portnoy's yelling is not as bad as the first song but he needs to step back and be a backing vocalist only. I do like the song, it's as good as "Glass Prison" but not as good as "Root Of All Evil". My opinion of course.

5. The Best Of Times: Portnoy's tribute to his late father, Howard. Musically the best song on the album and guess what lyrically the best song on the album, so yes it's my favorite. The song is basically what the band does best. High energy with emotion, great solos. The album needed more in this vein.

6. The Count Of Tuscany: Musically this is amazing. Very Rush-like. Lyrically, it's about some count that Petrucci met that apparently scared him and made him fear for his life. Yeah, dumb lyric alert. The melodies are great and like Petrucci's other lyrical contributions, the melody covers for the piss poor lyrics. Why doesn't he write the melody and ask John Myung for some lyrics??? It's baffling.

So overall, the album is a very good album but not a GREAT album. I like it better than "Systematic Chaos" or "Train Of Thought" but it isn't in the same league as "Images And Words" or "Octavarium" (my 2 favorites) or even "Awake". It's an album that takes a while to digest. The good news for me is I ordered the "Collector's Editions" which comes with a bonus disc which allows you to mix your own versions of the songs. Yes those pesky growls are going to be edited out!

Report this review (#223773)
Posted Monday, June 29, 2009 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Black Clouds and Silver Linings: We haven't had enough reviews of this album over the past week so I had to chime in my two cents worth.

For starters, this is one of the best albums of the Rudess era, the music is great, Petrucci's playing is top notch, LaBrie's voice sounds better than it has in a while and Rudess doesn't seem to be trying to see how many notes he can fit in every single measure of ever single song. Ok, the last one may have been a bit of an exaggeration, how about this, Rudess really works well in a band environment on this album.

All six songs on the album are at least 'pretty good' in my opinion.

'A Nightmare to Remember' has a spine tingling bit in the middle, the 'beautiful agony' bit if you will. It's one of those classic Dream Theater moments with Petrucci playing a really tasteful background lick. LaBrie has the room to shine here, unfortunately the lyrics that he's singing are the weakest part of the album. More on that later.

'A Rite of Passage' is really catchy, strangely, I find myself singing this tune a lot, especially just after I've woken up. I think I'm secretly being recruited in my sleep. Eh, it gives me something to look forward to.

'Whither' is a decent ballad and 'The Shattered Fortress' is a good ending for the twelve step suite. The best of times is obviously a touching tribute to Mr. Portnoy's father and I can respect the sentiment.

'The Count of Tuscany' is the twenty minute epic finale to the album and tells the story of John Petrucci getting the heck scared out of him. It's a great song, the chorus is catchy, the guitar sweep solo at the end is really pretty as well.

My biggest issue with the album is that the lyrics are not on par with what Dream Theater is capable of. In many cases, most notably Nightmare and Tuscany, the lyrics are repetitive and immature. I think 'The Count of Tuscany' could have told a much more compelling story had the lyrics been better. Maybe a recount of a terrifying experience or an insightful look at the differences between different cultures. Instead, we get a sophomoric dialog that really detracts from the song. Please, there is no need to use the word 'Man' in every line, change it up here and there, try using the word 'bro'.

To a lesser extent, Mike Portnoy's growling vocals are over done in my opinion.

Despite my issues with the lyrics, this is a four star album, better than anything since Six Degrees at the least and possibly the best of the Rudess era.


Report this review (#223878)
Posted Monday, June 29, 2009 | Review Permalink
5 stars Originally reviewed for

Since being turned onto Dream Theater by 2003's Train of Thought, there have been few musical experiences I can compare to waiting to hear the bands most recent effort. I experienced it with Octavarium, Systematic Chaos, and now most recently, Black Clouds and Silver Linings.

Prior to the album release I had restricted myself to only hearing the single from the album, A Rite of Passage, and strayed away from sound clips and reviews of anything else. Based on "A Rite of Passage" I expected I would be in for a treat, and the album did not disappoint! Opening with "A Nightmare to Remember" the album starts with the ominous tone of thunder in the distance, which is certainly appropriate one comes to find at as they go through the sixteen minute epic. One of the most notable features of the song is how well the differently styled verses build on one another through a majority of the song. However the cohesiveness and unity of the song seems to be derailed around the eight and a half minute mark by a solo section that seems to be horribly out of place; and that is at the end of the day my least favorite solo section on the entire album. After that the song never seems to climb back into its former glory, losing any ground it seems to gain between Portnoy's two verses of growling and experimentation into blast beats.

After that "A Rite of Passage" opens with a new, interesting, almost Arabic sounding keyboard patch from Jordan Rudess which helps to add a great bit of flavor to a metal-heavy rocker which excites from beginning to end. The bridges of the song seem to beg for an epic chorus to follow, and the song does not disappoint as it features a chorus that will have you singing along after only one listen, something that ended up being very common on this album, and one of its greatest strengths. The solo section of the song is markedly better than "A Nightmare to Remember" with the exception of Jordan's new toy, the iPhone Bebot application. However that is quickly forgotten about when the song makes an abrupt but powerful return to the chorus. A very favorable mention here should be given to John Petrucci, whose noticeable backing vocals really add an interesting depth and flavor to the chorus of this song and others on the album.

The next track, "Wither" is a rarity, for starters it is a more recent Dream Theater track clocking in at under five and a half minutes, and it was written entirely by one member, musically and lyrically, John Petrucci. Even though Petrucci wrote the song, the performances by LaBrie and Rudess on the track truly make it into a top notch song. LaBrie delivers the vocals with passion, and he uses much of the warmer voice that is often lacking from Dream Theater's material. On the other hand Jordan Rudess shines on this song, and on much of the album by approaching the song with more basic orchestration and simple piano parts that add the perfect background to Petrucci's guitar playing. Rudess certainly maintains his style and talented edge on much of the album, but on this song especially, he allows simplicity and beauty to really move things ahead. This type of style could have really helped the instrumental section of "A Nightmare to Remember" flow with the rest of the song.

Things proceed to get a bit heavier after "Wither" as Portnoy completes has saga about his fight with alcoholism in "The Shattered Fortress". Dedicated to Bill W. of alcoholics anonymous and written about steps ten through twelve of their program, the song completes a cycle that is now five albums deep. The song is the heaviest on the album, and one that contains a plethora of goodies for the diehard fans in the form of musical and lyrical references to past songs in the saga. There are a lot of them, however the diversity in technique is what keeps them fresh and interested. It's lyrics here, a guitar part here, drum pattern there, and a myriad of combinations in between. On its own it may seem a bit disjointed or seem to move around too much, but to those who know the material that came before it, it should be received as a type of musical bliss that builds on itself, combining elements both old and new, perfectly completing the saga.

The following song, "The Best of Times" is the other lyrical contribution by Mike Portnoy, and is dedicated to his father, Howard Portnoy who unfortunately passed on at the end of 2008. Featuring a guest violinist the musical intro led me to believe this would be a ballad in the vein of "Take Away My Pain", but just shy of three minutes there is an unexpected jolt of energy thrown into the song that seems to turn it from a song of mourning into a song of celebration before lyrics ever even enter the scene. The song and its lyrics portray a relationship between father and son, its sad end, and could very well leave a listener with a tear in their eye; it certainly did for at least one reviewer on his first listen to the song. The outro of the song features Petrucci's best soloing on the album, as it not only would sound fantastic standing alone, but it seems to blend perfectly with the song, ending it flawlessly.

Only its sixth track, Black Clouds and Silver Linings comes to a close with nineteen minutes of "The Count of Tuscany". An odd story that will give people who do not care for Petrucci's more recent lyrics something gripe about, musically it is as solid as anything else on the album, featuring a nice long instrumental introduction followed by quick riff driven verses that grab the listener and take them along for the ride the story is providing. Keyboard and guitar leads alike are tasteful throughout the song, connecting the lyrical sections very well, and the song features one of the many catchy and majestic choruses. Also present is an atmospheric section reminiscent of the beginning of "Octavarium", or even "Trial of Tears", which is a nice break just past the midway point of the song. Following that section the entire band plays it simple for awhile, perfectly executing a build that required limited playing ability, but a whole lot of restraint on their part. A simple acoustic guitar part, vocals, an eventually introduction of a simple keyboard pattern, relatively easy drum intro, and before you know it the entire song seems back into full swing in then unparalleled beauty and majesty.

All in all, one of Dream Theater's best efforts to date, with sections of "A Nightmare to Remember" and one solo in "A Rite of Passage" being my only complaints about the album musically. It seemed all the musicians seemed to grow a bit on this album, Rudess with a lot more simplistic atmospheric work, Petrucci with an amazing guitar solo outro in "The Best of Times", John Myung providing the always needed backbone to a variety of song styles, James using his deeper more passionate voice as heard in "Wither", and Portnoy showing some more simplistic patterns at times, while still showing why he deserves his cult following amongst drummers in a song like "The Shattered Fortress". The sound of the album warrants minor complaints, mainly that at times it seems just a tad too thick, perhaps even a bit muddy, and the drums can get a bit lost and flat at times, but really these are minor complains in an album otherwise well engineered album. Simply put, this album delivers from beginning end, combining old Dream Theater trademarks with a newer more refined style that should please old and new fans alike.

Composition: 9/10 Sound: 9/10 Musicianship: 10/10 Final Presentation: 10/10

Overall: 95%

Report this review (#223908)
Posted Monday, June 29, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars Dream Theater returns to form while paradoxically remaking themselves yet again. This album was nothing like what I expected but all that I wanted. DT hits hard with the metal while providing soaring melodies organized into epic scores (although whither and a rite of passage which provide some variety. LaBrie gives his best performance yet. It took some time, they figured out how best to write for him. Petrucci and Ruddess work together in perfect balance this time. Petrucci takes his time for delicious melodies but still shreds it at the right times. Ruddess sets the mood, adding depth and even soloing secondarily. Portnoy is true to form providing stellar percussion with awe inspiring speed at times. The lyrics are more evocative and powerful than ever from DT (except a rite of passage). Portnoy touchingly bares all in The Best of Times for a truly moving piece. This album is why I listen to music, so it is with a shout of joy that I give five stars.
Report this review (#223909)
Posted Tuesday, June 30, 2009 | Review Permalink
2 stars First and foremost: Who let Mike Portnoy open his mouth?

This album should come with a warning that says, "This album contains Mike Portnoy's death growls."

That's right. I guess the band decided that this would be a good idea, but judging by the other reviews on this site, most people consider it to be a very bad idea. Unfortunately, the problems don't end here.

I have been monitoring Dream Theater's downward progression ever since Kevin Moore's Departure over fifteen years ago. Today, it is difficult to believe that Dream Theater are the same visionaries that made masterpieces like Images and Words back in the early nineties. Instrumentally and lyrically, the band has become so much less ambitious.

Eclectic moods and atmospheres have been replaced by an omnipresent metal tone that could be tolerated if it didn't dominate ninety percent of the disk. Surreal reflections and vivid poetry have been replaced by painfully literal lyrics that take themselves far to seriously. First rate songs falling between the length of 5 and 8 minutes have been abandoned in favor of hopelessly tiring epics, which do not come close to justifying their allotted length. The list goes on; everything that once made Dream Theater the champions of modern progressive music has faded.

Many of the signature aspects of Dream Theater's music are still here. The technical proficiency you would expect from men like Portnoy and Petrucci is still here, and they have no problem letting it be known. Each song contains a generous solo spot, or in the case of "A Nightmare to Remember", a million generous solo spots. There are still a million and one time signature changes, quantum level stop-and-go rhythms, guitar/keyboard duels, ambiance, ect.

The problem is that it is all done wrong. The soloing is done for the sake of soloing, and almost seems like masturbation after not too long. Ambiance seems to be used for sake of telling a story, which in the case of this album is completely unnecessary, because the lyrics are already horrifically blatant.

The lowest moment on this album is Mike Portnoy's "The Shattered Fortress," the conclusion to his epic AA Saga. The intro is promising enough, ruined by the vocals when they enter. Here we get Mike shouting phrases like "serenity!" and "freedom!" over chugging metal riffs - completely inappropriate to honor seven and a half year's sobriety. This song is composed almost entirely of DT riffs found in previous AA songs, so it really offers nothing new, except for a few solos which contribute very little. Half way through, we get an absurdly low voice that sounds something like Rush's "The Necromancer" reciting AA rhetoric. All in all, the premise for this song is almost too ridiculous to take seriously. Throughout, the music is unrelentingly dark and brooding, making me suspect a relapse is on it's way soon.

This album is not without redemption. "Wither" is a smashing ballad about writer's block, and features the album's most genuine lyrics by far. The beginning of "The Best of Times" has some gorgeous piano and violin work. Throughout there are bits and pieces of brilliance, scattered in the waste. But if you are anything like me, and pine for a true return to the classic era of DT, you are not likely to find a single song on this album that really satisfies you as this band should.

This album is not recommended to anyone who didn't like the albums "Train of Thought" and "Octavarium." This album is by far Dream Theater's worst to date, and I find it doubtful that they will ever return to the majesty of Albums like "Images and Words" and "Awake."

Report this review (#224009)
Posted Tuesday, June 30, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars "Black Clouds & Silver Linings" roughly falls on the 20th anniversary of Dream Theater's first major release. Longtime Dream Theater fans will not be disappointed and those new to their music will find this recording to be a good introduction.

As usual, Dream theater exhibit their usual prowess as masters of the hard rock/metal genre, executing technical arrangements with seemingly flawless skill that has maintained their appeal to musicians and progressive rock fans for years.

The only shortcoming may be their tendency to utilize recurring themes in their music, which often come off as recycled melodies and lyrics. Nevertheless, this release has several highlights and original excursions. Not the least of which is the bonus disk "Uncovered 2008/2009" which comes with the Special Edition packages. Here they produce stunning reproductions of music by Queen, Iron Maiden, Dixie Dregs etc. -- Highly recommended.

Lyrical themes include forays into Freemasonry, human tragedy, alcoholism (which sheds light on an earlier release titled: Glass Prison), and a tribute to Mike Portnoy's father (the drummer). Detailed listening notes wouldn't do justice to the music but The Count of Tuscany, clocking in at over nineteen minutes in length, has proved to be a gem. The song represents a culmination of what progressive fans love. The track begins with an uplifting progression that gradually builds to an in-your-face melody which breaks into a dreamy excursion then recapitulates an earlier theme. Even though this track, again, uses seemingly tiresome musical themes from earlier Dream Theater releases, it is likely to become a Dream Theater favorite.

Report this review (#224037)
Posted Tuesday, June 30, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars Unlike most people, I loved "Octavarium". However, I can't deny that since "Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence" the quality of Dream Theater music dropped a little bit. So, after the decent "Systematic Chaos", and some comments from Jordan Rudess about this album entering the "gothic" domain, I wasn't very hopeful about this release. So, of course, I wasn't expecting an incredible album that I'd give a five star review. This is possibly the best album from Dream Theater since "Scenes from a Memory". This hints back at Dream Theater's earlier sound, while maintaining the more edgy prog metal sound that defines their newer releases. This has the perfect blend between the two, and makes for a very good release.

"A Nightmare to Remember"- The opening track was written about a car accident John Petrucci was in as a child. It starts out with a very dark, haunting piano melody. It turns into heavy gothic chords on organ with a choir. At one point Mike Portnoy even growls! No, he isn't Mikael Akerfeldt, but he does an okay job. It doesn't do his voice any justice, but this song highlights Mike Portnoy's drumming virtuoso. This has insanely fast double bass pedals and also shows how well he uses different cymbals. Now traditional prog fans, do not be worried. The whole song is not heavy gothic-influenced metal. It has some nice choruses and emotional sections. A great opener!

"A Rite of Passage"- This song gets way too much crap. Yes, it is a single. But so what? It is a very good one without a doubt. I find it almost hilarious that this song is 'too commercial', while "Pull Me Under" doesn't get any complaints, and that was a top 10 hit! I actually find this song to be better, but it almost proves how more recent Dream Theater gets unfairly criticized more so than their earlier releases. It has a nice main riff with a great chorus. I like LaBrie's voice more than I typically do on this song. A highly underrated song that is really good if you don't listen to what other people say about it.

"Wither"- The third song on the album shows the softer side of Dream Theater. It is pretty much a ballad with a nice build into the chorus. My favorite part of the song is near the end. It seems to completely die down, and it's just James LaBrie singing with a piano for a few bars. Then, almost out of nowhere comes a guitar solo that is the highest point in the song. The great thing about "Wither" is the way it builds beautifully.

"The Shattered Fortress"- This is the conclusion to what Mike Portnoy now calls the "Twelve Step Suite", instead of what used to be known as the "Alcoholics Anonymous Suite". This is completely mind-blowing. I not only love this song, but it go me to like the first two songs in the suite that, prior to this song, I didn't like. When listened to as one giant completed suite, the music has an epic feeling, and this actually got me to love the suite.

"The Best of Times"- This song was written by Mike Portnoy about his life together with his father. This was written prior to his father's death, and he got to show his father the song before his death. The song starts out with emotional piano chords, and then a violin melody comes in. This is then continued with guitar. And just when you think this is going to be a very depressing song a shredding guitar comes in. This goes into a more uplifting section that introduces a great chorus. It then has the great lyric "you can pray for a change/but prepare for the end". Then it goes back into the melody at the beginning of the song. There is another more emotional singing section that ends on a great guitar solo that is possibly one of my favorites from John Petrucci. It highlights how he can use speed and emotion perfectly. This really is a great song and is quite possibly my favorite song on Dream Theater's tenth release.

"The Count of Tuscany"- The closing epic on BC&SL. This is one of my favorite Dream Theater mega epics without a doubt. For people strictly against prog metal, still give this one a shot. This song sounds very much like Rush and Pink Floyd without many prog metal sections. This has great guitar work, and I love the way this song isn't laid out like many other Dream Theater epics of this length. Some DT epics were almost predictable at times, but rest assured. This isn't predictable at all. This is a softer epic from DT, and a great one as well. Dream Theater pulled off another great epic here.

Well, what more is there to say? This is a great album for anyone looking for a Dream Theater album that generally represents them best. Mike Portnoy described Black Clouds & Silver Linings as a Dream Theater album with "A Change of Seasons", "Octavarium", "Learning to Live", "Pull Me Under" and "The Glass Prison" all on one album. He certainly didn't lie. It has all the different sounds of Dream Theater on one release. It has some of their heaviest work ever and also has some of their lightest. This is a great place to start listening to Dream Theater. If you generally don't like prog metal, definitely get this. This could be the complete turnaround for you.

EDIT DECEMBER 2009: I think I was a little to quick to give Dream Theater's 2009 release a 5 star rating. I still think it's a great album, but I think it tires after about 10 listens. I've lowered my rating to a 4, but I still highly recommend this!

4 stars.

Report this review (#224039)
Posted Tuesday, June 30, 2009 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars If you're already a Dream Theater fan then you know the drill by now - complex prog metal with John Petrucci's guitar shredding solos and heavy riffing, Mike Portnoy hitting everything in sight with complex rhythmic structures, constantly shifting yet solid as a rock. Then there's James LaBrie's classic rock style vocal gymnastics. As usual John Myung's bass is buried in the mix and the excellent Jordan Rudess on keyboards constantly looking for a place to fit and be heard over Petrucci's guitar. So no great leaps forward stylistically, unless you count Portnoys unwelcome attempt at injecting some death metal style growling. Ultimately then it's down to whether the songs are any good or not. Well there's some excellent moments ( a few duff ones) but not enough to make it a 5 star classic, the only time dream Theater having achieved this is being on Scenes From A Memory.

It doesn't get any better than on 16 minute opener A Nightmare To Remember - a brooding dark sounding track, Portnoy showing the Axenrot's (Opeth) of this world that he too can play warp speed double bass drum rolls. The expected myriad of twists and turns keeping the track never less than interesting. A mid song lull adding some light and shade giving more impact to the heavier parts. It also features Portnoy's first attempt on the album to inject his death growls; no thanks Mike. Whether this is an attempt or not to come across as more contempory I don't know. Whatever it's unnecessary and not what I want to hear in Dream Theater songs. Fortunately it's short lived.

I first heard A Rite Of Passage on a free Classic Rock magazine cd a while back and thought at the time if this is as good as it gets then the new album is going to be a disappointment. Fortunately it turns out to be the worst track on the album - nothing particularly bad or good and is basically Dream Theater by numbers. Better is Wither the token ballad giving a break to the usual bombast of most tracks.

The Shattered Fortress is another of the better tracks, the final part in Portnoy's 12 step Alcoholic's Anonymous programme. Again nothing new to report on this particularly heavy track which would sit on Train Of Thought nicely. On the first verse LaBrie trades vocal lines with Portnoy's growls though the drummers vocals being no more than a supporting role. It's not all bombast though with a spoken word mid song lull brings things down a notch or 2 and then we're revisting themes from past songs of the AA programme and a fine Petrucci guitar solo.

The Best Of Times is Portnoy's moving tribute to his father who sadly died earlier this year. Not surprisingly it starts as one of the albums quieter more reflective moments. Petrucci adding some acoustic guitar and Rudess getting more of a look in. However a 13 minute track might get a bit monotonous if it stayed in first gear and turns into something more reminiscent of the earlier days of the band. Plenty of power but melodically based rather than the dark riffing of latter years, in keeping with the sentiments of the song.

The album closes with the epic 20 minute The Count Of Tuscany. It's full of trade mark blistering instrumental workouts and it's 4 and a half minutes before the vocals come in. The first half of the song packs a strong punch. A mid song Octavarium style lull brings things down for a while after which it never reaches the same heights again which is a bit of an anti-climax in some ways despite a good vocal performance from LaBrie.

Overall then another strong album from the band but ultimately one that is unlikely to end up being anyone's favourite Dream Theater album. With no great leaps forward if you don't already like the band then this is unlikely to make a convert of you, if you do then I'm sure you'll find much to enjoy here.

Report this review (#224081)
Posted Wednesday, July 1, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars Wow. And I mean WOW!

Dream Theater has officially ended their slight dip in quality with the best album they've put out in years. Black Clouds and Silver Linings didn't exactly have to do much to trump Octavarium and Systematic Chaos, but if you were to tell me it would be THIS good I would have called you a liar. This album is masterful. It is one of the best albums they've ever put out, and contains some of the best music they've ever recorded.

A Nightmare to Remember kicks things off in a big way. This 16-minute beast is a wonderful song for new DT fans. It touches on almost every musical shift the group has been through over the last 23 years, making it a pretty good summary of what to expect if you wanted to check out some of their back catalog. Portnoy's singing in this song has gotten quite a bit of flak, and even some extremely baffling comparisons to Opeth's Mikael Akerfeldt (guys, he doesn't sound A THING like him!). Personally, yeah, it's a little jarring, but I don't mind it. I've grown to like it, as corny as it seemed at first. It fits the song, but I do wish he would stick to backing vocals. 10/10

A Rite of Passage is the weakest song on the album, but is in no way a bad song. It's a single with a huge amount of soloing in the middle which kinda drags, but is overall still a fairly great track despite it's completely unprogressive stylings. If Dream Theater were a mainstream band, this would be their output. Thankfully they aren't, and thankfully there aren't a lot of songs like this on the album. 8/10

Wither is the next song, and one that would have been a cooler single. It's a slower, more brooding piece that centers around having writer's block. It's probably the most gothic track on the album, but it's gorgeous nonetheless. I can see why they chose to put out Rite of Passage as the single, but this song is worlds better. 9/10

The Shattered Fortress is the long-awaited final step to the AA Suite. What a way to end it! It's clearly the final movement in a vast array of other movements, but it holds up pretty well on its own despite a few jarring moments structurally. Regardless, a great finish to a great suite. 9.5/10

The Best of Times is, hands-down, the most powerful song these guys have ever recorded. Dedicated to and about Mike Portnoy's father who passed away recently. It's an uplifting, fun track in the vein of Rush with beautiful lyrics and a crushing, beautiful guitar solo at the end that reminds me of The Ministry of Lost Souls, only more potent. 10/10

Finally, the album ends with The Count of Tuscany, a 20-minute monster that is not only the best song these guys have put out in years, but their most unique too. It has bits and pieces that sound clearly inspired from Yes and other 70s prog bands, along with a definite hint of Metallica and other thrash metal. It's a STUNNING piece of music, and is absolutely their finest moment on here. 10/10

I can't even begin to tell you how thrilled I am that BC&SL turned out this good. Like the title suggests, it's a dark album, but it has hopeful undertones that keep it from falling into the muck of downbeat, gross gothic music. This is DT's finest moment in 10 years. Go get this album right away.

Report this review (#224145)
Posted Wednesday, July 1, 2009 | Review Permalink
5 stars Dream Theater definately exceeded expectations with this album. After 20 years and over 10 studio albums I wouldn't be surprised if the music got stale or boring. A Rite of Passage was the only song i heard befor the album came out and i was disappointed. It very well could have been placed in any other DT album over the past 7 years. Then i heard the rest of the album

The rest of the album was magnificant. A Nightmare to Remeber was masterful. One of the heaviest songs on the album was well written and energetic. In the words of Mike Portnoy, "it had some balls". The lyrics were emotional too, some of the best lyrics since Scenes from a Memory.

The best song for me of the whole album was Wither. The token ballad of DT in a heavy and mentaly taxing album. The last few CD's left something to be desired in that category. Ministry of Lost Souls on Systematic, and The Answer Lies Within on Octavarium, and Vacant on Train of Thought, were no where near the epic and great ballads of DT's past. Finally though Wither broke through as a soft but shining moment that the fan doesnt simply skip past.

A Shattered Fortress was expected and was basically a medley of other Dream Theater songs written by Mike Portnoy about his AA. Best of Times was a pleasant surprise from James Labrie and the ever so talented Jordan Rudess. And finally, if you made it through the mental excersise of the previous 45 minute was the Dream Theater epic The Count of Tuscany.

If you cant sit and listen to an album for an hour you probably wont like this album. Maybe just put A Nightmare to Remember on a playlist. But if you really can sit and just listen for an hour you can really appreciate the level of talent on this album. I prefer it over Systematic Chaos, Awake, and Six degrees. Its very similar in many ways to Octavarium. i give it a 4.5

Report this review (#224148)
Posted Wednesday, July 1, 2009 | Review Permalink
1 stars I didnt know john myung left the band what a shame , hes on the album cover but you cant here him anywhere on the album. To date this is some of the bands worst ,I am a big fan but it seems these guys have run out of ideas, shattered fortress sounds to similar to IRON MAIDENS face in the sand Petrucci plays the double bass drum part check it out. Best of times is a copy from yngwie malmsteens icarus dream suite opus 4 . The fact that they had to go back to copying their old material proves my point yes they have done this before but not to this extent. Hey when did cookie monster join the band oh sorry that's mike portnoy. Hey Mike if i want to here about AA I'll go to a meeting AA works best when your anonymous!!! Sorry for the random thoughts but I was very disappointed with this album I expect so much more from these guys givin how talented they are and how innovative they have been in the past. The high points are Petrucci's guitar work he is so gifted it amazes me but I still long for their earlier style when they played with convition
Report this review (#224157)
Posted Wednesday, July 1, 2009 | Review Permalink
3 stars As is normal every 18 or so months I find myself HAVING to write a review to explain my thoughts on a particular album; once again Dreamtheater are the subject of my dissection! The new CD 'Black clouds and silver linings' is (in my opinion) a step up from the previous effort 'Systematic chaos', in only that there are simply better songs on offer here. Now, this does not mean it is in any shape or form a return to the quality of 'Scenes from a memory', 'Six degrees..' or 'Images and words' but it IS a step in the right direction. So onto the album, but first off; I cannot believe I am writing this AGAIN, but once again John Myung has been completely obliterated by the mix. I feel bad for the guy, he has slowly disappeared from the albums and now with this offering I cannot hear him at all 90% of the time. I just don't get it! At least they pushed the keyboard faders up a bit here on this album; Rudess is at least audible most of the time. I have to say that 'Black clouds and silver linings' of ALL the DT albums screams for a producer to give these guys a clearer and more streamlined sound. Portnoy's drums have never sounded worse and Petrucci's guitar has never crushed the rest of the band as much as this album. If they don't trust an industry producer then get someone like Steven Wilson to do it, we KNOW he can mix an album well. Imagine how good THAT would sound?!? So to the songs; well, I think (as I said) that they are of generally a higher standard than the last CD so all in all this album comes off better. 'A nightmare to remember' starts things off with a very atmospheric and creepy feeling. It's a clear metal song but it works well enough and the middle soft section is superb stuff. 'A rite of passage' is an oddity to me; it's an OK song but even though it is fairly short (compared to the huge four 12 min+ selections) I think it goes on a bit too long, with just too much soloing for the sake of it. This band is clearly talented, we ALL know that, but sometime they need to just cut it out in favor of the SONG. 'Wither' is the obligatory ballad/slow song and works well in that spot, it's a decent song. As for 'The shattered fortress'; jeez, I am hung up on whether this is good or not, since I seem to find myself singing along to bits from the OTHER AA songs! So I am not sure this song really stands by itself! It really does reek of 'cut and paste' to be honest and I wish that they could have ended the whole AA saga on a slightly more 'original' and meaningful note. This seems a bit of a cop out to me. Like, they knew it had to be done, so let's just make an epic song out of bits of the other songs. You never know, in an AA suite live ? which I am certain they will do at some point ? it may work- well as the conclusion anyway. I fully expect to see the whole 'AA suite' on a CD by itself on the next live set, any takers on a bet for that???? 'The best of times' is a song about Mike's dad and even though the lyrics are somewhat cheesy I think it's heartfelt and works on all levels. The solos here are very good and all in all it would be the best song on the album if it wasn't followed by.. 'The count of Tuscany' is a very 'traditional' (if that makes sense) DT song and I think their strongest effort since the song 'Octavarium'. Obviously I am prog fan so the contrasts in the song and its strong themes make it a very easy choice for the best song. Lyrically, (again) not so great, but La Brie's voice is very strong on this song ? and for that matter the whole album, so it kind of makes up for it. There was no "dark lord?" silliness on this album which made me cringe every time I played 'In the presence of enemies' so the lyrics are not that obviously bad ? as many reviewers have noted.

So to sum up: an improvement on the last CD, but still nowhere near 2002/1999/1994/1992 standards. I think they just NEED a producer so badly it hurts! Someone to clarify their sound and songwriting. Yeah, they can play WELL and solo WELL but sometimes it detracts from the song to the point of padding the number out to 12+ minutes when it really does not need to be that long. I LOVE these guys, as many of us do; I just desperately want them to make the album we KNOW they are capable of. This is not it. However, it IS good and a step in the right direction. So keep it up guys!

3.5 stars (am mystified how ANYONE could give it 5 stars! ? IAW and Six degrees.. are the only two worthy of that and I am not sure they are PERFECT)

Report this review (#224174)
Posted Wednesday, July 1, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars In the past years, dream theater released albums that was either love or hate. Some people liked the heavy stuff more and some prefered the old sound of Dream Theater. I am in the first category. I discover Dream theater with Train of thought so it's sure I like their heavy side. But it didn't mean that I don't like the old stuff. Just that I prefer the new one.

This album, I think, is a mix of the old and the new sound of DT.

The opening track, A nightmare to remember is my favourite track of the album. It has his heavy stuff and his beautiful moments. We can see the different voices that Labrie can have. He sings with aggressivity at the beginning but he has a beautiful voice in the interlude. The song sounds between progressive metal and death prog metal(extreme).

A rite of passage is very good even if it seems it was made to be a more accessible song. It has a good riff and the rythm change a lot. The chorus is good and the instrumental part is insane. The Petrucci's solo is great but jordan one sounds weird. Some part of it are good but others not. Another great song to begin this album which seem incredible after 2 songs.

Whiter brings a little bit of light in the album after 2 very dark songs.The song is slow and more emotional. The background keyborad is perfect and they did not try to prove their talent with a great performance. They kept the song simple and it's perfect.

The shattered fortress is probably the least good song of the AA sage because the best parts in the song are the parts from other songs of the saga. The song is not bad but there are not a lot of things new. There is at least a great guitar solo near the end.

After a beautoful intro, the best of times begins with a beat similar to some Rush songs. As the song progress there are different parts that are incredible. Labrie's voice is perfect for the song. The best part of the song is the ending. It is a mix of incridible drumming and a wonderful guitar solo.

I would not compare the count of tuscany with a change of season. The old one is a lot different but the count of tuscany is a great song too. The instrumental part at the beginning is good and the chorus is probably one of the best they ever wrote. There is a break in the song that is similar to the beginning of trial of tears. The slow part at the end is beautiful too.

Finally, it's another great album. It will please the old fan and the new ones. 4.5/5

Report this review (#224395)
Posted Saturday, July 4, 2009 | Review Permalink
5 stars I am impressed. The first song grabs me like no other DT song since I cannot remember. Maybe the classic low B of As I Am. The half time refrain riff is classic old DT. It is amazing that as listners we have a DT that we all love and hate. A sign of a brilliant bunch of musicians that can polarize opinions. Petrucci in picking form just does it for me I am afraid. Brilliant stuff. The whole stuff about the "growls". Oh dear get over yourselfs prog wimps. Go back to Jon Anderson singing about fairies. Geez It lasts about 10 seconds. And yes it does not work. I agree. If they are going to growl at least get John Tardy to guest spot. Yes lame all round.

The next track is heavy. It again contains those typical DT melodies. A Rainbow come tech Metal Church vibe. Its all them in the chorus though. Petrucci unleashes a solo that is well out of this world for the first few seconds. The picking Steve Morse lines are impressive.

Wither. It works. Labrie sounds great on these sort of tracks. You always think of Surrounded when you here a DT song like this. Never been bettered.

The Shattered Fortess. Familiar and heavy [&*!#]. Keyboard solos are well boring at he best of times. No doubt he is a virtuoso. AA spoken stuff well make of it what you will. The riffing is lame in the later sections. Guitar god goes again. And not much Myung to date.

Piano. Guitar. An uplifting riff and melody. Its the most direct song DT has written for a long time. Even within their precocious trickery they can still almost write a catchy song. It is there for a while but seems to disappear under well their usual stuff. The original power gets lost. And Myung makes an apperance with some glisses. It descends into a DT refrain that is all too familiar and unoriginal. Oh dear a fast solo over a neo-classical progression. Dude we know you can do it. Very disappointing for me.

Tuscany- One of those floating ryhthm section pieces with numerous unison runs then a "thrash" section and vocals. A lot better in its execution than I thought it would be.

This is a great album. It just feels more like a classic DT release. I don't know why.

Report this review (#224723)
Posted Monday, July 6, 2009 | Review Permalink
5 stars If you're a big Dream Theater fan like myself, you're likely to find greatness in all of their albums. At the same time, you're likely to find things you don't like. After all, DT is not the type of band to do the same thing over and over again. And lets face it, they've been progressing to a more metallic sound with each release, and it's definitely hard to please everyone.

With that said, I think their latest release, "Black Clouds and Silver Linings", is probably the first album in a while that really meets the criteria for satisfying their prog-rock and prog-metal camps of fans. Don't mistake me, this albums rocks really hard, and there are very intense, thrash-infected moments on this album. However, the album also has a vibe that matches up better with the music on "Images & Words" and "Octavarium", as opposed to that found on "Systematic Chaos." All of the songs tend to have very melodic passages, and the noodling (which I happen to love in the right doses) seems to be more of a compliment this time, rather than the key element.

Track Reviews:

1. A Nightmare to Remember - The hard, Gothic chord progression, double-bass drumming, etc. that begins this song definitely brings to light "Systematic Chaos", but right off the bat, something is also different. Like many of the songs on this album, it's about a personal subject matter as opposed to fantasy, and it shows, both in the music and in the lyrics. The band is certainly in top form, and the solo sections are as exciting as always, but the song is also very melodic and well done overall. 4/5

2. A Rite of Passage - This song is similar to Constant Motion, but a little better done in my opinion. James' vocals did not return to the James Hetfield like phrasing, which is a good thing. 3.5/5

3. Wither - Probably the band's best foray into this style of song. 4/5

4. The Shattered Fortress - Man, what a great way to end Mike Portnoy's saga that started with "The Glass Prison" a few years back. As expected, the song does a theme-and-variations on the entire series, yet has enough new moments to give the song its own identity. I'm very curious to see what DT does with this series live now that it has been completed. 5/5

5. The Best of Times - Obviously a very personal song. The beginning motifs remind me of Rush's "The Spirit of Radio" and frankly, what better song to show off your influences. After that, the song develops in its own right into one of their very best. 5/5

6. "The Count of Tuscany" At first, this song greatly surprised me. I would have originally though that this track would be where DT throws in everything, including the kitchen sink. To my pleasant surprise, it's not. Granted, the song is complex and structured into multple movements, but flow is great, and when it ends, it's hard to believe 19 minutes went by. The song starts (once again) with a very Rush-sounding structure, but then moves to to a darker, more metalic middle section. After some great solos, it moves on to an atmospheric section that acts as a prelude to the finale. All in all, one of their best epics. 5/5

As for the "covers" section of this album, all I can say is that DT's taste is impeccable, choice of songs is right on, and execution is flawless. In the end, they succeeded in adding their own style to a bunch of great songs without over-doing it. 5/5

Overall, I think "BC&SL" is one of Dream Theater's best, most rewarding albums. And, if you can pick up the copy with the cover songs, you'll be even more satisfied.

Report this review (#224743)
Posted Monday, July 6, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars I guess this is the usual stuff you can expect of these masters of the prog-metal. Well, I've been fan from them since Metropolis Pt_2 and I like more the "Kevin Moore Era" but still like the last albums from the band. Guess Systematic Chaos wasn't that good, but still rocks. Ok, I didn't have too much expectation to this album, but I found myself very pleassed after the third listening. What I say is, you have to let the songs grow into you... there are pretty long songs, with a lot of different moods a dramatic parts, so you have to dive in and let the song carry you to somewhere. It takes a few listenings to "get it" so give it a try.

Both the thematics and the music are well contructed and played, and their are interisting dispite that some people don't like the subjects, well, I say it is consistent and a bit dark, and that's ok, right?

You'll find the typical progressions, complex phrases and the usual devastating solos between Rudess and Petrucci. Well, is typical for them but there's a lot to listen to, great. Labrie does a great performance here. I know many people disagree, but he is a great singer, and still is getting better in each album. The only thing that doesn't feel right is the singing of Portnoy, really... that's what let a little bit down the songs, because he is only a backup singer, sounds great below Labrie's voice, but when he try to do the leads really sounds bad. So, You are aware now...

Then, this is a great album with some touching moments. The Best of Times is the best song I've heard from Portnoy, touching a dinamic. Wither is also sad a beautiful at the same time, so, I don't understand why people say they don't play with soul... listen to that and you'lll see how great it is... Enjoy it, you will find here everything we love about progressive rock... played by the masters... If you are a progressive fan, you HAVE to listen this record... cheers...!!!

Report this review (#224746)
Posted Monday, July 6, 2009 | Review Permalink
2 stars I've decided to write some of my observations to the most popular album of previous weeks, for me quite a controversial one:

A Nightmare to Remember - opener, tries to be dark, gothic-like. Seems to me forced and uninspired. La Brie is overplaying everywhere. Unpredictable twists are ironically predictable. Obligatory mellow passage and 7/8 part is average at its best. Lyrics are very simple, almost laughable presented by La Brie. Some pointless soloing follows and then returns the "dark" passages, but speeded up. 1,5/5

Rite of Passage - opening "arabic" theme you've probably heard many times, extremely unoriginal (recalling Train of thought, Scenes From a Memory etc etc.) to me. Chorus which seems to be intended as a sing-along one, is very unconvincing. Again second half belongs to showing off Petrucci's Rudess's speed. Guys we know you are fast...but what's the point of that. Sounds really stiff. Worst song on the album. 1/5

Wither - typical ballad of the album. Simple song, not that bad. Arrangements here are like from soap opera. LaBrie again sounds strange on places, a bit funny. 2/5

The Shattered Fortress - interesting medley of Portnoy's saga, with some forgettable new riffs and many solos going nowhere. The Glass Prison part (my favorite) is prominent here. 2/5

The Best of Times - It seems that Portnoy hadn't his best day when he wrote this personal song dedicated to his father. It is based mostly on one syrupy theme (beginning until 2:50, around 6:20 and 8:00 until the end). Lyrics are very simple (with rhymes like day-days-okay) and straightforward. Some nice guitar build-ups and solos here and there though, finally. 2,5/5

The Count of Tuscany - wow, here I'm unexpectedly blown away. It sounds like Dream Theater made an inspired epic composition. It begins with very beautiful Petrucci's intro. I can feel the tension, atmosphere. Rudess's whirligigs are beautiful, and he shows us some wonderful synth parts. And what a complex structure. After four minutes of instrumental, the furious part begins. James La Brie is not bad there, on the contrary. Nice verse and refrain. Interesting layered and unisono solos peak into atmospheric passage (a bit like intro to Rush's Xanadu). Then sad passage around carefully culminating acoustic theme and LaBrie's good-sounding restrained voice follows, leading to grand finale, but without too much pomp, just right. Probably best epic since A Change of Seasons. A big surprise. 5/5

So this album in the end isn't easy to judge as a whole. Generally it is getting worse with every new listening, except for The Count of Tuscany which does the opposite for me. I read that the album is return to their roots. In my opinion it's nonsense. They simply can't, because Rudess somehow lacks some qualities (melancholy) that Moore created with his registers, besides his non-replaceable songwriting skills. It is quite logical continuation of Rudess-era albums, more accessible than Systematic Chaos, but again a bit more questionable for me in its purpose or meaning. However, the last song gives me still a hope for better times of Dream Theater.

Report this review (#224750)
Posted Monday, July 6, 2009 | Review Permalink
2 stars Middle age crisis.

Some guys buy a bike, some others date a younger chick, well Dream Theater wears eyeliner and act tough. Everybody has it's thing.

When I played this in the car, 2 minutes of track 4, my wife gave me a 'look'. The look that said: 'Shut it off, now'. She got really annoyed because of the intensity of the songs in general; not really the soothing type holding the steering wheel. Okay honey, that's true, they pushed the throttle too much this time. But hey, there's not much more to this than brutal speed and road-rage music: it's just too loud, too fast, too angry and too repetitive.

Again, DT's gothier than before, with mean attitude. Let's put the word mean between quotes, because the band is as scary as fathers at the mall just out of Buffalo Jeans. When Octavarium got out, I was surprised how this modern-tech-goth edge suited well DT, but this is many steps towards ridicule: Church-Dracula organ, Metallica references by the dozen, pseudo-rapping and yes, the final step...growling.

I mean, if this album is your first ecounter with the band, you'll think you've discovered a gold mine, and true, the album has many qualities( but qualities that made their reputation 20 years ago. How about something refreshing? ). To the fan who followed them since 1993 (me), it seems like a complete lost in translation and I feel I"ve lost my little secret garden.

Where's the band that claimed Rush as their main influence?

Report this review (#224852)
Posted Tuesday, July 7, 2009 | Review Permalink
5 stars Dream Theater have been one of my favorite bands ever since I first heard Scenes From a Memory. Scenes From a Memory was a revolutionary album for me?it instantly connected with me and introduced me to a genre I love called Progressive Metal and began my fascination with this band which of course led me to pick up all their albums and to eagerly await their next album (which at that time was Train of Thought). The album in question here is Black Clouds and Silver Linings, which I don't hesitate to say is one of the best albums Dream Theater have ever created. It is a masterpiece in every sense of the word and I haven't been this excited about Dream Theater since I first heard Scenes From a Memory over five years ago.

Black Clouds and Silver Linings, just as the name suggests is a record about the hard times in life and being able to find the "silver linings" from these experiences, such as a lesson that can be learned or pulling out something good that came out of the hard experience. The album opens with a storm, representing the black clouds, before the band comes in full force with "A Nightmare to Remember". This is one of Dream Theater's best openers and really causes the excitement to rise within the listener. Mike Portnoy is in top form as he drums with intensity, even doing some blast beats. One of the best parts of this song is the "Beautiful Agony" section where things slow down a bit and James LaBrie shows off his incredible voice. The band comes back in and Mike is able to give some growling vocals to accent the fierceness of the vocals before the band comes in for a quirky and fun instrumental section before the song ends.

"Rite of Passage" is the single from the album and it is a typical metal song, although much better than the previous single from the last album "Constant Motion". This song has a wonderful sing-along chorus and a great soloing section where John Petrucci and Jordan Rudess get to show their chops on their respective instruments. A notable moment is the bebot solo from Jordan which is done with use of his iphone. The next song, "Wither", is a beautiful ballad?one of the best ballads this band has created. "The Shattered Fortress" is the conclusion of the 12 step saga that Mike Portnoy has written about his steps in overcoming his alcohol addiction. It is a powerful finale that incorporates all the best parts of the whole saga and it has some more incredible solos from John Petrucci and Jordan Rudess.

"The Best of Times" is a touching song that Mike wrote for his dad who passed away recently. The song makes me tear up because it such a sincere lyric from Mike that shows that he is truly speaking from his heart. Continuing with the theme of the album, this song shows how his Dad's death was a black cloud, but the memories they shared is the silver lining that he can take away from it that will help strengthen him throughout the rest of his life. One of my favorite moments of the whole album is the end of this song where John Petrucci performs a magnificent guitar solo that is emotionally moving and a great way to end this song.

The final song of the album is "The Count of Tuscany" and it is one of the best Dream Theater epics. The introduction is an excellent showcase of the whole band, and it is one of the most brilliant melodic sections of music the band has ever crafted. The story of the song is a personal experience by John Petrucci where he took a ride with a man who called himself the Count of Tuscany and was an odd man with a brother who is compared to a cannibal. John feels terrified for his life in this situation being in a house with these eccentric characters. There are so many great instrumental moments until finally there is a break and a big atmospheric Yes-like section starts of for the next several minutes. The finale of this song is one of the best parts of the whole album where the Count tells John that he is not as scary as John thinks he is and that John is free to go and to tell everybody about him and his brother. It is a majestic closing with wonderful guitar and James LaBrie's voice is on top form here.

As you can probably tell, I love this album. I consider it a masterpiece. From the opening storm to the majestic closing, I am captivated by it. I can't wait to see them live in August and I hope they perform some of these songs at that concert (please play A Nightmare to Remember and The Count of Tuscany!). I think this album is the perfect balance between the different styles Dream Theater has: metal and progressive; hard rocking and emotionally touching. It is a perfect balance, which I believe is another manifestation of the Black Clouds and Silver Linings theme. This is going to be a tough album to top this year (Transatlantic, I'm looking at you). I am thankful for all the brilliant music that Dream Theater has created throughout the years and am delighted to say that they still have "it". As evidence of this, this album landed at #6 on the billboard charts?the highest position the band has ever received throughout their career. This album is a band playing at the top of their game, and I hope they can continue making brilliant albums like this one.

Report this review (#225137)
Posted Wednesday, July 8, 2009 | Review Permalink
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.

Report this review (#225371)
Posted Thursday, July 9, 2009 | Review Permalink
Founding Moderator
4 stars As my pessimist friend once said to me, "There's a black cloud inside every silver lining." How does Dream Theater feel about that? Based on the compositions on this superb album, they straddle the line.

The boxed set of Black Clouds & Silver Linings contains three CDs. Let me start with the first, which is the album proper.

Disc 1

A Nightmare to Remember is quite simply among DT's greatest compositions, period. In fact, I laughed for a moment while listening to it (no, not because it's funny - it's anything but) because the thought that popped into my head was, "What took you so long to write this one?" It's one of those DT compositions that seems to have been pulled from thin air, incorporating everything that makes DT such a brilliant band. Using a post-marriage reception car crash as the theme, the opening mellotron Vox combined with Portnoy's mega-time double bass drums immediately alerts us that we're in sca-a-a-ry territory. Then Petrucci conjures up every sca-a-a-ry word he can think of - nightmare, pain, tragedy, screams, fear, sirens, agony, misery - with Labrie's gruff enunciation making every word count. And for my money, the eight lines of the break that opens with "Hopelessly drifting" are among DT's best in terms of lyrics, music, arrangement and overall effect. A stunning opener for this album.

A Rite of Passage uses one of Petrucci's trademark "simple but effective" guitar figures to undergird DT's take on the Freemason/Illuminati/Big Brother/NWO conspiracy theory. Nothing particularly new here, but a well-written, fun composition.

Wither is another great DT power ballad, with Labrie in fine form.

The Shattered Fortress continues Portnoy's use of DT's music as a vehicle for his continued recovery as an alcoholic. What began with The Glass Prison (Six Degrees) - and continued through This Dying Soul (Train of Thought), The Root of All Evil (Octavarium), and Repentance (Systematic Chaos) - finds its newest outlet in this excellent composition (which has both lyrical and musical "echoes" of some of those other songs). Here, Portnoy (the gruff voice) not only lists some of the recovery steps, but speaks the Prayer of St. Francis behind Labrie's always excellent delivery of Portnoy's self-inventory. Portnoy deserves great credit and respect for his continued recovery, and DT deserves equal respect for supporting Portnoy via their music.

The Best of Times is Portnoy's ode to his father, who died during the recording of the album. With a gorgeous extended opening intro of piano, violin (Jerry Goodman) and guitar, the song ultimately evokes Rush in its relative simplicity (for DT). And Labrie's delivery and DT's music prevent it from becoming maudlin or melodramatic. Bravo for the superb handling of this type of highly personal paean.

The Count of Tuscany is classic DT storytelling - though there is much controversy over what story is being told! With all of elements that make DT who and what they are, this 19-minute extravaganza is well-handled, including a particularly fabulous guitar solo by Petrucci using a volume pedal - and playing SLOW! (LOL)

The album has great jams throughout, and the production is absolutely superb - particularly the acoustic guitars. And although the album certainly has its "darkness," there seems to be something a bit more "fun" about it than the past few DT albums, including that the band sounds "freer" in some way, as if they are having more fun WITH the music - or maybe in spite of it.

Disc 2

Having covered everyone from Led Zep to Elton John on "Change of Seasons," DT here takes on a few bands with whom they have more in common. "Stargazer" (Ritchie Blackmore) gets the most appropriate treatment, with DT in the finest "cover" form I have heard them thus far. Next they take on the "Tenement Funster-Flick of the Wrist-Lily of the Valley" suite from Queen's "Sheer Heart Attack." Super work, with Labrie channeling Freddie perfectly. The Dixie Dregs' "Odyssey" gives DT a chance to flex some quasi-jazz muscles (with the superb Jerry Goodman on violin), which they do well. "Take Your Fingers From My Hair" (Zebra) gets a somewhat more perfunctory treatment. And while the band (again with Goodman) nails King Crimson's "Larks Tongues in Aspic Pt. 2" from a technical point of view, there is something about the delivery that sounds "flatter" than it might have. Finally, Iron Maiden's "To Tame A Land" is given a simple but stately homage.

Disc 3

Have you ever wanted to be James Labrie? To see how you would sound as the front man for DT? Here's your chance! DT has provided a "music-minus-one"-style offering of the six tracks on the album sans vocals. So play this disc, grab the lyrics, and see how good (or bad) you really are!

Setting aside the extra discs, Black Clouds & Silver Linings is not simply a worthwhile successor to prior DT albums, but easily stands alongside many of them as a must-have addition to any collection.

Report this review (#225425)
Posted Thursday, July 9, 2009 | Review Permalink
5 stars It is so curious how the Dream Theater issue evolved. A new release of them always triggers such controversy. Cause their audience is divided in two parts: the metal fans and the prog fans. This makes sure that a high grade in this site will never be achieved for their new releases. Both of them never get enough of their medicine and both of them tend to dislike the other's. Also for DT's old releases the force of habit and nostalgia melts the reviewer's heart and idolises it. But for the new ones and having the highest expectations after so many years we always try to find and we magnify the wrong, no matter how tiny it can be. Regarding what kind of DT fan I am, I think that I am a bit of both. My jaw drops every time they teach us what prog metal is all about and I still bang my head when the riffs get tough. I admit that I like them both proggy and thrashy, so for me all their releases are, to say the least, marvellous. So for "Black Clouds..." my verdict is that it is extraordinary good. Everything you need from them is here and more. These guys are amazing, true gold. After so many years I stopped judging them and I just enjoy them. Is it better than Systematic Chaos? Who cares I love them both. Why Portnoy tried to growl and why he does blast beat? So be it. It 's not Opeth but it fits. Why only six songs? Whatever, they can give us a 50 song crossover album and I wll still like it. Because I don't wait something specific from this band. I just enjoy their new work. That's it. I never do song to song review because I buy an album, I listen to an album, I review an album. And after 75+ minutes you feel complete. The secret lies in just sitting down and letting the music flow inside. Don't judge it, don't compare it, just surrender yourself to it. I don't know how to explain what it sounds like, it's old and new, it's DT, it's everything. I don't know what new will come up from this, I don't know how their next release will be, this one is "5 stars" for me. And for those that didn't like "Black Clouds..", just take a look in the site's 2009 Top Albums: This one is not in it but do you believe that all the other releases that are in there are better than this? Do they have more reviews than this? Do we judged these to the extend that we judge this one? I understand, we always wait more from DT, but do we look ourselves in the mirror when we say that something is lost in the way?
Report this review (#225627)
Posted Friday, July 10, 2009 | Review Permalink
The T
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars I'm a known DREAM THEATER fan around these places so I'l keep my comments quick and simple. More in-depth comments can be found in my blog in my native language.

The album is a return to form for DT. After the cold and empty Systematic Chaos we finally have a record that in some ways goes back to the glory days of The Dream. The band ceases to try to sound like someone else and gives us a collection of pure DT-songs, even if not all of them reach the same levels of brilliance.

"A Nightmare to Remember" (10/10) is my favorite in the record and the best track DT has recorded since the title track in 6 Degrees of Inner Turbulence. From the fantastic introduction to the melodic and beautiful middle section, the song grows more with each listen. a minor flaw is the horrendous growling by Portnoy. But it lasts like 10 seconds, which is not enough to stop this track from being the best.

"A Rite Of Passage" (8.5/10) borrows heavily from "Home" in Scenes from a Memory, with a similar riff and pre-chorus. But the chorus is amazing, one of the best in recent times.

"Wither" (7/10) is forgettable, but enjoyable. The melodic singing by Labrie is outstanding. The song itself is nothing new, and DT has done better ballads before.

"The Shattered Fortress" (9.5/10) is a fantastic conclusion to the alcohol-suite, the best track in the 5-song project after "The Root of All Evil". The integration of all the themes from all the songs is made masterfully.

"The Best of Times" (9/10) takes some ideas from RUSH, especially after the loud guitars end the acoustic intro. The melody is beautiful, the final solo by Petrucci very memorable, and the track is a perfect tribute to Portnoy's father, and to all of ours.

"The Count of Tuscany" (9/10) starts incredibly strong, probably the best start of a song since "A Change of Seasons". The track seemed to be on its way to the pantheon of the band's absolute best right alongside the just-mentioned one and "Metropolis Pt. 1" until the band decides to make it too long. The instrumental section is useless and by the end we're just waiting for the song to die. A perfect start and a good conclusion marred by a weak middle part.

All in all, a great album that deserves 4.5 stars. As that rating is not available to me, I will round up, something I do in almost all cases. The Dream Theater is open again, and we have front- row seats to enjoy the show.

Report this review (#225800)
Posted Friday, July 10, 2009 | Review Permalink
5 stars I said a while back in my review of IMAGES AND WORDS that I believe that there are only 5 items in Dream Theater's catalog worth giving a 5 star rating; well, that review was written before the release of Dream Theater's 10th Studio Album, BLACK CLOUDS & SILVER LININGS and I can confidently say that this will be the 6th item in their catalog that I believe deserves a strong 5 star rating.

However, I will be honest with you, this album isn't a masterpiece as a 5 star rating would normally suggest. Yet this album comes so close to achieving masterpiece status that it would be criminal to give it any less than 5 stars.

After 2007's SYSTEMATIC CHAOS, there was doubt amongst the community that Dream Theater's next album would be more of the same, thus by the time that BLACK CLOUDS was announced, it was obvious the fear was starting to spread. Some had low hopes, yet others held high hopes that this album would be a return to the form for the band. I can confidently say that those who had high hopes for this album were right; and it was well worth the wait!

1. A Nightmare To Remember (9.5/10): The second-longest song on the album and the longest album opener so far in their history, Dream Theater have unleashed a monster of a song here. This is easily the most metal song on the album and easily bridges the gap between SYSTEMATIC CHAOS and BLACK CLOUDS. Starting with the sounds of thunder and a haunting keyboard melody, the full band comes in a few moments later with an opening chord that rivals The Glass Prison. The song soon revs into gear as Mike Portnoy pulls out some drumming chops that haven't been seen for quite some time. James LaBrie's metal vocals have really improved, no longer imitating James Hetfield from Metallica! At around 5:00 the song drops into a mellow and melodic section, filled with some of the nicest vocal melodies and harmonies that haven't been heard since SCENES FROM A MEMORY. This is easily one of the best moments on the album and is a good throwback to the bands work of the 90s. But it doesn't end there, oh no. The band revs back into metal gear as Jordan Rudess and John Petrucci trade solos (it's a cliche thing for DT but it doesn't get any better than this though). Jordan makes good use of his Continuum Fingerboard, reprising the main theme at various points. After this comes the infamous "Mike Portnoy growls" section - first of all I'd like to say that these AREN'T growls at all, please educate yourselves people :) And secondly, they're honestly not as bad as everyone seems to say. Overall this song is amazing, though could do with about 1-2 minutes less music at the end as the song really does feel like it's ending around the 14 minute mark. Highly recommend listen.

2. A Rite Of Passage (9/10): Track 2 of the album has us listening to the band's first single release thus far. This song is easily the most "commercial" sounding of the whole album and easily the best single they've released since the singles of IMAGES AND WORDS. The main riff is a really catchy metal hook that should be a crowd pleaser at concerts. The chorus contains some great melodies, both vocally and guitar wise. Mike Portnoy provides some really relaxed drumming (at least for him anyway) on this song, scaling it back to the basics the song needs to carry on; and it's surprisingly effective, especially for a band that relies on so much technicality. But don't despair, the instrumental break spotlights John's technical solo followed by a Jordan Rudess solo that includes some experimental Bebot sounds that have never been used by the band before which are once again surprisingly effective. Overall a great song, yet easily the weakest on the album, which says a lot!

3. Wither (9.3/10): Most likely the next single release by the band, this song is a throwback to ballads such as Another Day and, to a lesser extent, Hollow Years and The Spirit Carries On. James' vocals are easily the highlight of this track. The guitar solo is easily one of Petrucci's more restrained solos and it's obvious he really had a feel for the song. While the classic ballads have better than music and seem to be somewhat more memorable than this track, it's obvious that Wither has high levels of emotion and the music and LaBrie's excellent vocals really carry that through strongly.

4. The Shattered Fortress (9/10): I'll be honest with you, I'm still not quite sure what to make of this song, I'm a fan of all the other songs of the 12 Step Saga, yet I just can't connect to this one like I can with the others and I'm still not sure why. That aside, however, this song has some outstanding musical moments on it. The reprise of various themes from the other songs in the Saga are really effective and are the only logical way to end the Saga in a suitable manner. Some of the transitions can be somewhat disjointed, something which many fans have a problem with; I can see their point but they're such fleeting moments that it really doesn't bother me all too much. The ending of this song (specifically Part XII. Responsible) is easily the best part, highlighting some wordless singing from LaBrie and the use of the opening from The Glass Prison as the closing seconds of this song.

5. The Best Of Times (10/10): This song is amazing, from the Piano and Acoustic Guitar (with some Violin added courtesy of Jerry Goodman) to the Rush inspired verses. I do admit that I haven't listened to this song nearly as much as the others yet I still feel it deserves the rating it does. LaBrie's vocals really shine here, and John Myung's bass licks fill out this song during a later portion (can't remember exactly when it is during the song, but I do remember that it was tastefully done). Of course no review of this song could be published without mention of the soon to be famous John Petrucci guitar solo that makes up the final few minutes of the song: This solo is filled with such emotion that it rivals the previously thought untouchable solo in Octavarium. A perfect way to end the song, and in reality if this was the end of the album I would be happy, but continues and we come to one of the most amazing songs Dream Theater have ever written......

6. The Count Of Tuscany (10/10): This song is easily the biggest rival to Octavarium and A Change Of Seasons for me. The symphonic intro that takes up the first 4 or so minutes is amazing and is somewhat of a throwback to the classic Dream Theater. Jordan Rudess chooses some amazing keyboard patches on this track that have so much of an impact on the presentation of the song that I just have to mention it. The vocal delivery by James LaBrie is stunning, especially considering that these are some of John Petrucci's silliest lyrics, yet don't let that detract you at all, because if you do, you will miss out on the most amazing section of music ever written: the last 10 or so minutes of the song. Starting with the standard instrumental style that DT are known for, they soon progress into the unexpected "Volume Pedal Swell Section" where Jordan uses a large range of patches to create a huge ambient piece reminiscent of DT's own Trial Of Tears and Pink Floyd's Shine On You Crazy Diamond. After this, a simple acoustic guitar playing chords is overlapped by James LaBrie who brings the band into the final and most uplifting section of the whole song. Supported by a quick amazing guitar solo, Jordan's outstanding symphonic keyboard patches and James' wordless singing, this ending is as beautiful, majestic and progressive as it's going to get. This is easily one of the band's best songs and quite possibly the band's best album closer so far.

Overall, I find this album an extremely good listen and well worth the wait. This is a new side of Dream Theater that I hope will continue to create more amazing records using this one as a template.

Final Rating:

9.5/10 which is close enough to the 5 stars.

Report this review (#226083)
Posted Sunday, July 12, 2009 | Review Permalink
Prog Leviathan
2 stars There is no way to say it nicely, so I'll just say it:

I have lost all faith in Dream Theater, who with this album, have dredged up the pointless, pretentious, metal banality from the mire they only disturbed with the terrible Systematic Chaos. This, what I had hoped would be a comeback album for them, is the nail in the coffin, and is 76 minutes of loud, unsubstantial, and at times insultingly "serious" metal music. Here's a quick run down:

The Good: A few new thematic styles found in the ultra-heavy, gothic Nightmare to Remember and Count of Tuscany. These are novel for the band and interesting enough to catch long-time fan's attention. Rudess' keyboards have a few new effects, which standout in one or two solos; kind of a sci-fi sound which is pretty neat.

The Bad: Musicianship is a noisy amalgamation of everything the band is known for, and will not impress anyone familiar with this group. There are no wow moments in the compositions, which are found in spades throughout all of their albums and, for me, is one of the big attractions to their sound. Compare, for example, the dramatic intensity of the group's playing in Dance of Eternity, Glass Prison, Sacrificed Sons, etc. Devoid of subtlety, meaningful emotion, and genuine power, the playing here is simply boring and unmemorable. Most will agree that the song Shattered Fortress, which uses melodies from old songs, is a standout track, but herein lies the terrible irony-- using aspects from those old GOOD songs only makes the suckiness of these ones stand out all the more... and remind the listener how much MORE awesome that older album is. So what's the point? Oh... and did I mention that you can't pick out a single lick of John Myung's bass throughout?

The Ugly: The instrumental playing is mediocre by itself, but when paired with the lyrics we have more than an hour of insultingly bad power-metal. Almost all the songs are very, very, topical, driven by a narrative devoid of metaphor or class. The lyrics are concrete, simple, and impossible to get into. The biggest offenders are the two big songs from the album, Nightmare to Remember and Count of Tuscany-- each of which tells a very simple, boring story using explicitly clear, boring, uncatchy lyrics. Labrie's singing is fine, but I can guarantee that the listener will neither care what he's saying. This strike against Petrucci and Portnoy balls my fists with frustration... whose lyrics were always silly but possessing enough class to remain cool. I feel like these two are approaching George Lucas status in their megalomanical artistic conceit; who feel that, given their past success, they can do no wrong. That's crap... and we've seen what happens when artistic control of awesome bands come fully under the power of a few.

Bottom line:

Weep Dream Theater fans... your favorite band has not only "jumped the shark", but is pretentiously swimming in the bloody mess its made for itself. At least we'll always have our Scenes from a Memory.

Songwriting: 2 Instrumental Performances: 3 Lyrics/Vocals: 1 Style/Emotion/Replay: 2

Report this review (#226549)
Posted Monday, July 13, 2009 | Review Permalink
3 stars This album might come across as impressive to the Dream-Theatrically uninitiated. If this is the first DT album you happen to explore, you might think you might have hit some jewel. For those who have listened to and digested DT's existing catalog, it fails to hit the mark. It lacks complex instrumentation, a DT hallmark. It contains rehashes of prior DT tunes. It contains quite a lot of prog, but not nearly enough metal. Granted, the latter is not always a deal- breaker, as Opeth have masterfully demonstrated in 2003, but the formula attempted in Black Clouds & Silver Linings just does not work. Three stars for the first CD (the album proper), and two stars for two bonus CDs (where's the guitar solo in the so-called "instrumental" Rite of Passage??).
Report this review (#226578)
Posted Tuesday, July 14, 2009 | Review Permalink
5 stars What a relieve!! DT is Back!!

Knowing that they will release another album form roadrunners I did not expect more. I think it will be just the same as Systematic Chaos (which I consider Boring....). But this is really a good album!!

The album opens with "A Night to Remember", this is very very dark and gothical.. Opens with a sound of rain and slow dark piano tunes.. suddenly came the full band with heavy distortion guitars and double pedal drums.. indeed a very metal track

Next is two 'commercial' songs, "A Rite of Passage" (the single) and "Wither" (probably the second single). A Rite of Passage itself is quite the same as older DT song. With verse- chorus-2nd verse-chorus-bridge and extended solos-chorus structure. and Wither is just one of DT ballads but fit in the album well..

"The Shaterred Fortress", the last part of Portnoy's Alcoholics Anonymous Suite, this song is like a compilation of The Glass Prison, This Dying Soul, The Root of All Evil and Repentance. Not much new material here, but this really concludes the epic well.

"The Best of Times", A happier song in the album. Really emotional.. One of the best songs in the album. Opens slowly with piano solos and strings,, then start the acoustic guitar and piano part. After the beautiful openings,, come the thunderous guitar followed by rest of the bands.. the song itself is very beautifully crafted with emotional moods,, filled with acoustic parts in the middle of the song and the ending fades away like faded happy memories.. Cool!!

"The Count of Tucsany" Only one word : Masterpiece!! Every member of the bands contributed perfectly to balance the song.,, no extended solos,, just excellent.. A perfect songs,, makes you even forget that DT has made the Systematic Chaos.

The conclusion is just as I made at the top of my review.. DT is back,, This album proves that they are still good musicians despite their age,, They are still Rocks!! Again,, forget SC, this is far better album. (4.5/5)

Report this review (#226605)
Posted Tuesday, July 14, 2009 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars What is your favorite DT album? For me is straight forward: 'Scene from a Memory'. Why? It has everything that I dream of a great composition. The tagline melody of each individual song is really wonderful, catchy, and of course memorable. I remember vividly the first time I heard 'Finally Free' which has killing melody, I kept playing that final track in my car audio with the loudest volume my car's stereo set can handle. Well, I love especially the last part where Portnoy plays his sticks like crazy, even though I also love the whole melody of the song. 'Scene' also has excellent harmonies in any musical segment in its individual song. Complexity? Give me break! They are the master of making such a complex arrangement, performed in speed like power metal and it changes style from one segment to another. Most importantly, the album has a very solid structural integrity that forms all songs into a one cohesive whole that supports the concept album.

What about DT songs? My first favorite is of course 'Stream of Consciousness' (ToT) followed with 'Pull Me Under' (I&W), 'Sacrificed Sons' (Octavarium) and 'Finally Free' (SFaM), 'The Root of all Evils' (Octavarium). Of course there are many excellent DT tracks but I mention the vital few.

As I have listened to Dream Theater tracks, I finally got used to the kind of music style they play. I can bet you that their roots were basically taken from UK (Bruford, Holdsworth, Jobson & Wetton) debut album in 1978. Do you have this phenomenal album? You must have it if you are a prog head or DT lover. Play the CD now and spin track no 3 'Presto, Vivace & Reprise' and see what you experience. Anything similar with DT music? Yeah, of course! You can see how DT have capitalized the staccato style in this UK track and they have been perfecting the style excellently. You should consider UK as the pioneer of progressive metal, don't you think so?

On being charted at number 6 position in US Top 10...!

As prog lovers we must give a big applause to Dream Theater's great achievement of cracking US Top 10 Chart at 6th position. I think this is quite weird, a band with progressive metal music playing song with long duration per song (more than 8 minutes) still can reach this chart. Wow! The forum at this site mentioned that this album has 6 songs, 6 cover songs (Disc 2), sits at number 6 position at the first week of the album sales (Released in June 23, 2009). Having listened to the album, it's basically nothing pop music like 'I Walk Beside You' or 'The Answer Lies Within' even though there is basically one mellow track, I really admire this achievement. I don't know what is actually the reason on why this 'Black Clouds & Silver Linings' hit the Top 10 Chart. It could be because of the hypes made by the label (Roadrunners) by releasing one cover song every week since six weeks before the album was officially released. And I have to thank DT for covering songs of my favorites like Queen's 'Tenement Funster - Flick of The Wrist - Lily of The Valley', Rainbow's 'Stargazer' and King Crimson's 'Larks Tongue in Aspic'. These three tracks are truly classic, truly 70s tracks plus excellent 'To Tame A Land' cover of Iron Maiden.

For whatever reason, we have to appreciate DT for making such a great achievement!

Return to Form?

For me, 'Black Clouds & Silver Linings' sounds like true DT music that returns to its original form. I don't hear any Muse, U2 or Pink Floyd in this album. Evreything sounds Dream Theater. The first spin did not impress me as I did not find any new things compared to their style: guitar shredding, heavy riffs, power metal blast, speedy drumming. Sometimes I feel boring with the heavy riffs, actually. That's why this album did not catch my attention at first. One thing that bores me is the alcohol sequel that has been appearing in every single album since 'Six Degrees' through 'The Glass Prison' and in this album represented by 'The Shattered Fortress'. With more spins I got acquainted with the new album, and this is my thoughts:

A Nightmare to Remember (16:10) has now become my favorite and it's probably the best track of this album for one distinctive reason: the overall melody is quite good and catchy (my taste) compared to the rest of the tracks. The lyrics are written by Petrucci based on his nightmare experience. The music starts ambient with symphonic opening combined with heavy riffs and speedy double bass drum pedals by Portnoy. When the music flows in its regular patterns Myung lys a foundation with his basslines combined with guitar soft riffs. The music moves in relatively fast tempo until it changes into grooves when LaBrie starts to sing his first lyrical verse. The interesting part of this vocal part is the groove as well as guitar at the back of the singing where it fills with great electric guitar lead in the vein 'similar to' Mick Box (Uriah Heep) style. The music moves energetically until approximately minute 5 when it changes into mellow style followed with LaBrie sings 'Lying on the table ?' as part of conversation with the faceless man he meets in the nightmare. It's quite good musical break, actually, after high energy music. During the dialogue with the faceless man, I like the way Petrucci plays his guitar backed with Rudess keyboard work. What then follows is the wonderful combination of wild guitar solo and inventive keyboard work. Well, I have to admit that this segment of the music after the middle of the track during guitar solo is really amazing! Oh by the way, Portnoy does his growling vocal in the later part of the song. It's not quite good actually, but it gives good variation to the music. One peculiar characteristics of the music are the tempo changes as well as style changes.

A Rite of Passage (8:35) talks bluntly about the impact of the new world order as the lyrics start straight with 'Since the new world order played upon our fears. Spreading accusations of radical ideas?". The music actually starts mellow with basslines followed with heavy guitar riffs. The basic structure of the music reminds me to ToT's 'As I Am' even though the overall music is different. The tagline melody of this track is quite catchy as it comprises notes that flow nicely into my ears, so is the case with the chorus line. The track moves in relatively medium tempo until the heavy guitar riffs enter at approx minute 5 followed with great interlude featuring stunning guitar solo which I really enjoy. The keyboard solo that follows is also wonderful and combined together they form amazing interlude.

Wither (5:25) is a poppy stuff with mellow style and it might be treated as Black Cloud's 'Forsaken' in mellower term. The melody is quite OK and in terms of style, it's quite consistent from start to end . For those who love ballad, this one is good.

The Shattered Fortress (12:49) is an epic that continues the sequel on alcohol, with an excellent intro part that consumes more than 1.5 minutes exploring the string section, double bass pedals and amazing guitar work. The heavy riffs still sound good to me even though I have been hearing them quite often. The music style starts to change into more metal at minute 5:30 with great intertwining sounds of guitar and keyboard. Of course there are parts that lend its melody from previous albums like those from 'The Root of all Evil' (Octavarium). Unfortunately I do not favor this part because it makes me getting bored. In my opinion, it's about time DT to finish the sequel, in fact since the last album 'Systematic Chaos' with the boring 'Repentance'. As usual, the lyric of this track was written by Portnoy.

The Best of Times (13:07) starts mellow with nice piano touch followed with soft string arrangement and Jerry Goodman's violin solo followed with acoustic guitar work. Approaching minute 3, theguitar solo in the vein of Rush' Alex Lifeson enters the music. It sounds like a disconnect with previous instrumental intro. The music flows in relatively fast speed. As the vocal flows throughout the song I can see the lack of catchy melody from this track, not even the chorus. At approximately minute 7 the music turns into mellow style accompanying heavy vocal line of James LaBrie. You may be interested with the guitar solo at the end of the track starting from minute 10 onwards. It's really stunning guitar solo!

The Count of Tuscany (19:16) is the song that has the worst melody in the album. The intro part is actually quite interesting in terms of guitar solo plus dynamic drumming. But as the song moves from one segment to another I don't see any excellent melody it creates. However the guitar solo that appears many times in different segments sound great to me, especially those combined with keyboard work. To me this epic that concludes the album lacks structural integrity as an epic. However, there are segments with excellent harmonies even though during changes of style. Interlude part with guitar and keyboard are really dynamic and inspiring. The musical break with long sustain keyboard work at approx minute 11 reminds me to Yes Relayer's 'Gates of Delirium' especially when enters 'Soon'.

Bonus Discs

My copy is the Deluxe Edition which comprises three CDs with Disc 2 contains band cover of Rainbow, Queen, King Crimson, etc. What surprises me is the song taken from Queen is 'Tenement Funster - Flick of The Wrist - Lily of The Valley' which represents my first experience with Queen. DT plays it not much different than Queen's original album. The other covers that I love are: Rainbow's 'Stargazer' and King Crimson's 'Larks Tounge in Aspic ? Part 2'

Bonus Disc 3 is basically minus-one of the original version. For me this disc is completely a waste because the vocal line is really gone and nothing is truly interesting to enjoy. It should be great if the vocal line is replaced by guitar solo or violin solo. It's gonne be really great.


Overall, DT still prove as a dominant power house in terms of progressive metal. I think no one does it better in terms of managing change (in style) from one segment to another in relatively fast tempo. This album does not offer something new about DT music. It does however have wonderful interlude parts which have great guitar and keyboard work in relatively complex music. In terms of production, I am disappointed with the cheap package of the CD ? the paper is quite bad and the three CDs are each just inserted in an envelope. At the same time I have IQ 'Frequency' which has great packaging. In addition, the sonic quality is not quite good and far from the best sound production in 'Images and Words'. However, I still consider this album as a recommended one to buy. Keep on proggin' ..! because proggin' is healthy ...

Peace on earth and mercy mild - GW

Report this review (#226612)
Posted Tuesday, July 14, 2009 | Review Permalink
Queen By-Tor
Honorary Collaborator
1 stars Signs of thunderstorms...

With Black Clouds and Silver Linings, Dream Theater have made an attempt to return to their roots after they were so painfully shot down by the majority of the progressive community with the release of their previous album, Systematic Chaos. The songs are long and epic, the solos have been cut down to a digestible length and the emphasis is more on song writing and structure than on instrumental wankery. The overall result is a pleasing one, but it's irritating to think that the band could have done better. Many are calling this one of Dream Theater's best albums, and at it's core it should be. The problem is that the disc feels like it's trying to appeal to too many groups at once and the band sounds tired. A return to 'form' was not what the band needed, they needed to continue on the direction they were going, and while the band definitely does turn some new corners (that have been explored by others already, mind you), it's kind of a case of two steps forward, ten steps back.

As with Rush's Hemispheres it would appear that the band spent too much time into writing a whole bunch of long songs and not focusing on the content too much. The majority of the album are songs that span over 15 minutes, and while any prog fan would cream their pants just seeing this number it would appear that they've forgotten how to write songs this long. Don't expect some amazing stories and tales as we've heard from the band before - gripping epics like In The Presence Of Enemies, Scenes From A Memory and Octavarium are not to be found here. The musical content is kicking (if tired), but the lyrical content is completely absent. The band seem to have wandered into territory where they want to apologize for their every move. The opening track, A Nightmare To Remember is a story about a car crash victim telling his tale of the event and rehab - but the whole thing feels G-rated, and at the end it's a case of ''whoo, that was tough - but I'm fine, don't worry about me''. Honestly, this does not accurately portray the horror that it could have gotten across. The music is among the best on the album, but the same Metallica inspired riffs are getting old, even if they're a little darker this time around.

After a couple of shorter songs, obviously meant to be singles we make it into some more of the beefy material. The Shattered Fortress finally.... FINALLY concludes Dream Theater's AA Saga which started in 2001 and got old around 2002, the 13-minute long song goes through all the different song parts that have been built up over the years and features some of its own sound, which makes it very cool overall. However, I'm very much looking forward to the next DT album where they'll have to (*GASP*) write an album that DOES NOT rehash the riff from The Glass Prison for the fifteenth time. The formerly mentioned short songs are wildly different in quality - the first single A Rite Of Passage is a wickedly evil piece that really captures the overall sound that DT was going for on this album and winds up as one of the standout pieces, while Wither is a sappy-sweet slow song that borrows a lot from Forsaken.

Then we have the best and worst of the album. Let's start with the best. The Best Of Times signifies everything that Dream Theater is good at, and ironically, is the only song on the album not drenched with the neo-progressive-emoness that seems to have befallen every prog artist in the world right now. This is a song dedicated to Mike Portnoy's father and is pretty much the exact opposite of Honor Thy Father from Train Of Thought. This one must have been written while Portnoy was listening to Elton John, because the structure from the song borrows heavily from Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding. A picturesque opening turns into an uplifting epic that is almost tear jerking at time thanks to its honest and touching lyrics and emotional playing. Very well done, and easily the best piece on the album.

Then we get to The Count Of Tuscany. It is beyond me how so many people can be head over heels in love with this song and dislike the majority of Systematic Chaos. This is everything that album was, only more poorly written, cheesier, and with a terrible ending to the tale. Granted, this song was based on a true story and the music is relatively decent (although not enough so to support 20-minutes of music, and yes, I did hear that Rush interlude in the middle. boys... buying yourself time, eh?), but the lyrics are absolutely grotesque, and I don't say that in a good way. I respect Petrucci for this writing and playing skills, but to have lines like ''Like The finest wines/improve with age'' or ''sitting in his chair/sucking on his pipe'' in a song that's supposed to make you feel scared like the main character... come on! The lyrics are just plain laughable and make the more troubadouric side of progressive rock look like a 10th grade English assignment. The only thing that saves this song is some of the impressive playing at the beginning and end, and even then you might miss it from laughing at the lyrics so hard.

Overall this album is good, but disappointing. Apparently the band are tired and don't want to play this kind of music anymore, they were much more energetic and much better off going the way they were going before. The unfortunate thing is that so many people seem to think they're better off on this album rehashing everything they've done before and never touching new grounds. Listen to this album again and look for anything truly new in it. There is barely anything! Compared strait across to their masterworks like Awake and Six Degrees this album is nothing but a black cloud on the horizon. Fans only. 1.5 out of 5.

Report this review (#226767)
Posted Wednesday, July 15, 2009 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars "Black Clouds & Silver Linings" is the 10th full-length studio album by progressive metal act Dream Theater. The album was released in June 2009 by Roadrunner Records. I´ve lost a bit touch with the band in recent years and especially the release of the in my book mediocre "Octavarium (2005)" meant that I completely jumped ship. "Systematic Chaos (2007)" was a slight return to form IMO but with "Black Clouds & Silver Linings" I think the band again show what they are really made of.

One of the things I wasn´t too happy about, when I think of how the two predecessors sounded like, was the fact that I didn´t and still don´t think many of the songs on those albums stick out. They simply lack memorable moments. That has changed on "Black Clouds & Silver Linings". I could remember every song already after my first listen to the album. That can be a weakness in some cases but in the case of Dream Theater it´s not. There are still many complex instrumental sections to get lost in and get challenged by.

There are six tracks on the album. four of them exceed the 12 minute mark. I enjoy the three most heavy tracks the most. Opener "A Nightmare to Remember", "The Shattered Fortress" and the 19:16 minutes long epic closer "The Count of Tuscany". The latter is especially noteworthy IMO and even momentarily reminds me of their glorious past. The lyrics to that one is a kind of horror story not totally unlike the the concept album horror stories by King Diamond. The other three tracks are of varied quality. The power ballad "Wither" doesn´t do much for me but I have to give the band credit for being able to write a track like that anyway. Very professional. "A Rite of Passage" is the most straight forward heavy metal track on the album but still has a complex and challenging section. A pretty good track that one IMO. "The Best of Times" is a very melodic track. The lyrics is an ode to Mike Portnoy´s farther and while I can fully understand and appreciate the intention to write such personal lyrics I find the way the lyrics are written to be a bit cringe worthy to be honest. It should be mentioned that there´s a strong Rush influence in "The Best of Times".

There´s been written and said much about the vocal section near the end of album opener "A Nightmare to Remember" where drummer Mike Portnoy sings using a rough/ raw voice. I would like to make a statement here that he might distort his voice slightly to get an effect but "HE DOES NOT GROWL". Actually he sounds one to one like Oderus Urungus the lead singer in infamous American heavy metal act Gwar which was probably not intended and for those of us familiar with Gwar that can only bring a smile to our face. I find myself enjoying that section as a new spice in Dream Theater´s sound (as long as I don´t think of Oderus Urungus that is. I just can´t help laughing when I do). If you want to compare Mike Portnoy´s vocals to real growling vocals may I recommend that you take a listen to the vocal style in bands like Cannibal Corpse or Suffocation. Now that´s growling vocals.

The musicianship is as always on an extremely high level. Tight interplay and lots of shredding solos both on guitar and keyboards. Note the blast beat (not the most fast blasts I´ve ever heard, but they are there) section at the end of "A Nightmare to Remember"! Finally Mike Portnoy gets to show that he loves extreme metal. The vocal lines are pretty well constructed for James LaBrie´s voice which has been an issue on some earlier releases. One problem with the vocals though is that Portnoy and Petrucci still sound like they lay down harmony vocals on some tracks. That´s a real shame as none of then are able to deliver vocals worthy of an inclusion on a Dream Theater album. Let James LaBrie´s do his own harmony vocals please. Just like in the good old days. Why let two mediocre singers do those harmony vocals when you have a skilled and powerful lead vocalist in your band?

The production is allright but it´s not excellent IMO. Once again I have to say that Portnoy and Petrucci need to stop producing Dream Theater´s albums and hire a "real" producer. They create acceptable sound productions but I´m sure that the band´s music would sound even better with a "REAL" producer helping out.

Dream Theater are often hailed as one of the most prolific progressive metal bands on the scene and I have to say that they once again show who´s the king with "Black Clouds & Silver Linings". Even though my dedicated Dream Theater fanboy days are long gone I (as a more casual listener) still think this album is an excellent release by the band. A 3.5 - 4 star rating is deserved.

Report this review (#226831)
Posted Wednesday, July 15, 2009 | Review Permalink
3 stars I have the 3 cd version of:

Disc One 1. A Nightmare to Remember (16:10) 2. A Rite of Passage (8:35) 3. Wither (5:25) 4. The Shattered Fortress (12:49) 5. The Best of Times (13:07) 6. The Count of Tuscany (19:16)

Disc Two: Cover songs 1. Stargazer [Rainbow] (8:11) 2. Tenement Funster / Flick of the Wrist / Lily of the Valley [Queen] (8:18) 3. Odyssey [Dixie Dregs] (8:00) 4. Take Your Fingers from My Hair [Zebra] (8:18) 5. Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Part Two [King Crimson] (6:32) 6. To Tame a Land [Iron Maiden] (7:15)

Disc Three, instrumental versions of Disc One.

Disc One - 5 and 6 numbers are material that would have been left out in Single Record Vinyl days.

Disc Two Cover Songs - only the Zebra cover song is an improvement, but Zebra were a very mellow metal pop band. The rest only show how good the originals are.

Disc Three, Instrumentals - No improvement/variation on the songs with vocals.

Finally, there are death metal/ Opeth type vocals. Thankfully only sporadically, as unlike with Opeth, they do nothing to add a dimension to the music.

This recording is not up to Dream Theater's high standards

Report this review (#227796)
Posted Tuesday, July 21, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars The biggest injustice of the year!

The title of my review is indicative of my thoughts. Dream Theater is a big and significant band and this attitude it receives is unfair, especially after such return to form. Black Clouds & Silver Linings is one excellent album by Dream Theater. Of course, I admit it's not flawless, but if you see the list of the albums in 2009 it cannot makes impression on you about this big injustice. What I mean? It's a hundred of albums in the list above Black Clouds & Silver Linings... oh it's even not on the list for this best albums. All sorts of albums are there. It's extremely unrealistic for me.

This is one very good metal album, but it's very good progressive album, too. It's very harmonized album with very good songwriting and musicianship. The tempo shifts are made in absolute professional manner. There are some brand new fresh ideas like the inclusion of Mike Portnoy's death growls in the first song - A Nightmare to Remember. It's really fresh and interesting song - one of the best on the album. Otherwise, all songs are memorable.

Something really special comes with the last song - The Count of Tuscany. I consider it as one of the best all time songs of Dream Theater. It's really innovative and original and reveal all the potential of ideas of Dream Theater's career. The last part of these songs contains some sounds, that look like a tribute to Pink Floyd. Overall: one of band's best albums (probably the third one - after MPTSFAM and SDOIT). 4.1 deserve stars!

Report this review (#227834)
Posted Wednesday, July 22, 2009 | Review Permalink
1 stars I purchased BC&SL the day it came out, like I have all DT releases since Images & Words. And, like every other release, I give it a few weeks to sink in as I find their music takes a while to digest. Having given it adequate time to ferment my initial impression has been confirmed: this is, without question, the worst Dream Theater release ever.

I'm stunned that so many review are giving this such a high ranking. The simplest measure of my feelings for this disc is that when I'm listening I honestly can't wait for it to be over so I can get on to listening to something better. In my car I still have a 6 CD player and the mood change as it switches from this disc to Symphony X's Paradise Lost is unmistakable. (The fact I can't seem to pull Paradise Lost out of the player should tell you my feelings about that release).

Anyway....the faults with BC&SL are pretty evident and describe

1. Lack of new ideas 2. Poor songwriting further tarnished by abysmal lyrics 3. Musical wankery leading to needlessly long songs

1. Lack of new ideas: as anyone who's been listening to DT since the early days will readily admit, they've been regurgitating the same ideas for the last 10 years. The last act of originality from this band was Scenes From A Memory. Everything since has been reinventions of works they've done previously. Now this ailment plagues many a band and doesn't mean that their current efforts suck. It does mean they need to bring some other high-quality elements (like song ideas and lyrics, for instance). When I look at SDOITurbulence, ToThought, Octavarium and Systematic Chaos I hear reworked ideas but there's enough quality and variety to keep the listener interested. On BC&SL however, there is not a single song, passage, bridge, intro, outro, solo or transition here that the band hasn't done before, and done better. Literally, not a single song get me going when listening. Again, this lack of new musical ideas would be okay if it weren't for problem number 2....

2. Poor songwriting and abysmal lyrics: the lack of creativity is most evident in the poor craft of songwriting. Admittedly, this has never been a real DT strength (they're not Bono or Bruce Springsteen, after all). But, they've had some damn good ideas in the past, especially with their 90's output. I mean, if you outline the ideas the drove ACOSeasons compared to The Count of Tuscany it doesn't seem possible they came from the same people. One tells the story of life lived, of going through the "Spring" of youth and possibilities to a dark winter when life's realities bring the storyteller down to a rebirth and finally coming full circle when he watches a sunset with his son. A cohesive, compelling, full-circle story. The Count of Tuscany is about accepting a ride from a stranger while in Italy, going to a castle, being scared and finding out you had no need to be scared. Seriously, who would write about such a thing? And if you did write about it, what makes you think it's a solid foundation for a 20-minute "epic"? The quality of ideas found on BC&SL are infinitely inferior to other DT efforts.

The atrocious lyrics used to complete these sub-standard ideas just make it worse. Crap like "Life goes by in the blink of an eye, with so much left to say". "Thank you for the inspiration. Thank you for the smiles. All the unconditional love that carried me for miles". I absolutely cringe throughout this album it is just so, so bad. Again, hard to believe the people who wrote this penned ACOS, Learning to Live, Voice, Scarred, and the many other well-written songs they've done in the past. Which brings us to the final problem....

3. Musical wankery. The best example here is A Nightmare to Remember. This actually has the makings of a good song. The story of a family enjoying a night of celebration then suddenly having it all taken away in a car accident. The intro, first two verses and chorus and first break all work. Then there is a transition where, even on first listen you can tell the band has abandoned whatever store was being told and shifted instead into "we're gonna jam for a while here and perform outrageous workouts on our instruments, regardless of whether it fits the mood / tone of the story; and we're only gonna stop when we're damn certain we've proved to everyone that we know how to play our instruments really, really, really well". Amazingly, they do this, then bring in an outrageous attempt at death-metal growling from Portnoy, then go into a second needless, extended jam.

Now, this is DT and awesome musical prowess is a key component of the band and always has been. However, where once these musical wanderings were a 1 or 2 time diversion from otherwise standard song structures they are now pursued on virtually every song. It's one dimensional, formulaic, and frankly lazy. A Nightmare to Remember COULD be a good 6-8 minute song but instead is 15 minutes of drudgery. Virtually every song on this disc goes on too long (and about half of all DT songs since SFAMemory are too long).

Bottom line...I don't even want to listen to this thing and probably won't. Those of you claiming this is DT at their best really need to re-visit the first half of their catalog and make a sober comparison. I kinda want to give it two stars but I am a DT completist (own every CD, video and bootleg available through YTSEJAM) and even I don't like this. One star.

Report this review (#228202)
Posted Friday, July 24, 2009 | Review Permalink
3 stars Black Clouds and Silver Linings is a bit of a fresh breath in an era where Dream Theater started to alienate fans with over-the-top technicality and a lot more metal elements than previously. Although there are still tons of metal and hard rock elements in this release, it will no doubt please the Dream Theater fan, and may convince other listeners that they are back from a decline.

For the sound of the album, the title Black Clouds and Silver Linings is a perfect description of the sound. "A Nightmare to Remember" and "The Shattered Fortress" are as heavy and dark as ever, but "The Best of Times" and parts of "The Count of Tuscany" reveal some of the brightest, most upbeat Dream Theater since disc two of Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence. In fact, the melodic parts of the album have to be the most uplifting output of the band ever. That being said, there is still plenty for the metal fan, like blastbeats on the opening track. Unfortunately, in an attempt to sound more 'brutal' Mike Portnoy attempts a death growl ending up like a Slipknot sound alike shouting in a few songs, marring the music just a bit.

Speaking of marring the album, this one contains by far the worst lyrics of any Dream Theater release. While the band has never been praised for their lyrics, they have never sunk to the level of this album, where Petrucci pens out pointless stories of car crashes and an unnerving encounter with a frightening Tuscanian, neither of which really stir the emotions of the fans. That being said, Portnoy's lyrics on "The Shattered Fortress" and "The Best of Times" are quite uplifting and bearable, though hardly Dream Theater's best.

It should also be noted that two tracks are bound to ruin the album for the listener, "A Rite of Passage" and "Wither", the former being a mainstream hard rock song with a catchy chorus to gain mainstream fans, and ultimately that may be the worst song every by Dream Theater. The latter is a rather predictable, though somewhat bearable ballad, which also is probably the most mainstream of Dream Theater's ballads, along the lines of "The Answer Lies Within" and "Hollow Years".

The good parts are simply great though. The opening track "A Nightmare to Remember" is much better than the title, and contains lots of dynamics, between prominent synthesized choirs and fast paced drumming and guitar. "The Shattered Fortress", the final piece in the 12 steps suite found in previous albums, is the emotional climax of the suite and while it is somewhat unoriginal because it contains A LOT of the previous movements, it contains the emotional peaks of the rest of it and combines it all to create an excellent closure on the saga. The song after that, "The Best of Times" is quite possibly the best on the disc, very tasteful playing among the band, and as said before is the most wonderful bright track Dream Theater ever composed, opening with a very soft piano and violing interplay and moving into a wonderfully energetic Rush inspired composition. Then there's "The Count of Tuscany", which will inevitably be praised because of its epic length, though composition wise it is easily Dream Theater's worst epic track, because of its unbalanced structure and unneccesary phrasing. That being said, it's still a good track and worth a listen.

All in all, Black Clouds and Silver Linings is one of the better Dream Theater albums, and such a nice album is welcome in a time where their music has seemed to stagnate. And although not much progression is going on still, their songwriting skills are back and it is an excellent choice out of the catalogue.

Report this review (#228698)
Posted Tuesday, July 28, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars I checked out this album simultaniously with Riverside's latest and thus it was interesting to see how both albums had their respective effect on me after many repeated listenings. What struck me immediately was the difference in accessibility of both albums. Anno Domini had a hard time getting into my system but this latest by DT had an immediate impact on me and the songs appeared not too hard to digest.

Nightmare to Remember was in fact the first track of this album I got to know because it was played often on Morow even before the officail release (same as A Rite .. by the way). I liked this because you get a bit of an idea what the album is about. So this opener was just a matter of getting to know it even better and listen more to the details and such. This is a real DT track to me, the ones you expect from the band, not excessively original but just a very good song. 4*.

A Rite of Passage is apparently chosen as the weaker track by most and gets bashed heavily I noticed so far. I always tend to give those an extra chance unless of course they really prove to be weak. This isn't poor or even mediocre by any means to me, ok it's not outstanding but to call it a total waste is too negative for me. I would like to call it (very) good but no more. 3,75*.

Whither is the lesser one of the lot for me though even this one isn't really poor. It's a typical "Octavarium" track, accessible and not really metal. 3,25*.

The real let off for me is The Shattered Fortress which is copying too much from DT in the past. Okay, I know it's part of The AA-suite and probably has an excuse because of that but it makes a cheap impression and unoriginal on me. On itself not bad music here but I can't appreciate it because of mentioned reason. 2,75*.

Fortunately DT saved the best for last with two near masterpiece tracks to finish with. First The Best of Times which is all things considered the best track of the album for me. Partly a ballad, partly simply a wonderful composition with even classical undertones at the start. 4,5*.

The most debated and maybe also debatable track of the album is The Count of Tuscany. With first few listenings I didn't pay too much attention to the lyrics (as a Dutchman I still have to translate to notice everything) and the composition was excellent (and even more than that) to me but then I did start noticing the lyrics and the track lost some of its lustre. After it all has sunk in more I can say the positiv feeling wins in the end. 4,5*.

So not really an equable album where my appreciation is concerned and certainly not a masterpiece in my opinion. Last two tracks save the album and the excellent status I have to say. So another four star effort by our leaders in the prog metal scene. A slight setback compared to Systematic Chaos but I wouldn't want to call it decline really.

Report this review (#228701)
Posted Tuesday, July 28, 2009 | Review Permalink
2 stars This is my re-review of "Black Clouds & Silver Linings"

When I first heard this album I hated it, so much so that I proclaimed DT had truly lost it, and by this point they should just retire. That was almost 3 years ago, and I feel differently now. This is an alright album, it's not that good but it's not bad either.

It's not really much a departure for DT, it's heavy and progressive...though maybe with more of the progressive mixed in this time. Let's say it's a bridge between the light "Octavarium" and they heavy "Systematic Chaos".

The album has 6 songs, and whenever you have a few, (generally long) songs there is a risk of the album being boom or bust. Well, of the 6 songs I like 3, and the other 3 are kind of bland so I guess they managed alright. 3 good 3 not so good, that's about as middle of the road as you can.

The 3 songs I like are ironically start, middle and finish: "A Nightmare to Remember", "The Shattered Fortress" and "The Count of Tuscany". The remaining 3 are not bad songs at all, but just kind of boring. They don't really do anything for me and I find it hard to finish them, at least without feeling bored.

"A Nightmare to Remember" is quite a way to start the album: heavy, progressive and operatic. There's a pretty dark tone to the song. It starts with a rainy, somber intro but kicks into a dramatic section complete with some gnarly double bass. Actually this song is one of the more intense outputs from Portnoy. Anyway, that's how to describe this song, heavy, progressive and operatic. It is all those things, it never gets stale since no part hangs around too long, and unlike some other DT songs I get a real sense of movement. There are some groovy riffs, intense drumming, melodic parts, guitar and keyboard solos, it has it all.

I'm not a big fan of LaBrie's vocals but on this song, and the entire album, they are actually fine. Don't blow me away, but they are fine...and for some time "A Nightmare to Remember", during the the quieter part, I really like them. Later on are the infamous Portnoy "growls" and I say that because they are not growls. If so then they are a weak ass attempt at growls! Anywho, it's actually not bad more laughable than anything, but not so terrible if you just go with it. The blast beats near the end are real weird, doesn't sound right...kind of like they just stuck em in there. A pretty good song though overall.

"The Shattered Fortress" is the conclusion of the epic "12 step suite" about Portnoy's problem with alcoholism. It contains musical and lyrical references to all the previous songs, and at first I thought this was a bit of a cop out, (yeah just stitch the previous together) but it's really a good song. Heavy and quite progressive, I like it. It's without the grandiose, operatic touches of the album opener...more of a heavy metal prog song that reminds me of my favorite DT album, "Train of Thought". Some epic riffs and sections, a damn decent song.

"The Count of Tuscany" is the 19 minute finale, and my favorite on the album. It's the only song I liked originally, and I now can say it's my favorite post "Train of Thought" song the band has done. Truly progressive, there is a great flow and feel throughout. I am quick to say how DT aren't the best songwriters out there, and often leave me a bit cold, but not this time. The actual music and song structure are well done, a very well composed piece. It never gets too heavy, too epic, some real cool riffs and movements, it's perfection.

The lyrics are weird and silly, supposedly based on a true story where Petrucci, I guess, was offered a car tour by the Count of Tuscany. Then he meets his weird brother and the whole experience has him fearing for his life, I don't know it's weird but I never was one for lyrics. More important are vocals and again they are quite fine. Those Portnoy "growls" pop back up but they are backing and not solo, and actually work! I'll be honest I love when they yell "I!". Great music, song structure and a good vocal display from LaBrie.

So there we have it. I have a bit of a rep as a DT basher so I decided to focus a lot on the songs I like, (see I can be nice). The overall album is decent, I quite enjoy half the songs and the rest I can easily live without. That is a middle of the road album, but not a bad one. DT fans will like it, haters won't, casual/moderate fans should get some enjoyment.

Two and a Half Stars



Report this review (#229286)
Posted Friday, July 31, 2009 | Review Permalink
1 stars I guess I am a completionist because I still buy Dream Theater albums even though I saw the beginning of their decline with "Train of Thought". I read people here say this album starts out great and that is what Dream Theater is good about.

This album starts out terribly. Completely robotic, uninspired sounds and noises. There is absolutely no creativity left in those guys. Plain, simple and boring showing off of their technical musicianship--nothing more. It was so bad that midway I switched to "Scenes From A Memory Metropolis Part II". Ahhhh, thank god.

Mike Portnoy needs to calm the f*ck down. This ass still can't do a smooth natural sounding and appealing drum fill. LaBrie should quit singing completely. Petrucci and Rudess should utilize their amazing guitar and keyboard skills, respectively, elsewhere. I mean it tells you something when they do a better job in their side projects than in their main band.

Those guys need to sit down and think instead of pumping out crap.

Report this review (#229547)
Posted Sunday, August 2, 2009 | Review Permalink
Prog Metal Team
3 stars Another two years, another Dream Theater studio release...

I found Systematic Chaos to be pretty mediocre to say the least although I did enjoy the last two tracks which made me believe that the album was slightly better then I gave it credit for. In fact, I was so impressed by those two compositions that I wrote "Hopefully it's a sign of the things to come".

When the first track details for this album were unveiled I got my hopes up since the tracks lengths indicated that the band was going towards the style that I enjoyed the most i.e. the lengthy progressive epics. After finally listening to the album I have to say that Dream Theater didn't really disappoint although it's still not enough considering this bands potential. Let me clarify:

A Nightmare To Remember is a decent tune although, just like everyone else, I'll have to criticize Mike Portnoy's vocal performance plus the solo bits felt really lame since it was just your standard Dream Theater affair. It wouldn't kill them to give us something new once in a while. Unlike most of the others I happened to like the two singles. In fact I think that A Rite Of Passage and Wither were the first two decent singles that Roadrunner Records have produced! Although I find the album version of A Rite Of Passage less appealing since the progressive parts feel disjoint in comparison to the rest of the song (plus the whole iPhone solo and stuff just sounds weird).

The Shattered Fortress is basically a rehash of the previous steps in the AA-suite with very little new material. I don't really see the point of adding on the motifs on every next track unless it's a full circle process, meaning that The Glass Prison should also include the motifs from The Shattered Fortress but that idea was apparently not implemented. Instead Mike and the band created new motifs for every new album without actually carefully crafting a a concept series.

The Best Of Times is a beautiful song that I probably enjoy the most from this entire album although it is way too long and could easily have been edited down to a 7-9 minute track. The final epic track titled The Count Of Tuscany is considered by most fans to be the album's one true masterpiece which is understandable if you only listen to the music and ignore the lyrics, but I just can't do that and have to experience some of the worst lyrics ever written by John Petrucci. Fortunately the more recent reviews have started sharing my pain which I'm grateful for.

Overall it's a decent effort but by Dream Theater standards, decent is never enough!

**** star songs: A Nightmare To Remember (16:10) A Rite Of Passage (8:35) Wither (5:25) The Best Of Times (13:07) The Count Of Tuscany (19:16)

*** star songs: The Shattered Fortress (12:49)

Total rating: 3,83

Report this review (#229605)
Posted Sunday, August 2, 2009 | Review Permalink
3 stars After Systematic Chaos left a bad taste in my mouth, I didn't have high hopes for their latest release. Initially, I wasn't sure if I wanted to give Dream Theater another chance to win me over. I eventually caved in and bought Black Clouds & Silver Linings on one boring afternoon. I even bought the 3-disc edition because it would have more resale value if I were disappointed by my purchase. I was surprised to find that BC&SL is actually a pretty good album.

"A Nightmare To Remember" is a strong start to the album. I suppose this could be classified as a metal track, but within it there are softer moments and beautiful passages mixed with the parts that are heavier in distorted guitars. Mike Portnoy provides some vocals that can be described as growls, with Portnoy's vocals deepened by some studio wizardry. I initially laughed at the thought of him growling, but they honestly aren't as bad as I thought they would be. He's not trying to sound like Corpsegrinder from Cannibal Corpse or anything, and they fit the mood set by the song.

"A Rite Of Passage" was the first song I heard from the album since it was the first single released. This is the first of two relatively straightforward (read short) songs. This was the song that almost kept me from buying the album. "A Rite of Passage" is pretty much built upon the melodic metal guitar lines of Petrucci with some stellar-as-always soloing (including Rudess), but there isn't much else for me. The song itself seems a bit repetitive for it's running time, though 8:36 is brief for them, and it seems a bit lacking in energy for what is essentially a metal song. The transition from the solo section back to the chorus sounds choppy to me.

"Wither" is sort of like Dream Theater's take on a power ballad. Not a great song or a bad song, just somewhere in the middle. It sits well between two of the heavier songs on the album.

"The Shattered Fortress" brings about the conclusion of Mike Portnoy's AA-themed songs. It essentially blends some of the musical themes and lyrics of the previous portions of the "suite" with some fresh ideas. No major complaints on this one, as it serves its purpose effectively. The song is quite high in energy and the band is playing with passion.

"The Best of Times", along with the opener, make up my favorite compositions on the disc. The song is dedicated to Portnoy's recently deceased father, and this song is a fitting tribute. The song is capable of evoking feelings sorrow from the listener while still being wrapped up in overall positivity. The band also shows some of their prog-rock influences in allowing violinist Jerry Goodman (Mahavishnu Orchestra, Dixie Dregs) to guest on the track, and around the 2:50 mark, you can hear a Lifeson-like riff enter (think "The Spirit Of Radio").

Unfortunately, a 19-minute piece, "The Count Of Tuscany", is chosen to close the album. I'm right on board with this song for the first 4 minutes of this song. It sounds like good potential for an instrumental. After this point, I start to lose interest. The lyrics are rather corny. I usually don't listen to music for the lyrical content, but in this case, it is somewhat of a turnoff. The music in the core of the song is far from horrible, but it had all of 19 minutes to win me over and I become less interested as the time passes.

As BC&SL is a definite improvement on their last album, but not an album without some disappointment, 3-stars is an appropriate rating. Dream Theater still lives!!

Report this review (#230143)
Posted Wednesday, August 5, 2009 | Review Permalink
3 stars Their best since SFAM (except for TOT which I like a lot) and at the same time their worst album ever. Surprised? I'll try to explain.

For years DT have been accused of being more-than-influenced by other bands. Their recent opuses like "Prophets of Muse", "I Walk Beside U2", "Forsakevanescene" and "These Linkin Walls" just proved that DT's creativity is dying (if not dead). BC&SL was to be "make or break"-album for DT, and dare I say they reached both goals.

It's well-charting, it's heavy, it's dark, it's huge and epic. It's just the way Mike Portnoy described it: "a Dream Theater album with "A Change of Seasons", "Octavarium", "Learning to Live", "Pull Me Under" and "The Glass Prison". AND NOTHING MORE. It's completely devoid of any sign of creativity and fresh ideas. This time DT covering themselves, not RUSH or YES. In the light of this a bonus CD with 6 covers from QUEEN to KING CRIMSON looks like an inaccurate joke. Ok, down to music, putting the originality issue aside, what do we have? The whole record is quite enjoyable (especially for those progheads/metalheads who never listened to DT before), but the only worthy piece is a mid-part from "A Nightmare to Remember" - "hopelessly drifting" etc. This is where I heard that good old DT, without cloning someone (or themselves), without technical show-offs and stuff. But solo fill follows, then Mike growls (or tries to?), and here we are, magic is gone. Wither indeed.

DT has turned into a waste factory. I doubt that I would hear anything good and captivating from them in 2011 or another-year-the-new-album-is-scheduled-for. I'm disappointed and disillusioned

Report this review (#231046)
Posted Tuesday, August 11, 2009 | Review Permalink
3 stars Dream Theater made their come back this year with a brand new release "Black Clouds And Silver Linings", an album that die hard DT fans waited for with high expectations, after the quite weak "Systematic Chaos" released in 2007. The waiting was partly worth it because this work is certainly more convincing than its predecessor anyway it clearly shows the band attempt to come back to a certain standard that according to the critics and to the audience reactions is lacking from too long. "Black clouds...." is a honest release with highs and lows, since it features a quite interesting epic like "The Count Of Tuscany" and "A Nightmare To Remember", but also pretty weak compositions like "A rite of Passage" and "The Best of Times" and the slightly better "Wither": all decent songs, that, anyway, leaves an undeniable sense of deja-vu, everything sounds pretty much like Dream Theater trying to write new material in the shadows of their past works. For instance the already cited "Wither" is very very similar to "The Answer Lies Within" from 2005 release "Octavarium"; "A rite of Passage" is similar to "These Walls", also this one on the "Octavarium" album. Finally the AA Portnoy's saga comes to an end with "The Shattered Fortress", nothing more than a collage of the previous songs, I mean "The glass prison", "This dying soul", "The root of all evil" and "Repentance". In the end it's a good album, which anyway keeps on losing that particular magic that made so great works like "Scenes from A memory" or even "Six degrees of inner turbulence". The album surely suffers from DT quite unreasonable will to get more "Gothic" as Jordan Rudess said in a recent interview, a path that we really hope they will leave as soon as possible!

Talking about the second disc in which DT homage some of the bands that inspired them all trough the years, I have been a bit disappointed since the recording quality is quite rough and the playing level on classic like King Crimson's "Lark's Tongues In Aspic part II" is quite low.The whole cd sound a little bit chaotic, and in my opinion, not so well conceived.

A decent album, with a couple of interesting tracks, anyway we're still far from the real Dream Theater standard.

My rating is 3 stars

Report this review (#231486)
Posted Friday, August 14, 2009 | Review Permalink
5 stars It's a really interesting album, for those who like the past of Dream Theater. For me the most interesting album of the 00s after 'Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence'.

From the start of the album, I found that is a metal album with heavy riffs and great solos. Vocals are wonderful, easy in the ballad parts, hard in the metal parts. The keyboards are not so interesting because there are so little parts that you can hear them. The production is as usual very good.

For real, is an album different from the other DT albums, and tell us that DT history is not over...

Report this review (#232103)
Posted Monday, August 17, 2009 | Review Permalink
3 stars Maybe this album is the light that will eclipse the black cloud over the head of that band....

Sorry for grammar, I'm French

Well first of all, I'm actually A big fan of two kind of music : Metal and Progressive and all their sub-genres.... As A Metal fan, I like this album, but as A Prog fan, I don't know what to think about it.....While we are in the world where the band don't want to be identified in a specific kind of music, Dream Theater always cry to everyone that they are a Progressive band, Prog Nation, One Nation Under Prog whatever...and I think that we can easily notice that in their music : They want to show us that they can play faster than anyone and finally, DT seem to be a band with no inspiration

Anyway, there's some good songs in this album and that give me hope for the futur of this band

My favourite songs : 1- The Count Of Tuscany : a good original one that we can easily place in the legendary songs of DT; Great final but poor lyrics 2- A Nightmare To Remember : Goth ambiance, a nice metal one

The album in General :

- A Rite Of Passage : The single, in my opinion the most bad song in this album

- Whiter : Pretty OK

- The Shattered Fortress : The final of The AA suite.....a remix of all other parts and for me....a big mistake; sounds O.K. anyway but this is not the final that I anticiped for the AA suite...

- The Best Of Times : A Song that Mike wrote for his father....Great Intro....some guitar riffs that remind me Images and Words....Lyrics seem to be emotional but in the end, everybody could say that from his father so....

In the End.....:

Good Album With Up and Down; not for everyone....

Report this review (#232124)
Posted Monday, August 17, 2009 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
4 stars I have such an appreciation for this band, not only for how influential they've been in the Prog-Metal world but for how technical these guys are. I mean these guys can play with anyone. While FATES WARNING are my favourite Prog-Metal band, DREAM THEATER is a band I respect and play often. Of their 10 studio albums I only feel that four of them are 3 stars or less. "Black Clouds & Silver Linings" is definitely near the top. It's a concept album of sorts about dramatic events that have happened in the band members lives. I just read a good interview with local boy James LaBrie in the Toronto Sun who said that while he didn't contribute a song to this album he did have at least one traumatic tale."In 1994, I was down in Cuba with my wife on vacation and I got serious food poisoning. I got so ill that that I ruptured my vocal cords when I was puking. It took me eight years before it started to come together again. But now, i'm in the best vocal shape i've ever been in". He also talks about how Mike Portnoy has on his computer every show they've ever played, and DREAM THEATER do everything it takes to not play the same song in the same city two tours in a row. In fact as James was being interviewed they were practising three completely different sets of songs for the first three shows they would be playing. Probably the only band I know of who doesn't play the same or almost the same set every night they play while on tour. "LaBrie estimates the band has about 80 songs in rotation".

"A Nightmare To Remember" opens with thunder followed by keys before it kicks in heavily around a minute. Check out Portnoy ! Here comes Pertucci ! The tempo picks up. Vocals before 2 1/2 minutes. It settles after 5 minutes. A beautiful section comes in before 7 minutes.Then it starts to pick up again after 8 1/2 minutes with some great guitar. Rough vocals from Portnoy 11 1/2 minutes in.The tempo shifts a lot the rest of the way. Killer opener ! "A Rite Of Passage" sounds so good when it kicks in. It's heavy duty with processed vocals at first. Here we go ! Check out Pertucci 5 1/2 minutes in. It settles after 7 minutes with vocals. It ends heavily. "Wither" is a nice mid-paced song with vocals. I like the bottom end here. I like the synths 3 minutes in as Portnoy pounds away. Great guitar 4 minutes in. My least favourite but it's still a good one.

"The Shattered Fortress" is building. Cool ! Heavy duty.Thunderous soundscape. Love the guitar before 2 minutes then it picks up even more. Vocals follow. It doesn't settle until around 7 minutes. Kicks back in before 9 1/2 minutes. Nice. "The Best Of Times" opens with piano then Jerry Goodman (MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA) comes in on violin. Acoustic guitar is next. It kicks in before 3 minutes.The drumming is fantastic ! Vocals 4 minutes in. It lightens after 7 minutes. Love the guitar after 11 minutes. "The Count Of Tuscany" is the over 19 minute closer. Laid back guitar to open then another guitar joins in. It builds before it kicks in heavily around 3 1/2 minutes. Killer sound 4 minutes in. Vocals follow. Great uptempo section. Rough vocals after 5 minutes. The guitar soars 10 1/2 minutes in then it turns dreamy. Cool section here that lasts until before 14 1/2 minutes when strummed guitar takes over. Reserved vocals join in. Emotion 16 minutes in. It ends in a pastoral way with nature sounds.

Easily 4 stars for this epic album, and who would have imagined that this would be Mike Portnoy's last with the band. Shocking !

Report this review (#233759)
Posted Friday, August 21, 2009 | Review Permalink
Symphonic Team
4 stars Black Clouds and Silver Linings - review #233

Time signature changes and virtuoso instrumental breaks result in an orchestrated triumph

The new DREAM THEATER album has been the talk of the prog metal world for the past months and from what I have read on the site here it has received mixed reactions gaining new fans while alienating old ones. So it was with some trepidation that I approached this latest entry, having heard and enjoyed all of DREAM THEATER's previous albums.

The album begins with the falling rain, a storm brewing, and a soul chilling piano begins. A chorus of voices over a distorted crunching guitar follows. Portnoy's pounding double kick drums are as ominous as thunder and it builds to the killer riff that rips through the stratosphere in head banging glory. Thus begins the ultimate DREAM THEATER track 'A Nightmare to Remember'. LaBrie sounds seriously aggressive as he blasts the enigmatic lyrics: 'The sky was clear and frigid, the air was thick and still, now I'm not one to soon forget, and I bet I never will,' the chorus breaks into a crawling pace, a chugging guitar is heard and the soundwave of a car screeching to a sudden crash. 'Stunned and bewildered, cold and afraid, torn up and broken, frightened and dazed...' at 4:55 it breaks into an off kilter acoustic flourish, and the sound of police sirens is heard. A gorgeous guitar lick follows and LaBrie's vocals are calmer reminding me of his performance on Ayreon's 'The Human Equation' and in fact the track here is a similar scenario: a man is put in hospital and close to death as a result of a horrific car accident. 'Hopelessly drifting, bathing in beautiful agony, I am endlessly falling' ... no doubt LaBrie was inspired by his Ayreon experience. The man in the scenario loses his memory in a similar way and is reflecting on his life. This scenario appears on other prog epics such as Spock's Beard's 'Octane' and is equally powerful. We learn that the man is lapsing into a recurring nightmare as he replays the events in his mind. At 8:36 there is a slick guitar solo with very fast picking and virtuoso musicianship from Petrucci. Rudess has a trade off moment with Petrucci as Myung pounds the rhythm; when these guys play off each other, the result is pure DREAM THEATER magic. It is played effortlessly and with complex arrangements: DREAM THEATER on a grand scale. At 10:30 the track changes direction in another time shift returning back to the main melody showcasing Rudess' keyboarding again. The bio- hazard-style vocals begin on the next verse with Portnoy and LaBrie singing similar to the 'The Dark Eternal Night' from the previous album. I prefer it when they steer clear of this gravel vocal style as it does not sound sincere and a little forced for my tastes. However, the music more than makes up for it. A classy riff begins at 12:00 which is off kilter and strange, not quite on time with the drums. The police sirens return at 14:00 ... the recurring nightmare signified by recurring riffing. It comes full circle with the minimalist piano and thunder. In conclusion, one of the best DREAM THEATER tracks and the definitive highlight of the album.

'A Rite of Passage' is the freemasonry themed track that features great power riffs and more special effects to enhance the style and feel. 'Beneath an ever watchful eye, the angels of the temple fly...' LaBrie muses on blood oaths, rituals, symbols and the illuminati; as dangerous as one may find it, the track is encapsulating on every level. The music is very melodic, sections that are heavy are counter balanced by calmer moments. At 4:50 the band launch into a breakneck power chord progression and Petrucci blasts out a lead break, with Rudess joining in: it is pure bliss to hear the band in full flight.

'Whither' slows things considerably with the beautiful ballad style that has become a mandatory trademark of DREAM THEATER albums. There is a memorable chorus and the lyrics are emotionally charged and sung with passion. There is an excellent soaring lead solo towards the end to cap off another very good track.

'The Shattered Fortress' features a glorious dark metal riff to carry it along. The growelling vocal trade off with Portnoy and LaBrie returns, and once again, not exactly a welcome addition, but I guess we are stuck with it now that DREAM THEATER seem to be relentlessly using this style. Moving onto the music, there are some amazing sections amidst this mini epic. The broken bottles artwork in the booklet reflects the mood that is punctuated by the broken drum patterns and shattered metrical shifts. Listen to that awesome instrumental break with Rudess and Petrucci duelling one another. The track is broken into parts continuing the magnum opus begun on previous DREAM THEATER albums, continued from 'Systematic Chaos' to this album. Part X 'Restraint' speaks of a 'fateful ascent through darkest fires, and now I have finally seen the light, sometimes you've got to be wrong and learn from mistakes'. Part XI 'Receive' includes a deep voice over of regrets and hopes: 'where there is doubt, faith' .... a similar theme to 'Systematic Chaos' tracks. The slow pace is welcome here to allow breathing space. The real treat for DREAM THEATER fans is the return to the familiar songs of DREAM THEATER history ... when heard it is likely to send chills down your spine, as the familiar melodies are heard, you will recognise the tunes immediately, and I felt that it showed great respect to fans to include these. Part XII 'Responsible' (the third Re-) concludes the saga that has relayed the trials and tribulations of Portnoy's alcohol soaked addictions ... a brave move to come out with this and it works as a lengthy saga that DREAM THEATER will soon be playing from start to finish in a live performance. These three parts cap off the saga beautifully bringing it to a final denouement as the rain falls solemnly washing away the pain and restoring peace.

'The Best of Times' took a while to grow on me and actually is yet to resonate with me in the same way that the rest of the album does. It feels very radio friendly and mainstream although it clocks at 13 minutes. The music is the real star of the track, as the lyrics and vocal performance are second rate in comparison to what has been heard previously. There is a terrific intro with a sublime violin and an acoustic solo. The rest of the track sounds like a different band and guaranteed to alienate many fans as a result. I was not taken with the style and hope they never return to this live ... it is an unwelcome transformation. Although, it is a nice paean to Portnoy's deceased father. The lyrics even remind us to 'seize the day' a familiar DREAM THEATER theme. The lyrics seem a bit over the top and I guess in the right mood you might be able to hook into this. Let's move onto the next track ... which is sensational.

The glorious epic 'The Count of Tuscany' explodes the myth that DREAM THEATER have forgotten how to construct lengthy compositions. The time signature changes and multi instrumental breaks are all here and this is an orchestrated triumph that will rate highly with any DREAM THEATER fan, alongside 'Octavarium' and 'A Change of Seasons'. It begins with an acoustic progression and a lead solo overlayed. Then the harmonics and cymbals are the calm before the storm. Portnoy takes off with triplets and drum embellishments, a melody locks in and it feels as if it is building to a crescendo. The intro is demonstrating the peak of DREAM THEATER's powers, the band are working as a unit, taking turns with solo sections until the riff slams into gear. It is a wonderful heavy riff that chugs along relentlessly. The way the riff breaks unexpectedly throughout, chopping off rhythmically, is prog at its best. The vocals are very good, and then the dreaded growelling vocals return ... tsk, tsk. Rudess has another solo stint and it's brilliantly executed. And the musical inventiveness and prowess of Petrucci cannot be underestimated. The track gets into a complex rhythm and then slows down at 10:54, and there is even the sound of tubular bells twinkling, and then my favourite part as Petrucci violins his guitar adding to the ambience and tranquillity: like sunlight bursting through clouds. I had never heard him play like this. The soaring violining continues for a few bars then at 14:30 an acoustic chord sequence is played with LaBrie turned up in the mix. 'Could this be the end, is this the way I die, sitting here alone, no one by my side... what did I do wrong, I just don't understand.' It is emotionally charged but this works as we really believe what he is singing. The heartfelt pleas continue and challenge our senses in a melancholy sense. At 17:00 the music builds again with another scorching lead solo. It is truly magical when DREAM THEATER lose themselves in these epics, and it is wondrous to get lost with them. It concludes with a beach scenario, gulls screeching and waves lapping on the beach.

Bonus CDs are always intriguing and here we have a full CD bonus disk 2 of cover songs as diverse as Zebra, Rainbow, Queen, Iron Maiden, and King Crimson. The version of 'Larks Tongues' is precision playing with reverance to the classic. I love the rocker montage from Queen and Dixie Dregs. It's great to hear these versions and well worth getting hold of this bonus disk.

Bonus disk 3 is the karaoke version of 'Black Clouds and Silver Linings' - it sounds empty without Labries vocals but its a weird experience listening to these instrumentals - sing along if you must or just listen to that musicianship and marvel. Soak yourself in the CD as a background noise or discard - your choice. I managed to get through three tracks before turning back to the original versions again.

Did I mention the booklet? It features sensational artwork and works well complementing each track, enhancing the experience, better than the usual artwork in CDs these days. The 3 CD package features a great layout, with each CD cover having a distinct look to differentiate between each, and the CD artwork itself is masterful. How does one conclude on all this? DREAM THEATER have formulated a successful return to brilliance. Each track captures the essence of the band: scorching blistering solo performances, reflective lyrics and epic themes. 6 tracks... 4 brilliant. Not quite a masterpiece, but its growing on me with each listen. Don't take notice of the reviews that are blasting this album: DREAM THEATER most definitely hits the target with 'Black Clouds and Silver Linings'.

Report this review (#234758)
Posted Monday, August 24, 2009 | Review Permalink
3 stars I read many of the reviews and I wanted to write my own: this is not a bad production from DT, but it is not their best at all. They reached their zenit with Scenes from a memory, probably one of the best musical productions ever from a prog / metal band, and definitely one of my best purchases in my 46 years. Black clouds & silver linings is worth buying just for a couple of songs (and also for being a fan, of course): The shattered fortress and The count of Tuscany. The first because it closes the circle opened in Six degrees..., which I suppose it is not only important for what it takes and claims but for the very act of finishing it, putting the final period to a brilliant novel in several acts. The last because of its inherent beautifulness, the omnipresent marvelous guitars, the crescendos, the force well administered, the different parts very well assembled, at times joyful and in other moments full of melancholy. This is the very reason of the 3 stars I give this production, and the main reason you (fan of DT) should buy this CD. Besides from those two songs, the rest are simply forgettable since they do not remain in your memory more than the very moment you listen to them. A nightmare to remember is really a nightmare to forget about. This song just reveals what a band can do when they are tired of writing. Take a look at Octavarium or Systematic Chaos (even Train of thought in its entirety is better than A nightmare...). Which is the difference between a song from Train... and A nightmare...? That you can easily follow any of the songs in Train... and remember them, even in the most difficult musical parts. You cannot follow A nightmare... It even made me fall asleep! Really! Wither. Well, I've heard better songs in that fancy from DT, for instance Misunderstood. A rite of passage is so obvious that it does not happen to deserve a review of any kind. Maybe you can save The best of times from the wreckage, but its light is a tiny one within the big darkness the rest spill over the thorough CD.

In other order are the covers. I am also a big fan of King Crimson, so I could not avoid to confront both the original Lark's with DT's cover. Have you heard Starless cover from Morse, Portnoy and George? THAT is a cover I have enjoyed with infinite pleasure, as long as the original is respected (and sometimes enhanced). But Lark's cover lacks the brute force that the original has. Stargazer is, on the contrary, full of that energy that populated both Deep Purple and Rainbow, and it is more enjoyable than most of the DT's BC $ SL tracks. The Queen's ones are another good effort, since Sheer heart attack is not one of the most popular Queen's albums and DT showed here a good choice and best taste in arranging those versions. For the other two I don't know the originals, but I like Morse's song better than Zebra's one. And Iron Maiden... well, I never liked them, so this song does not represent anything to me more than "another cover".

It is amazing how a band I like so much as DT can do this uneven work, I wish their next album will shock me as Scenes... did so many years ago. I sincerely hope so...

BC & SL is for DT's fans only. If you are not a fan, I recommend you to go and listen other material from DT first.

Report this review (#234929)
Posted Monday, August 24, 2009 | Review Permalink
5 stars Well I might as well start my reviews of the DT's with their latest studio CD and the special edition I got has THREE CD's VFM I reckon. Anyway - Dream Theater have produced a five star effort because the last track "The Count of Tuscany" is just pure gold. It's the Rush track that RUSH should have produced some time after Moving Pictures heralded another great band sliding into prog-obscurity by producing a load of commercial horsepoo anyway I digress...The Epic TCOT has a start that gets the hair on your neck a bristling and it's just 20 minutes of technical supremacy allied with great singing...I love the Gates of delirium/Hackettesque slide guitar and the ending is one of my all time favourites in my rather large collection of progressive cd's. What about the rest? The opening track is the weakest (but still 5 bazillion times better than anything on DSOTM - Sorry Floyd fans) but still has a lot of technical metal skills to marvel at. The next "A Rite of passage" I like a lot. especially the opening riff and it's nice metal riffing is interspersed with the more melodic mellotron backed chorus. Yeah this track has a lot to offer. Third up, Wither, starts off a bit like an old Rush track and then it has a bit like an IQ song - can't remember which one, a nice quieter slower track again this is not filler it's a good track. Then the Shattered Fortress and back to metallica with keyboards, but I love the riffing and drumming and the change of speed as it picks up and gets more and more technical, some lovely guitar work by Petrucci....Petrucci - who is vying with Stolte as my favourite axeman at the moment - he hit's the heights in track 5 "The best of times" - with a guitar solo of sublime complexity and effectiveness. Then you have the Count of Tuscany - the drumming is just flawless and that track is the one that takes this CD past 4.5 and into the FIVES.
Report this review (#237438)
Posted Saturday, September 5, 2009 | Review Permalink
3 stars This is a preliminary review based on exactly one listen through disks 1 and 2, and can be summed up as "more of same". Dream Theater needs a new direction. I'm sure if I listen to this a bunch more times I'll start to pick out more interesting bits here and there, and it will start to take on a personality of its own. But the first time through the grunge sounds a lot the same, the shredding sounds mostly the same, and progressions and passages sounded recycled. The lyrics in particular sounded like someone put the rhyming couplets for all the albums since DT's "return to metal" after Millenium in a hat, stirred, and seeded the new effort's songs with what came out. (Exercise for the reader: List Labrie's ten favorite theme words. It shouldn't take long.)

It's not that it wasn't interesting, more like the band's palette has been trimmed to the top ten colors voted for by die-hard fans. But, full disclosure, I heard this through a rented PT Cruiser "sound system" while negotiating Labor Day traffic. When I get time to give it a ride on headphones, I may change my mind completely.

And, by the way, I thought the violin sounded like Jean Luc Ponty - interesting to know now that it was our old friend Jerry Goodman.

Overall, not bad, but so far nothing at all special. Some of the older songs give me chills, but nothing on this one did. Yet.

Report this review (#238349)
Posted Wednesday, September 9, 2009 | Review Permalink
3 stars As a Dream Theater diehard fan, I must say that I was not disappointed by this album, but it could have been much much better. The idea, musically, behind this album was to make an "album of epics". Some moments truly are epic, and some moments just are silly.

I absolutely love the album opener. "A Nightmare to Remember" is a fantastically heavy metal song that comes out and hits you in the face from the first second (which is a spine- tingling thunder clap). The heavy parts are indeed the focal point of the song, but there is a truly beautiful quiet section about halfway through. Then Dream Theater returns to the heaviness once more and reminds you that they can be as heavy as anyone, and yet beautifully melodic, in the same song. I would like to take this opportunity to clear up something: Mike Portnoy does not, in fact, use growls on this song. If you are familiar with his vocals on "Constant Motion", then these vocals are nothing new to you. He does not pull a Akerfeldt. It is not drastic. Do not worry. The real worry comes when he utilizes blast beats near the end of the song. They sound out of place to my ears, and frankly are rather embarrasing. However! I must say that this is the best album opener since The Glass Prison, and arguably their best song in 3 or 4 albums, if you like their heavy side.

Then we have the first single from the album, "A Rite of Passage". A nice chorus saves this song from total failure, but I still think this song will go down in history along with songs like "Forsaken" and "As I Am" in the category of potentially-commercial songs that just don't reach Dream Theater standards.

Next comes "Wither", a power ballad about writer's block. Dream Theater proves once again that they can do radio rock as well as anyone out there, but they will probably never get any mainstream radio exposure. However, if they ever will, it will be when this song is released as a single with an accompanying video. A good, solid, accessable song. Reminds me of Another Day.

Then we have the ultra-anticipated finale to the 12 Step Suite. What a letdown! I'm sorry, but I've heard this song before. This song has little or nothing to add to the saga. It doesn't even seem like an adequate finale to me. It merely seems to tie up all loose ends. I must say, there are some wonderful moments here, and it's good to hear some "old friends" resurrected for a last hurrah. I just feel like a more epic ending was in order. This seems thrown together at the last second to me.

Then comes "The Best of Times", a personal song about Mike Portnoy's father, who passed away. Some touching lyrics here, very personal indeed. The song opens with a piano and a violin playing a sad theme. It is beautiful, but it is cheesy. Then, out of nowhere, comes a John Petrucci guitar bit that sounds a bit like a tribute to The Spirit of Radio, especially when the band explodes around him in a Rush style. This leads to an upbeat, happy section recalling "days of yesterday". It is a truly awesome combination of music, melody, and lyrics. However, all of a sudden....the song stops. And another song, all too familiar, seems to take over. It is a variation of the opening theme played with a full band. It sounds totally and completely stale to the Dream Theater fan, as it has been copied on such songs as "The Ministy of Lost Souls". The finale guitar solo is indeed impressive, but....why is it there? One of my main nitpicks with Dream Theater.

The finale, the epic...The Count of Tuscany. It is embarrassing. I absolutely love the opening. It is beautiful and moving, and truly makes you feel like this is the DT song you've waited for since 6DOIT. For a few minutes, you find yourself in musical heaven, but then...oh no! The song changes. It doesn't change to a bad song, but it does change abruptly and confusingly. Then...James LaBrie comes in with the most atrocious lyrics these ears have ever choked down. John Petrucci wrote them about an encounter he had with a strange Italian man, in which he suspected he was in danger, but soon found that he was not. That is the story, in a nutshell. A very cool part of the song is a Petrucci guitar bit that is probably the most roomy and minimalistic minute or so in DT's catalogue. I quite like the soaring guitar notes that seem to come out of an empty sanctuary. The finale returns to the opening themes, and would be most satisfying if it weren't for the fact that the lyrics are too distracting. It had promise, but I think a simple lack of wise songwriting killed this song early on.

It is worth noting that I purchased the special edition,complete with 6 cover tunes.They are actually very enjoyable, I love the reworking of Queen, Rainbow and Zebra classics! Well worth the extra 5 dollars or so, especially when you throw in the CD of instrumental mixes. Although I must say that these mixes are not anything special. Just a nice addition that lets the listener listen to The count of Tuscany without wincing.

In conclusion, this is a good album. Despite all its shortcomings. I must note two things that I dislike about this album, in general: -Still too much technicality for its own sake -There seems to be an inability to switch between musical themes smoothly, as it actually sound like they combined 2 or 3 songs just because they could.

But! I have to say that this shows flashes of brilliance in A Nightmare to Remember, The Shattered Fortress, and the final two songs. Truly moving melody and incredible musicianship still save Dream Theater and this album for me.

It's a good album that should satisfy DT fans, but not many others. So my rating? 3 stars. Simply because I know these guys could have done so much better.

Report this review (#238754)
Posted Saturday, September 12, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars Dream Theater- Black Clouds and Silver Linings (2009) This album was a big surprise for me. It sounds quite different to some of their other material. There's only six tracks, but they're all quite epic in length.

A Nightmare To Remember- Heavy stuff, both in terms of lyrical content, and riffs. DT sound like Metallica in parts of this opening volley. The lyrics are about a car crash (and the sample of a car wreck only serves to confirm this), and the music is just as bludgeoning as the concept. One could be forgiven for thinking DT have abandoned prog altogether, and have become a metal band first and foremost. But the lovely mellow section in the middle of this track puts those fears to rest. I got chills when I first heard the 'bathing in beautiful agony' lyric. Drummer Mike Portnoy's growling Opeth-like vocals near the end may grate some fans, though. Some fans like Dream Theater for their progressive material, others like their headbanging fare. As a fan of prog and metal, I have the best of both worlds. John Pettruci (guitar) and Jordan Rudess (keyboards) are on top form here.

A Rite Of Passage- Sounds similar to 'Home' from their 'Scenes From A Memory' album at first, but turns into a different beast altogether. It's an anthemic sing along about, of all things, Freemasonry. The chorus is quite mainstream sounding, and it would probably get radio airplay if only it wasn't eight minutes in length. About halfway through, it shifts again, into a kind of Trivium- esque heavy metal section. By blending together pop hooks, prog conventions, and chucking in metal influences, DT always manage to surprise me.

Wither- The big ballad. It's about writer's block, its hummable, and radio ought to be playing this. The song sounds similar to, say, 'Vacant' from 2003's 'Train Of Thought' album.

The Shattered Fortress- The conclusion of Portnoy's Alcoholics Anonymous song suite, which began way back with 'The Glass Prison' on 2002's 'Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence' record. The song takes us back through many musical moments in recent DT history. Themes from 'Repentance', 'The Root Of All Evil', 'This Dying Soul' and the afore-mentioned 'Glass Prison' are all bundled into the one track. My one complaint with this song is that, unlike the others in the suite before it, it does not really offer up its own addition to the concept, it merely comes back full circle to the others. Maybe it needs to be heard in context. Hopefully, the band will play the whole suite live, at some point in the future, so I can hear the whole thing.

The Best Of Times- I knew this song was about Portnoy's father, who died earlier this year, so I was prepared for a tearjerker. 'The Best Of Times' is a great song, with an almost disconcertingly honest series of revelations about Portnoy's life with his dad. It's certainly a song with very emotionally revealing lyrics. I challenge you not to cry, actually. There's a strong Rush influence in the instrumentals as well.

The Count Of Tuscany- My favourite track on the record. It could well develop into one of my favourite DT songs. After a great 70s prog-influenced opening few minutes, referencing Yes and Rush, (and a great Petrucci solo), the song takes off with a tale about Petrucci's run-in with a freaky Tuscan count. The song goes into so many places in its 20 minutes. It's part Yes, part Dragonforce power metal ballad, and in the end, turns into a pastoral, Pink Floyd-esque piece. With strings and all. My favourite DT epic since Octavarium, actually.

I bought the 3 CD special edition, which includes a bonus disc made up of Queen, King Crimson, Iron Maiden, and Rainbow (amongst others) cover songs, which are all really great, by the way; and a third disc with the instrumental-only cuts of the album. I like James La Brie's vocals in DT, some others do not. But people who like the virtuosity of the musicianship can now hear it uninterrupted by vocals. And in BC&SL, DT have certainly returned their musical chops to the forefront. It's an emotional journey, taking in the highs and lows of life (hence the album's title). And it draws on many influences, from old-school prog to modern Machine Head/Trivium/Dragonforce style metal. Existing fans will be pleased, it may win them new fans (it got to number six on the US charts, astonishingly), but detractors will probably continue to whine. My only complaint really is that it's a collection of unrelated songs. Previous DT records have often had musical and lyrical themes which link the songs together. Usually, DT songs work best when heard in the context of their respective albums. A singles band, they are not. BC&SL bucks that trend somewhat. But, oh well. It's still a diverse and layered recording. It will grow on you.

Report this review (#239290)
Posted Monday, September 14, 2009 | Review Permalink
2 stars The album opens with what sounds like music from a Simpson's Halloween special. The most gawd-awful growling you'll ever hear, rendered abysmally by PORTNOY who insists, in the absence of all reason, on being heard. Lyrics to make a ten-year-old blush with embarrassment. Compositional indiscipline, songs without restraint, the aural equivalent of spending a week in a candy shop. DREAM THEATER needs a good editor.

There are positives. Powerful PETRUCCI guitar, technically superb musicianship, and some glorious tuneage and riffage in amongst the musical diarrhoea. LaBRIE mostly staying within his ever-narrowing limits. And that is it.

Overall, a torture to listen to. I find myself constantly thinking: 'still ten minutes to go...' I have listened to each song, but I cannot listen to the album all in one go without feeling swamped. Better than Systematic Chaos, but still nowhere near their best work.

Report this review (#239849)
Posted Thursday, September 17, 2009 | Review Permalink
5 stars Let's borrow a phrase from Paul Simon and remember all the crap we learned in high school. By today's "standards," crap is in the "minor league" of vulgarity. But in the seventies, this term was routinely deleted from radio broadcasts of "Kodachrome." Today, crap can refer to experience itself, and in my high school days the crap was multifarious: everything from the resignation of President Nixon, to the celebration of the Bicentennial, to the rise and initial fall of our beloved genre of progressive rock. Another mark of experience is the awareness that, quite often, divided opinion surrounds certain enduring products of the human spirit. My high school English teacher accentuated this view in response to the lack of appreciation of and / or mixed reactions to now highly regarded artistic efforts like T.S. Eliot's The Wasteland. As a course paper, this teacher assigned to each of us the identification of and explication of a wasteland theme in some other work of literature. I was given permission to confront the lyrics of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer's Karn Evil 9. My instructor gave me a B-, an A for content and an F for grammar. I wrote a stylistic sentence fragment without acknowledging it . . . . Experience also teaches that the human condition is characterized more by "both / and" and less by "either / or."

Or, in another rendering, "shades of gray" rather than "black and white" characterize human experience. It is rather fitting, then, that the latest album from Dream Theater bears the title, Black Clouds and Silver Linings. Our daily lives and rituals are marked by the gray, "both / and" character of the synthesis of "black clouds" and "silver linings."

We all know that a few, cursory listenings to most of the progressive albums held in high regard will not suffice. One's initial experiences with the lion's share of our favorite progressive albums can only lead to "either / or" responses. Earlier this summer, a reviewer questioned John Myung's participation on Black Clouds and Silver Linings. Had this bassist and original member left the band? According to this reviewer, Myung's performance was indiscernible. I think it is fair to remark that we devotees of progressive rock are conditioned to expect an almost lead role for the bass guitar. Paul McCartney, John Entwistle, Chris Squire, Mike Rutherford, Greg Lake, Geddy Lee, and, a bit later, John Myung have fashioned a dominant role for this "standard" instrument of the rhythm section. In the case of Dream Theater, two clear examples come to mind: Images and Word's "Metropolis - Pt. I 'The Miracle and the Sleeper'" and Scenes from a Memory Metropolis, Part II's "The Dance of Eternity."

For many of us, Chris Squire remains the leader of the august group of bassists above and their many associated peers. However, I remember the collective reactions in 1977, when Squire chose a more "conventional" role in the rhythm section of "Awaken." What had happened to his customary lead, Rickenbacker sound? "The only thing permanent is change itself." I submit that, once one really discerns Myung's cavernous, almost "plate tectonic" role on Black Clouds and Silver Linings, it is difficult to focus solely again on the ostensibly overt performances of the other band members. And, this "stealth bomber" approach has been part of Myung's repertoire all along; I'd suggest listening to "Pull Me Under" once again. We forget that, at times, the bass functions at a visceral, near inaudible level. Further, for those of us "raised" on "Heart of the Sunrise" and "Yours Is No Disgrace," we expect real motion on the fret board. Sometimes it is the right hand of the bassist that expresses the motion; here I point to "Wither." And, in sections of "The Count of Tuscany," "A Nightmare to Remember," and "Shattered Fortress," motion on the fret board reigns supreme.

In evaluating the album in its entirety, this is a solid effort, deserving of a high rating. I'd say on the ProgArchives scale, this is a borderline 4-5 star production. Sure, there are times when the lyrics aren't superlative. And, yes, there is some recycling of musical themes, rhythms, and motifs from the Dream Theater catalogue. Yet, this is a powerful excursion into the gray areas of human experience. Many have singled out "The Count of Tuscany" as the high point of the recording. I agree. In spirit and mood these nineteen plus minutes evoke Edgar Allan Poe's short story, "The Cask of Amontillado." Although the guest of "The Count" does not end up walled in by bricks to meet his death as Poe's Fortunato does in Montresor's wine cellar, Petrucci's storyteller certainly meets his mortality face to face. For that matter, to partake of this album is to experience death and its contribution to living, insisting we remember our forebears and our own (hopeful) contributions to humanity's legacy. Sadly, though, we often don't remember our own versions of the nightmares and mistakes that occupy much of the content of this album. Do we learn from our mistakes as Portnoy asks not only in "The Shattered Fortress," but also in the previous four installments of self-revelation begun with "The Glass Prison?"

There is also another element of crap from high school to which I'd like to refer: the lionization of the leading exponents of progressive rock. During the seventies, my friends and I displayed an "either / or" devotion to the music of Yes, Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, and Genesis that has mellowed into a subtler appreciation of more forms of musical expression. Let's face it; if we adopt an inflexible, "either / or" view, then all of the music of our heroes pales in the face of the sublime imaginative universes of J. S .Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Ludwig van Beethoven. Similarly, the most effective efforts of Jon Anderson, Greg Lake and Peter Sinfield, and Peter Gabriel are all "minor league" when held up to the creative cosmos of William Shakespeare, William Blake, and Wallace Stevens. And, my examples display a proclivity to the Western Tradition that, in itself, is an "either / or" approach.

Many have pointed out allusions in the lyrics of "Close to the Edge" to Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha. Concretely, Anderson alludes to the river that provides Siddhartha with his opportunity to achieve a timeless / total view of ultimate reality that synthesizes all of the "either / or" aspects of his existence (monastic life vs. the life of commerce and trade; asceticism vs. sensuality; individuality vs. transcendence) into the perception of the river, that, always changing, somehow remains the same. To seek an "epiphany" with this river requires passage from the "either / or" through "both / and."

So, in the spirit of the grayness of human experience, I'd like to submit that, despite its long recognition at the top of the ProgArchives scale, Close to the Edge could one day yield its spot to an album like Tales from Topographic Oceans or to the song, "That, That is" from Keys to Ascension . Could a similar reappraisal occur of Images and Words and / or of Scenes from a Memory Metropolis, Part II?

Report this review (#240384)
Posted Sunday, September 20, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars Dream Theater's 10th and newest album has left nothing behind. It is awesome from start to finish with it's lyrics and musical ability. It has picked up where "Octavarium" and "Systematic Chaos" left off, though it's a bit heavier. Another great in the line of DT albums. Here are the songs:

1/6 "A Nightmare to Remember" starts off with thunder and sets the seen for a dark but very good song. Then Petrucci starts with a little keys that turn into Portnoy drumming. This song tells the story of a car crash from John Petrucci's past. It is alsmost told to you instead of singing but it has a good sound to it. Mike Portnoy's growl midway through the song really adds that DT touch and you can almost feel how Mr. Petrucci must have felt.

2/6 "A Right of Passage" is not one of the best DT songs but is has some good parts as in the begining were it starts with what sounds like guitar than transfers into drumming. You here a man talking then it goes to a deep growl. Overall the song has catchy choruses and playing that show some of Dream Theaters talent.

3/6"Wither" is another straight forward song though it is more like a ballad. It is compared to "Vacant" from Train of Thought. Though the comparison is not the best. It is mostly lead by the vacals and drum playing.

4/6"The Shattered Fortress" is the last step in Mike Portnoy's 12 step suite talking about his alcoholism. Portnoy and Labrie trade of vocals and Mike Portnoy adds his growls to make this blend in good with the other songs in the suite. It is also very instrumentally strong.

5/6"The Best of Times" is a tribute to Mike Portnoy's father(R.I.P) and the time that they spent together. It starts with opening piano that leads into a string section of the song. The lyrics show how Portnoy felt using the lyrics " the young boy and his father idol and best friend". Some people have even compared this a little to Rush. Has very strong emotions in it cansidering the topic.

6/6"The Count of Tuscany" is a very instrumental song that stats off with good guitars and what sound like either synths of keys. It is one of the best DT epics and the best on the album. Supposedly written about Mr. Portnoy meeting a strange count in Tuscany and being freaken by it. The song certainly shows his emotions and if you have only listened to it a couple times it can be unperdictable at times.

Great abum all the way through that includes one good epic and an awesome epic. 4 stars.

Report this review (#240783)
Posted Monday, September 21, 2009 | Review Permalink
1 stars It was by far the biggest disappointment for at least the last 10 years of prog music releases. I might be over-graduating for some people but this is my opinion. It has nothing new to offer to prog music. The same ideas from previous albums re-organized, long meaningless tracks, pure copy of Metallica's bad days. I really tried to give it a second and a third chance but it is simply awful. And just so you know, I am a huge fan of Dream Theater, I haven't missed a concert here in Greece from 2000 until today, but if they come again soon, promoting this album, I am not going. Their ideas finished just before the release of "Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence". All the albums including this one, have some good moments, not even an entire good song, and that is it. Didn't even worth the download. Stay away...!!

P.S.1 Portnoy's voice sucks.. Why does he have to sing so much? P.S.2 "Images and Words" is simply the best album ever written in Rock music generally(in my opinion always) There is never going to be another masterpiece like this. Not even by Dream Theater themselves.

Report this review (#240834)
Posted Tuesday, September 22, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars Very good album. Though some songs are a bit of a cliche: yes the ones meant to be singles... This is a very good Dream Theater album. The Count of Tuscany is a symphonic masterpiece. The Best of Times is a very beautiful song though it requires a special mood so that you may enjoy it in it's full magic. The Shattered Fortress it a good mix between older themes and new approaches. A Nightmare to Remember, though a bit too metal, is a good addition to the album, for the atmosphere and for the musical phrases. My favourite song, together with composition guitar lines and keyboard harmonies, would be The Count of Tuscany. Again, a masterpiece.

The album is a good one, worth checking out.

Report this review (#242047)
Posted Tuesday, September 29, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars I was finally pleased with a new DT album after just hearing the first three minutes of "A Nightmare to Remember", as some lost memories early Dream Theater came back to me; namely "Voices" and other selections from Awake and Images and Words: It's hard to get the (Beautiful Agony) chorus out of my mind. The best first song since SDoIT (disc 2).

A Rite of Passage is good and has an interesting beginning, but eventually sounds like it could be a reject from SDoIT.

Wither is a pleasant song and sounds similar to the weaker offerings from Octavarium (excluding the final two excellent tracks).

The Shattered Fortress has some great lyrical moments to symbolize the final steps of alcohol recovery, but reverts beautifully to the sounds of earlier songs, especially the powerful "Ready" section from "The Root of All Evil".

This brings me to one of the best Dream Theater has recorded: The Best of Times. I've had differences with my parents myself, but the lyrics have helped me appreciate and love what they've done for me my entire life. People take their parents for granted until they're gone. This is definitely the best DT song since "Octavarium".

The Count of Tuscony seems to be way too long, but excellent musicianship keeps a silly sounding plot from getting too boring. The melodic synthesizers and the acoustic guitar in the final minutes bring back memories of the only true mucical gem from FII, "Trial of Tears".

Report this review (#245750)
Posted Thursday, October 22, 2009 | Review Permalink
3 stars Dream Theater: Black Clouds and Silver Linings

Better then Systematic Chaos but not by much. It starts off with "A Nightmare to Remember". The song starts off with a cool vibe that makes it seem like its Halloween then, there are some really cool blast beats laid down by Mike. The songs over 15 minutes and has all those tempo changes amazing musician ship things that we would expect form Dream Theater. The Problem is that Mike Portnoy tries to act like a death metal vocalist again (hes terrible at it and he should leave the singing to Jame). "A Right Of Passage" is an average metal song with a better than average guitar and keyboard solo in it. "Whither" is the ballad of this album, it constantly gets bashed for having cheesy lyrics but I like the song a lot actually. "The Shattered Fortress" is the last part of Mike Portnoy's 12 Step Suit. Its by far the worst of the suit and the worst song of the album. It just takes pieces of the previous song that are part of the suit and tries to merge them together. It think it failed to do so, and the song may not beable to stand alone by its self. "The Best Of Times" is the best song on the album. To me its like a throwback to the good old days of Dream Theater. "The Count Of Tuscany" is the longest song on BC&SL its very good. It would be way better if the lyrics weren't so dang cheesy.

Report this review (#250094)
Posted Thursday, November 12, 2009 | Review Permalink
5 stars Dream Theater believes in giving their fans what they want and one of the focuses of their drummer Mike Portnoy is to give back what they have received. That philosophy is felt in equal measures with the rest of the band. What DT fans enjoy most are the epic tracks that offer everything the band has at its disposal. Featuring a literal all star cast at every position, this band knows how to please each other creatively during the recording process and in turn the listeners reap all the benefits when they release a new album.

John Myung (bass), John Petrucci (guitar), Jordan Rudess (keyboards), James LaBrie (vocals) and Mike Portnoy (drums) are conceivably the most unified and talented band currently recording and each member is a key ingredient in the Dream Theater machine. Although I put a lot of focus this time out on Mike, he truly deserves it. He is a thought leader musically, creatively and handles their business smartly. He is the heart and soul of this band and that cannot be denied.

Black Clouds & Silver Linings (Special Edition) was released in early June this year to coincide with Portnoy's brilliantly managed Progressive Nation Tour. Again this was designed to give it back to the universe by offering new bands to the genre some needed ears in a live setting. In a genre so specific with a smaller fan base worldwide (in comparison to rock or pop stars), everyone needs all the help they can get. It all works very well and I have been turned on to some new sounds in the past two years by attending the concerts. If it wasn't for Portnoy's belief in the bands that tour with them, it never would happen.

This is a three disc set, offered in various configurations, to hopefully please all the needs and tastes of their faithful followers and ever growing newcomers. A lot has to be said for a band with nearly 25 years together that is still new to so many listeners; the DT nation is growing daily and this release increased their incredible exponential growth. The first CD breaks down into six tracks of vintage DT metal and prog. I think with the passing of time it is safe to say that this is already being considered as a classic rendering of the metal-prog genre, giving further authority to the fact that this band has set the gold standard for everyone else to follow. The lead off track "A Nightmare To Remember" comes roaring out of the gate, setting the stage and atmosphere for what is to come. "A Rite of Passage" is a dark and ominous track with a first class video to accompany it. Every aspect of the DT process in regard to delivering their media has continued to get better with each passing year. Portnoy finishes out his story about AA and his battle's with the disease in "The Shattered Fortress" fittingly reviewing some of the other songs that made the story over the years by adding the lyrics in between all the instrumental anarchy. He also offers a touching tribute to his dad, who passed away recently with "The Best of Times." This is one of the more classic rock and pop influenced tunes I have ever heard DT perform and it's a fine song at that. The meaning is very special because of what Mike's father meant to him and the music seems quite fitting for the lyrics. The status quo attacking prog- metal would not work well with the subject matter of this song. '"The Count of Tuscany" is the magnum opus of the recording clocking in at an incredible 19:16, nearly an entire side if it was on a vinyl LP! (The vinyl version is available on the Roadrunner website). This song features a band in sync hitting on all their cylinders; it's like hearing a concert all wrapped up into one track. They are very good at setting the stage and taking you through complex time signatures and changes, offering different musical chapters to go along with the story they are portraying through the music. Let's not forget the ballad-like "Wither" that stands tall in the middle of this session. James LaBrie's voice is outstanding throughout but particularly smooth, succinct and emotionally powerful on this track.

The second disc features some excellent takes on classic rock tracks that had a hand in influencing all the members of the band. These are not the filler cover tunes or throw in bonus tracks you will find on many CDs; these are legitimate solid covers of great songs. Rainbow's "Stargazer" is superb, my favorite out of all six.

Now the ultimate addition to the package is disc three which are all the tracks on disc one without the lyrics. Now all of you James LaBrie wannabes can throw on this CD and sing along. In the same instance, all of the tech freaks and players of instruments will cherish this opportunity to play along or use the tracks to create their own special mixes. Dream Theater you have given us another classic prog-metal release, except this time it is loaded with all the extras that everyone loves, especially big fans of the band. What is not to like here?

5/5 Stars Keith "MuzikMan" Hannaleck November 6, 2009 ©

Report this review (#250104)
Posted Thursday, November 12, 2009 | Review Permalink
Marty McFly
Errors and Omissions Team
5 stars This is not just underrated album, but by many, it's also hated album. Which is quite sad, because this one has a lot to offer. It is melodic, indeed. Nothing experimental (and evil) like SDoiT CD 1 (where I love disc 2, but this first one is quite different. Very different). Nothing happening here.

So what, I don't care if Nightmare To Remember borrows here and there some elements, because this song after all is all that counts, sources of inspiration are only second category with not so weight. Is it progress, as it's mastering older themes together and doing something quite new (even it can remind older ones) and having great atmosphere (with exactly the feeling it want you to feel). All these tracks have, each is different and achieving this masterpiece status with slight alternated approach. After all, even The Shattered Fortress is right, isn't it ? It's not stealing and reusing their own ideas again, it's intended to be like that, it's purpose and serves in higher meaning. You know the story of this track, don't you.

But The Best of Times, let's grant entire paragraph just for this terrific song. It's one of the best prog metal songs I've ever heard, beating all their previous songs by sheer emotional overdose here. It reminds me my relationship with my own father a lot. Word by word, reminds me of my bond with him, even we're just 27 years from each other. Of course, I'm younger than Mike, but even I mourn for his father's departure and can't understand it as good as he did, this is one of the most beautiful "requiem" songs I've ever heard (OK, I didn't hear much of them, just Candle In the Wind which I hate and few others, but this one, oh yeah, I can enjoy it very well).

5(-), OK, not much to be said here, except clichés. You want some of them ? As you wish, so: I'm aware that every album has its own "deaf" places (not so good as other parts), but here, they're overshadowed/intelligently hidden.

What else can I give, except masterpiece rating. There's even no song that I hate and qualities are clear. And who wants to see mistakes will see them, be sure about that.

Report this review (#251530)
Posted Wednesday, November 18, 2009 | Review Permalink
1 stars Dream Theater is over.

There, I said it. They are over and they have been for years. Now lets looks at the ingredients for their demise.

1. Moore leaves the band(yes Kevin Moore was the heart and soul of Dream Theater) 2. Labrie severely damages his vocal chords. The music is now toned down to accommodate him, and they never again attempt to create music of that same intensity. 3. Mike Portnoy becomes a massive control freak. 4. Mike Portnoy forgot Labrie was in the band and tries to replace him as a Lead Singer.

And thus we get Black Clouds and Silver Linings, which translates to cheesy garbage, except for Count of Tuscany.

A Nightmare to Remember

I both love, and hate this song. How is it possible to hate the first part of a song, then love the middle, then hate the "growling" and then be indifferent to the final part. And why does Dream Theater think they are a metal band? The whole beginning passage is so cheesey, and fake. Also did i mention that the growling is UNFORGIVABLE.

A Rite of Passage

Generic, and uninspired. Designed to be a single. I skip right passed it

Wither Its alright, but still not Dream Theater

The Shattered Fortress-

-You just don't know how happy I am to never have to hear about Mike Portnoy's alcohol problems ever again. I just don't care and I never did. Enough already. This is nothing but an uncreative remix/ retread of old ground. I don't want to hear the same material, I really don't. I skip right over this track.

The Best of Times

- I not going to complain about this song because of the subject matter, so whatever. I skip it regardless.

The Count of Tuscany- (The finest piece of music this band has made in the past 15 years, well at least most of it) -Lyrics= Garbage. First it was dark masters on systematic chaos, now its count's, I really can't handle this level of cheese. P.S. the middle section is generic garbage (About 6 minutes in). Labries singing back and forth with Portnoy. Fantastic, why not just fire Labrie, I know Portnoy wants to be the singer so bad.

This album is cheesy, unbalanced and contains horrible lyrics. You know, its pretty bad when a bad releases and encourages fans to buy an "instrumental" version of the album.

One star for The count of tuscany and one star for the middle section of A Nightmare to remember, and that's generous. One point off for horrible lyrics, two full stars off for the wannabe "growling". (Kevin Moore must be laughing somewhere). So here we have a full album where I have to skip over 3 tracks. You know, I can put on every album up to Octavarium and actually listen without skipping tracks, so what does that tell you.

The bottom line, is that Portnoy owns the band now. Myung does what he is told, and cops an attitude when you even try to ask him a question( Watch the behind the scenes footage). Jorden Ruddess contributes nothing and doesn't even want to be in the band. And Labrie is "nothing" more then a hired gun. He doesn't have single credit on the album. Watch the behind the scenes footage. He's outside playing basketball while the music and lyrics are being written, and when Portnoy needs his puppet to sing and dance, they bring him in.(What a joke) And John Petrucci, what can i say. I mean, he used to be a god, and now he's nothing.This is not a band, seriously.

And I hate to be one of those "Kevin Moore Fans" but honestly, Kevin Moore leaving Dream Theater is like if Jimmy Page left Led Zeppelin. Look I know it sounds like I hate dream Theater, and don't get me wrong, I do hate them with a passion, but it didn't always used to be like this. Dream Theater was my favorite band for many, many years, and now, I want nothing to do with them. With bands like Porcupine tree making "honest" music, Dream Theater can not compete.

Report this review (#253076)
Posted Thursday, November 26, 2009 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars 24 years after their formation, Dream Theater is still a force to be reckoned with, even if their ability to create the truly magical moments doesn't pop up too often these days.

In this latest studio effort the band serves up a production best described as a good example of solid craftmanship. The compositions are well written, well performed, have a good fluency throughout and should cater for most of their fans yearnings as far as new music goes. Add brillliant instrumentalists and a vocalist thankfully restraining and controlling his voice in a manner other metal singers should take not off, this in itself makes for a very good album. It's also rather interesting to hear how the works of bands like Medadeth and Metallica have influenced the sound of Dream Theater, in particular in the first two tracks, while there's quite a few nods in the direction of Canadian trio Rush in the final two efforts here, especially on The Best of Times.

But while this is a good example of high quality progressive metal - especially if skipping the rather cliched ballad Wither - the songs are predictable, and the number of passages that serves up breathtaking moods or sounds are mostly missing. The workmanship is excellent but the creativity somewhat on the barren side, lacking the finer details and subtle effects to take this production up into the brilliant department.

Even final effort The Count of Tuscany, which is a clear album highlight and indeed a brilliant number, is somewhat barren in that respect. But there are moments of sheer brilliance there, passages with eerie undercurrents and a subtle darkness that gave me associations to an artist like King Diamond. A nice little details that has the effect of transforming this workout, adding some uneasiness to the procedings whick makes this a number one wants to investigate time and time again.

I also think that most tracks here are a bit on the long side. Whileopneing number A Nightmare to Remember does have it's fair share of intriguing themes they could have been just as well explored in 10 minutes as in 16, and similar can be said of most tracks on this CD. And personally I suspect that some critical editing on all tracks would have resulted in a better album overall.

Report this review (#257767)
Posted Friday, December 25, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars Not a perfect album, but in my opinion the best Dream Theater has done since Six Degrees.

On the last two albums, Systematic Chaos and Octavarium, it seems as though Dream Theater was borrowing from its inspirations a little too much. It was Muse in particular that seemed to be emulated, especially on Octavarium. But all of that is gone here, minus the relatively appropriate Rush-isms on The Best of Times. They sound like themselves again, and they're writing better songs than before.

The album starts off with A Nightmare To Remember, which for me is excellent for the first 8 or so minutes, particularly the now popular 'beautiful agony' section. After that, it gets into a somewhat wanky instrumental interlude, and that's where it loses me a bit, but it's still listenable. After that you have the singles, A Rite of Passage and Wither, which are pretty good songs - not stellar or groundbreaking, but pretty cool to listen to anyway. Next is The Shattered Fortress, which, for what it is, makes an excellent closer to the 12 Step Saga. Then my two favorites on the album are The Best of Times and The Count of Tuscany. The Best Of Times has a relatively simple, major-key sound which we hadn't heard Dream Theater do properly in quite some time - it's very refreshing. And to top it all off, we get one of Petrucci's most heatfelt solos ever. As for The Count of Tuscany, the first 3 minutes and the final 5 are worth buying this album alone - stellar moments.

Sure, this album had it's flaws - a little too much doodling on a few tracks, the less than impressive lyrics, especially on The Count of Tuscany - but on the whole this album succeeds in what it sets out to do. It's another solid Dream Theater release, and that's enough to hold the Dream Theater fans off for a couple of years.

Report this review (#258397)
Posted Tuesday, December 29, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars I see a loads of big reviews of BC&SL here, and to me, it's not possible to read all of them, so sorry if I repeat something what was mentioned here before.

For me, this is a truly amazing album, with full of melodic singing passages, balancing between hard and mellow parts, brilliant technique of all members, clear breathable sound.

The reason I didn't give them a full rate are two songs - AROP and TSF. The are not bad, but missing the spark of next 4 songs.

TSF is very nice completion of previous 4 AA saga songs, but in overall doesn't bring any new moments in such concepts.

In AROP I only like the middle solo sections which are good thrashy, however the song consist of nice chorus.

I will not write any comments about ANTR, Wither, TBOT, TCOT separetely, because you can read it in many other reviews here. For me these songs contain all the aspects I described in my second sentence, they are simply super.

In overall, I'm so glad, that this album has been released and DT have brought us a very listenable, musical masterpiece.

Report this review (#260537)
Posted Tuesday, January 12, 2010 | Review Permalink
2 stars There's not as much terribly wrong on Dream Theaters latest effort as on 2007's Systematic Chaos... except that there's nothing really right either. If you've listened to 3 songs from present day DT (Train of Thought to present) you probably know their "style." Almost all bands eventually lock in to a style or charisma that gives them a trademark of their sound, but the DT style has been evolving into a sort of box. A strict set of requirements for the band, that restricts them from experimenting, doing anything that they or other bands haven't done on previous albums. These restrictions range from time limits on songs to limits on what styles they play (metal, metal, cheesy AOR-ish ballad, metal) Seems quite regressive for a band that considers themselves progressive. These musicians are definitely diverse enough to do more than their standard, cliched "prog metal" style. I don't really know what MP and JP are afraid of (seemingly the only two in creative control) but they still treading their worn out ground along with all of the other "prog metal bands." I don't understand how a musical genre can exist when it's artists are a paradox to it's very name. Dream Theater are the prime example of why the progressive metal genre is now only true to the latter word of it's name. You just can't decide you are going to stick to a genre that's been done thousands of times and still call yourself progressive, because then you are like Dream Theater, contracting musical boundaries into a comfortable shell around you instead of pushing them out into new territory.
Report this review (#261149)
Posted Saturday, January 16, 2010 | Review Permalink
3 stars Two years after releasing one of their greatest albums to date in Systematic Chaos (2007), Dream Theater attempt to build upon their recent run of impressive releases. Returning to a more gothic tone that hasn't been fully exploited anywhere else other than on Train of Thought (2003), Black Clouds & Silver Linings is a much darker album than its predecessor.

The beginnings of A Nightmare to Remember reveal that LaBrie has returned to his snarly vocals that worked brilliantly on The Dark Eternal Night. There, he sounded remarkably like James Hetfield whereas here they're not quite that extreme. Upon returning to his regular clean vocals later on it immediately feels more fitting ? less forced. They return during a brilliant mellow section that manages to be uplifting, dramatic and catchy. After the expected soloing from various band members, some rather unappealing 'roars' from Portnoy come into light. Unfortunately this doesn't disappear here as it will come up again in various places of the album and they don't sound too good. Perhaps they thought they would give the sound a bit of needed angst, or maybe they did intend it to be a bit of a joke; either way it kinda dents the seriousness of the music. However, the whole sound can relate to this with Rudess delivering some 'haunted house' style keyboard runs and Petrucci's guitar mimicking the epic horror sounds. This opener clocks in at over sixteen minutes.

You can't really describe anything by Dream Theater as being 'commercial', but A Rite of Passage feels like a single and it was to become the first off this record. It's still lengthy at over eight minutes with the band attempting to recreate the magic of Pull Me Under albeit a tad heavier in places. A fine ballad follows, Wither bringing a temporary break to the tech- gothic theme in returning to the Dream Theater of old, think Another Day from Images and Words (1992) and you'll have an idea of the musicality on show.

The second half contains three long journeys: The Shattered Fortress and The Best of Times are both around thirteen minutes and The Count of Tuscany stretches over nineteen. So if you like long and interesting tracks, this album is definitely for you. The band shows their Rush influences as well, in some cases a bit too much with the ending number containing YYZ moments that are a bit too inspired. The Count of Tuscany develops into the band's latest epic venture that matches the genius of A Change of Seasons and Octavarium. A dreamy mid-section is an enjoyable slice of space rock, Rudess and Petrucci executing a much needed break from the technical madness.

Overall Black Clouds & Silver Linings is a good album. Dream Theater's choice to go gothic has its ups and downs but the lengthy tunes are solid structures to be admired upon by all who care to listen. The compositions are technically amazing as always, however this time around there is less in the way of memorable tunes. The collector's edition contains a disc of instrumental takes of the whole album which is very enjoyable, worth it for the lack of irritating roaring. The third disc however is yet another batch of rather uninspiring cover versions ranging from Rainbow to King Crimson (this doesn't affect the album's overall score).

Rating: [7]

TTT: 1) A Nightmare to Remember 2) The Count of Tuscany 3) Wither

Report this review (#261268)
Posted Sunday, January 17, 2010 | Review Permalink
Eclectic Prog Team
4 stars For the first several listens of this 2009 Dream Theater album, I thought it was a decent effort but a decidedly lackluster one. Now I have discovered a newness in it. It does not compete with the masterworks that involve dead girls becoming living men or a suite of psychological disorders, but it has the wanted ingredients. There are several typical but memorable Dream Theater melodies with right plenty going on behind the scenes (from a memory? No, but still good). There are six (degrees from inner turbulence? No, but still good) tracks on this album, and all of them are rather excellent.

"A Nightmare to Remember" Opening with an eerie rumbling of thunder and a dark piano, a cataclysmically grim heaviness overtakes the atmosphere. James LaBrie snarls over chugging guitar and double-bass drumming. In contrast, his typical powerful tenor washes through in an amazing melody with a gorgeous flow of instrumentation behind him. John Petrucci refrains from guitar soloing until almost nine minutes in, and when he cuts loose, it is clear that he must have been suffering from the itch to play, because the shredding takes off in his usual soullessly yet somehow creative manner. Jordan Rudess follows with further technical expertise. The growling vocals seem rather immature, but I do not mind them. Even though the piece continues full speed ahead for several more minutes after all of this, I find it has run out of gasoline.

"A Rite of Passage" Beginning with an Alice in Chains- like riff, the song becomes suitably yet predictably heavier. The refrain is the best part of the song, while the soloing in the middle pretty much blows over like the overblown mess it is. Overall, this is a remarkable effort, as it merely suffers from overindulgence in the electric guitar department.

"Wither" Perhaps my favorite track on this album, the one softer piece shines through as a brilliant metaphor regarding writer's block. This song is absolutely cliché in terms of both style and technique, but I do not care- the aural flavor, the vocal melody, and the lyrics are more than enough to mark this as my second favorite soft song under the stunning "Hollow Years."

"The Shattered Fortress" During my first listen from this album (on Internet radio), I felt Black Stars & Silver Linings was going to be a promising addition to the Dream Theater discography. Rising quickly from silence, the band carries this jarring riff into fruition with a shared vocal between Mike Portnoy's growls and the harsher side of the usual lead vocalist's tenor. Occasionally in rock music, the backing riffs overshadow the solos in the front- this is a good example of that very phenomenon. In the spirit of the Twelve-Step Suite that spans multiple albums, the lyrics are commanding, and there's even a reprise of the masterpiece, "The Glass Prison"

"The Best of Times" Gentle piano and a breathtaking violin begin this penultimate piece, with acoustic guitar taking over the melody the second time. At almost three minutes, a lightning-fast guitar passage emerges from the shadows, bringing in the full band in 7/4 time. It is a pleasing song with an bright feel.

"The Count of Tuscany" In keeping with the bright feel, this begins with a light electric and acoustic guitar duo, soon joined by a nice guitar lead. The following riff, keeping the same sound but utilizing harmonics and soon the fullness of the band, introduces yet another passage, which is quite a symphonic affair. Jordan Rudess's synthesizers are technical and yet subtle, creating a desirable texture. While the lyrics can reasonably be construed as cheesy, the story is present nonetheless, and, as a consolation, the refrain is a refreshing aspect of this extended piece. The middle passage is seemingly unrelated to the rest of the piece- as beautiful as it is, with swelling electric guitar and bright synthesizers, it acts as filler, especially since it is followed by an unrelated acoustic guitar. Speculation has it that Petrucci met the brother of Pietro Pacciani, the "Murderer of Florence," who was the "cannibal curator" that inspired the character of Hannibal Lecter in the Thomas Harris series. So perhaps the man's fears were reasonable. At any rate, he does not play his guitar as though he is afraid, and while I can see some scoffing at this one, I rather like, so there.

Report this review (#263214)
Posted Thursday, January 28, 2010 | Review Permalink
3 stars Dream Theater's latest album was a very positive surprise. It certainly struck me in a whole different way than their last few albums, more or less all the ones with Jordan Rudess. I wasn't expecting a good album, actually quite the opposite, since their previous effort Systematic Chaos was a total disaster in my opinion. But it turned out that they had gotten back some of the inspiration lost through the years.

The first track sounded like the heaviest, most diverse and coolest track the band had ever done at first, but now I feel it isn't any of those things. It doesn't really excite me much anymore, but still, it is a fine epic. Actually, pretty much the whole album has degraded from "incredible" to "fine" in time. I have nothing specific to mention about the shorter songs, since they leave me with an empty feeling. Mike Portnoy finishes his AA suite in a fine way. Even though it is basically a collection of recycled ideas, they form a nice flow, and some of them struck me more in this context than in their original places. The Best Of Times is the opposite: very incoherent. It has a couple of nice ideas, but they are buried in the mess. Gladly, the one last song, The Count Of Tuscany has maintained most of it's quality in the test of time. Still amazes me everytime.

It's a pity that Dream Theater didn't put their full spirit into this recording, because it could have been the best thing they've done in a long time. It certainly beats the previous album, but I'm not so sure about Octavarium or Train Of Thought which both have done me the just opposite effect from this: they've grown on me in time, and now I find them to be pretty fine albums.

Report this review (#264024)
Posted Tuesday, February 2, 2010 | Review Permalink
3 stars Like I do with many albums, I obsessed over Black Clouds & Silver Linings. I counted down the days until it was released from 60, and went to the store bright and early to pick it up. I raced home and immediately played it.

My first impression was "Dream Theater is back! They have created a masterpiece!" While this somewhat holds true, after many listens, I now see that Dream Theater has taken a step in the right direction, but are by no means making their best music again.

A very powerful track called A Nightmare To Remember starts the album. It is the best song on the album. While it is not nearly as progressive as their previous efforts, there are some moments that will appeal to progressive metal fans. The song is also the heaviest on the album, featuring growls and blast beats. The guitar and keyboard solos are more restrained and focused on creative ideas, but they do overdo it at some points.

The next two tracks are the appeal to the radio. While they aren't bad, the tracks are too straight forward and don't have enough progressive elements. A Rite of Passage has a guitar solo where Petrucci goes over the top with the shredding. Instead of coming up with creative ideas, all he focuses on is playing fast. Wither is also an alright song, but it never goes anywhere, like most songs on the radio.

I was excited to hear track four, The Shattered Fortress. The other four parts of the 12-Step Suite are some of my favorite Dream Theater songs. While I'm not disappointed, I think that the conclusion could have been much more powerful. Over half the song is riffs and vocal melodies extracted from the previous numbers. There is some originality, and good instrumentals, but once again, it is a bit overdone. Also, there is a lack of prog.

The Best of Times is dedicated to Mike Portnoy's father who recently passed away. It is one of the most powerful songs on the album, starting slow, and then developing into a Rush-like song. There are very little progressive elements, however the song still stands strong. This is because of the guitar solo at the end. Instead of once again proving to the world that he could play fast, Petrucci creates a solo based on the melody of the song. It is the best solo on the album, and one of the only ones that has any emotion in it.

The conclusion to the album is the longest track, The Count of Tuscany. Judging by the length, I thought it was going to be the best. Simply put: I was wrong. It is true, the music is great. The instrumental sections are full of prog elements. However, the lyrics are horrible! They were obviously meant to rhyme, and it doesn't look like any thought was put into them. Still, the prog sections and the space rock section in the middle make this track worth listening to. The end also has a nice build-up.

If you are a Dream Theater fan, chances are you already have this album. However, if you don't, and you are looking for a good addition to a prog metal collection, this isn't a bad album to buy. Just don't expect another Images and Words of Scenes From A Memory.

Report this review (#264050)
Posted Tuesday, February 2, 2010 | Review Permalink
The Quiet One
1 stars Black Atmosphere & Silver Solos: a.k.a. 'More of the Same'

Dream Theater's latest output, Black Clouds & Silver Linings, shows the band in the same path they've chosen since their highly acclaimed release, Metropolis Part 2: Scenes From a Memory. With the sole exception of Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, the rest of the albums by this line-up, featuring keyboardist Jordan Rudess, follow the same trend of Prog Metal with a dark atmosphere, plenty of tasteless rapid solos, abundant boring in-your-face riffs, and an unidentified singer.

However, unlike previous releases which had at least one or two pleasant highlights, Black Clouds & Silver Linings has none, despite the length of most of the songs which seem to offer a lot.

Already with the first song, A Nightmare to Remember, you can predict it all. Ferocious guitar riff, unstoppable drumming, the same ol' keyboard solo by Jordan which the first time you hear it you think it's rather cool and unique, but then you go thinking 'Is that keyboard capable of producing any other damn sounds?!'. However, there is one surprise that I didn't foresee, but you surely already know about it, that is Mike Portnoy's additional ''growls''. Mike had showed us these ''growls'' before in Systematic Chaos, but I doubt anyone thought Dream Theater would add this for future releases. They don't harm much of the music, but still they're awful and awkward coming from a well-respected Prog Metal band.

It's really all the same: There's the expected lackluster ballad, this one being entitled Wither; you've got the straight-forward heavy metal track called A Rite of Passage; Black Clouds & Silver Linings features the last of the AA series called The Shattered Fortress, which is probably the weakest of that, the main issue being that it goes on for too long; then there's the long sensible song in the style of The Ministry of Lost Souls, this one is The Best of Times featuring some very annoying cheering melodies; finally, there's the ''epic'' lasting over 19 minutes, it begins well, reminding us of the worthy acoustic passages from the Moore-era, but after that it's all forgettable, it just seems another long prog metal track with nothing really noteworthy.

Yes, these guys indeed know how to play their respective instruments, but they've been showing us that since 1992 with Images & Words, so that's not really something to praise-of nor to give an award.

You must be surprised since I didn't mention the lyrics which seem to be an issue for everyone who has listened to this album. I can't say they're good nor thoughtfull, but I actually don't really care for lyrics unless they're interesting and add something to the music, this is definitely not the case of Dream Theater.

As for the rating, this must not surprise you at all: as much as I respect this very talented band, it has to be 1 star meaning that this is Dream Theater's poorest album to date, though not necessarily meaning that this is crap. If you've been seriously enjoying their latest releases like Systematic Chaos and Octavarium, Black Clouds & Silver Linings will surely have something for you. However, if you're someone that feels that Dream Theater has not been releasing any quality Prog Metal since Metropolis Part 2, then avoid this.

Report this review (#268004)
Posted Wednesday, February 24, 2010 | Review Permalink
Cesar Inca
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars "Black Clouds & Silver Linings" is an album that took me a few weeks to properly enjoy, but now I'm convinced that I'm in front of yet another great musical work by these prog-metal monsters. The Dream Theater guys have really improved on their previous effort "Systematic Chaos", which I felt a bit tiring in spite of comprising some undeniably great moments. In comparison, SC&BL proves a more colorful and kaleidoscopic despite the similarities I find concerning sound production and compositional approach. In this way, the greatest moment in the album happen to be more related to "Octavarium" albeit with a more prominent presence of Petrucci's guitar labor. The progressive element is meticulously worked on, reaching pinnacles of sophisticated glory in long tracks such as 'The best of times' and 'The Count of Tuscany'. Rudess shines again as a master of technological novelties for the sake of providing augmented sources of sonic energy to the whole DT scheme, while Myung, Portnoy and Petrucci remain untouched as magicians on their respective instruments. Naturally, we also have LaBrie, of course, who still manages to convey his vocal range and style in full communion with lyrics exclusively written by Portnoy and Petrucci, making them his own. The opener 'A nightmare to remember' benefits right away with the creepy intro and the ballsy development immediately after, a piece that most certainly catch the attention of both lovers and haters. It is, indeed, a great concert opener, as I am proud to testify (DT played for the first time in Lima on March 22nd, great!!!). Further permutations include a softer passage filled with a sense of expectation and a growling section that brings an enhanced darkness to the magnificent whole. Next is 'A rite of passage', an entertaining song that brings close memories of the "Systematic Chaos" thing (on the good side) ? it includes an aggressively cosmic solo by Rudess on his Ipod synth. 'Wither' is another song that reminds me a bit of "Systematic Chaos", perhaps in the mold of 'Forsaken' but with a more inspired melodic development and a more moving mood. It is certainly one of my favorite DT ballads ever, with the recurrent guitar arpeggio feeling closely related to the melancholic moments of "Train Of Thought". 'The Shattered Fortress' is the final delivery of the AAA opus that Portnoy instigated throughout the last five albums. I'm in two minds concerning this piece: on one hand, I value it as a well-crafted recapitulation of motifs from the previous four songs, but I also feel that this saga looks like it has outgrown itself and that this recapitulation eventually happens to be redundant and a little futile. Anyway, 'The glass prison' and 'The root of all evil' are, in perspective, my fave songs from this otherwise great chapter in DT's history. Also bearing lyrics penned by Portnoy, 'The best of times' is better in musical terms: based on al alternation of emotional slow sections and vivid celebratory passages, it does reveal the ever-present ability of the band to create inspiration and energy out of their musical ideology. Perhaps the final guitar solo is too long (a defect we can find in many Spock's Beard songs, for instance), but the overall result is plain beautiful, just like that. But the best of times and beauty is provided by the final song, 'The Count of Tuscany' (a great concert closer, as I can proudly testify, because you see, DT played in Lima for the first? sorry, I've already said that, didn't I?). 'The Count of Tuscany' epitomizes the band's historical influences ? Rush, Iron Maiden, Yes, Pink Floyd, Metallica, Fates Warning, Kansas. The all-guitar intro is captivating in its reflective drive, while the main body generates an intelligent display of complex, electrifying rock. The interlude is just amazing, with Rudess cleverly filling spaces and bringing in orchestrations in perfect sense with the rhythmic scheme and Petrucci's riffs. There is also a spacey section that finds Petrucci's lead guitar and Rudess' ornaments create a hybrid of PF, Yes and Rush, in this way slowly opening a door for the emergence of the lyrical sung section that wraps things up in a majestic way. The sound of sea waves and seagulls is sort of cliché, but never mind, it certainly provides an air of distinction to the song's last seconds. In short: IMHO, "Black Clouds & Silver Linings" clearly states that Dream Theater is still healthy and in good shape, after a lot of studio and live albums and DVDs and on the verge of their 25th anniversary.
Report this review (#275571)
Posted Tuesday, March 30, 2010 | Review Permalink
2 stars I have mixed feelings about this album. Some moments are great, other are pretty hard to take. I'll go over each track individually and give my opinion on each.

A Nightmare to Remember - This song is about a car accident that John Petrucci was involved in as a child. I really enjoy the intro to this track. It's very dark and heavy sounding...A nice atmospheric vibe, kind of reminds me something from Steven Wilson's Bass Communion project. The riffing by Petrucci is quite awesome sounding, and the drumming is nice too. The lyrics on this song are not too bad, just not amazing either. LaBrie's vocal performance is quite good however, and he really shines on the chorus and interlude sections. The interlude section is a spacey, sparse section with some nice chorused guitar sounds. LaBrie switches to a sort of narrative type of singing in which he describes being examined by a doctor after the car accident. After the interlude is finished, we enter the solo section. Then Petrucci comes in with some awesome lines and some bluesy bending that reminds me of Alex Lifeson. Then Jordan comes in with his signature keyboard solo and does his usual thing. Petrucci comes back in with another solid solo, but it's more in his own alternate picking, with a few sweep picked arpeggios for good measure. After that, there's a nice keyboard and guitar unison in which they join together for some very nice arpeggio work. The drumming really intensifies....however, this is where problems arise for me. Portnoy attempts to death metal growl some very silly lyrics and it just...does not work at all. You'll be thinking..."Oh God...please just shut up." Thankfully, it doesn't go on for long...but it's still awful. The main riff comes in again, just with a different time it a fresh vibe. Nothing much besides that...the song fades out the same way it came in. All in all...not too bad of a song. 3/5

A Rite of Passage - This is the single of the album, and it's pretty easy to see why. Not particularly lengthy( for prog metal) and sort of catchy. However, it's a fairly weak doesn't hold up to multiple listens for me. The riff is pretty cool though, but the transition into the chorus is kind of...I don't's just not very strong or grabbing to me. Of course, being a Dream Theater song, you can always count on technically mind blowing solos. Petrucci delivers as usual on this song. However, it's not anything we don't expect from him already. Jordan also has a keyboard solo and then a little "noise"'s kind of interesting, but nothing you'll listen to the whole song for. 3/5

Wither - Ah...the typical DT ballad of the album. It's a predictable song and you'll find you'll know the melody the first time you hear it.I have to be honest, I haven't listened to this song very much. It just doesn't do anything for me at all, perhaps if I gave it more listens it would grow on me...but I very much doubt it. 2/5

The Shattered Fortress - Eh. This one is like a collage of riffs from old songs. The intro is cool, but then it goes into the familiar melody line from This Dying Soul. Wow, that's original guys. More god-awful growling in the background from Portnoy...Then we hear the Glass Prison intro arpeggios being reused. Not to mention the riff from This Dying Soul used again! Very Lame track if you ask me...and I really like This Dying Soul and The Glass Prison...but those songs are their own compositions. Sticking parts of them into this mediocre mess is just a shame. Once DT stops ripping themselves off, they have a typical solo section. Again, nothing new here either. Not a good track. 1/5

The Best of Times - I hate this song. There I said it. It's so cheesy and I'm sorry but...How many songs does Portnoy have to write about his father? The main riff is so cheery and good time rockin' it makes my mouth fill with bile. I do think that some of the piano work is good and there are some pretty good guitar lines and the violin in the beginning is nice too...but the chorus is just's just so weak. The song also goes on for far too long, and could have been shorter. Again, not a good track. 1.5/5

The Count of Tuscany - This one starts out just flat out amazing. The intro guitar solo by Petrucci is just amazing and very tastefully played. The unison section is very cool sounding and is just great, really. The song begins to pick up the pace as the unison section ends and then a fast riff comes in with an interesting chord progression. However, as LaBrie comes in...You may laugh. The lyrics are silly. That's all there is to it....That being said, I still really enjoy this track and it is my favorite on this album. Sadly, Portnoy can't keep his mouth shut the entire song and as usual, his backing vocals are cringe-worthy. One other thing that bothers me about this track is the song sort of just "falling apart" into a very, very long drawn out section in which Jordan implies a chord progression(which is pretty) and Petrucci does volume just seems to make the song longer and I don't feel it was necessary to go on as long as it did. I also feel that it kind of takes away from the build-up of tension. However, given the mellow outro...maybe that was the intention. I will say that the volume swell section is still awesome to see played live. After the volume swells are done, the song comes back in with just acoustic guitar and LaBrie. The whole band enters soon after and Petrucci delivers another very melodic, tasteful solo. This song took me a while to enjoy, and I had to listen to it several times to get into give it a couple listens. 4.5/5

When I listen to this album, I put on A Nightmare to Remember or The Count of Tuscany. Those are the best tracks on the album. The others are easily forgotten because, frankly, they aren't good, however some of them are good examples of self-plagiarism. I'm hoping for a much better record from the DT guys next time around.

Report this review (#276617)
Posted Tuesday, April 6, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars 50% mediocre, 50% great. The lyrics to The Count of Tuscany are just bad, although I hate to say it because the song is amazing (especially the first 4 minutes). The Shattered Fortress is a great way to end the AA suite. A Rite of Passage is one of their best single attempts ever, but I'm not very fond of the wacky synth solo in the middle. The growling in A Nightmare to remember is just stupid, and the fact that it doesn't at all fit the lyrics makes it even more so. The Best of Times is really good, and the guitar solo at the end is one of Petrucci's best.
Report this review (#281798)
Posted Thursday, May 13, 2010 | Review Permalink
3 stars Neither a fanboy nor a hater, perhaps I can offer new insight into a recent DT release. Or perhaps you already know whether you hate it or love it--perhaps even without hearing it!

DT brings out strange reactions like no other band, and some--particularly the haters--just can't wait to tear the band apart, often offering no specifics as to why. I can sympathize with this feeling, because for a decent amount of DT's material, I just can't stay interested...let alone have nice things to say about it.

Fortunately, that's not the entire album for me. I understand the nitpicks with Nightmare, but there are also some great positives as well. I love the 5/4 breaks--especially the one where Petrucci really tears things apart--and I like Rudess' contributions. It's really a fun song, although an unabashedly cheesy song to be sure.

i think Tuscany is also a highlight. That 9/4 rhythm during the main verse is deceptively tricky and effective, particularly in adding impact to the head-bobbing chorus. I also love the Petrucci solos, as well as LaBrie's restrained yet powerful vocals--in a world where too few musicians truly evolve, I have to hand it to LaBrie for doing exactly that. (I don't pay attention to lyrics, so they may be as cheesy as many have been saying.) I think it's a great song. If you can't enjoy anything from DT that doesn't sound like the Moore-era (but not too much, because that wouldn't be creative enough), then I feel just a little bit sorry for you.

Decent album with some definite keep-ables. I won't attempt to sell it as a masterpiece, but I will have to contradict those who believe Black Clouds only consists of material we've heard before from the Dream.

Report this review (#283356)
Posted Monday, May 24, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars After the disappointing Octavarium and even more so Systematic Chaos I had more or less given up hope on Dream Theater. I made a stern decision that I wouldn't rush out to buy their next album without hearing it first, and thanks to Spotify I was able to give this one a test listen very soon after the release. It was in the middle of the night when this happened, and the first thing I did next day was rushing out to buy the album, three disc edition even. As far as my playlist goes DT were certainly back from the dead.

It's not quite that easy to pinpoint the difference between this album and the disappointing predecessors. There's not that much variation between the DT albums of recent years, but while Octavarium can easily be seen as perhaps their lightest album and Systematic Chaos the darkest and heaviest, Black Clouds & Silver Linings does a very good job combining the two extremes, and with better songwriting in my opinion. Perhaps my favourite track of the album is the opener A Nightmare to Remember which begins with a very dark feel but includes also some absolutely gorgeously beautiful passages. And unfortunately a couple of rather clumsy flirtings with extreme metal better left undone.

Systematic Chaos was an album that had a good part here and there but only one completely good track, but this time they stepped up and actually wrote six really good tracks with weak parts here and there. One thing I'm particularly happy about is that my least favourite member Jordan Rudess is on fire. Fine sound choices all the time, and even the freak out continuum solo in A Rite of Passage is enjoyable. Another highlight of that song is the melodic chorus, which is one of my favourite DT choruses of all time. Wither is probably the least great track here, but a very solid one nevertheless. A bit alarming is the fact that it's already the second John Petrucci Writer's Block song in their last three albums. The Shattered Fortress brings the AA saga to close with style, perhaps my second favourite part after This Dying Soul.

Despite the way too obvious Rush influence in The Best of Times the track is definitely one of the highlights of the album with its sentimental, touching and honest homage to Mike Portnoy's father. John Petrucci gives a great performance in the closing solo, one of the finest things he did last decade. Which unfortunately cannot be said about the lyrics in The Count of Tuscany. Such an epic track of great composition would deserve a deep and meaningful set of lyrics, but what we get is a rather silly story of a frightening fella met on a vacation. Brings a potentially brilliant track down a great deal, but it's still a very enjoyable one.

What's great about this album and especially the last two songs is that it seems to bring back some of the spacier arrangements of the early albums with Petrucci's guitar not necessarily dominating the soundscape with chugging riffs but giving room for John Myung and Rudess while complementing their playing by tasty textures. All the instrumentalists feel equal for the first time in a long time, that's the DT sound I fell in love with on Images & Words and A Change of Seasons.

For the first time in years I have expectations for the next DT release.

Report this review (#283968)
Posted Saturday, May 29, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars So as we draw to a close on this the Dream Theater Discography (so far) with this their latest release is it as strong and as much of a comeback as everyone says it is? well yes and no the epic songs are just fantastic and the singles (A RITE OF PASSAGE and WITHER) are very very melodic and catchy. THE BEST OF TIMES at'the best of times' (no pun intended) sounds just like a rip off of a Rush song. And of course the songwriting is stronger than the last album, there is just a little something missing. THE SHATTERED FORTRESS is a great way to end off the Mike Portnoy penned alcohol suite and the intro to THE COUNT OF TUSCANY is the most beautiful guitar part Petrucci has made in a long time, again something in each of the songs is just missing just something thats keeping them from being classic songs, i just dont know what it is. The production as always is world class as is the musicmanship, so its not that, there is just something thats ruining this and stopping it from becoming a classic release;

A Nightmare to Remember - 10/10 A Rite of Passage - 9/10 Wither - 9/10 The Shattered Fortress - 9/10 The Best of Times - 8/10 The Count of Tuscany - 10/10

My Conclusion? great album, not a masterpiece but its still Dream Theater, well worth your time.

Report this review (#284264)
Posted Sunday, May 30, 2010 | Review Permalink
5 stars great album. t00 me, this is an awesome way t00 get me into Dream Theater. On July 1 2009, i went t00 Wal Mart cuz my mom got paid. i saw that they had the album. so i looked at it and i found that it had some long songs and on the back cover of the album, i found that the album was mixed by Paul Northfield, which also produced Rush's Vapor Trails, which was also a great Rush album. i bought the album, and when i got home, i ate some lunch and then i walked t00 my friends t00 put it on my friend's PS3 and t00 get the entire album on my MP3. so i walked around hearing the album. and i liked it. A Nightmare to Remember: the 1st song by Dream Theater that i ever heard. great song. even though the song has some gothic sounding, its still a great song cuz its Dream Theater, they have a light side and also the goth side on this song and album. in my opinion, the guitar, the guitar solos, drums, vocals, and the keyboard solos are what stands out for this song. i gotta love the guitar riffs, the guitar solos, and the keyboard solos by Jordan Rudess. amazing way t00 start off hearing Dream Theater for the 1st time. 10/10 A Rite of Passage: an 8 minute song that gets heavy around 15 seconds into the song. i love everything about this song. 10/10. Wither: more of like a sad song. its slow and heavy guitar. its the shortest song on the album and its 5 minutes long. the chorus and the solo is what makes the song worth hearing. 8.5/10. The Shattered Fortress: oh yeah! that's what i'm talking about! another epic! definitely! i love the song, i read the lyrics when i got the album, and i thought wow! that's one powerful message that this song has. so i got the song on my MP3 and i loved the song. i gotta give credit t00 the whole band for making this album. the guitar, the keyboard, the drums, the vocals, and the lyrics for the song. i like the lyrics after the 2nd chorus. the lyrics that Mike Portnoy wrote are just awesome. the lyrics fits with the entire song. 12 minutes long and i love it. 10/10. The Best of Times: 13 minutes long. i started getting into around 3 minutes in the song cuz there's this awesome guitar riff around 2:40 of the song. very great guitar from Petrucci right here. i like the every verse, every chorus, and definitely the guitar solo for the song cuz the solo is 3 minutes in length. 3 minute guitar solo for a song, yeah, it's awesome. 10/10 The Count of Tuscany: oh yeah! the last song on the album! i heard the song! its 19 minutes long! i love it! i love the album! this is a new beginning for me getting into Dream Theater. love the song i gotta tell yuhh. 9.5/10 58/6 = 96% - 5 stars
Report this review (#289147)
Posted Sunday, July 4, 2010 | Review Permalink
1 stars No Silver Linings here...

Dream Theater's worst album. Bluntly said. The band has completely lost its way. There are a bunch of long tracks on the album, but no refined composition. You can easily take one section from one song and swap it with any other section of another - it doesn't matter. There is no sense and no reason behind this "music" - the album is a bunch of just very well performed instrumentals with a little singing to it. And since Portnoy and Petrucci obviously found their "compositions" - with a little bit of Rudess's stuff thrown in - so valuable they offered them to the public in an instrumental mix. But with or without LaBrie, it doesn't work, although the instrumentals are not quite as painful as the versions with LaBrie. The cover versions are complete unnecessary, imho. Oh, Portnoy plays the drum intro to Stargazer faster than Cozy Powell (R.I.P.) did - go get your medal somewhere, Mike. As bad as the music is - the lyrics are not up to par to even that low level. Especially the lyrics to the last song are embarrassing - there is simply no suspense to that story. As to the whole album.

I consider the time I spent on this album to be wasted. It would need a severe change of mind in the band to get back on the right track, but when I read Portnoy's last interviews I have my doubts. He seems to mistake length for quality... and he is not the first in the prog department to confuse this.

1 star, I'd give it 0 if I could.

Favourite Tracks: ------------

Report this review (#295879)
Posted Monday, August 23, 2010 | Review Permalink
3 stars 2.5 stars really.

Guess I should have got the special edition.......the one with the all instrumental mix.

The first thing one notices on this album is just how downright awful the lyrics are. I mean, really, someone needs to have a serious chat with John Petrucci about this because my 9 year old son could write better lyrics than this! Portnoy's contributions are much, much better though still not exactly top tier lyrics. I have to say that while the lyrics on the last album were pretty bad as well (again, just Petrucci's), this one does the impossible and manages even worse lyrics!

On the musical side, this is obviously a band that is far past their peak, but still manages to keep the interest of die hard fans. I am certainly not a die hard fan, but I have to admit that most of the music here appeals to me on some level. I'm not generally a prog metal fan either, and DT has been my one interest in that area over the years.

The first and last tracks are really the ones to listen to musically speaking, with the final epic track being possibly my favorite piece I've ever heard from the band. Yet, it also has the worst lyrics I've ever heard from them as well (possibly the worst lyrics of any song I've ever heard, certainly in the prog world, and that is really saying something). Go figure. The first song is not quite as interesting musically, though still a great listen for me. Still has terrible lyrics, but not quite to the low level of the final track. My only consolation lyrically with these songs is that sometimes you get a really good laugh (for example, as others have mentioned, the growling "the finest wines improve with age" line.......cracks me up every time).

For the middle songs, we have the now obligatory Metallica number, followed by the obligatory ballad. Not much to say about these songs aside from the fact that they sound a great deal like the previous ones from the last album (and in the case of the ballad, like all their other ballads). The Shattered Fortress is, of course, the final installment of Portnoy's AA suite and as such is a kind of summing up of all the other parts. Personally, I think it's pretty decent in that regard, though probably would sound better with the whole suite in front of it. Probably the only song here with emotional content, is Portnoy's tribute to his father, The Best Of Times, who passed away sometime before the recording of this album. A very good emotional song with touching lyrics, and probably one of the only songs that doesn't sound like a rehash of previous stuff. Not bad at all.

As I mentioned earlier, The Count Of Tuscany is musically probably my favorite DT song to date, even if it is essentially nothing new. It is a very well constructed epic, even though it is pretty formulaic. I really love the almost ambient part in it, one of those rare times when DT actually mellow out for a bit (that is not a sappy, formulaic ballad). If only it weren't for the lyrics.........but we discussed that already.

Anyway, a strange album that features pretty good, if also pretty tired and formulaic, music juxtaposed with downright silly and amateurish lyrics. I think it may be time to consider a lyricist, Dream Theater. Now that Portnoy is gone especially, since his lyrics were at least not completely laughable. I will give this one 2.5 stars, rounding up to 3, because I really think that only a true fan could consider this excellent. If it weren't for the lyrics, I'd probably consider 4 stars (or, at least 3.5) but I just can't get past how awful most of them are. Do yourself a favor and get a hold of the all instrumental mix of the album. Not having LaBrie's vocals (and the laughable psudo-growls) won't be a hindrance, believe me.

Report this review (#313274)
Posted Thursday, November 11, 2010 | Review Permalink
5 stars " Look in the mirror...what do you see? "

I've always been a huge fan of Dream Theater, so I'm biased their albuns.To exception of his debut album, I never gave a rating of less than 5 stars to any of the other band's albums, I like even "Falling Into Infinity ".

After the controversial "Systemathic Chaos" (which I like), these geniuses give us another masterpiece: "Black Clouds and silver linnings".

It opens with the fantastic "A nightmare to remember", a monstrous epic from 16 minutes.This is perhaps the darkest song of album.I like when, after the main verses, the music takes a lot more quiet, guitar-driven John petrucci.Outside this, the music is heavy, with rights to the "death grunts" of Portnoy.

"The rite of passage" is a song about secret orders, as Freemansory.I recommend listening to this song in the original version, not like u single.

Not much to talk about "Wither", the ballad of album.Not is a bad song, and the vocals are good, but she is not aware of the other songs.

"The shatered fortress" is insane! this song ends the saga of Mike Portnoy of Alcoholics Anonymous (or like the Brazilians foruns says, "saga of rum") and is the heaviest of album.Her makes several references to other songs of the saga ("The Glass Prison","This dying soul", "The Root of All Evil"and "Repentance").

The last two songs are my favorites. "The best of times" is beautiful, a song written by Portnoy in honor of his deceased (who lived long enough to hear the music). It starts slowly, and after a beautiful solo guitar music will rise so incredible.The vocals are very emotional, and the guitar solo at the end of the song is one of the best of Petrucci.

Finally we have "The Count of Tuscany, " a 19-minute epic that will stay etched in the memory of fans.This music is flawless, with obvious influences of Rush.Certainly is an unforgettable song.

Overall this is an album impeccable.My only criticism is that John Myung's bass is audible throughout the album, being wholly relegated to the background.

Report this review (#319889)
Posted Sunday, November 14, 2010 | Review Permalink
Andy Webb
Retired Admin
4 stars Hey! Let's go hate Dream Theater!

Yea, you know it. Dream Theater, probably one of the most important progressive metal acts ever (whether you like them or not you know it's true), have produced a rather disliked album. Black Clouds and Silver Linings, the band's tenth studio offering, is one of general animosity, with small pockets of almost surprising attraction to the album. The album was rather ambitious, the band's second on Roadrunner Records (which has been shown to ruin good prog bands), and was reported to be the band's darkest yet - and they delivered. Full of haunting tracks, daunting melodies, cheesy lyrics, and some really great moments for the band, it really is an overall balanced album, which teeters more towards one of the band's better albums of the past 10 years.

I can't say much more than what's already said. I could talk about the generally cheesy lyrics (although there are some nice lines here and there), the almost metalcore feeling on some of the tracks (exemplified by the breakdowns on "Rite of Passage"), the heaviness of the music, or the (some might say unnecessarily, but not this guy) long songs all over the album (lengths: 16 min, 8 min, 5 min, 12 min, 13 min, 19 min), or a host of other "cons" that reviewers have pointed out. But I won't. I like this album. Even through some of the "bad" parts of the album, these guys have really churned out a good album, which can be seen as return to form from the more mainstreamed Systematic Chaos two years prior. The band, although darkened by the haze of a new metal scene, still can create a beautiful atmosphere, with songs like Wither and The Best of Times (which is even more heartfelt because it is a memorial to Portnoy's dad passing away) have great melodic structure and show the band's willingness to break away from the heavy metal they beat to death on many of the other tracks. Overall, however bad other reviews may make this album sound, it truly is a good album.

With such conflicting opinions on the nature of this album, one might wonder, "what is it - good or bad? Why?" I'll tell you why this album is good. Of course one must note Dream Theater is my favorite band of all time so my ratings may be slighted on the upper scale, but only for good reason. This album is a haven for metal fans. The heaviness saturating the entire album may make it hard to digest for more prog-based fans, but damn will a metal fan be pleased by the crushing riffs and intense atmosphere of the production. No stranger to complex composition, however, the band still weaves a fantastic proggy backing to enhance this metallic masterpieces. And, to please the lighter fans, the band has recorded an entire second disc of covers of lighter (well, compared to the album) covers from prog favorites such as Dixie Dregs, Queen, and King Crimson. Overall, this album, if you were wondering (which I'm sure you were) is quite good. 4- stars.

Report this review (#357593)
Posted Sunday, December 19, 2010 | Review Permalink
5 stars This album is one of the rare albums that added nothing new to the sound and universe of Dream Theater. They have tried it all: Soft and dreamy progressive rock pearls like on "Images And Words", complexe conceptual structures like on "Scenes From A Memory", very dark heavy and thrash metal epics like on "Train Of Thought", silent and orchestral progressive metal like on "Octavarium" and rather modern stuff like on "Systematic Chaos". Now, "Black Clouds And Silver Linings" reunites all of this in a single whole album, leaves us the unnecessary and watering parts and simply presents the stunning quintessence of the band's philosophy. To keep it simple, this album is far away from being original or surprising but it is simply the most consistent and in my opinion best album this band has ever made. If you are a newbie and interested in the band's works you should take this album as an introduction and a greatest hits compilation at the same time.

"A Nightmare To Remember" is a very dark and atmospheric killer that opens the album on a very depressive mood that sends shivers down my spine. The nightmare is immediatly present and this songs makes you living it in all its high paced emotions and rare moments of tranquility. It is maybe the most addicting and intensive song the band has ever written and is a voyage to the core of your deep hidden emotions. This is better than cinema and the sixteen minutes pass extremely fast so don't be afraid to begin the album by watching the track's running time. You will highly appreciate every minute of this epic masterpiece that mixes styles from the dark "Train Of Thought" with the epic mood of a "Octavarium".

"A Rite Of Passage" is the addicting single that comes along with oriental and very atmospheric keyboard and guitar sounds and a highly addicting and epic chorus. This song is like a "Innocence Faded" meets "As I Am" meets "Constant Motion" but still has a very unique approach with its Oriental influence sthat remind me of "Home". Useless to say that the guitar and keyboard solos are fast, melodic, addicting, diversified and well executed.

"Wither" is the ballad of the album and this time it is a rather dark and atmospheric song and not a commercial piece of kitsch. This very melancholic and dreamy song reminds me of "Surrounded", "Vacant" or "Forsaken". James LaBrie is doing an excellent job and his voice perfectly harmonizes with the dark but soft melodies.

"The Shattered Fortress" is the last part of Mike Portnoy's famous Twele-step Suite or Alcoholics Anonymous Suite. This songs reunites passages from all other four songs before ("The Glass Prison", "This Dying Soul", "The Root Of All Evil", "Repentance") and adds a couple of few new melodies. Some people may say that this song only repeats the previous tracks but I would rather say that this song is a perfect conclusion and resumee to the whole topic and makes us voyage on the waves of space and time forwards and backwards to remind a let us live again what we have heard before. I see this track as a grand finale to a unique and highly interesting suite and experience in the universe of the progressive metal music.

"The Best Of Times" is dedicated to Mike Portnoy's father that died soon before the release of this album. His son had still found the moment to play this song to his dying father with his own vocals. This version is even more intense and touching than the actual album version with James LaBrie on the vocals. The lyrics are very insightful and interesting. Musically, this song has a strong progressive rock touch and reminds a lot of Genesis and especially "Rush". The guitar leads and harmonies have a strong late seventies or early eighties touch and this song might also please to people that normally rather avoid Dream Theater because it really has a different approach that has nothing to do with metal but with pure rock music.

"The Count Of Tuscany" is a stunning and epic piece that tells us a disturbing and weird story. Musically, the song takes its power out of its tranquility and reminds me of the silent moments of a "Octavarium" or "Space-Dye West". This song is mysteriously floating through wind and wuthering and is really addicting and relaxing. I would give King Crimson's "In The Court Of The Crimson King" or Genesis' "Wind And Wuthering" as references to this sound. The track also has some nightmare passages like this album opener and a strong chorus but really focusses on an eerie and quiet atmosphere where especially the keyboards do an amazing job. This song is a perfect and calm album closener without being an ordinary ballad. Together with "A Nightmare To Remember", this track is my favourite one of this record and in the top five of my favourite Dream Theater tracks of all times.

All in all, this is an intense, atmospheric and diversified masterpiece and a perfect last album for Mike Portnoy that has parted ways with the band now and who left with two extremely strong tracks to finish his epic Twelve-step suite and to honour his own father. I think that this is the opus magnum, the masterpiece, the maximum that this band is able to do. But I am ready to see and listen what they are working on for the near future and if they try out something new or try to copy and follow the compilation sound of this grand resumee. To keep it short: Get this record if you love atmospheric music and if you are ready to take your time to get addicted and hypnotized by music to be ready for a voyage of the grandest kind.

Originally published on January 11th of the year 2011.

Report this review (#379072)
Posted Wednesday, January 12, 2011 | Review Permalink
2 stars Too much band, too little feel.

I have been a huge fan of Dream Theater over the last ten years or so. Reason number one: Their music is 10 % genius. (Plus 40 % good, 30 % mediocre and 20 % annoying). I love them for that genius, which is unique. Reason number two: The band are awesome musicians. Petrucci and Rudess are my heroes.

I have therefore seen them in concert three times, which for me is a record. Three hours of the most impressive performance you can think of. The band and the sound is just so damn good. But is that really a good reason, I now wonder? To dig the sound? To dig the band? What about the music?

Take this album. Portnoy hammering away on his two basedrums, Petrucci and Rudess fast and amazing as always, Myung the mystical baseman oh so solid, and LaBrie in good shape. Every six songs on disc one contains a few minutes of something that is really cool. But there is only one song here that is good all way through: "The Count of Tuscany" (19:16). This you can listen to over and over, especially the first two parts and the last part. In the part before the last part there is some dreamlike exploration of a Pink Floydian wish I was there-thing (don't get smart now), although not so obvious as the start of "Octavarium". Nice too.

The rest of the disc is just not interesting. A few attempts of drama and a few successful themes, but mostly boredom. Hey Portnoy, does it really add anything that you use more drums and drumbeats per second than my closet has socks?

Except The Count of Tuscany, you the listener may try and try to "get it", and you will probably fail, because there is really very shallow ground beneath these layers of fast, hard and amazing.

This band really need help. Playing these coversongs (disc two) is not it. Perhaps they should rehearse some more of the all time top twenty albums on progarchives, just to get some more feel?

The Count is worth four stars, but the rest only two.

Report this review (#414051)
Posted Thursday, March 10, 2011 | Review Permalink
1 stars Egads! I dunno if it's meal ticket syndrome or what, but I just can't stomach this stuff anymore. Sloppy, with uncomfortable, mechanical changes in ideas at seemingly random intervals and the type of cheesy over-busy orchestration that could make even the most diehard prog metal fan cringe. There's an obligatory pop song and a few painfully middling epics - perhaps the only time the band tries to save itself is on the last track, but that too ends in a train wreck. Overall, theres nothing here that Dream Theater hasn't done better before, and it looks like the worst aspects of their sound (the "menacing" half-spoken vocals, the mediocre chugging grooves) are here to stay. Hopefully the band's new blood will inject some life into the formula, because this may be the band's weakest release.

Probably only for fans - if you don't like Dream Theater or are even on the fence about them, go somewhere else first before easing your way this direction. One star.

Report this review (#415671)
Posted Monday, March 14, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars My first reaction to this album was pretty negative but I've listened to it a couple more times and it's grown on me a bit. I have a feeling I'll notice more things I like with further listens, as is common with DT's typically complex arrangements. Right now I think it deserves 3.5 stars but I'm giving it the benefit of the doubt that I'll like it more in the future so I'm giving it 4 stars. Also let's face it, DT fans are pretty harsh with their ratings because of the standard we've come to expect from this great band.

But yeah, the lyrics are pretty cheesy and I agree there's no real "wow" moments in the traditional sense, although the cool synthesizer solo in the last track gives me goosebumps. Musically it's not very impressive but the effect is awesome, and isn't that what's really important? I'd argue that it's equally impressive to create a strong atmosphere with simple long notes as it is to rock your face off with layers of technical wizardry. It's a testament to DT's virtually unmatched versatility. This is probably their best album in the last 8 years and I'm looking forward to the next one. Hopefully they'll get an awesome drummer to replace Mike Portnoy, and maybe he'll be a good lyricist too!

Also it would be great if DT would go back to their roots and write like they did in the nineties. Their albums in the nineties are AWESOME, particularly Images & Words, Falling Into Infinity and Metropolis 2. The breakdown in "Surrounded" gives me chills every time. "Lines in the Sand" has the most incredible guitar and keyboard sounds I've ever heard. I'm not claiming to be a prog connoisseur, but I know what sounds good to me and Dream Theater's 2000 + music is mediocre compared to their earlier releases. I have mad respect for the band and I understand that they want to explore new sounds and styles but I would LOVE to see them go back to their roots because that's where the magic is.

Report this review (#438935)
Posted Monday, April 25, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars Sure, Mastodon hit it big (Billboard no. 11) with "Crack the Skye," but the masters of Prog Metal broke into the top 10 with Black Clouds & Silver Linings (hitting number 6 on the Billboard 200 chart). Not that there's a competition; I'm glad that prog is finally selling to a larger audience.

And Dream Theater is the epitome of the "Prog Metal" genre ? every member is a virtuoso at his instrument. I remember seeing them in concert for the first time?I stood there with my mouth open in awe. At one point, after a long and precise instrumental segment, in which each member showed his precision at playing, I turned to my friend Matt and said, "Oh come on! Their just showing off now!!"

DT is not just head-bangin' metal (though they are that!), they also offer very good lyrics. "The Count of Tuscany" (clocking in at just over 19 minutes) tells a story that Edgar Allen Poe could have written (very much like "The Cask of Amontillado"). On "The Shattered Fortress,"

Mike Portnoy offers the last installment of a twelve-part song (here we have parts 10, 11, and 12; the previous parts were on the last three albums) that allows us to join him in his spiritual journey:

"I once thought it better / To be right / But now I have finally seen the light / Sometimes you've got to be wrong / And learn from mistakes / I live with serenity now / Not self-righteous hate."

If only more metal artists would learn this lesson!

Report this review (#442820)
Posted Wednesday, May 4, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars Many people have wrongfully written this album off. Look at the last ten or fifteen negative reviews of this album, then look at the negative reviewers' review history. Most of them have made less than five reviews total. Hmm, odd that they should choose newer Dream Theater albums to review out of everything else that they've probably listened to.

A look at a lot of the other negative reviewers will show you that they've rated pretty much every DT album from Train of Thought on as three stars or less. OK, clearly they either are spiting DT's change into heavier metal, reminisce about the "good ole days" of I&A and Awake and can't expand themselves to like anything beyond those albums, or maybe they just don't like heavy metal at all. In that final case; why listen to it then?

There are legitimate negative reviews of this album, but I feel that a lot of them are unwarranted or disingenuous. I'd also like to caution people against phrases such as "Back to their roots", "DT back in form", "Heading back to their I&A and Awake days", etc. The truth is that this album is NOT a back-to-their-roots album. It's way heavier than anything of old, the song structures are nothing like their early albums, and the music itself is not written in the same vein as their earlier stuff. If you listen to this album expecting "Awake", you WILL be disappointed because this album is nothing like "Awake". Instead, try listening to the album for what it is, because that will allow you to actually really enjoy it.

As for me? Black Clouds is one of my favorite Dream Theater albums. I gave it 5/5 stars because I think it's simply an outstanding album. Sure, it's extremely heavy and in your face. Sure, there are some growls, yells, and even a blastbeat. Sure, a few of the lyrics are pretty lame. Despite these shortcomings, this album blew me away from day one, and now, three years later, I'm still impressed by it. Just about every song is an epic, a very difficult feat to properly accomplish, and besides the forced and recycled "The Shattered Fortress", not a single song fails to deliver. But enough of the bloviating. Lets look at the individual songs to discover why it's such an essential album:

1. A Nightmare to Remember - 5/5. This song is just downright nasty. It begins with a very chilling, haunting piano version of one of the main riffs, thunder in the background. The guitars then grumble in, much like the thunder, angry and ominous. The keyboard synths behind the guitar are fitting and add greatly to the haunting atmosphere of the song.

About 1:40 into the song, the drums stop and a killer riff begins. BOOM! Then the drums kick in and you can't but headbang, even if you don't usually do it. Listen to the cymbal fills at 2:09 - 2:20. They're freaking awesome. That's how good this song is; even some tiny thing in the background for eleven seconds has the power to stand out.

The vocals are of the "Tough Labrie" variety, but unlike most of the times he's done this, he pulls them off pretty well here. There are plenty of crazy guitar leads to fill in the spaces. The section after the first verse "Life was so simple then..." is a nice slower break from the heavy metal riffage. The section after this, leading into the chorus, is really cool-sounding. The vocal lines are sort of broken up and the guitar mimics Labrie in the background (And Portnoy yells in the background, too). As the chorus begins, "Stuuunned and bewildered" you get this feeling of some epic disaster taking place, which is fitting, as this is a story about a wreck John Petrucci experienced as a kid.

The first chorus trails off into the second section, which is a very beautiful, chilled out soft section. The guitars are really mellow, the drums groove with perfection, and Labrie tells the story of Petrucci waking up to a strange man. The phrase "bathing in beautiful agony" stands out as a moment of lyrical creativity. By itself, it sounds a little emo, but the way it comes out in the song is actually quite thought-provoking. This leads into the chorus, which captures some solid emotion and carries the momentum into the second verse of the second section, which is the same as the first but with more aggressive guitar work (Still subdued, though).

After the second second chorus (stutter problem!) That nasty 5/4 heavy headbanging riff comes back in as John Petrucci shreds your face off. Rudess then has some keyboard synth fun. I'm not a huge fan of his solo here. Wait, here's Petrucci again and he's bending some notes with attitude before unleashing a flurry of notes again. If you like shredding, this song is orgasmic. Rudess follows this with another synth solo, this one sounding like he's on the continuum, leading into that opening melody again before Rudess and Petrucci do some harmonized melodic shredding. The drums vary with all of this and maintain your interest well. Then the drums have a strong driving feel to them as Portnoy yells "Day after day...". This is one of the eyebrow-raising moments in the song. It isn't actually poorly done at first, but then Portnoy kind of goes "Huuaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhghghghghghghghghghghhghgg........." and it ruins the moment.

Anyway, we're 12 minutes in, so why not another instrumental break? This instrumental is pretty playful and I like it a lot. Then the guitars just chug out a slowed down riff from earlier and it makes you want to act like one of those lame metalcore kids at local metal shows before you realize that you'd then also be lame, so you refrain.

From here, the song hits one more chorus, goes back into the opening riff, has a blastbeat, and ends. Yup. Wait, did I just say blastbeat? Yes, I did! Don't worry about it, seriously. So many people made such a huge deal about this blastbeat when the album first came out and I find that to be absolutely ridiculous. It's a whopping 14 seconds in an album that's nearly 80 minutes long (The main disc, anyway). Get over it.

Oh, by the way, if you're looking at the length of this review already, that covers the first song. Yeeaahh... Don't let it scare you; the main reason it's so long as because there are just so many things going on in this song.

2. A Right of Passage - 3/5. This is a mediocre song. Basically, think back to Systematic Chaos' "Constant Motion" and you've got "A Right of Passage". The songs don't actually sound the same, but the structure and purpose (radio single) for both songs are identical. The intro is an eastern-sounding riff. It's nice, but nothing spectacular. The verse itself is not that inspiring as it's chugging mostly on one chord as Labrie yells at you. The refrain that leads into the chorus is nice and the chorus itself is really nice. The vocals are catchy and Petrucci does some really tasteful stuff in the background. Anyway, the second verse features Petrucci playing some pretty fast licks beneath Labrie. If they'd used this for the first verse as well, it'd have been really nice. This builds perfectly into the refrain and the second chorus.

The intro riff is repeated with a pinch harmonic or two before going into the instrumental riff. This part immediately makes me think about "Constant Motion". Then Petrucci starts shredding. Really fast. Insanely fast. He keeps going. Then he goes into this really cool-sounding broken shredding where he flurries, pauses, spazzes, stops, continues, etc. Of course Jordan Rudess can't be left out, so he adds in some keyboard shredding that sounds similar to Petrucci's solo.

The song ends on one last chorus.

3. Wither - 5/5. This is a song about writer's block and it's the staple ballad of the album. The structure and chord progression are fairly simple, but they fit the song pretty well (And in a way are ironic as it's a song about having a hard time writing and the verse chord progression is fairly common and thus not creative in a way). The song is really laid back and is easy to tap your feet to as you sing along.

After two verses and chorus Rudess stakes over with a beautiful soft synth lead that is very tasteful, slow, and brooding. The key to this song is that everything fits and nothing is done in poor taste. The song builds up from here before everything cuts out and Labrie sings over nothing but acoustic piano. It's really a lovely interlude. Beautiful.

Then John Petrucci plays a solo unlike anything he's really done before. Honestly it sounds like something almost straight out of Brian May's (Queen) playbook, but it fits the song so wonderfully that it makes sense. There's nothing elaborate to this song, but that's what makes it so enjoyable.

4. The Shattered Fortress - 2/5. I have to admit that I'm not a big fan of the AA Suite (If you're not familiar with DT and don't know what this is, basically it's a series of songs over many albums that deal with the 12 steps in Alcoholics Anonymous. Each song is written by Mike Portnoy and is meant to inspire people to defeat alcoholism. It's a noble goal, but the latest songs have seemed forced). If you want to know what this song sounds like without ever actually hearing it, listen to the AA Suite: The Mirror off of "Awake" (This is more of a prelude to the actual AA Suite), The Glass Prison off of "Six Degrees", This Dying Soul off of "Train of Thought", The Root of All Evil off of "Octavarium", and Repentance off of "Systematic Chaos".

Did you listen to those songs? OK, good! Now you've heard The Shattered Fortress. I'm not knocking the idea... It makes sense that the final song should incorporate riffs from all of the other AA songs. The problem is that several of the later AA songs, namely The Root of All Evil and Repentance already incorporate riffs from previous AA songs, too, so you wind up with a 14 minute deja vu sessions. At 1:40 you get the intro solo from This Dying Soul which flows into a riff from The Glass Prison, and... Eh, you get the point.

Now, some ignorant people will claim that DT is "stealing" or "rehashing" riffs and lyrics and that this makes them lazy. No, it doesn't make them lazy at all. They're doing it on purpose! The problem is that I'm not really big fan of it. I haven't really talked about the song itself... That's because it's mostly other songs. Granted, there are a few original riffs in here and they are good, but for the most part, this is a thematic song that wraps up the AA Suite. It doesn't really fit with the rest of the album, but the AA Suite had to be finished somehow...

5. The Best of Times - 5/5 This song begins with beautiful, slow, piano that meanders around a melody and makes you reflect gently to yourself about something painful that's happened in your life. Then there's a short violin solo covering one of the main melodies from later on in the song... Artistically and perfectly done. John Petrucci then enters with some acoustic guitar picking that fits the solemn mood of the song. It's nice to see Petrucci so restrained and brooding every now and then. He shreds so much that people tend to overlook or forget that he can play with great particularness (if that's a word), too.

Nearly three minutes in, the band goes into a very Rush-sounding riff. It's upbeat and uplifting: a stark contrast to the sorrowful intro. Petrucci plays a really wonderful lead line over this, adding to the tastiness of the song. This song feels like it'd fit well with About to Crash Reprise off of "Six Degrees".

The first verse more or less begins to tell the story of Mike Portnoy and his father having a great time growing up together. There's a melodic instrumental break before the second verse, followed by the "I'll always remember... Those were the best of times!" line. Then the music changes suddenly as Portnoy laments that "Then came the call... Our lives changed forever". This leads into a synth version of the main melody again. Somehow this part seems to capture sadness and happiness at the same time. Sadness from Portnoy losing his father, but the happiness of remembering the good times they had.

Then everything gets softer (Something you do NOT want a lady to say about you) with acoustic guitar and piano, tasteful bass and soft drums as Labrie sings. This eventually leads into what I'd call the first main chorus, which turns out to be a great tribute to Portnoy's father. I think that this song really can connect with guys who have had good fathers. I know that's becoming rarer these days, but with me writing this review at 4AM the morning of Father's Day, I would like to comment that this makes me think to all of the crazy heavy metal concerts that my dad took me to when I was younger, not because he, a Southern Baptist music minister, liked heavy metal, but because he knew that I did. My dad and I can both be seen on the second disc of the Score DVD in the very final scene of the DVD, showing fans in the lobby of Radio City Music Hall... That show was one of the highlights of my life and my dad was there with me. Thanks dad!

Any song that can make you reflect fondly upon your own life has certainly fulfilled its purpose. The solo played by John Petrucci after this is very refined and beautiful. It's certainly my favorite solo on the album. It lasts until the end of the song.

6. The Count of Tuscany - 5/5. This song starts with clean guitar arpeggios before Petrucci plays a slow, melodic guitar lead that sets the tone for what is to be a really spectacular song. The lead goes away fairly quickly and the acoustic guitars begin to build up momentum before the drums and bass jump in and Petrucci's electric guitar starts to play some nice fills that will remind you of classic prog. Then Petrucci begins to riff, but it's melodic riffing that's broken up by some nice harmonized solos. Nothing is overdone here and neither part carries on for too long. Eventually things get really frantic tic tic tic tic tic toc (Bad Metallica allusion there) and some crazy riffage leads into the first verse, which tells a "chilling tale" of a guy driving down the road one day before he runs into a really crazy dude.

Musically, everything is really tight and entertaining. Lyrically, maybe not so much. The "Get into my car! Lets go for a drive!" line is something that I had a ton of fun with... When this CD came out and for the next, oh, year or so, every time I picked my girlfriend up to go somewhere I would pause the song right before this line, pull up to her house, roll down the window, and when she came to my car I'd hit play. Thankfully she put up with my Dream Theater obsession and thought it was actually pretty funny at first, but eventually it just started to irritate her. I guess it worked out kind of like a Jordan Rudess keyboard solo. ZING! Anyway, worthless anecdotes aside, the lyrics are kind of weak in places, but the story itself is actually pretty cool. Still, lines like "All the finest wines improve with age" are not what you want to stand out lyrically.

The song maintains a tense atmosphere throughout the following verses as the man enters the Count's home and begins to get really scared as the Count tells him of an ancient tale of many soldiers disappearing as they entered this very place. That's not exactly what you want to hear a stranger tell you in a deep, dark place... The chorus' lyrics, on this other hand, I find to actually be very good. They're pretty honest... "I don't want to die..." "This may be the last time you see me alive..." and sound like something someone might actually think to themselves in a situation in which they think they might be killed.

Anyway, we're 9 minutes into the song and have been singing for a while, so we're overdue for an instrumental section. This section starts off pretty melodic and slow, but it picks up the pace as Petrucci and John Myung play a very VERY nice dual solo. John Myung definitely doesn't get much credit, but he deserves a shoutout here because his bassline rocks. Rudess jumps in and we get a three part solo that fits very well together. Petrucci then plays a "haunt mode" lead line that leads into.... Serenity.

For the next three minutes we get droning layered keyboards, extremely soft and peaceful. Petrucci plays cautiously over these with tentative guitar leads that eventually pick up the pace slightly but never lose that almost shy edge before leading into an acoustic guitar strumming chords. These four chords are a common progression, but they serve so well in telling a tale.

Labrie asks, "Could this be the end? Is this the way I die?", reminding you after six minutes of instruments that the main character is in a pretty deep bind here, afraid that he's about to die. What I find to be really impressive here is how Dream Theater has captured the emotion and progression of someone in this situation so well. At first the music is very tense, alarmed, and frantic as the guy, in a panic, wonders if he's about to die. Eventually, though, it's as if he's finally accepted his situation as his panic rolls away and he asks himself again if he's going to die. Not in a panic like before, but genuinely and honestly wondering if these are the last breaths that he'll take. This is also shown as he looks around the place and takes in exactly how everything is as it might be the last thing he sees.

Finally, the guy builds up the courage to ask the Count if he'll consider giving him a chance, if there's anything he can do not to die... He just went for a ride, wanting adventure, and now he thinks he's going to die... And the Count says...:

"Wait a minute, man, that's not how it is, dude. You're confused!" I took some liberty with the quote there, but as corny as this response is, I actually like it a lot... It would be like in a horror movie if the main "Killer" was stalking a group of teenagers around, scaring them out of their minds, and when he finally corners them and they're begging him not to kill them, if he was just like, "Oh wow, no, y'all have it all wrong. I just wanted to ask y'all if you were interested in coming to hear my band's show this weekend down at the amphitheater".

It's slightly corny, but it's really a nice song. It ends with some guitar leads and a crowd-pleasing "Whoooaaa ooohhh ohhhh ooohhhh" section.

All in all, this album is a very good one. There are some parts, like Right of Passage and The Shattered Fortress, that don't belong, but the rest of the album is so great that it pulls them up to what I would probably call a 4.75 rating rather than a 5. Obviously it makes more sense to round up than down in this case, which is why I've given this album five stars. Don't listen to this expecting early 90's Dream Theater, and don't listen to it trying to equate it to Systematic Chaos (It does have some similarities, but it is a million times more well-done). Instead, listen to it with an open mind. You'll be glad that you did.

Report this review (#476630)
Posted Tuesday, July 5, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars Does exactly what it says on the tin...

Reviewing the three disc special edition.

The Good: The overall songwriting on this release is their strongest since SDOIT and has some truly magical moments. Even Labrie puts in a good shift and I particularly enjoyed the 'hospital' section of A Nightmare to Remember. The album's single A Rite of Passage is much more enjoyable than its predecessor, Forsaken. Whilst the instrumental breakdown had some excellent guitar work, the keyboard section is sometimes overlooked, and even shunned. I however find the almost abstract electronic approach to be both enjoyable and refreshing.

Dream Theater are also well known for their epic tracks and this release features possibly my favourite so far, The County of Tuscany. The intro is just off the scale and whilst the following verse/chorus section does drag a bit, it has enough intricacies to keep it fresh. The hypnotic mid section is unusually sparse for this band but works really well. My favourite section however is the outro which is brilliantly executed and avoids the trap of overblown orchestrated finales dragging on forever and a day, that Dream Theater so often fall into.

Normally I tend to ignore bonus material and have a somewhat mixed opinion of Dream Theater's previous cover albums, but the tracks found on the third disc here are all excellent. I had already heard their version of to tame a land from the Maiden Heaven tribute release, and it actually turned out to be my least favourite of the six found here which I rank; Lark's Tongues in Aspic. Pt.2 > Take Your Fingers From My Hair > Odyssey > Stargazer > Tenement Funster / Flick of the Wrist / Lily of the Valley.

The Bad: Whilst Dream Theater haven't really written any good lyrics since their Awake album, some of the ones found here are especially bad! The Best of Times is clearly very personal and heartfelt but particular lines and an unnecessary violin opening just push it from sombre to cringeworthy. I would love to see John Myung start writing lyrics again but his contribution to the band becomes increasingly muted over time. He is an outstanding bass player but, like many of their recent releaeses, is drowned out of the overall mix in the sound battle between lead guitar and drums. In contrast to the excellent aforementioned bonus material, the second disc is practically worthless.

Considering my general distain for latter year Dream Theater vocals I was suprised at how inferior I found the fully instrumental versions to be, and now the disc rarely ventures out of its cardboard sleeve.

Whilst I greatly enjoy most of the songs found on this release the only slight dissapointment for me is the shattered fortress. It's the final song in the Twelve-step Suite but is also the worst, and is basically just a reprise of the other tracks with altered lyrics. Only a brief keyboard flurry a couple of minutes into the really song catches my attention.

Probably the most controversial point on the album is the so called 'cookie monster' section on the opening track. Even Mike Portnoy admitted afterwards he was torn between several different vocal approaches and in the end it just sounds like some half hearted shouting. Of the possibilities that he mentioned I would have much preferred to hear Michael Akerfelt do a guest spot.

The Verdict: Whilst it might not be ground-breaking the class is still there. But perhaps most importantly its enjoyable from start to finish, and that's something I have missed in the seven years since 6DOIT.

Report this review (#499691)
Posted Monday, August 8, 2011 | Review Permalink
3 stars |C|

Dream Theater have always released quality material in my book, even what I consider one of their worst works Train of Thought had an objectively solid level of composition level to it. And this album does as well. However, it seems to me the band stagnated a bit with this album, and I wouldn't be surprised if Petrucci had a good amount of writer's block composing this album (nicely advertised in Wither, which is actually about his writer's block). The material itself is well structured and has a good flow to it, and survives its first 10-15 listens pretty well.

Pretty much everything you could expect in a Dream Theater album is in here. Not that I think that is a bad thing, I think its pretentious to dislike an album solely because it isn't an artist's progression in sound. With that bit of "logic" we might as well dislike over 90% of Bach Cantatas, even though they're almost all quality music. No, this album pretty much sums up everything the band has done in their career all over again, and they do it damn well. So, I do I like this album.

However, I can't help but feel that the general material in this work, the riffs, melodies, etc., even the solos, seem less interesting than previous albums, and get even less interesting with subsequent listens, quite the opposite of my experience with their more highly rated albums. Their work still has a good sense of dynamic and emotional contrast and flow, some really cool parts even. The poetic quality of the lyrics is probably what has suffered the most slack since the previous album, sometimes even dreadful and not very well put to into vocal melody (this I feel most strongly in Count of Tuscany, which though good has some pretty musically awkward moments).

Basically the members of the band are experts in their field (understatement of the year), and I think they sold out a bit and didn't try hard enough to be creative with this album (you can have the same sort of material and still be creative with it; Iron Maiden proved that). I'm hoping that their following output, especially given their circumstances during the writing of this review, will have more to chew on than this album. This album is good, but not fully satisfying for me.

Basically, if you generally like Dream Theater, you'll probably like this album to some extent, as I do.

Report this review (#500317)
Posted Monday, August 8, 2011 | Review Permalink
3 stars It is a bit strange to admit it as a reasonable big DT fan, but this is only my fourth review of a DT album. That's two studio and two other albums.

To this date, this is their most recent album. It is an album I feel where the band run a bit empty in a symphonic prog metal formula. Dream Theater is the best known prog metal band around and arguably the best one too. They sometimes venture into symphonic prog too. I would put them somewhere between these two genres.

As stated above; I feel the band was running a bit empty on this album. The latest turbulence in the band did not come as a bit surprise to me, listening to this album. Too much cobwebs around and some shake ups were required.

By all means; the music on this album is good. That is the standard we expect from this band. Dream Theater's level is miles above most other bands. That is why they are one of the best bands, if not the best band, in the prog rock genre (a very wide definition of "prog rock" being employed). The intro to The Best Of Times is the highlight of this album. The rest of the song is also the worst part of this album where the sugar sweet cliches becomes to overpowering and the band loose it's bite. The Count of Tuscany is the best song here by a margin.

My major problem with this album is it's running around in cliches. I get the feeling of having been here before, on previous DT albums. The album is also a bit too philarmonic orchestra orchestrated and is tapping into blandness too many times. But the overall quality is good, but nothing more than that. It is far from being the DT album I love most, though. Overall, a weak three stars.

3 stars

Report this review (#506368)
Posted Saturday, August 20, 2011 | Review Permalink
3 stars 6/10

"Black Clouds & Silver Linings" has some new branches, but they all come from the same tree.

Dream Theater seemed to have lost quite a bit of their respect with "Systematic Chaos", even tough die-hard fans never lost faith in the band and cherished that album as well. There is an overall acceptance of the follow-up, "Black Clouds & Silver Linings", the last album that features drummer and one of the founders of Dream Theater Mike Portnoy. For me, this album is definitely an improvement from the previous effort, but it is a little far from being a great album.

Dream Theater, we all know this, is the band that has given progressive metal its ideal band, and stereotype as a consequence: heavy riffs accompanied with keyboards ( not always), complex and long song structures, and breathtaking technical skills. None of this is new. So I couldn't help feeling disappointed with BC&SL, I couldn't sense much difference from other albums that DT released i these recent years. However, metaphorically speaking there are some newer branches, but they all come from the same tree. Also, the structure of the album is a little similar to "Systematic Chaos", under a few points of view, like the order of the songs based on their nature ( for example, the last song is an epic, and the one before that is an overall calm and haunting piece, but very long as well).

I couldn't help noticing however that this album has a lot more personality than many DT albums, it has attitude and a somewhat dark feel to it, even lyrically speaking (sometimes a little too corny, but that's how the band's lyrics roll, pretty frequently). I think the title of the LP could imply that pretty clearly.

But these musicians, in the end, despite having a few issues, always are able to write an excellent song, no matter what. Heck, in every one of these songs there is at least one part that I enjoy a lot. "A Nightmare To Remember" is the opener, a sixteen minute epic, that has some cheesy moments, like the band in more than an occasion proved being able to do, but some others that are pretty cool, like the beginning with its organ-esque, haunted castle feel. "A Rite Of Passage" is a song I actually really liked, and I know not everyone does. I love the melodies, and the second part of the song is composed by mind-blowing solos. "Best Of Times" is the typical "song before the epic" that I implied earlier, but it does have some beauty to it, especially the intro, and the build-up of that. But my favorite track is, no doubt, the epic finale, "The Count Of Tuscany" that has some amazing passages, an it is the clearest tribute the band has ever recorded to the band Rush.

Overall "Black Clouds & Silver Linings" is an album I wanted more from, even though it had its moments. It was nice to see that the personality of the album was clearly influencing the music radically, making it, in a way, a unique album for Dream Theater.But strictly speaking i didn't get excited about, not in a particular way. A must, I suppose, for all Dream Theater fans, but if you do not know this band well enough, I recommend you hear everything they' ve done before this, it could be useful in some parts.

Report this review (#531099)
Posted Saturday, September 24, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars when i first heard "A Rite Of Passage", i was mesmerized...couldn't wait for the album to come out. but, as is wont with DT nowadays, they tease you with the "single" and taunt you with the incredibly long wait for the rest...well, at least this time they did all those covers (i loved "Odyssey" and "Stargazer", the others were ok - maybe they should have done more Rainbow/ Deep Purple stuff like "Child in Time" or "A Light In The Black")

so, when i finally got the album, my first reaction was disappointment. not that it was bad, it just was not all that i dreamt up during the wait!

"A Nightmare To Remember" at over 16 minutes, is another one of those DT songs that is great but you still wish they didnt just ramble on and on...

"A Rite Of Passage" - i've already said above, i was mesmerized and i still think its my favourite off this album...

"Wither" - not bad for a DT ballad but not great either...

"The Shattered Fortress" - its a good thing MP finished this one before he went AWOL on DT...then again, maybe he ran out of ideas after finishing it! we'll never know for sure. but this is one hell of a song right from the furious "step-up" intro and through all 12+ minutes - a fitting end to a phenomenal concept

"The Best Of Times" - not sure of this one...its got a really weak chorus, not a very memorable solo or anything, just another song

"The Count Of Tuscany" - quite a contrast to the opener: with this one, its almost 20 minutes and you're left wanting more...enough said!

here's to...whatever's to come...

Report this review (#537743)
Posted Friday, September 30, 2011 | Review Permalink
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.


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


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.

Report this review (#558109)
Posted Thursday, October 27, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars I actually give this 4.5 stars.

Now a lot may disagree with that rating since they aren't the Dream Theater from the, "90's". But that doesn't mean this monster of an album is still great. In fact, 4 of the songs on here are masterpieces. 2 songs are also great, but they don't have the potential to make this album a 5 star rating. I won't talk about the 2 songs that much, but Wither, is just a ballad. Not the best ballad but it can be enjoyable to listen to. A Rite to Passage just isn't a song for me. Others may like it, but I don't.

Okay, the first of the big 4 in my opinion is A Nightmare to Remember. This song is just so great. Starting off with a scary sounding scene to build up into the second part which I think is the best part of the song. Dreamy and peaceful, then transitioning to a heavy metal guitar and synth duel. And at last, it returns to the scary sounding scene to end off the epic track.

Next to come is, This Shattered Fortress, which is in fact a song I did not like at first. It may be the same for the rest who listen to it, but this song grows on you. It is full of wonderful sounding synth. Great song.

The Best of Times is a sort of ballad like song, starting of with an acoustic part at the beginning and then moving on to a heavy yet a softer sounding of heavy. I really like this song. The lyrics are really great and it is just a great overall listen to. All the instruments are fantastic to listen too.

Lastly, the epic, The Count of Tuscany. This is truly the song every Dream Theater fan should hear. And even if you aren't a fan, it is a song I recommend listening to as well as Octavarium. This song has such an epic outro, I could listen to it all day long. This song actually makes me feel like I'm put into another realm. Like, a dream world. I find the lyrics fascinating and the instrumentation is outstanding. Best song on the album, but A Nightmare to Remember is pretty close.

Now the second part of the CD, which is all covers, is a pretty good cover CD. Not amazing, and I shall not go into great detail discussing covers. I do greatly enjoy Odyssey and Larks Tongues in Aspic, Pt. 2. People should give this a listen to. This half of the album is not a must though.

In conclusion, the album has 4 amazing tracks. One (or even 2) I consider masterpiece tracks.This album should be considered to prog metal fans, fans of Dream Theater or people who are just discovering prog metal. Progressive rock fans may not love this album as much as those people, but I suggested giving this album a try. At least the Count of Tuscany, if anything. 4.5/5 Stars.

Report this review (#661620)
Posted Saturday, March 17, 2012 | Review Permalink
3 stars In Black Cloud's and Silver Linings Dream Theater discarded some of the cheesiness of their previous effort and regained focus. Portnoy's weak attempts at Death Metal vocals are still here, but overall the vocals are a much better improvement over Systematic Chaos. Musically it is as heavy and technical as what they have been doing since Train of Thought, but the songs are much tighter and without excessive noodling.

'A Nightmare to Remember' opens the album in a dramatic fashion with some thunder effects which leads to some blast beats from Portnoy that gives the song a metal feel. The riffs are brutal on this song, but eventually let up to give a beautiful middle section which has great flow. Petrucci's guitar playing is pretty bluesy on this song which is kind of interesting to note. Unfortunately, around 10 minutes we're treated with Portnoy's absolutely horrible vocals. Despite this, the song is fantastic overall and a welcomed change from the mess on their previous effort.

'Rite of Passage' has some annoying vocals again, but also has some cool riffs and a nice instrumental section at six minutes in to make it a decent song.

'Wither' is the obligatory pop song of the album. With that said, it's not very good at all. Way too verse-chorus based and uninteresting to be a good Dream Theater song.

'The Shattered Fortress' is the final song in Portnoy's Twelve Step Suite and in many ways is an unintentional farewell to the band. The track takes excerpts of the previous songs of the suite. Normally I don't like self-referencing in songs, but in this context it's acceptable, and in fact it works pretty well.

'Best of Times' opens up in rather depressing manner with strings and piano, but eventually gets a burst of energy in the form of a 'Spirit of Radio' inspired melody. Overall the song is very beautiful, and has one of Petrucci's best solos.

The album ends with the phenomenal 'Count of Tuscany.' The structure of this song is amazingly different than any other Dream Theater epic. The beginning is a homage to Rush's La Villa Strangiato and has a beautiful flow. A short instrumental interlude ensues, followed by the verses which are built on a killer riff. One of my favorite instrumental sections follows, which leads to a stunning ambient section not explored by Dream Theater before. The final buildup with acoustic guitar and vocals is bone chilling and LaBrie is at his emotional best. This song is easily up there with the great Octavarium, Change of Seasons, and Learning to Live.

The best way to describe this album is that it is a better version of Systematic Chaos. There are still some weaker tracks on here. But with that said, Black Clouds and Silver Linings is Dream Theater's best album since Six Degrees thanks in part to the amazing 'Nightmare to Remember' and 'Count of Tuscany.'


Report this review (#771383)
Posted Friday, June 15, 2012 | Review Permalink
2 stars The Bleeding Foot.

"Man these guys are experts at raping themselves" - quote from my notes on this album.

People can praise Dream Theater on their technical ability and showmanship, and I won't ever deny that - every member of this band with the exception of the dying cat is expertly trained in the craft of playing fast and playing proficiently. People also can praise them for pioneering a sound - although it's a bit odd that it took someone so long, the fusion of progressive rock and heavy metal these guys are credited with pioneering is definitely a huge part of modern music, and an influence to many bands that I adore. But no one ever really praises them for their true talent, something that very few bands, or people in general, can do - the ability to stab themselves repetitively and still keep going. And I'm not just talking about the good ol' shot to the foot. Throughout their career, and indeed throughout Black Clouds & Silver Linings, we have foot stabbings, eye stabbings, ear stabbings, heart stabbings and several times when the band collectively jump off a cliff. It's impeccable, how they can do it, and especially the times when they do it - most frequently when they'll be onto a good melody and a sweet groove and after a few minutes Sers Petrucci and Rudess pipe up and say "HEY GUYS, HOW ABOUT A SYNTH SOLO BATTLE".

By now my hatred for this band should be well known, but you'd never know it from my ratings. Images and Words is undeniably the 90's-era prog metal album, and is completely fantastic, and even Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From a Memory has moments. But as much as I hate this band and hate what they've become and their ability to keep making the same album over and over, I can never really say that any of their albums, with the exception of Train of Thought, are bad. Of the ones I've given my time to, this one here is probably the closest to being bad, if only because the concentration of wanky "epics" on this record is much higher than on previous records, but there are still some moments when I sit back and go "damn, these guys are actually good when they want to be".

While none of the good parts on Black Clouds & Silver Linings even touch the great parts on Images & Words, there are still quite a few of them, but nearly every time they crop up, the band decides to vomit up some idiotic reason for me to hate it. Before I dig into my peeves on this record, I think I might begin with some compliments. Firstly, both "A Nightmare to Remember" and "The Shattered Fortress" have absolutely blistering intros. I mean, damn, this [&*!#] is epic. The opener is definitely trying as hard as it can to be grandiose and magnificent, but it actually works quite well. The latter features a couple of ferociously catchy riffs dashed with some nice Orphaned Land-style folk metal, and both of them really feel like something magnificent is coming. And that's about it. Both songs dissolve quickly into trashy metal parts and lose all grip on the epic feel the openings were aiming for. "A Nightmare to Remember", both in name and sound, reminds me now of the opening track from the Avenged Sevenfold record that Portnoy would leave the band for, but I almost want M Shadows to come screaming across with "NIIIIGHTMAAAREEEE" to save me from LaBrie's pathetic performance. It's almost depressing when a band like Avenged Sevenfold does epic better than a band like Dream Theater, but it's definitely true here.

Contrary to popular opinion, the two best tracks here in my ears are actually the two lowest rated tracks by everyone else, and the only ones that don't top 10 minutes (proving my theory that DT fans just rank the songs in order of length for best tracks), "A Rite of Passage" and "Wither". The former gets a bit of [&*!#] thrown at it for a weak chorus and some bad vocals, but I actually don't mind the chorus here, even if it's performed pretty badly. The latter is only hated because it's not EPIC, and although it's the cheesiest thing in the universe - an Elton John/Queen tribute song with lyrics about sucking at composition (you got that one right, Johnny), I do quite like it. The melody is simple but epic, and I love the ridiculous cliche drop-an-octave-with-piano in the bridge. Petrucci's solo here is actually alright for once, despite the massive Brian May worship (even doing that triplet run thing that's in literally every Queen solo). The other song I don't mind here is "The Best of Times", but that's just because it's so inoffensive (with the exception of the solos, of course). The song is the biggest Rush tribute ever with the worst lyrics ever and some pretty mediocre power metal influences. I can't say it's bad, but it's also completely forgettable and definitely doesn't need to be 13 minutes.

But for me, the best parts of this album happen when the band goes on their teasing rituals, when they flirt a fantastic part at me for a couple of minutes before flinging it away and bringing out the torturing tools. The second movement of "A Nightmare To Remember", from about 5:30 to 8:40, is really quite fantastic. It's decorated with stupid samples, but underneath it is a wonderful acoustic part and a pretty great vocal melody that would be incredible if anyone else was singing it. Admittedly the melody does remind me a tad of "The Spirit Carries On", one of their classic melodies, but I don't mind that. What I mind is how they transition straight from this great melodic part into one of their world-famous solo battles. And god, has Jordan Rudess really outdone himself with the solos on this record. I do like the man as an entrepreneur and pioneer of keyboard and sampling software, but a lot of these solos seem like ads for how much [&*!#] his equipment can do and ends up sounding like a whole lot of retarded farting noises, to the point when sometimes he's not even playing notes as much as mashing keys. Petrucci's solos are not much better - he still feels the need to play 49 notes per second every second, but at least he's using an instrument with a relatively pleasant sound, not a bunch of noise boxes. "The Count of Tuscany" seems to be the fan favourite of this record (I wonder why? It's not because of the length, surely!), but for the most part it is an embarrassing and cringeworthy affair, at least until the final few minutes when it picks up and stops being awful all of a sudden. The break in the third quarter of the track feels straight off an IQ record, but is definitely a nice inclusion, and the song then dissolves into an acoustic guitar-led passage with some really nice keyboard melodies. It's a really awesome finish to the record, and is the only thing stopping me from calling the track the worst thing DT have done.

When Portnoy left, a whole lot of people were pretty confident that the band would get better without his annoying influences, and although the most recent albums have proven that wrong, I can definitely see where they're coming from, because Portnoy definitely has a big hand in the shooting of feet and jumping of cliffs (although so does everyone in the band, except Myung). His drum performance, technically, is pretty proficient, with the exception of some really really over the top fills in the epic tracks (and those pathetic blast beats at the end of the opener), but it's him stupid alternative metal influences that get a laugh out me the most, especially combined with LaBrie's terribly aged lead vocals. We have some terrible half-rapped, half growled stuff in "A Nightmare to Remember", which just adds onto the terrible solos to kill any credit gained from the acoustic section, and then there's the awful use of these vocals on top of LaBrie's verses, which especially bring forward how bad the lyrics are on this record. I never really thought the accusations of "The Count of Tuscany" having the worst lyrics of 2009 were justified when I read them on paper, but in the song it's just atrocious. I actually laughed audibly at moments like "MY BRUUUUTHER" and "SUCKING ON HIS PIPE", or the brilliant "A RARE VINTAGE? IMPROVE WITH AGE", or even LaBrie's hilarious "GET INTO MY CAR, LET'S GO FOR A DRIVE". And it's not just in that song, although it's probably the worst. "A Rite of Passage" has the classic "TRICK OR TREAT" and "The Shattered Fortress" has some brilliantly bad chants during the verse ("Honor! Opeth! Willingness!"). And then there are the samples. Nothing embarrasses me more than a bunch of old men thinking they're being deep with spoken word samples. As much as I hate to reference memes, every time I hear this record I can't help but imagine all the band collectively tipping their fedoras whilst coming up with these ideas, thinking they are poetic geniuses, as well as that hilarious video of that guy talking about how death metal isn't music whilst saying that Dream Theater are artistic and deep.

While I can't say that Black Clouds & Silver Linings is the worst thing in the universe, it is a pathetic record with some really bad parts that regularly redeems itself with some great moments. By now Dream Theater are 10 years past their use-by date, and fear of being completely predictable has led to the terrible alternative metal influences and their inevitable predictableness has led to some mediocre songwriting. I don't even know why I would bother listening to a 21st Century Theater album, let alone review it, but this is certainly nothing notable.


Originally written for my Facebook page/blog:

Report this review (#794447)
Posted Wednesday, July 25, 2012 | Review Permalink
3 stars After the success of "Systematic Chaos" due to a popularity rise from their record deal with Roadrunner records, the band went back into the studio to record another. Now before it's release, Portnoy's mouth didn't stop running, saying that this album would be like "having "Octavarium", "Pull Me Under" and "A Change Of Seasons" all on the same album." Now this isn't true, basically there's an 8 minute song and 2 songs that are near 20 minutes. But what really is this album like...well to tell you the truth when this album came out...I was disappointed and to this day I'm not as disappointed...but I am still not loving this album.

Musically the band decided to go into a more darker direction. The band have been promising a darker album for ages, so this is what we get, with a lot more focus on minor chords and such. Now, tone wise this isn't too bad. In fact most of the problems lie with the material, which mostly is good. It's just fragments of the songs which really let the tracks down. Some are too long and some are quite weak. One big positive is that this may be the best I've heard James' voice in a very long time, with him pulling off some great vocal moments.

The special edition of this album would be worth getting a buy, because it does feature a bonus disc full of cover songs. Now, the band does do covers pretty well and I won't dwell upon them too much, but there are some interesting versions of these songs. The Queen melody for one is brilliant with a very interesting vocal performance from James LaBrie. "Stargazers" and "To Tame A Land" are also brilliantly crafted too.

The album opener "A Nightmare To Remember" is another song which could have been a brilliant and classic Dream Theater song. Starting off with a riff which is pretty much a slower version of Cradle Of Filths "The Promise Of Fever," showing off extreme metal and black metal influence. The main body has some great twists and turns but the real catcher of this track would have to be the slower part. A brilliantly crafted melody with some great vocal harmonies, this is one of the shining moments on the album. Sadly the track goes into some mediocre instrumental passages and then it happens. A section of the song which has a death metal the bands crazed drummer decides to take the mic and do one of the worst impersonations of death metal. This has to be one of the most embarrassing moments on the bands career. Luckily there is a live version the band did with Mikael from Opeth doing the growls, and it sounds way better. The song does close off pretty well with some surprising blast beats and luckily it doesn't drag too much. I do feel a lot of this song needed to be trimmed off, but there are moments on this song which are incredibly majestic.

The first single to be dropped from the album "A Rite Of Passage" is probably one of my least favorite Dream Theater songs. It starts off pretty well with a pretty good riff, but the first verse is terrible with stupid effects and reverb on the vocals. Luckily the chorus is pretty good and the second verse does pick up and become more enjoyable, but the instrumental section comes out of nowhere, but I did like the noisy and interesting keyboard solo from Jordan. The lyrics are also a bit poor due to a lack of knowledge about the song's topic (it's about Freemasons by the way). Probably the poorest song on the album.

The song which I would probably agree has no problems on it would be "Wither." The ballad for the album, the song is perfectly crafted and beautifully written. It does verge on cheese at times, but a bit of cheese never hurt anybody. The lyrics which deal with writers block are beautifully written and the wordplay is pretty good too.

"The Shattered Fortress" being the last of the 12 Steps Suite does seem to be a song which is supposed to tie loose ends. Now, after the release of this album, Portnoy did explain that this suite did almost seem like homework at times for the band. Some moments on this song do have some nice moments, but other than that it is basically a re hashing of old ideas from previous songs. I will let some riff slide, but it is very deja vu.

Trying to lay into the "The Best Of Times" is rather tough due to the nature and background of the track (with it being about Portnoy's dad who sadly passed away), but there are some minor flaws. The intro is absolutely beautiful, with some beautiful piano work from Jordan and a brilliant violin accompaniment. Then the song goes into ultra Rush mode. Now being heavily influenced by Rush and Rush being one of Portnoy's father's favorite band, I will let the obvious rip off fly. The lyrics are decent being very direct and personal to Portnoy, but I did prefer his lyricism on "A Change Of Seasons" (being about the death of his mother) to be better due to better crafted metaphors and word play. The song is one of the strongest on the album, but it still could have been handled way better.

"The Count Of Tuscany" starts off with one of the most beautiful sections the band has ever composed with some amazing guitar work from John Petrucci. As the idea expands it then crashes into a metal riff that easily could be found in a Trivium song. Now, riff wise it's not too bad, with LaBrie doing a great delivery of Petrucci's lyrics about a man he met on holiday in Tuscany. The chorus is really what lets this down. While having a great melody, the chorus is ruined by Portnoy's failed attempts at death growls. As the song moves on the instrumental sections are enjoyable with some Zappa influenced synth sounds. Then the song slows down with a Pink Floyd interlude. Then the last 8-9 minutes is one of the best compositions Dream Theater has composed. Very simple in nature, it tells the rest of the story perfectly with some beautiful instrumental passages. Sadly this song could have been so good, a staple in the bands career, but it missed the mark just slightly.

In conclusion, this is probably my least favorite Dream Theater album. But...this album has some of the bands best moments in their whole career. In fact, I find that mostly every song would be a brilliant track, but due to arrangements is usually left feeling very flawed and uninspired. I do blame Portnoy's almost obsessive control over the bands music. Luckily after his departure the band re ignited their former passions. I would recommend this for certain moments, but other than that this album is the perfect example of so close but yet so far.


Genres: Progressive Metal, Progressive Rock, Extreme Metal, Heavy Metal, Hard Rock. Symphonic Metal, Symphonic Rock

Year of release: 2009

Country of origin: USA

Report this review (#1203589)
Posted Wednesday, July 2, 2014 | Review Permalink
4 stars 'Black Clouds & Silver Linings', Dream Theater's tenth studio album, sees the band take a more darker direction than before. With some of their heaviest and most consistent performances, the band show that they still have plenty of ideas left in the tank, and with only six tracks, they demonstrate how they still are, and will always be, the kings of progressive metal.

With four songs going over ten minutes, there's certainly no shortage of epics on this release. Newcomers to the band wouldn't be blamed for being intimidated by this, but repeated listens will reveal some expertly crafted compositions. From the dark and brooding 'A Nightmare to Remember', which is one of the heaviest and most relentless songs the band have ever written, to the uplifting and emotional 'The Best of Times', there's plenty of variety in the moods and themes of each track.

Then there's "the big one". It's almost a common trait for every Dream Theater record to have that one, big epic that trumps all the other tracks, and in this case, we have 'The Count of Tuscany'. At 19-minutes in length, this is right up there with 'A Change of Seasons', 'Octavarium', 'Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence' and 'Metropolis' as a potential candidate for one of the bands greatest pieces. Full of many twists and turns, shifting dynamics, intense and melancholic moments, incredibly tight guitar riffing and a highly memorable chorus, 'Black Clouds...' is probably worth the price for this song alone.

Included in the deluxe edition box set is two bonus discs. The first features six cover versions of songs by the likes of Queen, King Crimson and Zebra... (who?). I wasn't familiar with all the songs originally, but overall it's a decent enough disc and certainly isn't a detriment to the album. The second disc consists of an instrumental version of the entire 'Black Clouds...' record. Why? Because they're Dream Theater. Why not?

The box set edition with the bonus discs is a great purchase for die-hard fans such as myself, but even if you're a more casual listener, it's a great record that belongs in your collection. In conclusion, 'Black Clouds & Silver Linings' is another fantastic album by the pioneers of progressive metal, showing that there's still plenty of life left in the prog legends.

Report this review (#1781308)
Posted Tuesday, September 12, 2017 | Review Permalink

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