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


Dream Theater


Progressive Metal

3.45 | 1611 ratings

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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.

maani | 4/5 |


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