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


Dream Theater


Progressive Metal

3.44 | 1582 ratings

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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 shit 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 shit 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 shit 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:

Gallifrey | 2/5 |


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