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Dream Theater

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Album Review

Though Dream Theater recruited drummer Mike Mangini to replace Mike Portnoy on 2011's A Dramatic Turn of Events, his drum parts had all been scripted before the change, leading to the rather stilted feeling of the album. This self-titled offering, the band's 12th album overall, marks the first time Mangini was involved in the writing and creative decision making from the jump and it shows. Produced by guitarist John Petrucci and recorded and mixed by Richard Chycki, this is one of the more dynamic, far-reaching albums in DT's catalog. Opener "False Awakening Suite" is a brief but cinematic near-instrumental with twinned guitars and keyboards riffs from Petrucci and keyboardist Jordan Rudess, all underscored by a string section and layered choral vocals by James LaBrie. The band's harder edges are displayed immediately after in "The Enemy Inside," with Mangini's fast, syncopated tom-tom and heavy drumming charging through the labyrinthine changes, as prog and death metal join in an unholy alliance; LaBrie is in command, atop it all. "The Looking Glass" is an obvious tribute to Rush, particularly the big arena anthems like "Spirit of Radio" and "Free Will" in its crunchy intro. It moves beyond that into something darker and more intricate with numerous time changes and interludes, yet always returns to the hook. These three tracks make for a fantastic opening trifecta, but the rest doesn't disappoint either. The driving, labyrinthine instrumental "Enigma Machine" features some of Petrucci's finest playing on the album, while "Behind the Veil" reveals itself slowly, emerging from lithe, whispering keyboard lines to engage explosive drumming and punishing guitar riffs and varied, thrumming bass parts from John Myung. All efforts lead to the five-part, 22-minute closer "Illumination Theory." Though it borrows a riff from "The Enemy Inside," inspiring its first instrumental section, it moves afield quickly. This is Dream Theater at its most creative. Rudess' keyboard playing comes right out of Frank Zappa in several sections, but particularly in "Live, Die Kill." There is an atmospheric interlude in the second instrumental part "The Embracing Circle." In the fourth section, "The Pursuit of Truth," Rudess, Petrucci, and Myung exchange fours, sixes, and eights in syncopated time signatures as Mangini prods them with explosive fills and elephantine rolls between verses. To finish, the music becomes positively majestic (à la Queen) in the final section "The Pursuit of Truth," whispering to a close with acoustic piano, strings, and a single-line guitar melody. Dream Theater is one of the quintet's big ones; it holds inside it everything a fan could want, yet also expands the reach of American prog metal.

Customer Reviews

Feels undercooked.

I have been a die-hard Dream Theater fan for almost 20 years. They are my favorite band (brace for "however"). I just don't know about this album. Maybe it's because I've only listened to the whole thing once (anyone who loves DT knows their albums sometimes require digestion to be appreciated).

Technical prowess-wise, it is certainly Dream Theater. But I don't feel like all the songs are really "songs". They tend to sound more like drifting from one cool riff idea to the next without adequately cementing the thematic bits that a listener latches onto to identify "the song". It's like they tried to mix all the elements of their sound (dark, light, and virtuosic) together into each song as much as possible, resulting in a chunky, heterogeneous mix. Nothing is any one sound long enough to form a song. They wrote good music, but what about writing good songs? The Enemy Inside and Surrender to Reason are pretty close, but they still dart around more than necessary. I liked Octavarium. Aspects of their sound were concentrated into specific songs to showcase their diversity. Here, everything is everywhere, making very little actually anything. Also, the whole mix just sounds stuffy, like they recorded it in a closet.

On a side note, I am confused by all the five-star reviews that are over a month old (the whole album came out TODAY). I realize a single was released early, but those reviews should not apply to this album, as most of them just blindly five-star the whole album early based on one song, and even explicitly say they "can't wait to hear the rest". Those reviews skew the album's average greatly. I would rather see current, informed reviews.

In any case, Dream Theater's fan base was set in stone long ago, and they're all the ones buying this album anyway (the rest of the world either has never heard of them or doesn't get/like LaBrie's voice). And I will probably come to like this album more with subsequent listens. I was just bothered by the lack of a thoughtful, current review by someone who actually listened to the whole album objectively and wrote their first impressions, so I wrote this one.

It is Dream Theater, and I still love them, but as of now, I think if this album had stayed in the oven longer, the ingredients would have come together better. They just shipped it while it was still pink in the middle. To be fair, and to be real (some fans are not realistic), this is not their best album.

Lacking Imagination

As another reviewer stated, I won't bore you with my historical affection for this band and their entire catalog to this point. I think I can sum this up for Dream Theater fans. It is what I expected for the first album where Mike Mangini was involved in the writing. It is missing the organic imaginative qualities that Mike Portnoy brought to the band. Mike P. was an OCD control freak with a quirky personality. It might have been hard to work with him, but his magic imagination is missing. It's not that the songs are bad per-se, but they lack the edge and unpredictability that their songs often had in the past.

Looking back to Mike P.'s last album with the band and comparing a song like Count of Tuscany or Nightmare to Remember to these is all it takes to hear the difference in attack and production-- the new songs are a bit lifeless. They don't really build or wander, they just go to places that the listener might expect. There is a lack of rawness and clarity that gets lost in the over compression, especially of James' vocals. James' voice actually sounds good, but unfortunately, it sounds the same in each song with the same "lustre."

Last, the drumming that Mangini lays down isn't bad. He's hugely proficient, but his playing is not noteworthy. There is nothing he plays that will stick in your head for a long time as some of the old patterns like Metropolis or Under a Glass Moon have. To be honest, I can see why Steve Vai moved on and has a kid like Jeremy Colston as opposed to Mangini. Undoubtedly, Mike M. can play anything, but he is not inventive at all. He sounds overly mechanical.

So to sum it up, this album is best described as an example of work by a band who lost one of the critical components of the chemistry that created their signature sound.

Don't say a word, Just buy it

Do not think. Just buy it

Biography

Formed: 1986 in New York, NY

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

The technically proficient guitar playing of John Petrucci elevated Dream Theater to the upper echelons of contemporary heavy metal. While its lineup has continuously evolved, the Long Island-based quintet has consistently delivered sharp-edged music. Dream Theater is known for its high-energy concert performances. While they've released several live albums — Live at the Marquee, recorded at the London club; Live in Japan, recorded during the...
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