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Album Review

After finally running out their 13-year, seven-plus album deal with a poisonously indifferent Atlantic Records via 2005's workmanlike Octavarium, progressive metal standard bearers Dream Theater took advantage of their well earned free agent status to enjoy a heated courtship from several interested labels, before eventually settling on the artistically simpatico Roadrunner. But, ironically, Dream Theater's first album for the label that heavy metal built, 2007's Systematic Chaos, was relatively accessible by the group's standards, complementing every epic and complex composition with a comparatively concise and hooky song, thus leaving it to its 2009 successor, Black Clouds & Silver Linings, to really flex the band's progressive metal muscles to their maximum girth. And in fact, Dream Theater's tenth long-player is about as dense and challenging as any album in their daunting discography (and certainly the darkest of spirit since 2003's Train of Thought), by emphasizing not only the virtuoso members' ever stupefying musicianship, but also their most aggressive and thoroughly metallic songwriting tendencies. Sixteen-minute opener "A Nightmare to Remember" and its half-as-long follow-up, "A Rite of Passage" (later edited further for release as the album's first single), quickly establish this agenda via frequently thrash-paced staccato riffing, some of John Petrucci's most blistering guitar solos ever, and the return of drummer Mike Portnoy's syncopated growls (no doubt inspired by his pal Mikael Åkerfeldt of Opeth), providing contrast for singer James LaBrie's soaring melodic elegance. Third track "Whither" — a tender ballad and mere babe at five minutes in length — is this album's only concession to commerce (and one of Dream Theater's better stabs at the form it is, too); but after that it's right back to prog rock in excelsis, via the final chapter in the band's "AA Saga," "The Shattered Fortress," which references songs from previous albums such as "The Glass Prison" and "The Root of All Evil," in emulation of the "Conceptual Continuity Clues" method favored by one of Portnoy's heroes, Frank Zappa. Only two, not surprisingly massive song suites remain now, and interestingly, both pay evident tribute to Rush! First up, "The Best of Times" boasts an extremely Alex Lifeson-like lead guitar motif and verse chords that were clearly evolved from "The Spirit of Radio," later showcasing the most versatile and classically steeped performance on this record by keyboard wizard Jordan Rudess. Second, the revealingly named "The Count of Tuscany" (surely a thinly veiled allusion to the Rush's famed instrumental, "La Villa Strangiato") catches Portnoy in the act of outright Neil Peart worship, colluding with Petrucci on their own version of "Xanadu" before leading their bandmates into another heady prog-metal magnum opus brimming with more ideas, notes, and time changes over 19 minutes than most bands bother with over a ten album career. That last bit sound at all familiar? That's because, at the end of the day, one must admit that Black Clouds & Silver Linings, for all its abundantly positive qualities and minor but clear distinctions from prior efforts, is still an archetypal Dream Theater album; one that's unlikely to broaden their audience all that much, but is conversely guaranteed to thrill their hardcore converts with its renewed devotion to the most exigent and stimulating facets of the band's chosen musical domain. [A special edition was also released.]

Customer Reviews

i had it since saturday!

well, i preordered the 3cd set (who still plays vinyl anyway?) and i fully expected it to land in my mailbox by the end of this week. LO! to my exciting delight it came yesterday, saturday the 20th :D and to think on friday afternoon i was wondering why i never seem to be one of the lucky ones to get anything early. so here it is...nightmare is just dark and heavy as can be. totally awesome and very well thought out musically, both in the chord structure and in the song structure, and not to mention the choices of effects on guitars and keys. perhaps it even hints at under a glass moon, which is about driving in the rain. rite of passage we all know by now, so no comments except that i guess they really dont like the new pres and his cohorts in the senate and house. wither is also great, and there is some really lyrical guitar stuff. shattered fortress is the final (i would guess) installment of the aa theme from portnoy, and it is certainly the most solid piece on the album. it musically rehashes tons of their stuff dating back many albums, including stuff that is not so obviously part of the aa entity. it really brings the whole installment full circle and sums it up in a most awesome fashion. the best of time is a gorgeous piece of music, and it is an ode not only to mp's father, but to all father/son relationships. it hints to take away my pain as well in the opening guitar passage. count of tuscany is one of their epic songs that i accustomed to since they first started playing change of seasons over 20 years ago! but lyrically i am not so sure what they are aiming at beyond a hannibal lecter theme. the album as a whole is VERY loud and i had to turn down the speakers. but as a whole it is light years beyond systematic chaos. everything is so well thought out and kevin shirley even returned for some production, which is also outstanding. jp and mp have both returned to musicality, rather than just shredding (toft, anyone?), and they really made a return to their darker writing style of the kevin moore days. alot of stuff really falls into place here, and even though any albm by any band has its disappointments, i am just very impressed with the whole album.

Anything DT ever Does as a whole group is a God Sent.

Is there any band out there that even remotely could be compared to DT?

This is one hardcore DT album!

BCaSL is among Dream Theater's finest work. Are there problems with this album? Yes. Portnoy needs to realize that the "Opeth" growls he has taken such a liking to are not metal and are not cool; they just sound stupid and downright laughable. The thirty second growl interlude near the end of "A Nightmare to Remember" alllmost ruins an otherwise excellent, and I mean excellent, song. I skip that section every time and the song is great. Petrucci's guitar work on this latest effort is some of his best, with melodic lines appearing in equal number with searing shredathons that will have anyone's head exploding. Rudess and Portnoy also display some of their best work, as does LaBrie. I am more than sure that Myung recorded excellent bass tracks, but they are mixed so low on this album he may as well not be in the band. This is, in short, a great addition to the Dream Theater catalog. "Nightmare" and "Count" are my favorite tracks, but "Passage" and "The Best of Times" are excellent as well. Like any album save perhaps four or five in history, there are a few throwaway tracks here. In sum, I'd recommend picking this up.


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 Music in Progress tour in 1993, and a triple-CD and DVD,...
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Black Clouds & Silver Linings (Special Edition), Dream Theater
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  • $16.99
  • Genres: Metal, Music, Rock, Prog-Rock/Art Rock
  • Released: Jun 19, 2009

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