Review Summary: For those expecting another disappointment like the last two albums, you may be pleasantly surprised.
With Dream Theater’s last two albums not really reaching the heights of their previous work ‘ Black Clouds and Silver Linings’ was an album I hoped would impress me, but not one to expect much of. Despite the fact I have not listened to systematic chaos, with Octavarium there were times where I thought that Dream Theater were just containing themselves for the sake of containing the music to try and prove that their music isn’t all about being technical which to me lost the edge of what Dream Theater is about. On the other hand many would consider some of Dream Theater’s music as mindless wankery, and at times I do question it too. So what happens when you get the right amount technicality whilst containing at the right moments to make the music effective?
You get Black Clouds & Silver Linings.
Despite there only being six songs, Dream Theater certainly make that up with content. Labrie on this CD has quite possibly the best vocal performance of his entire career, he has never sounded any better or stronger. Whilst many see him as the weak link of the band, he is an absolute pleasure to; from his soaring highs to his darker lows he hardly puts a foot wrong. In contrast to Mike Portney, his semi-growls are an interesting variation to Labrie’s vocals although at times seem out of place and even laughable at times. Despite this, they do work very well in certain places. Although Listening to 3 albums before this one, it was only until now I realised why Portney is considered a high class drummer in the genre. There are so many interesting and technical fills scattered all over the place on this album although unlike his counterparts, Petrucci and Rudess his drumming patterns fit in with the music and manages to keep a strong balance in the songs. Rudess however unlike Portney, just like previous releases tends to let his technical prowess run away with him, there’s no doubt the guy can play a keyboard and he does it extremely well but in the composer element of the album, again he is lacking, though improving. For Instance he has a very interesting keyboard solo in the middle of ‘The Shattered Fortress’ which while technical as hell doesn’t seem completely out of place and works very well.
With this album Dream Theater haven’t really done anything new but instead seemed to have refined the best bits of Dream Theater’s sound past and present. For example ‘A Rite of Passage’ has a chorus which is of reminiscence of ‘Octavarium’ although the chorus is better than any of the ones previously done on Octavarium and though is simple by Dream Theater’s standards is extremely catchy. ‘Wither’ seems to be an attempt at a ballad relevant to the days of ‘Images and Words’ all be it much weaker and comes off extremely cheesy at times. Whilst none of this album comes off as original there doesn’t seem to be anything fresh with Wither, it feels a little uninspired to the rest of the album which ironically this song is about a lack of inspiration and ideas. However this is only a slight bump on an extremely enjoyable album. The rest of the songs really take elements from all of the albums but come out with very fresh sounding material, the only song with obvious comparison is ‘A Count of Tuscany’ which has similarities with Octavarium. It wouldn’t be Dream Theater without the cheese either, especially with ‘The Best of Times’, the hugely emotional music however makes up for the cheesy lyrics about Portney’s Father.
The technical ability of Dream Theater has been the most controversial element of the band and none more so than Petrucci. Known for hugely over the top technical solos and boy you guessed it, Petrucci delivers in full. However because most people comment on the immense of technicality Petrucci has in ability many people forget that Petrucci can actually write some damn good solos and not all of it is ‘Mindless Wankery’. ‘The best of times’ has one of the most emotionally driven solos Petrucci has written ranking up with the likes of ‘Octavarium’ and ‘Learning to Live’. Petrucci as usual has an array of technical riffs and solos, the riff at just under 2 mins on the first song ‘ A night to remember’ is a nice little touch although nothing really new to the Dream Theater catalogue. ‘A count of Tuscany’ once again shows Dream Theater is not short of Influences as there is clear Pink Floyd influence just like in ‘Octavarium’ although this is very tasteful and still very much Dream Theater.
For those expecting another disappointment like the last two albums, you may be pleasantly surprised, this certainly ranks up with Dream Theater’s stronger works and has climbed up to be my second favourite Dream Theater album so far. Biggest surprise of 2009 thus far.
A count of Tuscany
The best of Times
A night to Remember