Review Summary: Finally combining their recent metal sound with songwriting as excellent as their 90's efforts, the band deliver their best work of the decade.The Journey Through Dream Theater, Part 11
Dream Theater’s future certainly had its own black clouds hanging over it since the band’s output has been fairly inconsistent since the 90’s. After the somewhat enjoyable but still very disappointing Systematic Chaos
, the band needed to prove that they weren’t washed up has-beens in a genre that they once ruled.
And they have. With Black Clouds and Silver Linings
, the band shows that they still have what it takes to put out quality material after two decades of experience under their belt, providing their best body of work since Scenes From A Memory
. The songwriting is the band’s strongest in a decade. They keep their more metal sound that’s creeped in over the last decade, while still providing enough diversity to keep it from being a rehash of Train of Thought
. Wankery still exists, but it’s much more controlled this time, so the band’s fans can breathe a sigh of relief that the songwriting takes precedent over the flashy sections.
The drastic improvement in songwriting is seen immediately in opener A Nightmare To Remember
. The different sections of the song are fleshed out and there is a very clear direction throughout unlike many of the band’s previous epics. It’s a great metal tune for its first few minutes, driven by Petrucci’s riffs and a great performance from LaBrie, who has finally mastered his vocals in the heavy sections. The melodic middle section is spectacular, possibly the best heavy-soft transition of the band’s career. Even the signature Petrucci/Rudess solo tradeoff works well as a part of the song, although it’s certainly the least interesting part.
The band provides closure to Portnoy’s AA saga with The Shattered Fortress
. It reuses riffs and vocal melodies of each of the other parts of the saga, and although this does make the track lack in originality, it’s a satisfying conclusion to a well thought out series. It’s got its fair share of wankery, but once again, the songwriting is strong enough that it doesn’t bring the song down. Those who haven’t heard the previous installments (The Glass Prison, This Dying Soul, Root Of All Evil, Repentance
) should listen to those before listening to this, because it has a greater effect if one can recognize all of the repeated elements in the song.
The final two tracks really hammer home the band’s renewed songwriting, and these are the album’s two strongest cuts, without any wankery in sight. The Best of Times
shows the band displaying a Rush influence for once, and it works well. It’s a lighter track about Portnoy’s father, focused almost entirely on melody, and thankfully LaBrie delivers and effectively carries the song. Petrucci’s solo in the final three minutes is one of the best he’s ever done, ranking up there with Under A Glass Moon
and The Spirit Carries On
. The Count of Tuscany
takes the top spot on the album; in fact it even rivals such greats as Octavarium
or The Glass Prison
as the band’s best track of the decade. It’s largely instrumental, and every moment of the 19-minute epic is intriguing, from the building intro to the breathtaking mellow section in the second half to Petrucci’s excellent closing solo, there are too many highlights to even list. It’s a truly remarkable closer to the album.
Even though the longer tracks are a great demonstration of the band’s abilities, the two singles are equally vital to showing their skills. A Rite of Passage
is a familiar but fun rocker, and honestly, every Dream Theater album needs an accessible song with a more simple structure like this to provide a contrast to the expansive epics. It contains some great quick-paced riffing, a soaring chorus, and an extended guitar/keyboard tradeoff in the bridge that doesn’t disappoint. Wither
is probably the best ballad this band has put out since The Spirit Carries On
. LaBrie delivers a commanding performance, and Petrucci’s short but powerful solo in the bridge is nothing short of spectacular. It’s a straight-up rock ballad, and a very effective one at that.
The only troubling thing on the album is Mike Portnoy’s insistence on using more of his spoken word harsh vocals. It’s not as laughable here as The Dark Eternal Night
and it doesn’t really detract from the songs too much, but it’s not necessary and it doesn’t add the heaviness that is intended. Portnoy proves on The Best of Times
that he can successfully utilize his vocals in the background to add to the melody, and this is where his vocal contribution should remain; in the background. Aside from that there is very little to complain about with the album.
Black Clouds and Silver Linings
is a great return to form, showing each member at his respective best since Scenes From A Memory
. This album has everything that a Dream Theater album should have: outstanding vocals, thrilling musicianship, and brilliant songwriting. Wankery is an element that will probably always be present to an extent in the band’s music, and it's still an occasional nuisance, but this time the band has negated some of their self-indulgent tendencies in favor of more focused songwriting. With a giant step in the right direction, Dream Theater has proved that they aren’t done yet, and they leave their fans in anticipation of what they will deliver in the next decade.
Top Tracks: A Nightmare To Remember, The Best of Times, The Count of Tuscany
Dream Theater is:
• John Myung – Bass guitar
• John Petrucci – Lead guitar
• Mike Portnoy – Drums, Percussion
• Jordan Rudess – Keyboards
• James LaBrie – Vocals