Review Summary: Dream Theater remembers how to write coherent music and creates their best album in a good while.
So, Dream Theater. That band where every member can basically blow your head off just by singing or playing their respective instrument. The band that has had the same guitarist, and bassist since 1985, the same vocalist since 1991 and the same keyboardist (less impressively) since 1999. They also had Mike Portnoy as drummer from 1985 until 2010 when he decided to quit the band, "Black Clouds" being his last album with them. So, obviously, they've been around a long time. I'm not going to give you their entire history...but I've never been a fan of their older or slower stuff.
So then, they give me this. A new album with songs that are mostly slow...luckily they learned how to make slow exciting with this album other than telling John Petrucci to play so crazy that his strings just melt off the guitar unless they were custom made by Tony Blair (See John Petrucci's Psycho Exercises on Youtube).
There are only six songs on the album, however this is quite deceiving, because this album is over 70 minutes long, with "The Count of Tuscany" clocking in at over 19 minutes alone. I'm a fan of long songs, but ONLY if the song in question can entertain me that long without droning on with the same thing over and over again.
Dream Theater, aka John Petrucci & Co. present to the listener a constant steady assault of amazing musicianship. But what makes this album so good for Dream Theater is that it's not a "Lets see how awesomely we can play our instruments and sing while somehow keeping everything in a coherent song" album. They actually took time to write their instrumentation into the song rather than write the song around their instrumentation.
What else is great here is that Dream Theater just seems more, you know, METAL. While keeping it to their usual heaviness in terms of tone, the riffs just seem more metal-influenced kind of like "Constant Motion" from their previous album "Systematic Chaos". However, the BIG difference is in the fact that they aren't trying so incredibly hard to sound so gritty and heavy when they are. Also, Petrucci (Guitar) and Jordan Rudess (Keyboard) keep their solos that take the song into face-melting land from out of nowhere mostly out of this album. What I'm saying is their solos actually make sense in the context of the songs.
The only complaints I have about this album are that the ending guitar solos in "The Best of Times" just exemplifies the kind of guitar wankery Pettrucci does out of nowhere. However, it is not as bad as it could be. Also there's about a five minute section in "The Count of Tuscany" that may as well just put me to sleep. I don't want to sit and listen to Petrucci play guitar harmonics for five minutes, that's boring, and I don't care if it fits in the context of the song, it simply makes me want to stop listening to the song.
So, Dream Theater finally remembers how to write coherent music instead of face-melting instrumental-thons with vocals and riffs just sprinkled in there. James LaBrie (Vocals) also steps up his game from "Systematic Chaos" going from just angrily saying words and finally returns to actually belting out some really high notes. Surprisingly for a Dream Theater album, this is pretty easy to get through, at least until that lullaby in "The Count of Tuscany" but if you can get by that, you're greeted by a great, great acoustic section and then the song ends in typical epic Dream Theater fashion.