Review Summary: Dream Theater's spiritual rebirth also reveals Mangini's musicianship - playing the beat instead of expressing it."You know, just to give you an idea of how deep this was to lose him, how difficult it was... after we got off the phone with him... I literally sat on the steps of my studio and cried. This is a guy who's a friend of mine, who we all love and admire. We didn't want to see it come crashing down."
– Jordan Rudess
Having the largest fan base and the heaviest anticipation of their career, Dream Theater's 11th studio album 'A Dramatic Turn of Events' arrives not only to unfold and resolve the drama of Mike Portnoy's departure, but to put the pressure and spotlight on his replacement Mike Mangini. I mean, this is a guy who essentially grew the Dream Theater fan club singlehandedly and exerted himself as an executive producer on the majority of their albums. He also had a pretty large following himself. This begs questions about if he wanted to leave Dream Theater to join Avenged Sevenfold, and of course now all we can think about is how soon Mangini will prove that he can hit the snare drum 6,000,000 times in a single minute. According to an interview with Rudess, the Mike Portnoy drama was an escalating problem where the band was sick of him acting as the 'Dream Theater police.' But none of this should hold their fans back from enveloping the prog juice, as the reverberation of almost 20 years ago to the stylistic appeal of Images and Words
is a nice change of pace for a band that as dragged their undying fans through every genre and influence over the last 2 decades. This makes it even more nerve wracking to see the loose ends and pieces left in and unedited from what could have been a true spiritual successor to their 1992 classic.
John Petrucci and Jordan Rudess have expressed their sudden freedom in songwriting, and it's verily apparent as they dawdle through a maze of twisted prog compositions without much thought for editing. This is great news for those who would enjoy a free spirited throwback to Images and Words
or to new listeners just discovering the band, but is excruciatingly disappointing to those expecting a controlled and intelligent prog-metal record or even a bloodthirsty metal-veined successor to Black Clouds and Silver Linings
that was obviously Portnoy influenced. In fact, this album is way out on a limb in comparison to its last several predecessors. There is a caress of a hip-hop on "Build Me Up, Break Me Down," and an almost unending abundance of piano-led ballads. It's also frustrating to find that Mangini seems to prefer careful drum strokes as if he is being graded on proficiency, making his part on the album hard to distinguish from a drum track. This “spiritual rebirth” seems to do nothing for the band other than show that they can reinvent Images and Words
with their current lineup.
Thankfully John Myung has relinquished the sole masterpiece ‘Breaking All Illusions’ as if he had been embracing it since Metropolis Pt.2
, and fans and new listeners alike will gladly adopt it into their “Top DT Songs” lists. It just bothers me that Mangini appears to perfectly emulate the emotionless drum tracks that he was given to perform, and other fans will easily find numerous moments that shouldn't have existed on the final. This is an all too familiar style that they’ve memorized front to back with keyboard wizardry and all the features from LaBrie and Petrucci's solo albums, and it’s gliding wonders and maniacally twisted sections are enough to make dwindling contemporaries Queensryche and Fates Warning apathetic towards the whole ideal. It’s tiring, and that’s why I hold a tiny shred of hope that Portnoy will be offered to return to Dream Theater at some point in time to sharpen the flow of creativity and convince the band to take a new direction. Oh, who am I kidding, it’s more likely that they would rather try their hand at being more dramatic with two drummers in the same way that Iron Maiden has three guitarists, but at least in that case Portnoy would be back.