Review Summary: Dream Theater's spiritual rebirth also reveals Mangini's perfect 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
At the heaviest anticipation of their career, Dream Theater's 11th studio album 'A Dramatic Turn of Events' arrives not only to show the result of Mike Portnoy's departure (who essentially led the Dream Theater fan club and served as producer on the majority of their albums), but the difference of his replacement Mike Mangini, a musician as proficient as Mike Portnoy who now has to fill the shoes of drummer Mike. The aforementioned quote begs questions as well, especially about Portnoy, as it doesn't explain the breakup at all. According to an interview with Rudess, the real reason stems from Portnoy acting as the 'Dream Theater police.' Then there is the complete and sudden reverberation in their career from their stylistic sound of Images and Words
, where A Dramatic Turn of Events
bursts with extreme creativity. Of course, the biggest debate of all is between the the effect that the two drummers had and will have on the band. Mangini avoids using any bombastic drum strokes as if he is being graded on proficiency instead of emotion, and it's hard to distinguish his drumming from a drum track when he avoids the technical prowess that many Dream Theater fans are anxious to see.
John Petrucci and Jordan Rudess now lead through a maze of songwriting, showing the freedom gained from Portnoy's departure. It's as if their entire studio sessions were accepted for the final release, which is great for prog fans, but disappointing to those expecting a successor to Black Clouds
. From a glance, the album caresses the edge of a hip-hop influence on 'Build Me Up, Break Me Down' and displays a tad too much piano alongside an album nearly built of ballads. ‘Far From Heaven’ is relaxing in a way that brings ‘Wait For Sleep’ to mind, except that there's a sense of a spiritual rebirth in the band. Previous Dream Theater songs were unanimously built through depression or a minor key, and now the band appears to be re-thinking their musical purpose with uplifting chords. A Dramatic Turn of Events
takes longer to sink in than Octavarium
or Systematic Chaos
, and Mangini appears to perfectly emulate the emotionless drum track that he was given to perform. Nothing here is as grandiloquent or profound as the four minute ending to ‘The Count of Tuscany,’ the brutal opening of ‘A Nightmare to Remember, ’ or the striking last moments of 'In The Name of God.'
The problem with this release is that Dream Theater forgets to discipline themselves, and that's precisely why Portnoy's departure is so important. A fan's idea of a Dream Theater album goes hand in hand with grasping culminations, perceptible drumming, and an album chalked full of small cordial details, and ironically, all of those are missing except for a uncontrollable amount of massive melodies and ballads. This isn't a Dream Theater record, it's a weird mix of bland drumming and keyboard wizardry with all the features from LaBrie and Petrucci's solo albums. The choruses of "Outcry"and "This is the Life" are beautiful, but only able to keep themselves afloat for a short while, simply because there's no real emotion without Mangini's passion. The keyboard technicality remains active on the four longer tracks, all gliding with wonder and enough maniacally twisted sections to make dwindling contemporaries Queensryche and Fates Warning lose count. While the lead single "On the Backs of Angels" starts the album off with a memorable motion, the ballad-half of the album tends to overstay it's welcome. Any attuned DT fan will find themselves pointing out numerous moments that shouldn't have existed on the record. Those fans should flock to "Breaking All Illusions," which is easily Myung's greatest achievement since "Learning to Live." There's always that tiny shred of hope that Portnoy will be offered to return to Dream Theater at some point in time, but 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. Whatever, at least in that case Portnoy would be back.