Dream Theater
A Dramatic Turn of Events


2.5
average

Review

by Irving Tan STAFF
September 22nd, 2011 | 109 replies


Release Date: 2011 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Not so dramatic after all.

As a born-and-bred Buddhist, I was taught early in life that the idea of karma – broadly understood in the Western world as that which causes the entire cycle of cause and effect – governs all. Now, far be it from me to argue against an entire civilization’s worth of cultural understanding, but this idea simply can’t be absolutely true: for if it was, things like Dream Theater simply would not exist. Despite the self-deprecating title of their first best-of album – Greatest Hit (…and 21 Other Pretty Cool Songs) – the truth is that the Dream Theater production machine has been steadily trundling on, virtually unhindered, for the past two decades or so. On the surface, the band’s success can be put down to a fearsome combination of the individual band members’ fantastic technical prowess, a punishing touring schedule (insert an obligatory reference to Mike Portnoy’s forced departure here), and an incredibly loyal fan base. But listening to A Dramatic Turn of Events, it’s hard to shake the feeling that this is the sound of a band which probably should have disappeared over a decade ago. Indeed: when examined up close, the five piece’s longevity is frankly bewildering, especially considering that since 1999’s Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory they have been almost terminally idle.

Now I will accept that Dream Theater probably deserves a well-sized chunk of the inordinate amount of holy-shit-did-he-actually-play-that-riff flattery which gushes forth from their fans and many neutrals each time they release a new record. Earnest musicianship is hard to come by these days, and the band’s self-enforced restraint from completely selling-out musically is nothing short of admirable. Moreover, it is beyond a shadow of a doubt that the band is made out of nothing less than seasoned and battle-hardened professionals who are in the business not just for the money but also out of a genuine love for what they do. Yet the rampant callousness with which they treat their role as progressive metal ambassadors is really starting to aggravate. Along with bands like Fates Warning and Queensrÿche, Dream Theater was chiefly responsible for their parent genre’s crossover and immediate mainstream commercial success. Most notably, the band quickly mastered the art of fusing traditional progressive metal with a complexity and grandeur usually associated with classical compositions, without ever losing that whiff of commercial appeal. But whereas the genre’s best acts have either all sought to reinvent or at least revitalize themselves in the years since, Dream Theater have stubbornly stuck to the same old clichés. On A Dramatic Turn of Events, the band resort to a familiar concoction of storm and wind samples, repeated use of faux choirs, predictable jazz fusions, extended trading solo sections, and bombastic song titles that use polysyllabic, apocalypse-referencing words in an attempt to sound grandiose.

Worse, the entire affair is wrapped in a set of barely-metaphorical, almost self-parodying lyrics, in which vocalist James Labrie attempts to deliver a treatise on everything – from the failure of society’s moral compass to a fear of the occult – but fails spectacularly at each attempt. Take first single and opening track “On The Backs of Angels” for instance: the song itself is catchy enough, and Petrucci treats us to a couple of cool riffs that are welcomingly reminiscent of none other than prog-rock greats Pink Floyd, but the number is irreparably bogged down by Labrie’s constant spewing of perennial eye-rollers such as, “We spiral towards disaster/Survival fading faster” and “Tears fall from the shameless/Shelter me, guide me to the edge of the water.” It’s the kind of uninspired poetry that is produced when an entire school is conscripted into a National Day poem-writing competition by overzealous teachers. Speaking of which, repeating the central thesis of F. Scott’s Fitzgerald “The Great Gatsby” like they taught you in school is also all well and good, but it can only be done so many times before it starts sounding trite, and the last song with that privilege passed us by about a decade ago. Elsewhere, the wordplay of second track “Build Me Up, Break Me Down” isn’t much better, providing us with plenty of evidence that in all probability, band chief lyricist John Petrucci has been reduced to thumbing through The Dictionary of Doom-Mongering Words and using a verb-the-pronoun syntax strategy in a last-ditch attempt to put half-interesting phrases together.

Granted, no one ever comes to Dream Theater for particularly deep insight on the human condition, but the band’s point-blank refusal to update or revitalize their craft leads to a series of songs that, for all their blistering technical mastery, are ultimately far more stagnant and predictable than anybody would like to admit. True: reverting to familiar genre clichés may be a valid and occasionally welcome form of creative expression, but over the last decade or so, it has also become mind-numbingly unremarkable. Unfortunately, Dream Theater show no sign of letting up with the self-hackneying: the album also includes three ballads that present the sort of misplaced, heavy metal emotive maudlin that nine times out of ten either comes off as insincere or downright dreadful. Lyrically, A Dramatic Turn of Events’ path ends up being one that has been so painfully well-trod that the record seems at times self-mocking. As a result, the album ultimately becomes a monument to all that can be wrong with the songwriting of modern progressive metal.

What makes it worse is that some of the instrumental sections present herein aren’t even that good either. Going back to “Build Me Up, Break Me Down”, the song bewilderingly opens with the kind of nu-metal riff that makes you lean back and check to see if the album’s track listing also includes a cover of Disturbed’s “Inside the Fire”. Elsewhere, Dream Theater’s old faults return to haunt them yet again: both “Lost Not Forgotten” and “Outcry” feature riffs that keep going even after they’ve long since turned stale, and Rudess’ repeated usage of the same dripping piano in several tracks, in an unconvincing attempt to create distinction and emotion, is often enough to make anyone skip to the next song. But the chief compositional lampoonery here is mid-album track “Bridges in the Sky”, whose chord progression is sandwiched – like a grotesquely malformed burger – between two thirty-second samples in which Dream Theater went to Malaysia, found the biggest river toad they could, and then told it to belch loudly into the microphone.

In the end, the biggest, most inescapable problem with A Dramatic Turn of Events, and – by extension – Dream Theater, is that, aside from being derivative, the band repeatedly shows that they are capable of doing much better. Indeed, the best bits on this album – like the slow, yet fantastic creeping towards utter chaos on the climax of “Breaking All Illusions”, and Rudess’ trippy playing in the intro to “On The Backs of Angels” – are when the band step outside their confines and attempt to do things farther away from their comfort zone (in this case, it was the mere act of giving John Myung the songwriting pen and telling Rudess to just go nuts). I cannot honestly say that I dislike this album, but I cannot reward it with a rating higher than a 2.5 either: mainly because at the end of the day it is cliché, contrived, and smacks of a band in desperate need of reinvention. Guys, please wake the fuck up – I want my favourite prog-metal band – and my religion – back.



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user ratings (979)
Chart.
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other reviews of this album
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Comments:Add a Comment 
Irving
Staff Reviewer
September 22nd 2011


7318 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

I wanted to use the line "A dramatic turd of events" as the summary. But that wouldn't be very professional, would it?

Digging: Portishead - Dummy

Voivod
Staff Reviewer
September 22nd 2011


6269 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5 | Sound Off

The rating is a bit more strict than it should be.

Will read later.

Digging: Fly Golden Eagle - Quartz Bijou

clercqie
Contributing Reviewer
September 22nd 2011


6504 Comments


I wanted to use the line "A dramatic turd of events" as the summary. But that wouldn't be very professional, would it?

DO IT!!! :D

Digging: Recondite - Iffy

Parallels
September 22nd 2011


6643 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5 | Sound Off

The rating is a bit more strict than it should be. [2]

The first paragraph dosen't need to be a part of the review. Otherwise it's quite good and chalked with goody diction. Pos'd

ShinXetsu
September 22nd 2011


605 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

I can understand from your review why you rated it a 2 but I feel you're a tad too harsh on the album. Fantastic writing though.

Parallels
September 22nd 2011


6643 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5 | Sound Off

Yeah prepare to get troll negged by the slew of Dream Theater fans that are butthurt by these reviews

Irving
Staff Reviewer
September 22nd 2011


7318 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

You know what - you guys are right. A 2.0 doesn't seem quite on the nose. This is more of a 2.5, really.

pizzamachine
September 22nd 2011


12571 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

it ultimately ends up acting as a monument to all that is wrong with the songwriting of modern progressive metal.

I don't know about that man. The new Anubis Gate album is fantastically written, and the new Myrath and Redemption albums are gonna be amazing. This is only scratching the surface. It's been a great year for prog metal.

TheNotrap
September 22nd 2011


8121 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0 | Sound Off

Good review.

Deja vu album.

Digging: Pink Floyd - The Endless River

TheVoiceAndTheSnake
September 22nd 2011


3663 Comments


Well written review

jybt
September 22nd 2011


346 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Good review.

Awesome album.

:D

(Irving: You changed the rating to 2.5, but still referenced the 2 rating in the actual review. Simple fix, but if you're going to publish it somewhere else, it's important.)

Irving
Staff Reviewer
September 22nd 2011


7318 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

@ Pizza: Well-spotted assertion. Fixed! =)

BigHans
September 22nd 2011


26454 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

good job Irving, DT can be really boring at times. They should put out an groove metal album, that would be cool.

Irving
Staff Reviewer
September 22nd 2011


7318 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

(Irving: You changed the rating to 2.5, but still referenced the 2 rating in the actual review. Simple fix, but if you're going to publish it somewhere else, it's important.)

Ah I knew I had forgotten something =.=" Thanks jybt!

Parallels
September 22nd 2011


6643 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5 | Sound Off

They should put out an groove metal album, that would be cool.

They did, it's called Falling into Infinity. Myung rocks that one.

BigHans
September 22nd 2011


26454 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

oh yeah but does it rawk? or just rock? big difference mang

Nagrarok
September 22nd 2011


8289 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

but the number is irreparably bogged down by James Labrie’s constant spewing of perennial eye-rollers such as, “We spiral towards disaster/Survival fading faster” and “Tears fall from the shameless/Shelter me, guide me to the edge of the water.” It’s the kind of uninspired poetry that is produced when an entire school is conscripted into a National Day poem-writing competition by overzealous teachers.


Has always been their biggest turnoff, as if LaBrie's voice alone doesn't work the nerves enough already.

Parallels
September 22nd 2011


6643 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5 | Sound Off

It's not like Pantera proportions, but it is groovy and half of it is metal.

Nagrarok
September 22nd 2011


8289 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Infinity is pretty meh.

pizzamachine
September 22nd 2011


12571 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Fixed! =)

I influenced your review! My life is complete XD



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