Dream Theater
A Dramatic Turn of Events


4.5
superb

Review

by jybt USER (24 Reviews)
September 23rd, 2011 | 36 replies | 5,675 views


Release Date: 2011 | Tracklist

Review Summary: After 25 years of Mike Portnoy's drumming, Dream Theater's in-studio response to his mercilessly publicized exit is worthy of study for dedicated DT fans, but is easily approachable as the downright fantastic album it is.

Cataclysmic changes, for better or worse, create the greatest possibilities for the future. New York quintet Dream Theater, the biggest progressive metal band in the world, was affected by such cataclysmic change in September 2010: founding member and drumming extraordinaire Mike Portnoy, stuck between continuing on against his heart or letting the band proceed without him, chose the latter. The media fallout before and after the selection of Berklee percussion instructor and world’s fastest drummer Mike Mangini has been threatening, and it only intensified before and even after the September 13, 2011 release of A Dramatic Turn of Events. Progressive metal has never seen such sensational news, and the effect it has on the actual music is worthy of intense examination. Fortunately, despite the dramatic turn of events in the media, A Dramatic Turn of Events itself almost entirely reflects the drama’s positive results.

The two ways Dream Theater has changed in 2011 are the drummer’s chair and the effect this has on the band dynamic. Replacing Portnoy in Dream Theater was as equally impossible as “replacing” Bob Barker on The Price is Right. Mike Mangini may carry the same first name, but his performing style (at least for now) is less lead drumming and more assisting the various melodic structures of the song, of which there are often multiple. Album opener On the Backs of Angels allows Mangini to enter with tasteful octobans against an eerie keyboard/guitar combination, and then grows into a balanced progressive number with every member contributing their own melodic ideas; Mangini’s stylistic contributions tweak the basic beat while maintaining the groove, unlike the fill-heavy Portnoy.

Track five Bridges In The Sky is a relentless riffmeister once the music proper kicks in, sporting one of the most creative main riffs this year, aggressive vocals from James LaBrie, and Mangini playing with assertive power, that little extra beat and the tendency to augment or truncate a measure for increased impact. Just after ten minutes is a spectacular drop onto John Petrucci’s seventh string, with the keyboard flourishes so prominent they feel alive (this moment has to be heard); Mangini moves from tom battering into faster double bass runs, eventually finishing the song proper with a lightning-fast fill that gives the impression the man has four arms. Moments like this display Mangini’s true potential, yet to be fully unleashed until the next album; Petrucci wrote the drum skeleton for Mangini to elaborate on, and though this compositional choice decreases the importance of the drums, the rest of Dream Theater was able to write their parts around each other and cohere optimally.

Mike Portnoy, as the de facto band leader, has been undeniably associated with the ostentatious, derivative metallic tendencies of Dream Theater that emerged after 2002’s Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, displayed most vividly on 2009’s Black Clouds & Silver Linings. Somebody had to usurp the band’s direction to avoid the burnout that inspired Portnoy’s exit. A Dramatic Turn of Events is a direct channel to a more melodic past, but rather than copying the style of these albums, Dream Theater infuses this album with a lush atmosphere while maintaining their own established identity and excellent coherence between the nine tracks that comprise it. The member most responsible for the album’s unique aesthetic is keyboardist Jordan Rudess; despite every member putting most of their cards on the table, he stands out the most, expanding the use of keyboards across the album and hiding them in just the right places. Critics of Rudess’ excessive keyboard unisons have precious little ground left, as the keys are more orchestral than anything ever used before and add an extra layer without getting in the way of any songwriting. Dramatic and surging when the music is aggressive, or contemplative but still prominent when the music slows down, Rudess is a vital ingredient of ADToE.

The remaining three band members are also free to explore more melodic territory, creating a nearly perfect balance between complex/simple, heavy/mellow and light/shade. Vocalist James LaBrie, with more exclusive control of the melodies, has strengthened his melodic qualities and remedied the tendency for his rougher vocals to sound out of place; how he sings the lyrical content, and what it is, overall reflect the album’s theme of opposition and change more realistically. Bridges In The Sky is chorus heaven, with a remarkable timbral contrast between heavy and soaring that carries the lyrical story of religious awakening. The modern metal attack of Build Me Up, Break Me Down is one of the smartest radio-friendly songs of the year, not for the sake of commercial relevance but integrating it into the dichotomous album theme. Digitally processed verses and sludgy riffs lead directly into an irresistible chorus, the second half of which features LaBrie backing the main melody with faint yells at higher frequency than has ever been done in studio; the lyrics criticize the popular habit of alternately deifying and demonizing celebrities based on their “erratic behavior” in personal lives. Ballads balance the album’s weight, and though they number three out of nine songs, their total duration is an unobtrusive 16:19 out of 77:05; they are optimally placed on the journey and highlight LaBrie’s exceptional control of melody. Drum and bassless ballads Far From Heaven and album closer Beneath the Surface are among the finest songs of this type to appear for some time, led by sorrowful strings, plaintive vocals and, on the latter, an acoustic chord progression that sounds as equally heartbroken yet resigned as the tragic words.

John Petrucci is more diverse and restrained in his guitar playing, with less emphasis on lead guitar and even less on super-technical excursions; these moments are the weakest parts of A Dramatic Turn of Events when they arise, as on the somewhat incohesive Lost Not Forgotten that loses itself somewhat in awkward transitions and slightly bland instrumental excursions and unisons. His slower playing is creative and as distinctly Petrucci as always, standing out on the chief ballad This is the Life and excellent Breaking All Illusions, both brought towards evocative symphonic climaxes by guitar solos. Overall, the album is less guitar-centric not simply because the instrument is less prominent, but because the other parts are more distinct.

Bassist John Myung was often reduced to doubling other instruments in recent DT years and distorted such that the bass becomes less distinct; the bass tone is now clean, higher in the mix and embellishes the songs with counterpoints or solos. The frequent dynamic changes of Outcry, about the North African revolutions, see Myung switch from doubling a crushing riff or driving groove to a bass solo accented by Mangini’s drum pawnshop and a distinct melody underneath a sweep-picking guitar solo. He even offers lyrics on longest track Breaking All Illusions, joyfully melodic and almost jazzy in its interplay between dark bass shading and strange guitar/keyboard tapping combinations. The crystal-clear, non-brickwalled production by Andy Wallace captures each of the members in their element, framing the band dynamic and sumptuously layered sound in exquisite detail.

A Dramatic Turn of Events represents a rejuvenation for a band that could have easily disappeared instead, having had existed since 1985. In an ironic twist, losing their leader has brought the four other members of Dream Theater closer together; time will tell how perfectly the newcomer fits in, but Mangini delivers a promising showing. This album shows the strength of the cohesion between Petrucci, Rudess, LaBrie and Myung, with only a few glitches related to the lengthy instrumental excursions in some of the tracks that number over ten minutes. This is a testament to the New Yorkers’ strength in proceeding through dark times, and a bright portrait of their future. For now, the grade is stellar, but yet more silver linings may lurk on the horizon.



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user ratings (950)
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3.6
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other reviews of this album
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Comments:Add a Comment 
jybt
September 23rd 2011


342 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I wanted to review this since it came out. Three listens in eight days and this is my final rating, somewhat of a low 4.5; much of this material is classic. My style often runs on for long periods, but I paid special attention to coherence and detail, as this is intended to be my top-selling review. Enjoy, and read my earlier ones...except the Met/Meg reviews, which are terrible! :P

Voivod
Staff Reviewer
September 23rd 2011


6076 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5 | Sound Off

A low 4.5?



This is a low 2.5, but that's just me.

Monstrous (in magnitude) review.

Digging: The Sabbathian - Ritual Rites

AngelofDeath
Staff Reviewer
September 23rd 2011


16137 Comments


Really good review, but I still don't feel like this is anything to write home about.

jybt
September 23rd 2011


342 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I don't mind differing opinions on the album at all. There's quite a positive side of Dream Theater debate.

This album is definitely something to pick apart and analyze almost as a sociological study for those familiar with Dream Theater, given what has happened. The results explain (to me) why the music is so epic. This review is quite lengthy, and if it's not your personal taste, I don't mind that either.

AngelofDeath: So you say the review was great, but then said it wasn't worth writing about? lol. (So says a man who hasn't rated it!)

pizzamachine
September 23rd 2011


12571 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Angel was talking about how the album is nothing special. I DISAGREE

Voivod
Staff Reviewer
September 23rd 2011


6076 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5 | Sound Off

In all honesty my friend jybt, when I put this album next to albums like

Images and Words
Awake
Scenes from a Memory

or even albums like

Train of Thought
Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence

the former pales out in comparison.


I'm not happy with it, but i truly believe it.

jybt
September 23rd 2011


342 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

My DT album preferences are mixed up. 1 I actually haven't tried, 2 was excellent, 3 is also excellent though inaccessible, 4 I'm not sure on, 5 is somewhat mixed (lots of PROGNESS), 6 is my favorite album of all time; 7, 8 and 10 I don't like, but 9 wasn't actually bad, which is strange. Regardless of the album's perception in this thread, I'm happy to have reviewed this.

AngelofDeath
Staff Reviewer
September 23rd 2011


16137 Comments


This album is basically just Dream Theater doing what they've already done before, only less interesting. The album's not bad by any means; it just feels uninspired and certainly lacking the experimentation I've come to expect from the band.

Lambda
September 23rd 2011


2420 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

Plus the drums are too quiet in the mix, which I find kind of annoying

AngelofDeath
Staff Reviewer
September 23rd 2011


16137 Comments


They're not that interesting anyway.

Lambda
September 23rd 2011


2420 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

True... but they could have at least mixed it well

jybt
September 23rd 2011


342 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I definitely understand the complaint about the drum mix. The headphones make it sound somewhat worse than off the physical CD, where it sounds perfectly fine to my ears. (BUY THE CD, YOU BUMS! lol) I enjoy learning the drum patterns as well.

MelbCro
September 23rd 2011


4 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Great review. This album is a massive step up for the band, their best since Train of Thought. Its good to hear the guys sounding like classic Dream Theater, instead of a Dream Theater trying to imitate Metallica, Muse etc. And a massive relief to no longer hear Portnoys crappy backing vocals. Thank God for that.

jybt
September 23rd 2011


342 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Cool, thanks for giving me your first comment! This album is Dream Theater period, and that includes what you've said. You may know porcupinetheater, and I can't wait to hear that response...he seems to worship my reviews.

Irving
Staff Reviewer
September 24th 2011


7263 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

THE PRICE I PAY, TO LIVE THIS WAAAAAAAAAAYYY

Digging: U2 - Songs of Innocence

YouGotLucky
September 24th 2011


946 Comments


On The Backs Of Angels.

dante1991
September 24th 2011


534 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

Love this album to bits! Easily their best since Six Degrees

porcupinetheater
September 24th 2011


111 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Hell yes! Excellent review is excellent, but honestly, with your reviews, I'd be disappointed if it wasn't. Jybt raising the bar for review writing and all that, which I'm sure the ample pos's have already proved. The album's really pretty sweet, too, although I'm still trying to actually pin down my rating, as it pretty much fluctuates with each listen, and depending on my mood. I can see anywhere between 3.5-4.5 at the moment...

jybt
September 24th 2011


342 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Porcupine: Crank up the volume. Anyone can drop MP3 files into Windows Movie Maker to read the dynamic range and brickwalling, and it seems there is none, which means TURN IT UP! I find the volume has to be at a certain level for me to experience the music well enough...well, to write reviews like this!

I'm mildly surprised there are no neg trolls yet, to be somewhat frank. Haven't got a neg on any of the reviews since I stopped being terrible. It could happen, but breaking out to a larger audience will score enough pos'd votes on this and earlier reviews to offset.

YUJOS
September 24th 2011


918 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

"Mike Mangini may carry the same first name, but his performing style (at least for now) is less lead drumming and more assisting the various melodic structures of the song, of which there are often multiple"
Well said!!

Digging: Secrets of the Moon - Seven Bells



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