Review Summary: Dream Theater emerge from their dramas refreshed, if not exactly fresh
If you’re reading this review, you’ll have known what changes have gone on in terms of Dream Theater’s band membership. What effect has the replacement of drummer and ex-leader had upon the band’s sound? Gone is Mike Portnoy’s aggressive, loud drumming and replaced with the technically renowned Mike Mangini. In this album, Mangini concentrates upon laying a base for the others to build upon other than being the loudest and most technical instrument after the guitar, something which Portnoy was guilty of occasionally (see Whither….). While not as ear-grabbing as Portnoy, Mangini’s work doesn’t fall flat for the most part but fails to reach the same impact as the rest of the band. In a few places, such as the otherwise excellent Breaking All Illusions
, the drum parts feel rather lacking while in others like Bridges in the Sky
work extremely well. If Mangini can lift the complexity and creativity of his playing a little on the next album while still not overpowering the band, the band’s sound will be close to perfect.
Even the old members sound refreshed and more natural than they have in recent albums. The most noticeable is perhaps Jordan Rudess’ increased keyboard parts. The keyboards feel like a more organic part of the band’s sound rather than a component that feels like an afterthought. John Myung is also more audible and plays more interesting rhythm counterparts when compared to his contributions in the last four albums. On the guitar-front, John Petrucci dials further back on the speed and focuses upon emotion with his solos. James LaBrie’s voice feels unforced on a Dream Theater album for the first time in 10 years. This is perhaps the most unexpected part of the change in the band’s sound but one of the best elements of this album.
Indeed, the overall feel of the album is a lot happier than the vast majority of their material. For one thing, the song writing features songs not written in minor key! Even the cover reflects this with its wide blue sky and clown-ish figure on unicycle who’s about to fall from 60 000 feet (but hey, it’s a fate all clowns deserve). While there is still a metal influence, the album has a more diverse feel to it. Rudess expands upon the classical flourishes he has added previously and the overall sound veers more towards the band’s old progressive rock style. Unlike the band’s previous efforts at expanding into other sounds, it doesn’t sound instantly derivative.
Dream Theater has always veered between epic and cheesy. During their early years, the songs managed to be epic without cheesiness. Even when it did veer towards cheesy, songs like Another Day somehow worked. Unfortunately, as time progressed the song writing degenerated. Otherwise perfectly good songs were almost murdered by such decisions as LaBrie singing ‘I’m just a poor girl...’ and the finishing lines of A Nightmare to Remember. Others just missed the spark. A Dramatic Turn of Events eliminates most of the cheesiness of previous albums, despite a few missteps in the lyrics like ‘I was bleeding just to feel’. However, none of the songs quite reach the epic heights of their best songs. Even Myung’s re-emergence as a songwriter with nicely fluid Breaking All Illusions
doesn’t manage it.
Overall, the album feels a little safe. It incorporates more influences from each member’s solo work but retains the Dream Theater sound. The inclusion of three ballads doesn’t detract from the album and they are some of the better efforts at ballads the band has done. The album is a good one and a genuine progression of their sound, albeit a small one. However, it doesn’t match the consistent inventiveness of their best material. It feels like it’s not far off and that the next album may just well nail it. But many said that about Black Clouds and Silver Linings… A Dramatic Turn of Events is a good building block for the band to build their future prog-ression (hur-hur) upon and pretty good listen. Just do it better next time guys, ok?