Review Summary: A decent album that fails to stand out in Dream Theater’s catalog.
With over 20 years under their belt, Dream Theater has accomplished quite a bit. Although their output grew more inconsistent in the past decade, there was still potential for greatness. Black Clouds and Silver Linings
, although still a very divisive album among Dream Theater fans, was an excellent effort that provided some of the most powerful moments in the band’s discography. However, Portnoy’s departure made the quality of their next release even more unpredictable. Portnoy may have been overbearing at times with the modern metal sound he continued to push into Dream Theater’s music, but he was an important part of the band’s songwriting regardless, and it would be hard to believe that A Dramatic Turn of Events
wouldn’t be affected by his departure.
On a positive note, with Portnoy gone, there are no more of the cringe-worthy harsh vocals that he had been implementing. There is also more of a push toward the songwriting style of the 90’s, with Rudess providing some of the better keyboard work seen in recent Dream Theater works, particularly in lead single On The Backs of Angels
. Although the band hasn’t abandoned their infamous flashy instrumental sections, there is certainly an attempt to tone it down this time around, and Petrucci’s solos are often more melodic and less shred-based. The album also manages to be consistent, with only one major misstep: Build Me Up, Break Me Down
sounds like a modernized version of the angst-rock on Falling Into Infinity
, making it one of the worst tracks the band has ever put out. Thankfully, this is the only truly bad track here.
Despite all of this, A Dramatic Turn of Events
isn’t a particularly intriguing album. The band avoids some of their previous missteps but also fails to provide the excitement and climactic moments that they’ve delivered over the years. It’s not Mangini’s drumming that brings the album down, nor LaBrie’s performance, but rather it’s the fact that the band as a whole doesn’t have the same drive that they’ve had in the past. No one really expects them to recreate Images and Words
at this point, but even their most recent material had moments that reminded fans why they loved the band in the first place. In Black Clouds and Silver Linings
there was the breathtaking solo that closed out The Best of Times
and the emotional ending of The Count of Tuscany
. Those kinds of moments are really nowhere to be found in A Dramatic Turn of Events
. What we’re left with is a solid album from a band with the potential to be incredible. The epics aren’t really epic at all, consisting largely of average metal riffing and lackluster choruses that never build the proper momentum for the following instrumental section to really deliver much excitement.
The exception to the string of unremarkable material on the album comes at the very end. The Myung-written Breaking All Illusions
is the closest the band comes to recapturing the spirit of Images and Words
, and for once the material is engaging, thanks to the lack of metal plodding that plagues the rest of the album. Myung really ought to help with the songwriting more often, because this is the only long song on the album that truly has an epic feel. Continuing this sudden resurgence of inspiration, closer Beneath the Surface
is one of the best ballads the band has done in a long time, ending the album on a relaxed, pleasant note.
While fans were wondering whether A Dramatic Turn of Events
would be a failure or a success, it ends up being somewhere in the middle. The band avoids embarrassing themselves, but the truth is that nearly every other album they’ve made is more interesting than this. It’s sure to be loved by many fans, and it’s already being hailed by some as a return to form. This is understandable, as it's a much easier album to love than Systematic Chaos
. Still, the band has proven that they can do much better than this, even in the last decade. A decent 78-minute album is destined to collect dust on the shelf and not much more. However, if the band delivers on the promise that is shown in the final two tracks, maybe the next album will be the real dramatic turn of events.
Breaking All Illusions
Beneath the Surface
On the Backs of Angels
This Is the Life