Review Summary: Overall, the album is a mixed affair. If you've listened to Dream Theater's more recent releases, you'll know what I mean. If you're knew to the band, this album isn't week but I would reccomend 'Images and Words' or 'Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence', whi1 of 8 thought this review was well written
Dream Theater have a routine of writing, recording, and touring, with a new album being released every other year. This doesn't work for me as I had little excitement regarding the new album. After the poor 2007 release 'Systematic Chaos', and the inconsistent 'Black Clouds and Silver Linings' from 2009, my expectations were mixed anyway, and with the added complication of founding member and drumming visionary Mike Portnoy departing in 2010, the band did not seem in the most secure of places to write an impressive new album.
First impressions: album artwork good- different, more colourful than the aformentioned previous releases, and the early single 'On the Backs of Angels', was a good summary of the prog-metal sound, and was deserving of the Grammy nomination in 2012, despite being beaten by Dave Grohl and his cronies with their unlistenable abomination 'White Limo'.
I think the issue with Dream Theater these days is that they are too predictable. You know full well that the album will feature hectic time signatures, crazy solos from Messrs Petrucci and Rudess, and dreamy, high pitched vocals from Labrie. John Myung is at his mysterious best, and the band have made quite a big deel over the fact that he has added lyrics to a song for the first time since 1999. But don't get carried away, the album really doesn't enter any new territory for the band, even with a new member. Now I don't want to criticise Mike Mangini too much, he has had some sizable shoes to fill, however I do wonder how it is possible that a drummer with his credentials can make drum parts sound as dull as he has here. Yes, he offers little in texture and interest, he seems to be simply managing with the music, rather than dominating it in the Portnoy vein.
The second track is a similar story as the first, but it is the third track, 'Lost not Forgotten', which really impressed. You know from the piano intro that you're on to a winner, with strong lyrics, rampaging, technical choruses, and a solo from Petrucci which, for once, actually benefits the song. Now, DT have failed at every attempt since 'Scenes from a Memory', to write a strong ballad. Therefore, the fact that this album included three soft numbers gave me confidence that they had rediscovered their soft side. No. I was wrong. Admittedly, the first of the three is the weakest, it seems as if the band have deliberately tried to make the song as cheesy and cliche as 'I Walk Beside You', from 'Octavarium'. The lyrics, 'Some of us choose to live gracefully, some can get caught in the maze, and lose their way home,' brings a bucket to my mouth.
The middle of the album consists of two long, heavy songs, but which are both catchy and entertaining all the same. They have not been plagued with irrelevant solo passages, or long sections of pointless instrumental. Instead, they flow like all good metal tunes should, and certainly propell an album which, without them would be ruined by cringe inducing moments. Unfortunately, what goes up, must come down, and it's ballad time again. 'Far From Heaven' and 'Beneath the Surface' straddle the album's defining moment, the epic, 12 minute 'Breaking all Illusions', which is kicked off by a brilliant harmonized riff from guitar and keyboards, before an uplifting chorus, and one of Petrucci's best solos.