Review Summary: A characteristically "Dream Theater" album that does a bit better than recent efforts in the band's formulaic approach to anti-formulaic music.
I liken Dream Theater to veteran football players. They innovated when they were young in their careers and long into their stride they brought something new to the game - an x-factor that was unparalleled by others, though often imitated. Yet, towards the end of their career, while they're still fan favorites with a bit left in the tank, they're mostly on the way out. Granted, I liken Dream Theater more to a Tony Gonzalez than a Brian Urlacher - more to give and often requested to knock around for another year for another shot at the title, but if you're looking for the apex of progressive metal, the torch has long since been passed.
That said, Dream Theater
, an oddly self-titled affair for a band's twelfth outing, ups the band's game plan considerably from the likes of their previous outings and offers a noticeably brighter outlook on most things since 2005 (or, arguably, earlier, when Portnoy became fascinated with the darker side of metal on Train of Thought
). While this can't be welcomed as any brilliant change of direction, since it was foreshadowed heavily by previous (and appropriately titled) outing A Dramatic Turn of Events
, it certainly can
Most noticeable and appreciable among those elements on Dream Theater
are the forward bearing roles of bassist John Myung and keyboard virtuoso extraordinaire, Jordan Rudess, who have expanded greatly on what felt like restrained roles in the latter half of the Portnoy era. Myung breathes a huge sigh of relief and a massive wind of interest into the group's tried and true sound with a bass sound that pops, fizzles, and grooves all throughout the album, while Rudess leads the light and melodic portion of the band's relatively formulaic approach to anti-formulaicness.
Guitarist John Petrucci continues to show that he can shred like nobody's business and lays down more than a few lightspeed polyrhythmic chugs and uber-technical solos which validate his appearance on the most recent Periphery album, but these are standard fare by now, as are James LaBrie's par-for-the-course vocals. They're not bad, mind you, but if you've heard one Dream Theater album, you've heard LaBrie's performance on this one. Seriously, listen to the end of "The Bigger Picture" - it's exactly the same as the end of "Strange Deja Vu."
as a whole is reminiscent of the Dream Theater from around Scenes From A Memory
, but with an even more technical outlook that dips its toes into the pool of meaningfulness more often than on previous albums in recent history. That said, for the acquainted ear, it should be a treat to hear a little more purpose behind the punch of a Petrucci solo and the more atmospheric and, dare I say more prog-oriented (see "Illumination Theory") approach of Dream Theater
classifies it as a rising action for the previously downward-dipping quintet.
All that said, I'm not quite sure how to classify the involvement of Mike Mangini on this album. It seems my initial criticism of the band's choice in drummers holds true as Mangini proves to be a suitable but safe replacement for Portnoy. Even in crafting his own rhythms, Mangini adds very little to the band that's new or extraordinarily thought provoking and overall, that's how this album can be characterized. Two parts stepping forward and three parts right where they've been. On the whole, it's an improvement, but not enough to move things forward by any order of magnitude.
But after all, with twelve albums under their belts, can we really expect Dream Theater to reinvent the game? Probably not, but heck, it's still fun to watch them catch a touchdown pass here and there.