Review Summary: Dream Theater is as Dream Theater does.
If there's one thing a progressive band of any kind should not allow themselves to become, it's predictable. Progressive rock is a genre where people break down the boundaries and supposed comfort zones, and, as the label implies, "progress" with their music, moving forward, etc. one of these prime examples is Opeth, a band who have been moving toward an all-out 1970s prog-fest from their Death Metal roots. And then there's bands like Dream Theater, who, since 2005, make albums that pretty much offer what there is to expect in Dream Theater albums: long songs, the "fingers are always moving" mindset, keyboard freak-outs, ripping basslines, "assault on the senses" drums and soaring vocals. And surprise, surprise; Dream Theater do just that on their newest album, Dream Theater
. How very fitting that they leave the album self-titled.
Because of already pre-set expectations, DT have also thrown us a few curveballs here; their first instrumental in ten years (two of them, actually), and their first song exceeding the 20-minute mark since "Octavarium". Yet even those seem so defiantly routine here; it's pretty much like the band's one and only mindset was "give them what they're used to for these kinds of tracks". This is also the second album recorded with drummer Mike Magini, who was involved in the songwriting process since day one, and this time we get to hear him more clearly, whereas on the previous album, he was sort of lost in the mix. Yet his performance here is sort of the same as it was n the previous album- he merely plays the beat instead of feeling it.
So essentially we have an album of nine tracks that are merely just Dream Theater tracks. In a way, I compare it to a McDonald's hamburger. Of course, if you like hamburgers, you'll love this hamburger because it looks like a hamburger and tastes like a hamburger, and goes down just like you'd expect a hamburger to. And in this burger, there's the doom-laden "crushing" and heavy parts ("False Awakening Suite"), there's the obligatory "Panic Attack Part Whatever" track ("The Enemy Inside"), there's the ballads ("The Bigger Picture", "Along for the Ride"), the song where the obvious Rush influences show through ("The Looking Glass"), and then we have the meat of the whole thing, "Illumination Theory", the patty itself. So far we have all the things that make a "perfect burger" of sorts, and when you consume it, you'll enjoy it because it tastes like a burger. Problem is, like most hamburgers, it isn't until after you've devoured it that you suddenly discover the lack of substance, and you're left with a lingering stomach ache.
The sad thing is, that's exactly the problem with Dream Theater
. You listen to it front to back and after, you don't feel like you've listened to a good album or a bad album. You've listened to nothing more than a Dream Theater album. This can be chalked up to one person- John Petrucci. There hasn't been a single interview promoting the disc where he mentions that Magini has been involved all the way since day one. Problem is, if you look at the track listing, Petrucci has writing credits on all the tracks. John Myung fortunately picks up the pen on the album's one of two stand-out tracks, "Surrender to Reason". His influence on the track is obvious and it's a good break from the rest of the album; and the entire band is involved on "Illumination Theory", the best track on the album and is a good old-fashioned "roller coaster" song. There's tons of highs and lows; it feels like a mini-symphony and many different peaks and valleys can be found; one minute the song is slow and string-drenched, the next it has hammering pianos reminiscent of a horror movie, and there's a brief period of silence before Rudess gives us a coda with a piano fade-out. Yet aside from those songs, Petrucci's dictatorship over the band hangs heavy on the songs like a robe. And to be fair, it really isn't that any of the songs are bad, because they're all enjoyable to an extent. But essentially, the don't amount to anything more than just Dream Theater songs. They just seem done.
At the end of the day, Dream Theater
is appropriately self-titled; it advertises the album exactly like it is: walking, talking, and acting just like Dream Theater. I guess I shouldn't be too mad, because I got exactly what I expected, and no doubt that the more dedicated portion of the band's fanbase will devour it, but at the end of the day, the rest of us will definitely walk away expecting something more. Ultimately, it's the sound of a band who probably should have given up the ghost a long time ago, and are repeating their formula to out their kids through college and give the fans their brand of methadone. But then again, if it's what keeps them selling records, who are we to come down on them too hard?