Review Summary: I have never been a huge fan of Dream Theater, but I must say this album has impressed me. It is proggy without being too overindulgent and/or pointlessly long.
Rejoice! The prog metal kings have returned! It’s been three years since the excessively long “The Astonishing” was released. Now Dream Theater are back with a leaner & more refined prog metal record.
A band that needs no introduction, but I’ll do it anyway.
Dream Theater are the pioneers of progressive metal and have been churning out records since 1988 and show no signs of slowing down.
Dream Theater aren’t afraid to stir the cauldron pot. As mentioned above, their previous record “The Astonishing” was a mammoth two hours long. Turning the prog knob up to 11 (and beyond, let’s be honest…two hours is ridiculous!)
They have always been ones to push the envelope & try new daring things. Train Of Thought (released in 2003) was unquestionably a heavy metal record, whereas Metropolis Part 2: Scenes From A Memory (1999) is an old-school prog rock record that reconnected the band with their early influences such as Pink Floyd & The Beatles. For the most part though they have stuck to a progressive sound across their career. Adding in other elements here & there just to keep their catalogue interesting.
That leads us on to their newest addition…
The album kicks off with “Untethered Angel”, leading us in with an acoustic guitar intro that sounds both delicate and elegant. The track then explodes into life with catchy guitar riffs and pulsating drumming from the new man behind the kit, Mike Mangini. Catchy solo’s laced with eccentricity follow, before a big crescendo to round off this tasty opener. The piano parts adding an extra sense of grandeur.
Catchy guitar riffs are pretty much ever present on this album, with the main riff in “Fall Into The Light” having a very classic rock vibe, accompanied by other dissonant riffs more akin to the world of heavy metal.
This is the track where they really begin to flex their proggy muscles. The fast and frantic verses make way for a calm acoustic interlude, followed by some equally peaceful melodic solo’s. This calm vibe doesn’t last too long, as we are launched into two further solo parts. The duties of the first solo being handed to the keyboardist, and the second being a more traditional guitar solo. Both are equally exciting and quirky, and provide one of the best highlights of the album.
We then start to get a little bluesy on “S2N”, with a lot of the riffs and general structure of the song taking inspiration from the blues rock era. The track also includes a lot of weird vocal effects that I’m not particularly keen on, they feel a bit unnecessary and distracting. But again the riffs & solos are of the highest quality, the groovy riff that closes the track is my favourite on the album. A riff that definitely touches my blackened soul.
“At Wits End” is without doubt the proggiest track on this record. It’s also the longest track on the album, running at just over 9 minutes (surprise, surprise…).
The track kicks off with some chaotic lead guitar playing and pulsating beats to match. It then evolves into something more menacing through the verses with a bigger focus on rhythm.. The choruses are more calm and serene, providing the track with some contrast. Exuberant solo parts follow, before the calming piano interlude guides us into a heavenly solo with a melody so exquisite I could listen to it on repeat for hours.
This continues until the end of the track, or so I thought. The track fades away and then reemerges with the same melody being played on a piano in a cathedral-like building.
“Out Of Reach” engages Dream Theaters cheesy side, with this track definitely fitting in the category of “love song”. Romantic piano melodies feature heavily in this one, giving this song a soft and peaceful ambience. Oh yeah, there’s some more beautiful solo’s in this one as well, like you wouldn’t have already worked that out by now ;-). It’s the ballad of the album, and a fantastic one too.
I have never been a huge fan of Dream Theater, but I must say this album has impressed me. It is proggy without being too overindulgent and/or pointlessly long. It has its punchy moments, such as on tracks like “Fall Into The Light“, but there is a softer touch to this album on tracks such as “At Wits End” and “Out Of Reach“. There is something on this album you can listen to whatever mood you are in. Mike Mangini has earned his spot on the kit with some competent and exciting drumming, and the guitar work in particular is seriously impressive. Some of the vocal effects used seem a bit unnecessary, but it is a minor inconvenience on an album that is, as a whole, very enjoyable.