Review by Gatot
Special Collaborator Honorary Collaborator
This album has been reviewed by many reviewers BEFORE its official release date and the Admin of this site promised that any reviews done before release date will be omitted. It has proved that this album had been leaking in the internet world weeks before its official release date – it’s probably from the promotional CD issued by the label. I have seen many positive reviews about this album and in average it has been an excellent addition to any prog music collection. I like the headline put by colleague reviewer Evolver who put “DREAM THEATER – PORTNOY = DREAM THEATER”. What a simple equation that really tells the truth. While in my case, let me put it this way:
Dream Theater without Portnoy tends to be PROG
I pre-ordered ‘Systematic Chaos’ and ‘Black Cloud and Silver Linings’ CDs and I spun the album rarely; maybe only less then ten spins because I was so tired listening to DREAM SEVENFOLD music. Yeah, that two albums sound to me like a metal album with very little progressive touch. It’s like marrying DT with Avenged Sevenfold. I have no issue with Avenged Sevenfold but I do not want Dream Theater follow the path of Avenged Sevenfold because the two bands were basically different. With the departure of Portnoy I am so relieved that the band is now moving back to its roots on progressive metal. As far as this album concern I have made long and positive review when the single On The Back of Angels was available for download in the label’s website. My prediction about what would it be like in a full album not different at all because I find this album is excellent (having spun the album many times). This refers to the latest development where the band had undergone fundamental change in their line-up due to one of the founding fathers and drummer, Mike Portnoy, left the band to materialize his metal dream. People were skeptical on what it’d be like without him who had been very dominant in the music direction of DT. You may want to check on many reviews on the net about this new album and you would find out that this one is still kicking. Yes, it’s not like ‘Scene from a Memory’ concept album but it’s really an excellent one to be added in progressive music collection.
I am happy that ‘On The Backs of Angels’ has been assigned to open the album. This track proves the roots of DT music in progressive style. I consider this track as a masterpiece as it has well crafted composition: nice melody, balanced harmony, frequent style changes over the duration of the track, and solid structural integrity. Even though I already played this track many times before the full-length album was released, I still play this album from the beginning because I really love this track. There is a guy from Brazil who regularly play Dream Theater music claimed that this track is structurally similar with ‘Pull Me Under’ from Images and Words. He might be right but I do not really care. This song serves different emotional experience for me to enjoy entirely from segment to segment. It flows beautifully from atmospheric opening with guitar fills and moves its way in crescendo. In fact some parts of this track reminds me to ‘Forsaken’ of Systematic Chaos album ? in a different way, of course. The beauty of this track lies on the combined music styles where it has excellent mix of atmospheric, progressive (through the keyboard solo by Jordan Ruddess) and heavy riffs. Well, I really enjoy inventive keyboard solo by Ruddess followed with stunning guitar solo by Petrucci.
The second track “Build Me Up, Break Me Down” reminds me to ‘Never Enough’ (Octavarium) music style. This is basically a song orientated track and it sounds really well to my ears. This track proves that James LaBrie is the best singer well-suited to DT music. I like this track as it has good melody, easy to digest and it moves smoothly from start to end. Maybe the most distinctive thing from this track is its groove that moves us – the listeners. I like the opening part which has musical loop augmented with guitar work. I salute the band for putting together this catchy track without making the music sounds boring for relatively long duration, approx. 7 minutes.
Simple classical music played with piano solo opens up the third track “Lost Not Forgotten” with a nice ambient. It flows nicely with all instruments play altogether, repeating the same melody as opening piano. The good thing, even though it’s a repetition in melody the band has creatively put together good textures and nuances that make the music sounds differently. Not only that … Oh boy! The acrobatic segment involving mainly Petrucci’s guitar and Ruddess’ keyboard in staccato style backed with bassguitar as well as drums has created complex and great segments. WOW! My expectation of Fatal Tragedy’s staccato style has been paid off satisfactorily by the band through this wonderful segment! The music flows beautifully with many style and tempo changes through an excellent vocal line of LaBrie. There are many acrobatic segments throughout this track with wonderful staccato style.
Let me STOP here. The first time I spun this album, I said to myself something like this: “Even if this album comprises only these first three tracks, I am already happy purchasing the CD. The first and third track have fulfilled my expectation already — I do not expect further music offerings — this is good enough for me.
The next track ‘This is the Life’ is actually a bonus for me. It’s basically a ballad — a very nice ballad that I don’t think I need to elaborate as I believe most people would like it. There is basically no progressive elements in this track. But the next one ‘Bridges in the Sky’ brings us back to progressive world with music style that is really Dream Theater and NOT Dream Sevenfold or Avenged Theater. Of course there are heavy elements right here but there are more progressive syncopation performed by the band in this track. It opens with an ambient nuance followed with very nice guitar riffs and moves in crescendo with metal style followed with inventive keyboard work. Mangini plays his double pedal bass drums while Petrucci plays more riffs than solo during the opening part. The rest of the music is a great demonstration of music virtuosities in true progressive metal fashion.
The next track is basically a challenger of my previous best Dream Theater track of entire songs they have in their career ‘Stream of Consciousness’ from ‘Train of Thought’ album. ‘Outcry’ starts nicely with an atmospheric nuance and it follows with a very beautiful programmed musical loop with great guitar fills / riffs. I think the idea of inserting this loop is really wonderful and it helps set the stage of the track. The reason I select this track as challenger of ‘Stream of Consciousness’ is because its brilliant and well-crafted composition followed with masterpiece performance of the band members throughout all segments of this wonderful track. There are elements o traditional eastern music demonstrated by keyboard solo just before the acrobatic staccato style. Well yeah! Dream Theater has been the master of staccato at its best which originally was invented from UK debut album in the 70s through its track ‘Presto Vivace and reprise’ — Dream Theater has taken it it extensively. There are many musical orgasm in this track and I think it’s worth considering this track to replace ‘Stream of Consciousness’ dominance as the best Dream Theater track (my view). On of the peak the track has is the part where it suddenly turns into mellow and silent style with piano simple notes right after all members of the band demonstrate their virtuosities in complex and acrobatic musical arrangements. Long live Dream Theater!
‘Far From Heaven’ serves like a relaxation part after having been bombarded with the wonderful music of Outcry. It basically contains nice vocal of LaBrie backed with piano touches and string arrangements. Musically there is nothing prog that I can describe here except that this is a very nice mellow track for contemplation. Contemplation? Yeah! Well, I have to admit that the lyrics are so simple but they are so basic, so fundamental that serve the inner-self of me as a Moslem. Regardless what good deeds (I may still question this — Have I done really good deeds — I might have NOT!). I am still so far from heaven and there are lots of things to do to be a better human being that serves the people.
‘Breaking All Illusions’ is another really Dream Theater track where it has excellent melody, great harmonies, frequent style and tempo changes with heavy riffs and solid structural integrity. Well, I don’t think I need to elaborate my view about this track as this one is really at par excellence with the opening track ‘On The Backs…’ as well as ‘Lost Not Forgotten’. I love this track. The album concludes with a ballad ‘Beneath The Surface’ beautifully.
It makes me rethinking …
…the way I have made reviews so far, really. Having listened to this latest album of Dream Theater in its entirety more than ten spins, I think I should question the reviews I have made for other albums by other bands. I think ‘A Dramatic Turn of Events’ has not matched the masterpiece of ‘Scene from a Memory’ concept album. But when I question why, I do not have the precise answer. It’s probably this is not a concept album and each track stands at its own right while the Scene album was a continuous story from one part to another. This album is at the same level of excellence of Images and Words where I gave five star rating even though there was one track that too poppy for me. This album is as enjoyable as Octavarium and of course much much better than Sytematic Chaos and Black Clouds (the latter two albums were basically Dream Sevenfold — too metal for me). Then, my overall conclusion about this album is probably having a 4.5 star (9 of 10) rating. The only reservation for me for not giving five star rating is because there are many song orientated tracks and some of them are ballads like ‘Build Me Up ..’ ‘This is The Life’, ‘Far From Heaven’ and ‘Beneath The Surface’. Of course all of them are nice tracks but not quite prog in style. So I put it as a very excellent addition of any prog music collection. I admire Dream Theater for its ability to return to form even though one of the founding members left the band. It proves that actually without Portnoy Dream Theater is STILL Dream Theater even better because it has lesser metal components and it tends to be more progressive.
As far as other bands, I think my three star rating for Yes ‘Fly From Here’ must be revised to two star as it lacks creativity (only take the roots of The Buggles music) and musically is not that excellent, overall, if it’s compared to this album by Dream Theater. Keep on proggin’!
Peace on earth and mercy mild — GW