Vital Statistics:Record Company:
Roadrunner RecordsRelease Date:
June 23, 2009Producer:
Mike Portnoy & John PetrucciWeb Site: http://www.dreamtheater.net/Musicians:
James LaBrie ~ Vocals
John Petrucci ~ Guitar and Vocals
Jordan Rudess ~ Keyboards and Continuum
John Myung ~ Bass
Mike Portnoy ~ Drums, Percussion and VocalsThe Rundown:DISC 1: Black Clouds & Silver Linings
Track 1: “A Nightmare to Remember”
Starting off at a slower pace than I had hoped, that disappointment is soon crushed as the intensity level skyrockets with furious kick drums and guitar riffs. The keyboard solos that permeate portions of the song also serve to keep the mood changing from the metallic grind. That being said, the guitar solos are not too shabby either playing when things need to be broken up and leading perfectly into the different vocal sections. Might I also add that James LaBrie still has what it takes to front this band even though they were threatening him with being fired a while back. All the good aspects of this song and there could be a few changes for my ears. The monotonous drum sequences could use some changes to add more dynamics to the music while the symphonic keyboards are at times overbearing with all the other musical aspects demanding your attention (and those are more interesting to be honest). Almost forgot…Mike Portnoy, never sing, I do not care if that’s the “popular” style of vocals you do not sound good. I just wish I could forget what that sounded like instead of remembering it and having to include it in here.
Song Rating: 8.5 out of 10
1) A Nightmare to Remember – Anyone who’s ever been in an auto accident can certainly relate to this Petrucci-lyricized opener. No, it isn’t “Dead Man’s Curve” and really the lyrics are secondary to the music, natch. The usual DT craziness ensues. Apparently a bit of controversy over Mike Portnoy’s vocals on this, which had me concerned he was going “Cookie Monster” on us, which I just don’t have any use for… but they are clear, and a useful counterpoint to the smoothness of James LaBrie. Also note Portnoy’s insane blast beats at the end of this song. Just when you think you’ve heard Dream Theater do everything, well…
Track 2: “A Rite of Passage”
I’ve probably played this tune more than any other on the album. Not only due to its second shortest playing time, but also due to the feeling it has. There’s a kind of nostalgia in the music that reminds me of 90’s metal for some reason. That being said, the music is certainly great, but the altered vocals and “radio” overdubs kill my enthusiasm for about half of the song. From the first chorus on things truly flush out to what makes me excited about the track with intricate guitar sequences that play perfectly with the vocal melody. The other great part is the instrumental break that starts things off with a thrash riff and descends into a phenomenal guitar solo that not only follows its own path, but also manages to keep a distinct melody similar to the background music. That solo gives way to an interesting keyboard solo that utilizes traditional keys as well as some interesting dubs.
Song Rating: 9 out of 10
2) A Rite of Passage – The album’s first single deals with the topic of Freemasonry, a definite stretch for them but somehow still within the Dream Theater ethos of mystery and intrigue. I don’t claim to know anything about the topic at hand, aside from that episode of the Simpsons where Homer joins the Stonecutter’s Union, or Mike Myers’ rant in “So I Married an Axe Murderer.” Jordan Rudess just loves that continuum thingamajig, doesn’t he lol?
Track 3: “Wither”
This song sounds like the band’s attempt at another “Forsaken” from Systematic Chaos. “Wither” has a good vibe and manages to convey some of the feelings that “Forsaken” drives home, but on a lesser scale. The music is melodic, even when the guitars electrify, and compliments the smooth, melodic vocal work of LaBrie on this cut. Thankfully, the solo comes in nice and strong with an electrifying jolt to blow some life into the song. Unfortunately, this happens with barely a minute and a half to go and the jolt does not last all that long.
Song Rating: 9 out of 10
3) Wither – One of Dream Theater’s nicer ballads, this one deals with the subject of writer’s block, not a totally novel concept (Kerry Livgren wrote about it on the Kansas song “On the Other Side”) but the main focus is the melody, very nicely done. Another one of those handful of songs that honestly, could be a radio hit, but won’t.
Track 4: “The Shattered Fortress”
Mike Portnoy’s Alcoholic’s Anonymous to Music Suite ends with this tune. Musically, there is a frantic feeling to what is being played that carries on into the (sometimes dual) vocals. Yes, those horrid attempts at growling by Portnoy are featured here, and who’s surprised considering it is his tune. I am not, but sadly they are just as bad as on every other track they “grace”. Good things include the beginning and other parts of the song where the guitars shine through with a nice melody riff while the keyboards back them up on a complimentary scale. The various musical breakdowns and solos are also noteworthy as breathing some life into the track. There are a few shining moments when LaBrie is able to sing a few measures of good vocals, but as an overall effort the beginning lines, Portnoy’s “contribution”, and the spoken part make this a track you may just want to enjoy on the instrumental album than on the full record.
Song Rating: 7 out of 10
4) The Shattered Fortress – As I mentioned in my preamble, the first half of this decade I really wasn’t paying much attention to Dream Theater, so I wasn’t in on Mike Portnoy’s “Twelve Step Suite” from the get-go… apparently this is the conclusion, reprising parts from previous parts. I really need to give them all a listen from start to finish. As for this one, LaBrie sounds pretty tough here, singing in a sinister lower register to great effect.
Track 5: “The Best of Times”
An interesting change on this song with more piano work and even the addition of strings to create a melancholy feeling making you wonder how this is “The Best of Times.” Then, things begin to pick up with a Rush-feeling guitar riff segueing into another riff that feels like a day at the beach. When the vocals hit, the guitar seems to take more of a backseat role until the next interlude, which is disappointing as the change in tone still sounds great and keeps the “happy” vibe. The vocals are pretty much entirely hit-and-miss as LaBrie goes from a memorable chorus sound (with the occasional verse sounding good) to almost deadpan sounding vocals when compared to how good to guitar sounds. This may be another song you just want to hear the instrumental version too; but not as badly as the previous track.
Song Rating: 8 out of 10
5) The Best of Times – The DT guys have always channeled their emotions into their writing, (correct me if I’m wrong but I’m pretty sure) “A Change of Seasons” was written about the death of Mike’s mother, and “Take Away My Pain” was definitely written by John Petrucci about his late dad… this one is written about Mike’s father, and it varies between upbeat, positive sections and slower melancholy structures… actually, you think it’s going to start out sad but it throws you a curve ball.
Track 6: “The Count of Tuscany”
Being the longest song on the album there are definitely a lot of musical sections that change from a bombastic almost doom metal feeling to softer material that could belong on “Wither” or sections of “The Best of Times.” The vocals are once again the killer to making this a phenomenal tune. I was enjoying the long instrumental beginning, and then the vocals hit. I do not know who developed the idea to have that double singing, but it completely does not work until halfway through the album when the music also has a grungy sound to it. The keyboard solo has a distinct symphonic/power metal sound to it at times as it flips between the original Dream Theater keyboard solo sound and the more symphonic. Speaking of which, that orchestral background that has been on a good number of these songs creeps its way back in here, but to a better effect than on any other tune its featured on this release. Thankfully, the track ends on a bright note after a pause during which I think the band realized they needed to do something good vocally.
Song Rating: 7.5 out of 10
6) The Count of Tuscany – The longest song (at 19:16) on an album full of them, this one has some of the more pronounced Rush influences (drum breaks straight out of “A Farewell to Kings”) Despite the fanciful lyrics, this one actually had its basis with an actual encounter Petrucci had in Tuscany. Actually the lyrics seem a tad bit awkward in spots, but I can appreciate the concept here. (For some reason the whole “let me introduce… my brother” almost trips the corny-meter for me. And the last few lines strike me as if Petrucci suddenly realized, “oh shit I have to finish this up!” But I digress...)The Last Word:
This is Dream Theater and everything they have become over the last 20 years or so of their career. This album has a little bit of everything that catches my ear when I hear a Dream Theater disc: progressive elements, heavy sounding while maintaining melody, and probably more symphonic elements than ever before. The album before Dark Clouds [Systematic Chaos] caught my attention with tunes like “Forsaken” and “The Ministry of Lost Souls” so I had high expectations for this release with that backing (ignoring the classical catalog of Images and Words and the like for the moment). I’m satisfied to say that Dream Theater delivered from the opening track through the ending each track has stand-out sections and also parts that do not particularly appeal to me. However, those parts that may not catch my ear may be perfect for others and that is what makes this release a worthy addition to any listener of Dream Theater’s library…or non-listener for that matter. The only thing I would change and can safely say most will agree with his Mike Portnoy should leave the singing up to LaBrie and stick to laying down the rhythm. The only other damper to some of the songs lies in the length and overextending certain aspects of the song when the band should move on, or scrap that section entirely.
First, my history as a DT fan… got into them in the summer of 1996, when good, solid, melodic hard rock with guitar solos was, well, non-existent in the charts and mainstream media. I had been aware of Dream Theater since their first album (thanks to “Metalshop”) and liked “Pull Me Under” and “Lie,” but never had the push to check them out until someone lent me Images and Words. So I got into them big time, and followed the band from there on… had a surreal experience when I was working at my father’s gas station and pumped Mike Portnoy’s gas not realizing it was him… if someone wants me to expound on that let me know, already I’m rambling before the review begins… So let’s see, bought Scenes From a Memory when it first came out, then… must admit I became a bit of a lapsed fan… marriage, kids, mortgage payments, I didn’t listen to a lot of music period when our kids were first born, and especially stuff I’d never heard before, and particularly music like DT which requires that intense concentration… so anyway, I dutifully picked up the albums (not all the live ones though) but it wasn’t until 2007’s but it wasn’t until 2007’s Systematic Chaos that I started to get back into the band, still really dig that album. So when I began working at the radio station again I got to know our summer student Tom, who is a Dream Theater freak. We compared notes and basically how I got into Dream Theater was that someone said, “You like Rush? You’ll like Dream Theater then.” With Tom, who’s about 15 years younger than me, it was the opposite… ”You like Dream Theater? You’ll like Rush then.” Sometimes it takes meeting up with another music fan to get reintroduced to a band, which is certainly the case here. I’ve been listening to a lot of DT in preparation for this album, which I picked up in its 3-disc form. If you’re not a fan, this album won’t change your mind… this album is very much made with the band’s collective mind frame set to “epic.” In fact this album kind of puts me in mind of Rush’s 1978 album Hemispheres, not necessarily sonically but because there are basically only two songs which are short enough to even considered as “singles,” and the album is eaten up by lengthy songs and instrumental passages. I admire the band for sticking to their guns so intensely. This is definitely an album that grows on you after repeated plays, so that the longest songs don’t seem long, if you know what I mean.
Overall Album Rating: 8.75 out of 10
Dream Theater is a band that elicits love/hate responses from fans with each new album…I can find no fault with this album. DISC 2: Uncovered 2008/2009
1) Stargazer (Rainbow) – Aside from tuning down a step, this is a very faithful rendition of the Rising staple. Off to a good start.
2) Tenement Funster/Flick of the Wrist/Lily of the Valley (Queen) – I’m a huge Queen fan, and this is a terrific rendition of three songs which play back to back exactly as they do on the Sheer Heart Attack album. For the curious, that’s the one with “Killer Queen” and “Stone Cold Crazy.”
3) Odyssey (Dixie Dregs) – OK, this is the first one where I don’t have the original to compare it to… I’ve only ever heard their version of “Cruise Control” which I sought out because… well you oughta know lol… Even if I didn’t know who this was and who was in the Dregs, my first thought here was “this sounds like Kansas!” which is ironic because obviously Steve Morse was in the Dregs and later Kansas (and later, the Dregs again…) but when he was in Kansas, their music sounded nothing like this! No, this sounds like classic mid-70’s Kansas.
4) Take Your Fingers From My Hair (Zebra) - About time someone gave these guys a nod, and who better than a band who opened for them way back in ’89, one of Dream Theater’s first big shows… a great tune from the gold-selling 1983 debut Zebra album, and James LaBrie holds his own trying to keep up with the dog-whistle vocals of Zebra’s Randy “not the American Idol dude” Jackson.
5) Larks Tongues in Aspic Pt. 2 (King Crimson) – Again, another band I’m not familiar with, aside from “21st Century Schizoid Man” – and there simply because I was curious since one of my faves (April Wine) covered it. This is probably pretty faithful to the original, and if so, it’s obvious why King Crimson were a DT influence.
6) To Tame a Land (Iron Maiden) – Previously available on the Kerrang-sponsored “Maiden Heaven” tribute album, this is a good cover of the closing song on Piece of Mind… Good, non-obvious choice, and I didn’t realize until doing a little research (I’m not really a Maiden fan, but I’m familiar with their music because most of my friends are) that this song was based on Frank Herbert’s Dune
. DISC 3: Black Clouds & Silver Linings (Instrumental Mixes)
1 - A Nightmare To Remember ( Instrumental ) 15:39
Starts out with kind of a spooky piano that is out of tune or something. Then the band kicks in. Some sort of avant-garde chorus in the back ground. The drummer is playing 16th notes on the bass drum. Very impressive. Then it changes tempo a few times. When it gets to the main riff... it smokes. Very cool song so far! Oh man... they have the coolest organ or something used slightly in this one area that make this song awesome. I don't know how the hell they can keep the different tempos flowing like that. Guess that's the magic of Dream Theater. Huh... There's a car crash in here. They slow it down in the middle. Very cool interlude. This song just keeps getting better as it goes. Ends as it came in. Spooky piano.
2 - A Rite of Passage ( Instrumental ) 8:36
Cool effect on the guitar right off the bat. Good riff. Like the groove they got going on. Some weird ass noise in what would normally be where a verse would be. Then just some great rhythm guitar playing. Very cool chorus to this song. This could have had some commercial success with that chorus. Very nice riff work after the chorus. And back to the chorus. Awesome. Kinda reminds me of Iron Maiden in that section. In the middle of the song they change it up. A barrage of chords that seem to have no reason. Another time change follows. Ahhh. And then there it is. The chorus I love so much. Here comes the choir. And then it's over. Very well thought out song.
3 - Wither ( Instrumental ) 5:28
AWESOME beginning! Hell yeah. This works very well for them. This may be my favorite song on the CD without hearing the rest of them. If you listen closely... you can hear an egg shaker. The hi-hat work in this is brilliant. Probably some of the best I've heard. This song just have harmony flowing from every beat. And the drums... well played. A masterful orchestration. Piano interlude. Nice touch. And back to the masterpiece that is this song.
4 - The Shattered Fortress ( Instrumental ) 12:47
Back to the riff madness. Kind of repetitive riffing. Not a big fan of that. 1:40 into it and it's the same ruff. Not a fan. Then here comes the first timing change. Which makes this song better than it was. Keyboard overlay. Now this song is getting cool. Until the original riff comes back which I was already sick of. Cool keyboard work in here. 3:38 into it and this is getting better. 5:30 into it and it's almost a different song. Yet another tempo change followed by another one. And then there is that riff again. And an acoustic interlude. It's very cool at this point. And as things pick up I'm thinking maybe they came to their senses, But that was not to be. More repetitive riffing. Cool drum work towards the end. Wow! I like how this ends. A single weird chord played over synthesizer.
5 - The Best of Times ( Instrumental ) 13:20
Piano intro which lasts over 2 minutes. Then some great lead work as the band kicks in. It will be interesting to see where this goes. The bass drum work is incredible. Around 3:40 in this song it has a heavy Rush feel to it. Very much so. Goes into the chorus and smokes. The drums are incredible on this. Guess i shouldn't be surprised. Acoustic/piano interlude. And I think I just heard a cello and some violins. All we need now is a banjo and a juice harp and everything will have been in this. At 8:30 into this the song takes an interesting turn. Almost "Theme Music." Very cool ending.
6 - The Count of Tuscany ( Instrumental ) 18:47
Very cool intro. I must say, this guy knows how to use his effects. Reminds me a bit of Rik Emmett's playing just after the intro. This thing was some crazy synth work. While the drummer is going nuts. All together now... Tempo change! Cool rhythm playing. Another tempo change follows. And then some cool chorus. I like that part. The interlude in this is some synth with guitar volume swells. It's very cool. 14 minutes into it or there about comes some acoustic strumming. And more synth work. Love how the drums come back in. Awesome! The ending of this song is awesome.
8/10The Last Word:
To be honest, this was the first Dream Theater CD I listened to all the way through. I knew the reputation of these guys. And I've heard a lot of stuff i liked by these guys. And to tell you the truth, I'm not a big fan of instrumentals. Much less a whole CD of them and long tracks to boot. So this CD was already not looking good before the initial play. But I must say, these guys really turned me around on my views of instrumentals. This CD is brilliant throughout. I was pleasantly surprised. The musicianship on this is off the charts. And the drummer... are you kidding me? Not a big fan of piano or keyboards but they used it tastefully and didn't over do it like most bands that use them. "Wither" ended up being my favorite song off the CD. It's friggen incredible! That's the only way I can describe it. Kudos to the boys!Due to the sheer volume of music found on this release, the review staff here at 80sMetalServer.com decided to try something a little different and have a reviewer cover each disc independently. Ironically, due to a failure on my part to clarify the reviewers' assignments (I'm such a slacker ), Tim provided reviews for both the main album and the covers disc. However, since I thought his take on the main disc was quite an interesting read, I have decided to include both of his sections and turn this into a sort of 'Cutting Heads' review. Ben and Tim's reviews of the main disc are here, as is Tim's review of the covers disc and Ross' take on the instrumental disc.
My apologies to both reviewers and readers for my error. Despite this, however, I think the readers will still review both informative and entertaining. Enjoy!EDITOR'S NOTE: Please note that with several different reviewers and writing styles involved, there is a distinct possibility that errors may have occurred during the editing/compilation process. If this has occurred, these errors are most likely mine. Please let me know if you see anything out of whack, so I can go back and correct it. Thank you. ~ Steve