With the departure of Mike Portnoy from the Dream Theater ranks, many suggested that the band was done, finished, and ill equipped to carry on without his unique drum work – yet two years ago, after recruiting Mike Mangini to the fold, Dream Theater triumphantly released A Dramatic Turn Of Events and silenced critics across the globe. Regardless of drummers, it was always going to be tough to follow up their 2009 offering, Black Clouds And Silver Linings, yet stepping forth with their new sticks-man in tow, the band didn’t just equal it, they bettered it and earned themselves a Grammy nomination.
Fast forward to 2013 and on September 20th, we’re due to be presented with their newest offering, a self-titled behemoth featuring 9 tracks of pure, unadulterated Dream Theater prog goodness. Incorporating Mangini into the song writing process for the first time, the band have once again stuck to what they know, combining the guitar mastery of Petrucci with the keyboard wizardry of Rudess, the terrifying bass rhythms of Myung, and of course the captivating vocal range of LaBrie in their unique cauldron to produce the sound that the world so loves and recognises from the word go.
Launching into being with False Awakening Suite there’s no time to prepare, instead propelling the listener into an immediate melee of orchestral elegance combined with metal edged chunkiness, combining raw power with a serene sense of beauty in a manner that only Dream Theater are capable of achieving. Dividing the ‘suite’ into three sections, Sleep Paralysis leads into Night Terrors before coming to a close with Lucid Dream, and whilst short compared to the usual opus’ found on a Dream Theater album, the opening moments serve their purpose and pull the listener in to hear more.
Hitting out hard to continue the progression of the record, The Enemy Inside follows, evoking memories of earlier albums and demonstrating that there is still a serious level of distortion to be found within the bands ranks. Carefully layered vocals match the ever intricate guitar work to create an ambience of catchiness, power, and intricacy, ticking the boxes that stalwart Dream Theater fans will look for whilst offering up enough openness and catchiness to hook in new ones. Even nodding towards their earlier days and times past on The Looking Glass, it appears that Dream Theater aren’t just here to offer up a new album, they’re pushing to offer their best from start to finish.
Of course, no offering from their ranks would be complete without a heart wrenchingly beautiful ballad like offering, and Along For The Ride seems to satisfy those needs here in, not quite going as soft as on some of their previous offerings, yet still managing to combine Petrucci’s blistering guitar work with strings in a manner that will have listeners sitting back and letting it all sink in.
That said, as the final offering of the album bursts into being, the true high point of this album is revealed, propelling the listener into a 22 minute epic broken into five ‘acts’ (Paradoxe De La Lumiere Noire, Live Die Kill, The Embracing Circle, The Pursuit Of Truth, Surrender Trust And Passion) and closing on an almighty high. Of course there’s the usual solo mastery from Petrucci and Rudess, but as the chaotically beautiful mid-section comes to a close at 15:18 we’re propelled into one of the most mind-blowingly dramatic and beautiful pieces of music to ever be heard. Deep, powerful orchestral melodies fuse with rolling drums courtesy of Mangini and hauntingly addictive vocals from LaBrie, forming a sound that is quite simply phenomenal.
It seems quite fitting that the band have chosen to release their latest offering as a self titled record, as quite simply, if anyone asks what it’s like there can only be one answer – this my friend is Dream Theater, a band that will change your life from the moment you hear them.
Simply put, 10 out of 10 doesn’t do the album justice, it is a triumph of majestic proportions.
Words: Dave Nicholls