Review by Lilen Pautasso, as featured on New York webzine Puluche.com
Prog metal pioneers and musical perfectionists, Dream Theater have been on the progressive metal scene for a long time. Ever since their debut almost 30 years ago, the band has seen a number of changes both musically and structurally. Two years after they entered the post-Mike Portnoy era with A Dramatic Turn of Events, the band dismissed any concerns about their future and instead solidified their longevity and ongoing legacy to their respective genre.
Their latest album is an energetic and inspiring release given the somewhat simple title of Dream Theater. What could symbolize the start of a new and reinvented chapter for the band, the album is dramatic and intricately crafted.
Opening with the epic orchestral instrumental “False Awakening Suite,” this high energy and sonically enthralling piece is a brilliant opening track that leads into a heavier and more progressive approach. The track sets the scene for an album that is a fresh reminder of the Images and Words days where the marriage of prog, symphony and heavy metal were brilliantly forged and then replicated for years to come.
Four minutes into the album, vocalist James LaBrie is finally introduced to the musical spectacle on “The Enemy Inside” – arguably one of the best tracks on the album. Like the classic Dream Theater songs of the late 80s and early 90s, the song is a perfect sonic representation of talented band members John Petrucci, Mike Mangini, John Myung, and Jordan Rudess.
Interestingly, the band have also reintroduced the orchestral (almost power metal) element to their music – a style that has been missing from their sound for various albums now. Songs such as “Surrender to Reason” and “Enigma Machine” evoke invigorating and symphonious musical soundscapes that were once the domineering sound of Dream Theater.
While the album excels in its song writing and instrumental capabilities, Dream Theater is not necessarily anything “new” or innovative. Often a song can be bogged down in repetitive riffs and overly virtuous orchestral pieces. Yet, despite losing out these aspects (of which Dream Theater appear to be regular offenders) the album is an enjoyable indication on the direction the band is headed and the passion that they still generate through their song writing.
Perhaps the most commendable aspect of the album is the attention it provides to other members of the band. While earlier releases focused more on the Petrucci guitar solos and soaring LaBrie vocals, this album provides greater opportunities for keyboardist Rudess, drummer Mangini and bassist Myung.
The atmosphere generated by the rhythmic backbone of the band is probably best captured by the album’s 22 minute opus “Illumination Theory” – a five-part piece that is jam-packed with traditional and equally enthralling prog-metal components. A combination of synthesisers, orchestral interludes and rhythmic intensity which characterize this composition is almost worthy enough to be its own album. Whilst Petrucci’s solos in this piece are expectedly sharp and compelling, compliments must also be given to the support provided by the rest of the band – Rudess and Mangini, in particular. The percussion and elongated symphonic soundscapes are perfectly tailored to the musical direction of the song, making it one of the stand-outs of the album. Fusions of orchestral pieces and Rush-like percussion is not only a bit of a homage to early musical pieces, but also of the creative fluidity of the album.
While the musical direction of album is highly defined and flawlessly executed, it rarely goes beyond the usual Dream Theater “sound” and, as such, isn’t necessarily representative of new directions or professional growth. Despite some fantastic musical sampling from Rudess and the untameable sharpness of Petrucci, the album doesn’t necessarily break new ground.
Regardless, long-time Dream Theater fans will certainly be delighted with the album, particularly as it reminisces on the early musical identity of the band and captures genuinely beautiful pieces of music that is both, imaginative and consuming.
Reviewer: Lilen Pautasso