Dream Theater – Dream Theater
Dream Theater – Dream Theater (2013)
Reviewed by Christopher Foley
I love covering Dream Theater releases, and this, their self-titled release will be the first time I’ve dished out my thoughts on a Dream Theater album here at Black Wind Metal. Enjoy it guys!
The build up to Dream Theater was both an exciting and worrying time for me. Their last album, A Dramatic Turn Of Events, ranked as a pinnacle in the Dream Theater discography, and on many levels, a return to form, with the band re-establishing itself sans drum extraordinaire Mike Portnoy, who was of course one of their main songwriters. I’m often wary of self titled albums, as with many bands it signals a change in musical direction (Metallica, very nearly Stratovarius), and really I think it comes off kind of lazy. Furthering the doubt was the artwork, which when compared against the stunning pieces adorning their last two releases comes off as quite unspectacular.
Any apprehension I might have had was, however, quickly quelled. The first thing which really stuck out to me here is how succinct the band comes off. Whilst the twenty plus minute closer “Illumination Theory” doesn’t entirely apply to this point, the other eight tracks here are meticulously crafted slabs of concise progressive metal that show exactly what Dream Theater can do in a tight package. They very rarely indulge in the prolonged musical sections which they’re by now known for, and even in the instrumental track “Enigma Machine”, the focus is more reliant on riffs and structure as opposed to showboating. Another big factor in their sound is that just about everything I would ever identify as having spawned from Mike Portnoy’s influence and song-writing has been complete eschewed. The groovy, trendier sections are all but gone, and in their place is a multifaceted progressive power metal assault which hearkens back to the band’s formative days.
I also adore how in touch Dream Theater feels with its contemporaries. I can hear shades of acts such as Threshold, Symphony X, Pagan’s Mind, and of course Rush throughout the entire album. When concerning the former three bands, I’m not sure whether this was intentional, due to the arguable matter of how much Dream Theater influenced the aforementioned acts, however in the case of Rush, any Dream Theater fan can see the band has proudly worn that influence on their collective sleeve throughout its career.
Taking a look at some of the songs, I feel this becomes even more evident; from the Symphony X styled opening piece “False Awakening Suite” to the Rush meets Pagan’s Mind swagger of “The Looking Glass”, all the way up to the post-thrash, almost Threshold approach of “Behind The Veil” – and let’s not forget “Erotomania’s” darker, meaner cousin; the aforementioned “Enigma Machine”. Dream Theater are on the ball with every aspect of their sound here on their eponymous twelfth full-length. The heavier segments are propulsive and convincing; with killer riffs and double kick patterns, and their tranquil moments are poignant: largely carried via LaBrie’s smooth croon and Petrucci’s impeccable clean guitar playing. Despite sounding focused and concise, there is still plenty of room for Dream Theater’s progressive aspects, and despite shorter song lengths, for the most part they manage to dazzle throughout their arrangements.
Some special mention should go out to “Illumination Theory” too, without a doubt one of the stronger twenty plus minute numbers I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to. What’s particularly great about it is that it’s relatively easy to follow and grasp. The individual parts feel distinct, and the bridging string section is nothing short of moving. LaBrie is really on the money here too, playing to his strengths as a singer and delivering one of his finest performances in years.
Speaking of fine performances, it’s great to hear Mike Mangini fully integrated into the writing process, and it shows. I’d say this is their most air drum-worthy release since Awake. His performance is intense to say the least; incredible fills, energetic double kick flurries, and of course some damn catchy beats. The enigmatic John Myung compliments Mangini in the rhythm department, and boy does he make his presence felt here. I’ve lost count of how much air-bass I’ve done to this album, and in places his tone and performance take a lot from Geddy Lee, which had me smiling from ear to ear. He also contributes the lyrics to “Surrender To Reason” which is great, as I’ve always been a big fan of the songs he’s penned.
For the rest of the band it’s largely business as usual: John Petrucci and Jordan Rudess have pretty much stepped into the ring-leader position vacated by Portnoy, and it’s great to see them putting in both humble and honest performances. Rudess is surprisingly restrained throughout the album, and whilst his skill is intimidating as ever, I feel he utilizes his talents to the flow and benefit of the songs, as opposed to anything excessive. I feel Petrucci’s riffs draw a lot of inspiration from that of the earlier Dream Theater albums, and I’d definitely say he puts forth one of his more riff oriented approaches here on their eponymous album. His lead guitars are decidedly more memorable this time around too, doing a great job of conveying emotion. This is particularly true in “Illumination Theory”, where he delivers a thoroughly stirring solo towards the end.
With fantastic sound and some of the finest songs the band has penned in years, I feel Dream Theater is an incredibly strong release, and likely the biggest candidate for prog album of the year. Just when I thought they couldn’t get any better, they throw the gauntlet down yet again. To me, Dream Theater feels like the start of a new era for the band, a proud “this is who we are” kind of album, which I hope will serve as the foundation for furthering their style and sound. An all-encompassing look at Dream Theater, served up in a deliciously neat package, this one comes highly recommended.
4.5 // 5