without Internet Explorer,
in 1280 x 960 resolution
The awkward moment when i decide to review an album by my favourite band. I love Dream Theater. Not to the point where i think they can do no wrong but still the band i listen to more than any other. They've had their ups and downs and this album is the one immediately after the exit of Mike Portnoy. A notoriously divisive band losing their driving force was always going to spark huge debate among fans. So what does this album offer us?
Firstly, like most Dream Theater albums this is long (77 minutes). However, unlike the previous album this has 10 tracks compared to just 6, with the longest song being 12 minutes and 3 others over 10 minutes. For those not in the know, this is actually pretty modest and scaled back for this band! There's also 2 much shorter ballads, a trick the band occasionally used in the past. There were a lot of comparisons with the classic 'Images and Words' album, including accusations that this album even followed the exact same song structures. I think it's fair to say this isn't truly progressive, Dream Theater very much just sound like themselves these days rather than truly push the boundaries of progressive metal. Playing the typical elements of prog doesn't automatically make it progressive, but getting rid of Portnoy's annoying vocals does make it good! 'Bridges in the Sky' is probably the most progressive and heavy track here with its peculiar intro and varied sections. Definitely a good opener for the tour that followed.
'Black Clouds and Silver Linings' was an excellent album only marred by too many vocal contributions from a drummer who should stick to drumming. This album has pretty minimal backing vocals which are ably reproduced live by John Petrucci now. Speaking of JP, he also produced this and did a very good job of it. The bass is clearer than it has been in years, the drums don't smother everything else and the vocals are mostly left to an on-form James Labrie with only one annoying effect on 'Build Me Up, Break Me Down'. When i heard this song live it was noticeably better without the vocal effect, something they should avoid on future studio recordings.
Petrucci's solos are fantastic throughout this album. The riffs are mostly excellent but sometimes sound like he's used them before. The solo in 'Breaking All Illusions' is easily his best ever, divided into parts showing off his full range of technique from flashy to emotional and melodic. The sort of playing where i'd proclaim 'best solo ever' when describing it to someone else after a few beers! Generally speaking, JP really brings some strong material to this album as the chief songwriter.
John Myung's bass is thankfully much louder in the mix than on previous albums. Nothing flashy here, just his usual solid lines holding it all together. Mike Mangini's drumming is fine, the parts were already written by Petrucci and Rudess so he doesn't really provide anything other than a strong performance here. Buy the self titled album to hear his first proper contributions to the band, he's a great player.
Jordan Rudess sounds reborn here. No stupid noises or irritating ragtime parts here. More atmospheric parts and adding layers of depth to the music. He does play some lead parts too of course, notably a fantastic piano run in 'Outcry' which i just can't get enough of. i think Rudess needed the creative freedom of Portnoy's departure to really shine and offer something different.
Speaking of Portnoy, did the band really miss his contributions of songwriting/production, epic drumming and crappy vocals? Not really. Although Mangini doesn't really stand out on this album, i don't think Portnoy's over-drumming would benefit these songs. James Labrie truly dominates now that the shackles of those awful Portnoy vocals are gone. James belts these songs out with power and range not heard in perhaps 15 years and he can do it live too. i saw them on this tour and he was the star of the show, not bad for the supposed weak link in this band.
This brings me to the songs themselves. The opening pair are excellent mid-length songs(by DT standards) with strong choruses. 'Lost Not Forgotten' is ok but overlong and nothing special. The next track is the first of 3 ballads. I don't have a problem with these songs but 2 would be enough and finishing the album with one is an odd climax. The other 3 tracks have already been mentioned above as they are the best on the album and deserved more focus. One final point, the lyrics are the usual nonsense this band is famous for but i think it is part of their charm.
Overall, a strong album made after a very significant change in the group. Not perfect and the running order is a bit strange, but undoubtedly one of the stronger albums of their long career.
Recommended tracks: On the Backs of Angels, Bridges in the Sky, Outcry, Breaking All Illusions
The cover of Dream Theater's "A Dramatic Turn of Events" - a ridiculous image of a boy riding a unicycle on a barely holding rope above the heavens - recalls the imagery of Lawrence Ferlinghetti's poem "Constantly Risking Absurdity"; as, certainly, the album's sound recalls the meaning of the poem. Dream Theater's eclectic coming-together of musical elements - from heavy, rich, thrashing moments; to gentle, heart-throbbing ballads, to jazzy moments of mischievousness and even dramatic, romantic piano cadenzas.
Despite the risk Dream Theater takes as a group of artists in this dynamic fusion of styles, the result is a masterpiece. Although a particularly diverse DT album, the music blends more seamlessly and professionally than ever before. Dream Theater once again show up all the other acts claiming to be progressive metal with their sheer cinematic virtuosity. On the level of arrangement, you can expect to hear a band working together in a complex give-and-take which allows every man his moment to shine without endangering the sound of the group.
Even during solos, the whole sound is treated with orchestral delicacy. Particularly contributing to the album's brilliance is the noticeable infusion of the keyboards in their full capacity; while DT previous albums may have seemed to some to minimise the role of the keyboardist to embellishing on a traditional band set-up, on this album Jordan Rudess's presence in felt in every facet of every song. The piano cadenza of "On The Backs Of Angels" - a song which earned the band its first Grammy Award nomination - as well as the neo-romantic opening of "Lost Not Forgotten" and the way in which the rest of the band plays off of this opening are especial favourite moments of mine of this album.
John Petrucci preforms effortlessly on the album, and little need be said of his playing besides; "buy this damn album and listen to those Godly shreds yourself!" (Personally, the guitar solo of Lost Not Forgotten, which reminds me of the solo work and sound of Steve Vai on his song "For The Love of God" is a special moment on the album). Mike Mangini and John Myung each in their own way play key roles in the resulting orchestral layered sound of "A Dramatic Turn of Events"; notably, Myung's basslines play off of the melodic parts of the rest of the band rather than doubling guitar parts, and Mangini proves with graceful subtlety that he deserves his spot in the band (I look forward to DT's upcoming self-tittled album where Mike has been involved in the composition process). For me, this is Dream Theater's greatest album for James LaBrie, and his powerful, majestic vocal-work shines out on every song (Especially on "This Is The Life", "Bridges In The Sky", "Far From Heaven").
These artists risk absurdity and find beauty, speadeagled in the empty air of existence.
Dream Theater has always been a band that has been able to continue running smoothly in the event of band member switches. The first album that featured vocalist James LaBrie was the smash hit Images and Words, former keyboardist Derek Sherinian’s debut was on the successful A Change of Seasons EP, and current keyboardist Jordan Rudess came on for the highly acclaimed concept album Scenes From A Memory. While the well-publicized departure of founding drummer Mike Portnoy has led to a lot of speculation and mixed emotions, the band’s first album with former Extreme/Annihilator drummer Mike Mangini is no exception to the old rule. While the band was never exactly at a point of stagnation in this reviewer’s opinion, this album does breathe new life into their sound and predicts a nice change of direction.
There are some traits from Dream Theater’s last couple albums that are still in place on here, but this album does inevitably have a very different feel that hasn’t been observed in quite some time. Some people have found parallels between this album and the sound on Images and Words and a few have accused the band of recycling the structures of past songs for here, but the similarities are rather superficial as the album’s production and technical displays are clearly cemented in the present day.
And some may call blasphemy, but this album really seems to have a few things in common with Falling Into Infinity and is easily their most melodic release since Octavarium came out in 2005. Of course, it isn’t quite as commercially minded as there are an unusual number of longer songs and heavier moments. But if anything, you could say that this is the first album since Scenes From A Memory where Dream Theater actually feels entirely comfortable with being Dream Theater. There are no attempts to write songs in the styles of Muse or Opeth and there aren’t any members that feel out of place.
Speaking of members, not too much has really been changed as the musicians still continue to show off a good deal of chemistry and technical prowess. Mangini does put on an expectedly great performance but one does wonder how things would be if his part hadn’t been programmed for him. You might want to listen to LaBrie’s first three solo releases if you want to hear what the guy is really capable of…
With all the changes that have taken place, the songwriting isn’t too far off from Black Clouds & Silver Linings as most of the tracks range from being eight to twelve minutes long. If anything, the only thing that’s changed is the addition of a few extra ballads to make up for the absence of the twenty-five minute long monsters that have been so popular with them lately. Predictably, the longer tracks manage to be the biggest highlights as they manage to put in some memorable hooks while showing off the standard soloing and complex structures. The opening “On The Backs of Angels” starts things off on a particularly dramatic note with some strong transitions while “Lost Not Forgotten” is noteworthy for its crunchy verse riff and pounding chorus.
Even if the band will never release something as tragic as “Space Dye Vest,” the ballads on here are nicely composed and all conjure memories of past tracks. While “This Is The Life” has a rather greeting card feel that reminds one of “The Answer Lies Within,” “Far From Heaven” is a short piano driven number in the vein of “Vacant” and the largely acoustic “Beneath the Surface” feels like a more complete version of “The Silent Man.”
And just as the previous album had “A Rite of Passage,” this release does have an almost commercial oddball in the form of “Build Me Up, Break Me Down.” While the song’s electronic feel and borderline nu metal leanings may give some listeners a rather Disturbed vibe, it’s a pretty decent track with a catchy chorus that’s hard to get out of your head. If anything, it’s kind of like “You Not Me” with a lot less suck…
As a person who still loves Dream Theater’s last few albums, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that this is the band’s greatest effort since Images and Words or Scenes From A Memory. However, I will tell you that it is a really strong release that proves they’re capable of running a smooth ship in the absence of Portnoy. It’s certainly not at the high point that was achieved on those two efforts or the monolithic Awake, but it does make one excited for what the band will be following this up with in the future. Think there’s a chance of Mangini having a four-album suite up his sleeve?
“On The Backs of Angels”
“Lost Not Forgotten”
“Bridges In The Sky”
“Far From Heaven”
“Beneath the Surface"
Since the unfortunate schism between DT and founding member Mike Portnoy, both sides have successfully moved on from the drama. But who really came out on top? Portnoy formed Adrenaline Mob; a band that sounds like NWOAHM but with actual talent behind it, and Flying Colors, whose debut album is one of the best things ever recorded. What has DT done? This big morass of prog metal filled with more of the same they've been doing since Train of Thought. Considering his recent output, it's no surprise Portnoy wanted a break from...well...this.
On a positive note, the musicianship is still there; DT - Portnoy + Mangini still equals a fairly impressive fivesome of metal talent, and the album taken as a whole, is still perfectly solid in all aspects. And, well, the lyrics are fine. There's really nothing actually bad about this album...but that's all the praise I can really muster.
The biggest problem I'm getting is that none of it is all that memorable. It just sorta blends into all the other music they've done in the past ten years, excluding Octavarium, which was awesome. It doesn't even feel like there's a cohesive theme here; just the same formula of instrument noodling-to-vocals-to-noodling for an hour and change. It's a strange conundrum where I know the music is honestly good but it utterly fails to keep my interest. It's a good album for throwing into your playlist on a long drive or plane ride, but its overwhelming blandness sinks in quick if you really sit down to listen to it. Sure it's heavy, but there's just no legitimate 'edge' to it. On a technical level, it easily passes. On an artistic/metal/prog level, it falls pretty flat.
All in all, it feels like an album fueled by spite. It's good, but spite is a fuel that burns quick. Only time will really tell if DT is better off without Portnoy. That question doesn't seem to matter much though, since it's pretty obvious that Portnoy's better off without them.
P.S. - It's pretty weak and classless of the band to name this album what it is and deny it has anything to do with their former drummer. I don't believe them for a second.
If one band has through some major changes recently, it would have to be Dream Theater. Mike Portnoy, the band’s original drummer, left not too long ago to join Avenged Sevenfold and ended up leaving them for Adrenaline Mob. He wasn’t allowed to come back to Dream Theater because in his departure, they already found another drummer by the name of Mike Mangini. I feel that the publicized search for a new drummer (including a DVD of this) was way over the top for a band that’s been around for 25+ years.
Nonetheless, Mangini holds his own on Dream Theater’s brand new album A Dramatic Turn Of Events (I suspect the title reflects their situation as well). The album opens up with Sarod-like guitar and a bass and orchestra-heavy bridge, goes into an asian-esque keyboard rhythm that seems ideal for an excellent light show, and sultry vocals coupled with awesome guitar solos to bring the listener deeper into the album.
Ever wondered what Dream Theater would sound like if they put a little nu-metal influence into their music? That question is answered with “Build Me Up, Break Me Down.” The beginning sounds like something that wouldn’t be too out of place on a Disturbed song, most evident in the bass playing and the pounding drums. On the chorus, vocalist James LaBrie could have sung out more, as I know he has the ability to do so. It’s a little too soft and unless you mess with your equalizer (like I did) it lies underneath the instruments too much.
If “This Is the Life” doesn’t become a staple in their live set, then I’m a monkey’s uncle. With soaring guitars that sound like the end of an action movie, the song heads into a really soft, piano-driven vocal ear grabber that invokes the imagination to decipher it all as a story. At the 1:50 mark we see the guitar and keyboard trading off, which really sets the mood. This is the kind of song that you turn on your iTunes (or Xbox) audio visual effects and kick back to.
Guitars take center stage in the beginning of “Outcry.” Lots of epic and heavy riffs fill the song to make any guitar geek happy. This song gives equal opportunity for all members of the band to showcase their playing. The keys have a few solo moments in the song that the drums play off of, then the guitar solos really show the listener how guitars should be played.
The mixing of this album really gave more of an emphasis on the bass and the drums over the other instruments and vocals, but it’s not too much of a difference. This album definitely had its awesome moments, especially in the guitar riffs and solos, but for the spastic listener like me, 10+ minute songs are too much. It really takes someone with lots of free time to get into this album. This is definitely one of the top progressive metal albums of the year, as few other bands can do it as good as Dream Theater can.
Dream Theater of late has been known more for the drama between ex-drummer Mike Portnoy and the band, first with the departure of Portnoy, then the dramatisation of the auditions for drummers, with the band posting videos of the entire audition process online (which honestly, left a bad taste in my mouth, with the videos almost feeling as if the band were out to make a quick cash-in on the attention) after that, finally naming Mike Mangini as the new member of the band. It is incredibly apt then, that the band name their new album A Dramatic Turn of Events, with a new member replacing the role of one of the band's former and founding members.
While Dream Theater's recent albums, namely Systematic Chaos and Black Clouds and Silver Linings have gained much critical acclaim, they did not particularly leave much of an impression of me, with the numerous recycled ideas (in particular the 12-step AA-themed songs) and the heavier direction that the band seemed to be going. Personal favourites of the band's releases have been Metropolis Part 2: Scenes from a Memory and the softer Octavarium. Therefore, on first listen to A Dramatic Turn of Events, it was indeed pleasantly surprising, with the band once more heading towards the form that they have crated with Octavarium, though managing to retain the element of heaviness in their music.
Opening track On the Backs of Angels begins promisingly, with a soft intro that almost reminds listeners of the epic Octavarium, before the acoustic guitars of John Petrucci come in and it does not take long for the listener to recognise the band to be Dream Theater as the band soon breaks into some technical, progressive passages, with Petrucci and Rudess taking turns taking over the lead instrument, like they do as before. It is nice for once to hear Petrucci putting some emotions into his playing (even his shredding), especially on songs like This is the Life, compared to the usual mechanical style that he utilises, making past heavier material sound as if his only goal is to squeeze as many notes as possible into a solo. Rudess, as usual, incorporates his neoclassical-style of playing on his keyboards, along with quirky moments that he has come to be known for on songs like Lost Not Forgotten. He plays a role at times in providing the symphonic elements in the music on tracks like Bridges in the Sky as well. LaBrie's vocals are also strong, though on this record he does not really push his vocal range as much as previous releases, instead choosing to focus on the emotions and the melodies that are present in the music, though on songs like Build Me Up, Break Me Down he does do some screams and shouts here and there.
As already mentioned, the songwriting style on A Dramatic Turn of Events has taken a turn to a softer and more melodic style, and this can be seen on songs like Build Me Up, Break Me Down, with the big hooks in the chorus and the overall melodic songwriting style, despite the song containing some of the heaviest riffs on the album, along with Lost Not Forgotten. The inclusion of the ballads on the album like This is the Life and Far from Heaven also seem to signal the direction that Dream Theater is heading towards with this album, and I, for one, am not complaining about it being a sucker for their softer stuff right from the start. This is not to say that the band has forsaken heaviness and technicality though. Heavier songs like the first half of Bridges in the Sky also manage to get listeners headbanging along with the band easily, and Petrucci displays his chops on the face-ripping guitar solo on Outcry, and the song sees the band bringing listeners on a technical ride, reminding them of moments taken off Metropolis - Part 1.
This album is not without complaints though. For one, the drums of Mike Mangini sound somewhat restrained, with few moments that really give him a chance to display his talents even though the odd time signatures and transitions are still present, but the drums were mixed to somehow sound weaker compared to the rest of the instruments, and this is no fault of his since the band mentioned that the drums were written before the place of the drummer was confirmed, and Mangini's performance on the auditions display his true abilities. And of course, while contentious, not hearing Mike Portnoy's backup vocals felt slightly weird, with moments that could have seen his vocals fitting in perfectly, but things like this blow over quickly. Myung's bass is also hardly audible throughout, and it seems that little attention is given to him, and while replicating riffs that Petrucci is playing already displays his technical capabilities, it would have been nice to listen to his improvisation once in awhile. Then there are the cheesy song titles, like Build Me Up, Break Me Down and Lost Not Forgotten, which could make fans of the band slightly hesitant.
Overall though, A Dramatic Turn of Events has been an extremely pleasant and soothing ride, and sufficiently proves the band's tightness as a songwriting and performance unit. The large melodic and catchy moments on the album are sure to attract any fan of melodic, yet technical metal, and suffice to say, I would personally take this over Systematic Chaos or Black Clouds and Silver Linings any day.
Love them or hate them, Dream Theater have been one of the most influential, and successful bands in modern progressive rock. On top of laying the groundwork style for every other progressive metal band out there today, this band has been the centre of constant debate between people that virtually worship them for their virtuosity as musicians and talent, and others that condemn them for what they perceive as needless showmanship at the sacrifice of real substance. Chances are that coming onto this review, you may already have a potentially strong opinion about Dream Theater, and what they are all about. For me, this was a band that- along with other legends like Rush and Led Zeppelin- got me big into music when I was first beginning to explore beyond what my parents showed me. Their classic albums 'Images & Words' and 'Scenes From A Memory' have had an indelible impact on my development as a musician and listener, and I've loved a fair bit of what they have done since then. Admittedly, I found myself a little weary of Dream Theater's indulgent style around the time that the band's 2011 single 'On The Backs Of Angels' was announced, but all the same I went into listening to it, and was immediately impressed. The appropriately titled 'A Dramatic Turn Of Events' has been met with a great deal of anticipation from alot of people, first considering that it is a Dream Theater album, but also because this is the first album that their lifelong drummer Mike Portnoy does not appear on, after being given the boot by the rest of the band. With one of their founding members gone, it was natural to expect that his departure- and the arrival of Annihilator drummer and Dream Theater newbie Mike Mangini- to have an impact on the band's direction. Portnoy was the one that pushed for Dream Theater to have a heavier sound, so I had been expecting a more progressive edge this time around, and that is exactly what 'A Dramatic Turn Of Events' is about; the same proggy excellence that first got me into them. While I can imagine the legions of detractors using the seemingly unchanged sound of the band against them, I for one have been greatly satisfied by this new batch of band material, and even with one of their vital organs missing, Dream Theater is far from dead.
As was the case with the past two albums of Dream Theater, sitting down to give my first listen to the material was a very important, almost somewhat spiritual experience, especially considering that I believed only a few months before that Dream Theater was all but dead. Both fans and haters should know that there is very little that will surprise them here necessarily, but the music here is easily distinguishable from other albums, especially what they have done more recently. While I did love 'Systematic Chaos' and 'Black Clouds & Silver Linings', the removal of the contrived heaviness and Gothic darkness that Dream Theater unsuccessfully tried to evoke on previous records is a refreshing change. Dream Theater are still definitely a progressive metal band, but of that formula, the emphasis here is on that of the 'progressive', rather than the thrashy Metallica, or pseudo-death metal that Mike Portnoy kept thinking was a pretty cool and hip thing for Dream Theater to do. Besides that, this is a Dream Theater album, complete with cheesy album artwork, epic songs, virtuosic musicianship, and the apparent effort to see how much of a CD's space can be used up without making it a double album.
After my first listen to 'A Dramatic Turn Of Events', I was silent for a few minutes, trying to figure out what I thought of it. This was Dream Theater alright, but I wasn't exactly sure whether I liked it or not. Although my general impression of the album has vastly increased since first listen to this album, some of the things I noticed on first listen have stuck with me. First off, the instrumental sections here no longer have the needless sense to them, and as far as the 'technical' elements of Dream Theater go, this may be the best I've ever heard them. With the handful of longer, ten minute plus tracks, each goes into some sort of departure from the regular songwriting in order to blow the listeners away with the talents of each member. Keyboardist Jordan Rudess really shines here, and I find myself replaying these instrumental parts. What I used to consider 'noodling' from these guys doesn't sound too different on first impression, but the band has put a much greater sense of complexity here into the instrumentals that I haven't quite heard from the band before. Suffice to say, haters of Dream Theater will probably still hate Dream Theater for these instrumental 'battles', but for someone who has loved them for almost a decade, the technical instrumentation here has never sounded more thoughtful. 'Bridges In The Sky', and the album's epic highlight 'Breaking All Illusions' both have the go-to elements of this.
The other aspect of this album is the melodic, songwriting side. I was never anything short of impressed by the familiar talent and skill exerted on the instrumental side of Dream Theater's material here, but as far as the songwriting went, 'A Dramatic Turn Of Events' took a few listens to warm up to me. This is largely because half of these songs are quite long and complex. 'On The Backs Of Angels' is the most instantly memorable track here, although there is much better to hear on the album. 'This Is The Life' is a brilliant mid-tempo prog rocker in a somewhat mellow vein, with a gorgeous chorus to boot. 'Bridges In The Sky' (originally given the less promising title 'The Shaman's Trance') has a real 'Glass Prison' vibe to it, but the dark progressive metal moments are contrasted with vibrant melodies and feeling. 'Far From Heaven' is a gentle piano piece that may very well hit me harder than any of Dream Theater's ballads. Here, James LaBrie's vocals and the gorgeous violins make my heart bleed rainbows. The only song here I really do not care for much is 'Build Me Up, Break Me Down', which has a similar sound to 'Caught In A Web', from 1994's 'Awake' album. It is not a terrible track, but there's nothing about it that really jumps out at me; a single bump in an otherwise awesome experience.
The true highlight here is 'Breaking All Illusions', which I can see Dream Theater fans idolizing throughout the coming months. The song has every element of an 'epic' to it, except that it is only a relatively brief twelve minutes long, as opposed to well, you know, a 'true' long song. We have one of John Petrucci's greatest guitar solos towards the end, prog metal freakouts, slower, almost Floydian mellow segments, and some of their most memorable riffs to date. Also of great importance to note is James LaBrie's performance on this, and on all other tracks on the album. He- like much of Dream Theater's sound- is another point of contention that people will argue about until breakfast time, and while he has had his moments where even I question his abilities, his vocal performance here shows him in his element. He is definitely not the sort of singer that he used to be with 'Images & Words', but he is no longer trying to sound like he is in Metallica, in other words, being something he is not. Here, he is trying to sound like James LaBrie, and his voice here is warm and full of feeling, especially on the gorgeous 'Far From Heaven' and closing ballad 'Beneath The Surface'. I would have like to have hear him pull off a few more high notes throughout the album, but I'm not disappointed. Also- lest I forget to mention- is Mike Mangini's performance, another thing that Dream Theater fans will continue to debate 'til past noon. Sadly, as the newest member of Dream Theater, he seems to get the newbie's treatment in terms of mixing, and his drum performance is less audible to me than Portnoy's work; hell, even bassist John Myung can be heard playing on this album now finally. While the drum recording could have used a little more life to it, Mangini's performance fills in the shoes of Portnoy very well, although I would be hard pressed to say he does more than that. There are techniques here where I could have sworn it was Portnoy playing, and I do not think this is coincidence; maybe Dream Theater is trying to warm up their fans to a new drummer, but I think it will take until the next album to hear what this new drummer is truly capable of.
As with all Dream Theater albums, this is an album I have some strong opinions about, although I am positive there are others- even other fans of the band- that will see things in a completely different light. 'A Dramatic Turn Of Events' took me a little longer to fully appreciate than much of the other more recent material that Dream Theater has churned out, but giving it the time it deserves, I've found it to be an incredibly strong, albeit flawed album. There is still some cheese to grate off the edges of the band's sound, and one less- than-satisfying track towards the beginning does tend to have me argue against this being labelled as a 'masterpiece', but does this stand its ground against other albums by the band? Yes, and more than that; it shows them taking some of their less tasteful aspects and injecting more thought into them, making the overall sound of Dream Theater all the more powerful. Agree with me or not, 'A Dramatic Turn Of Events' has wowed me and impressed me more and more with each time I listen to it, and I can see myself giving it the same long-term appreciation as I do most of the band's material.
Dream Theater have been wobbling precariously from the sublime to the ridiculous for the past decade, the CDs released being unpredictable affairs that veer with alarming ease from the instrumental maelstroms that should be expected of a progressive metal titan to downright embarrassing efforts to prove their ‘metal’ credentials with dumbed down attempts to appeal to the youth of today.
The blame for these misadventures has been dumped by many squarely at the door of famously departed drummer Mike Portnoy, and it has to be said that in his absence, the rest of the band have written a balanced CD that sounds as though they are merely doing their own thing and not attempting to prove anything to anyone.
Regardless of the personnel involved, the most notable thing about ‘A dramatic turn of events’ is that it is resolutely a Dream Theater CD. There are no awkward “Sounds like... Muse?” moments or eye-rollingly obvious attempts to reach out to the Slipknot crowd with brazen, chugging groove riffs. And to be honest the promise of never having to hear Portnoy’s dreadful tough guy vocals contaminating another Dream Theater song again is almost enough to justify his departure in itself.
That’s not to say that there aren’t a few hairy moments that prove beyond doubt that the drummer wasn’t the sole factor in the more ‘modern’ aspect of the band in recent times. The 2nd track, “Build me up, break me down” prominently features some unpleasant buzzing guitars and pretty horrid shrieks backing the main vocals on the pre-chorus, as well as some pointless programmed beats cluttering things up. A real weak point on the CD, it is thankfully an isolated incident that is far outweighed by the more positive aspects.
On the whole it is a smooth CD that definitely sounds far less fragmented than many of its recent predecessors, and is as usual at its best when acting as a showcase for the assembled musicians’ astounding talents. New drummer Mike Mangini (who else, really?) is given a tactful introduction, and doesn’t embarrass himself or his new colleagues by trying to outdo Portnoy. Rather, he turns in a typically assured display that covers every inch of the kit on the more intricate moments as well as getting on with some head-down double-bass thumping on the faster songs like “Lost not forgotten”.
Ballads have been an area where they have stumbled as often as they have succeeded through their entire career, so it is a nice bonus that the 2 on this CD turn out to be very pleasing. “Far from heaven” is a gentle piano piece, while the closing “Beneath the surface” seems to be an acoustic-only affair before some unsubtle but charming keyboards abruptly take over. What both share are great performances from James Labrie at the microphone, reflective of a strong overall display free of any ridiculous attempts at sounding like a hard man on the heavier songs.
The standout for me though is the stunning “Breaking all illusions” which has the most classic-sounding Dream Theater vibe of the lot, the graceful lead guitar and keyboard interchanges soothing and majestic, and the expected flurries of syncopation dazzling without getting too boastful about it.
Now for all the encouraging things it promises and in many cases delivers, it has to be said that ‘A dramatic turn of events’ is far from a flawless CD. One thing I will say about 2007’s divisive ‘Systematic chaos’ and indeed its better-liked follow-up ‘Black clouds and silver linings’ is that they both got off to galloping starts with very impressive opening tracks. Here, “On the backs of angels” is rather sedated and while it has a few nice moments doesn’t really get out of first gear, meaning the CD on the whole doesn’t properly get going until the 3rd track.
The majority of the songs of course spin off in many directions from their opening bars, and while many like “This is the life” impress from start to finish, a couple travel through places less interesting than their beginnings and ends and don’t fully justify their protracted running times. But despite this, it is an assured and enjoyable experience on the whole and the sound of Dream Theater just getting on with being Dream Theater brings joy to the heart.
After years of spiralling all over the place, they now seem to finally be pulling in the same direction and have produced a unified, stylistically consistent, and admittedly far from perfect batch of songs that give hope for at most a launching point for something greater, or at least safety from further self-inflicted humiliation.
(Originally written for http://www.metalcdratings.com)
Dream Theater is considered as one of the most influential, if not the most influential band of the prog metal scene over the last 25 years. As an avid fan myself, I was more than excited to know how their new album, A Dramatic Turn of Events, would turn out (no pun intended). After all, the album was their first album without founder and long-time drummer Mike Portnoy.
Dream Theater’s musical direction over the last years concerned me a little. 2007’s Systematic Chaos was, to me, the lowest point of their creative process with uninspiring lyrics and borderline boring and monotonous instrumental sections. While 2009’s Black Clouds and Silver Linings was a more refreshing attempt, their formula of long songs and “in-your-face” metal combined with trade-off solos between keyboardist Jordan Rudess and guitarist John Petrucci was starting to get stale. A Dramatic Turn of Events would be a definitive album to determine if DT was starting to run out of ideas or if it would find again a sound that would fit them completely.
But you can see things would be different even with looking at the cover of the album. As opposed to the dark, crowded images of their two previous albums, this album’s cover is a more tranquil, lightened one, a sign of hope that would be increased when the first track and single for the album, “On the Backs of Angels”, started. Unlike their previous efforts, this time their opening song is a calm yet mysterious guitar intro accompanied by soft keyboards in the background as the drums (this time played by new drummer Mike Mangini) start. The sound of the band is completely different in this track compared to their previous album, focusing more in a balance between metal and progressive music rather than just “metal with odd signatures”. John Myung’s bass can actually be heard again after being absent for almost 5 years behind Petrucci’s guitar lines. James LaBrie’s voice sounds more melodic while still fitting the heavier parts of the song. On the Backs of Angels, even while having a weak chorus, promises a different Dream Theater throughout the album.
And the promise is clearly delivered. “Build Me Up, Break Me Down” follows and shows that DT has gone more experimental ways. While not as good as the first song, this song, while heavy, also shows some kind of Industrial influence, mainly due to Rudess’ keyboard sounds. A stand out for these two songs so far is that, even when they do have their respective instrumental breaks, don’t fall into a solo show-off between keyboard and guitar, fitting more into the songs. Another heavy song goes next, “Lost not Forgotten”, a reminder of the heavy sound of their latest albums. A piano introduces the song and thank Rudess for that as piano hasn’t been present in any DT album since maybe Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence or Octavarium’s ballads. Come to think about it, keyboards are presented in a different way on this album so far and aren't only used for solos and background atmosphere, but as an instrument in itself, playing along with the rest of instruments instead of behind or too above them. Even though the cheesy lyrics and a brief monotonous trade-off solo, luckily the only one of the album, the chorus is pretty cool and the song sounds good overall. The heaviness takes a break in “This is the Life”, the album’s first ballad. While the song might be confusing at times, it’s good to hear the band making an unconventional ballad again (not following the verse-chorus-verse format). Two long tracks go next, “Bridges in the Sky” and “Outcry”. “Bridges in the Sky” is an epic track (don’t pay attention to the almost hilarious intro) that almost defines the DT sound as of today. Heavy riffs combined perfectly with soft, dreamy sections and an incredible ending. Flow between all the instruments is incredible. Mangini’s drumming is great and doesn’t sound as loud as Portnoy in the latest albums and Andy Wallace’s overall work in mixing is outstanding. “Outcry”, on the other hand, is a song with an amazing main riff that explores the progressive side of DT again (again experimenting with some electric sounds at the beginning), reminding of songs like “The Dance of Eternity” and the instrumental breaks of “Beyond this Life” and the always classic “Metropolis”. Unlike “Bridges”, this song’s ending seems rushed and improvised and it ruins the overall purpose of the song. The second ballad of the album ensues, an emotionally charged song named “Far From Heaven”, written by James LaBrie. A reminder of songs like “Vacant”, this song only consists of him and Rudess playing piano. It's a sad song with great lyrics to take a break again from the long, heavy songs that are played before it.
But then comes the amazing “Breaking All Illusions”, my favorite track from the album hands down. “Breaking…” features the return of John Myung to writing lyrics (and a pretty awesome return if you ask me). A thing that I noticed in this album is that all the instruments seem balanced again. In previous albums, the songs seemed to feature mostly guitar and drums leading the songs. This time is different. It doesn’t seem like an instrument is “leading” the song, but as if all the instruments form the song altogether (vocals included). This song is flawless. Petrucci’s solo is incredible ("Lines in the Sand"-reminiscent), LaBrie’s delivery fits like a glove, and the overall vibe of the album is good, joining metal elements with prog elements instead of having them apart in the same song. An uplifting track, “Breaking All Illusions” might be their best song since “Octavarium” and one of their best songs of their career.
John Petrucci described the last song of the album, “Beneath the Surface”, as the kind of song that goes in the credits right after a song has ended, and that’s exactly what it is, a soothing acoustic ballad that ends the album in an incredible song. Of all the things DT has revived in this album, an acoustic ballad might be one of the things they needed to revive the most. After all, all the acoustic ballads they’ve made are beautiful (“The Silent Man”, “Hollow Years”). Just like the previous song, “Beneath the Surface” is an uplifting, “happy” song that concludes the epic voyage that DT has composed this time and at the same time states that the band has found their sound again, the true meaning behind being a progressive metal band.
I’m not saying Portnoy’s leaving was a good thing, but it did open the door to a new and refreshing sound. Is it a return to form? Not really. I personally think it’s Dream Theater taking all the experience from their albums (from their most progressive like Images and Words to their heaviest like Train of Thought) and putting it together to form what I think is their definitive sound and forming one of the best albums of the year as well.
Highlights: Bridges in the Sky, Far From Heaven, Breaking All Illusions, Beneath the Surface
Low Points: Build Me Up, Break Me Down
Only two years after the amazing last release "Black Clouds & Silver Linings" Dream Theater are back with a bang. They got a lot of media attention because of their split with founding member and drum workaholic Mike Portnoy who now tries to sue the band and doesn't only scrap his professional career but also his image, his friendship with the other members and finally his credibility. Thumbs down for Mike Portnoy but thumbs up for the other guys of Dream Theater who were able to write a very strong record even without the controling influence of Mike Portnoy. Most of the songs on here are written as a team. Jordann Rudess did an amazing job and sound stronger than ever on this record. Lets notice that he also wrote the drum patterns for the record that the new and very sympathetic drum monster Miek Mangini copied in his studio. He is the only new member who didn't have a writing credit on this record and I'm looking forward to see what this guy is able to play and write in a bright future with Dream Theater. Of course, John Petrucci is once again an important corner stone of this record and had many great ideas. James LaBrie gets some more credits on this record than before and his vocals sound more effortless and amazing than ever before. Even they shy guy John Myung got back on track and wrote a lot of music and also some lyrics on this album. Everything seems equilibrated on this album and Portnoy's departure seems to be a relief and released a lot of fresh creativity within the different band members. These are the reasons why this album turns out to be so strong.
Enter "A Dramatic Turn Of Events". I described the previous record as a great compilation and mixture of styles from albums such as "Six Degress Of Inner Turbulence", "Train Of Thoughts" or "Systematic Chaos" and this new record is the equivalent force to it. It touches calmer and more progressive sounds that made me adore records such as "Images And Words", "Metropolis Part 2: Scenes From A Memory" or "Octavarium". The opener "On The Backs Of Angels" needs some time to grow but ultimately convinces with beautiful guitar harmonies and atmospheric keyboard section. Especially the calmest and most progressive tracks on this album are amazing like the catchy and yet epic anthem "Breaking All Illusions" or the touching and introspective ballad "Beneath The Surface".
But the band is even more diversified than this and has added some thrash orientated and modern sounds into a couple of songs that could come straight from "Train Of Thoughts" or "Systematic Chaos". The greatest example is the brilliant "Build Me Up, Break Me Down" that has many heavy and modern sounds but a catchy and beautiful chorus that contrasts the stunning beginning of the song. The great thing about this album is that it touches many different styles, ideas and genres but the choice of the track list still glues the nine songs coherently together. Every song has something different to show us even if we have heard bits and pieces of the diversified styles in many other Dream Theater albums before. This record presents us nothing new but it stagnates on a very strong level and is an important transitional album and new beginning after the departure of Mike Portnoy. This record should unite old and young fans and as I recognized, this album pleases as much to those who cite "Awake" as their favourite album as to those who would put "Train Of Thoughts" on the top of their list. That's a rare and stunning effort. With the last record, the band seems to have been able to develop away to catalyze their different styles into a well mixed melting pot of genius.
Every Dream Theater album has one song that truly stands out in my opinion and even though all songs are pretty great on this new effort, this is still the case on here. I talk about the amazing "Bridges In The Sky" that has almost made it as the title track of the album. The song mixes haunting shaman chants with atmospheric choirs, keyboards passages and even new age influences that lead to heavy and almost thrash orientated verses and beautiful choruses. Every instrument plus the vocals shine in this masterpiece that I would put slightly in front of the other stunning epics "Breaking All Illusions", followed by "Outcry" and finally "Lost Not Forgotten". This song contains everything Dream Theater is still about in 2011. I don't like stupid general comments but I would make an exception here and say that you don't like Dream Theater if you don't like this song.
In the end, the only reason why this record isn't my favourite one of the band and only placed second behind the previous "Black Clouds And Silver Linings" is that there are maybe one or two ballads too much on the record with "This Is The Life" and "Far From Heaven" and that the band doesn't try out something completely new yet. But I feel that the best is yet to come and that this album will also still grow on me. This album is definitely in my top ten of the best metal releases of the year and a must have for any fan of progressive music of any kind.
Its been a busy couple of months for Roadrunner Records. So far they've had Trivium's In Waves, the new Kids In Glass Houses, Opeth's Heritage and to come is the new Mastodon and Machine Head records. In the middle of all of this metal madness though, the irrepressible Dream Theater return with their 13th studio album, A Dramatic Turn Of Events.
Never could there be a more suitable title for the album. Dream Theater have cycled musicians a few times in their 25 year career but no one, least of all the band could have expected founding member, drummer and all round band leader Mike Portnoy to leave them last year in the most turbulent of circumstances. It came as a shock to the metal world as Portnoy had always been considered the lynchpin in DT, dealing with most of the writing, the organisation, production and publicity for the band.
As a brief guide, from what I've read from both sides, Portnoy wanted the band to take a break for a few years as he felt that the relationships in the band had become fractured. He wanted to take time off to reinvigorate the band by going off and doing their own things for a while then coming back with a monster album. The band didn't feel the same, they all wanted to continue the momentum they had started since they signed with Roadrunner and their two widest received albums, Systematic Chaos and Black Clouds & Silver Linings. As a result of this, Portnoy announced he was leaving the band as they couldn't come to a mutual agreement and he was committed with side projects, including touring with Avenged Sevenfold.
This left the band in a quandary. They wanted to continue but replacing a drummer that is considered one of the world's greatest would be no mean feat. Cue months of deliberation and a 3 day set of auditions featuring some of the world's greatest metal and rock drummers. They filmed it all for the documentary The Spirit Carries On (search for it on YouTube). I'll break the suspense and let you know that they decided on the insanely good Mike Mangini, formerly of Annihilator and Steve Vai. Watch his audition, its rather epic.
Now, fast forward to today and DT have released the first album with Mangini and their first without any input from Portnoy. I've gotta say, I was expecting it to be missing something, but it certainly sounds like the Dream Theater I love. Or rather, should I say loved, as it sounds very much like classic Dream Theater. Where Mike Portnoy used to force the music to evolve and sound slightly different between albums, this album feels more akin to the likes of Images & Words, which is by no means a bad thing, but it shows off how the band have obviously been wanting to write for years.
This is the first album where the whole band had creative freedom. Previously, the vast majority of the writing had been handled by Portnoy and guitarist John Petrucci, with some writing in the last few years including keyboardist Jordan Rudess. On this album, bass player John Myung and singer James LaBrie took an active role and they, for the first time, wrote the album as a band. And you can hear it in the songs, there is lots of stuff going on.
The keyboards are a lot more in your face on this album, Lost Not Forgotten has the kind of epic keyboard solo that would make a guitarist weep. You can hear a lot of incidental keyboard work behind the bigger guitar riffs. If you ever watch a video of DT playing live, there are lots of times where Rudess is playing something under a major guitar riff and he is mixed so low that you can't hear anything he is playing. The keyboards are more pronounced and constant.
Each song manages to be more grand than the last. Opening song On The Backs Of Angels sets the bar pretty high but as it moves to Build Me Up, Break Me Down then into Lost Not Forgotten it just seems to get bigger and bigger sounding. But then the classic DT ballad This Is The Life (which sounds suspiciously like The Spirit Carries On in places) brings you back down to earth with some lovely guitar work, subtle vocals and some light drum work.
Speaking of drum work, Mangini has stepped into Portnoy's sizeable shoes very nicely. I can't imagine the amount of pressure thats being piled on him, replacing one of the best loved drummers in metal, but he manages it with aplomb. He can do the mental time signatures, the insane double kick work and then bring it back down nicely for the ballads and play something tasteful. I was worried that they would end up hiring someone who was all flash and no substance, who could play the old stuff but not write anything new. I'm glad to report that he can do it and he can do it pretty damn well.
John Petrucci has brought his A-game to this album. He's taken the reigns of the band as a spokesperson and a writer as well as handling production duties. The album sounds great. The mix is less clinical than previous efforts, feels warmer and more like a live band. While there are still moments where the change from loud to quiet is very sudden, it sounds more natural, rather than say, cutting the end of the loud bit off in Pro-tools and pasting the quiet bit in immediately afterwards. The songs and arrangements seem to flow better. I don't know if that is down to Petrucci's influence as a producer or the band writing together for the first time, but I like it.
Lets not forget Petrucci's main job though; guitar hero. My oh my, there are some tasty riffs and shred-tastic solos happening here. The opening riff for Bridges In The Sky sounds enormous. Its also nice to see him break out the 7 string guitars again after they were hardly used over the last two albums.
John Myung proves on this album why he is one of the most underrated bass players in the world. His work melding in with the keyboards and guitars is truly amazing. He manages to find a perfect place to sit between the keys and guitars and navigates the madness in some places with the skills of a truly brilliant bass player. The standout song for me on the bass would have to be On The Backs Of Angels. You can hear he is there, you can hear him balance the mix and you can hear that he will clearly not get bored of playing the song. Myung gets overlooked as a bass player far too often, he is one of the world's greatest. And if you needed further proof, his little bass solos in Outcry are just baffling. How someone can play a neck that big, with strings that thick like that is mind boggling.
I've always had a love hate relationship with James LaBrie's vocals. On some songs he can sound amazing, in some he can sound very weak and not suitable at all for the band. On this album, he's never sounded better. I think its down to the fact that he's had a more active role in writing this time and he can tailor the lines to suit him without stepping on people's creative toes. Bridges In The Sky, Lost Not Forgotten and Outcry show him at his absolute best. Mixing soft singing with epic power choruses, he does exactly what he needs for the songs and in some cases exceeds my previous expectations of what he can do.
There's plenty of extra stuff jammed into the songs that have been hinted at before but never really implemented. Besides the obvious keyboard stuff, there's lots of little samples and electronic noises punctuating some of the intros and quieter sections of the songs. There's choirs, throat singing (no, really, listen to Bridges In The Sky), static, noise and even the much lamented keyboard patch: Orchestra Hits.
Dream Theater sound comfortable with themselves for the first time since Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence. This album should keep all fans of DT happy. It sounds classic enough to satisfy those who want another Images & Words and it sounds new enough to satisfy the audience they've gained since they went to Roadrunner. I don't think its the best album they've ever done, but musically, lyrically and production wise, they've hit the ground running on this new chapter of DT. I was worried that without Portnoy they wouldn't be able to come out with anything matching their previous quality seeing as he was such a major driving force behind them. I'm happy to say that they've surpassed my expectations and come out with an album that raises the bar for quality significantly.
They'll never write another Images & Words, but its nice to know that after nearly 30 years as a band they can weather a drastic change and still put out something this good.
When the departure of Mike Portnoy surfaced a year ago, the level of panic and outcry was astonishing. How could Dream Theater possibly continue to exist with one of its three founding members gone? Portnoy had been the most driving force behind the band on their most recent albums, so what direction would they be able to take? Could they continue to write good music?
I, for one, was not concerned, as I had long since begun to find Portnoy's disproportionate influence over the band's songwriting to be troublesome. Although, I greatly enjoyed Black Clouds & Silver Linings and decided that both Systematic Chaos and Octavarium had their moments that made them worthwhile, Dream Theater's music was becoming stale. I welcomed Portnoy's departure because so long as the band stayed together, it meant one thing for certain: change.
So, when I unwrapped A Dramatic Turn of Events a few days ago and heard the first notes ring through my headphones, it was with an open mind that I did so. I began listening on the premise that I knew this album had to be different. I understood that Dream Theater was going to do some things they hadn't done before, and I was okay with that. The album did not disappoint. I made a point to listen to it several times through before writing a review. I felt overwhelmed after my first time listening through the album. There's a lot going on and there's a lot to digest.
Previews of the album I read elsewhere criticized the album as not having any standout tracks, and after my first listen, I felt that this seemed an accurate statement. However, my opinion changed on subsequent listens. It's not that there are no standout songs. It's that they're all of good quality. It can be said immediately that the opener, On the Backs of Angels is outstanding and is absolutely a contender for the best song on the album. But what about the rest of it?
Well, Dream Theater gives us an interesting prospect on this album: four of the songs are over ten minutes in length. Four epics? Yes. Lost Not Forgotten, Bridges in the Sky, Outcry, and Breaking All Illusions all qualify as epics based on their length. The question is whether or not they truly live up to that name. In my opinion, three of them do.
Lost Not Forgotten gets my approval as my favorite song on the album. It's an odd one, to be sure. Jordan Rudess had promised in interviews that this album would have more piano on it, and Lost Not Forgotten opens with a piano solo. And might I add, it's very well executed and tastefully done. Dream Theater then puts on a grand legato introductory section before getting into the riffs, which are simple given their history, but effective. What really gets my attention, however, is the section beginning around 4:25, which is strongly reminiscent of Images and Words, Awake, and Scenes from a Memory. The riff work and the melodic interludes remind me of Metropolis Pt.1 and some passages from Pt.2. Again, the memories surface at 6:22, with heavy influence from Rudess. The solo section lasting from 7:10 to 9:00 is perhaps my favorite passage by Dream Theater in over a decade, even giving me fond memories of the widely-panned Falling Into Infinity (which I liked).
Bridges in the Sky has the album's heaviest riff work and the album's most memorable chorus. Plus, I like to think of it as the album's pseudo-title-track. This track is also filled with homages to the band's excellent past work, featuring an extended solo section that similar to the closing section of Home from Scenes from a Memory. Breaking All Illusions, in a similar vein, harkens back to Dream Theater's earlier days when their sound was characterized by being both heavy and light at the same time. The opening riff to Breaking All Illusions makes it perfectly clear where the track is headed - down memory lane, and in a good way.
But no, the album is not all wonderful. Outcry is a disappointing track, mostly because it doesn't feel like it ever goes anywhere. It's just long and doesn't have any major shifts in tone or tempo. Also, it contains the album's most egregious offense: the electronica/hip-hop/rap-style synthesizer beats. Outcry, along with the album's "radio single" Build Me Up, Break Me Down, contains awful, AWFUL sections of synth work which sound like they belong on MTV or VH1 and are absolutely guaranteed to offend fans of heavy metal everywhere. This was by far the biggest shock to me on my initial run through the album. After the overwhelming awesome that was On the Backs of Angels, the very next thing your ears hear is an introductory section that sounds like it was written by Slipknot perhaps thirteen years ago. It's a shame, because otherwise, there isn't anything that's necessarily terrible about either song. They just aren't very good. Additionally, I'll give it to Dream Theater that Build Me Up, Break Me Down is a long shot better than some of their previous attempts at radio-friendly songs, such as Forsaken and The Answer Lies Within.
And lastly, the album's mellow side. This Is the Life, Far From Heaven, and Beneath the Surface are all ballads. This Is the Life is the one most likely to please the fans, as it's very much in the vein of some of the band's previous smoother songs. Far From Heaven and Beneath the Surface, however, feature something we haven't seen from Dream Theater in over a decade: primary focus on James LaBrie's vocals. Not since Scenes From a Memory have we seen Dream Theater make songs like this. They aren't metal at all, so if you're looking for riffs in these songs you may as well give up. What's important is the emotion in LaBrie's voice and the quality of the lyrics. I can assure you that both outstanding and upon hearing them the first time I was on the verge of tears.
So the production? The quality of performance? Nothing less than top-notch from everyone involved, even Mike Mangini. I don't think there's anyone who can legitimately knock Mangini for his technical prowess. He is in no way lacking in that department. The big unanswered question is whether or not he's going to be a major contributing force like Portnoy was. We don't know yet. He didn't write anything for the album; he merely played his parts. What can be said without question, however, is that he plays them very well. The other members of the band are obviously at the peak of their game as they have been for some time now, but notably more present on this album are Jordan Rudess and James LaBrie, who have parts that stand out significantly more noticeably than in many years (and those parts are good).
The verdict: this album is great. It is not an instant classic or even among the best in Dream Theater's catalog, but it's well-executed and easily on par with their previous release, Black Clouds & Silver Linings. The key is the album's different direction. I love it and look forward to hearing Dream Theater release more new material with this lineup in the future. Until then, we'll see how well it's received.
Despite perhaps the aptness of this album’s title, ‘A Dramatic Turn of Events’ fails to have anything particularly dramatic about it. Looking past the whole mild insanity surrounding its birth, what we have here is a strong, solid progressive metal album that is both entertaining and somewhat lacking.
It’s an unfortunate situation we have in the progressive metal scene where many bands attempt to emulate the genre leaders rather than trying to progress musically. It’s a creeping disease that is strangling the innovation that should be inherent in the genre, this desire to follow the leader. Dream Theater is undoubtedly one of the best examples of a genre leader when it comes to prog metal and are also, subsequently, one of the most copied. And it seems here, on their first post-Portnoy release, they’ve decided, rather than to truly innovate, they will stick to a tried and tested sound. And while this may be commonplace and even accepted in other genres, in prog it can be absolutely fatal.
It’s no surprise, really. With a new drummer brought in, Dream Theater was in an unenviable position with their new record. Literally nothing they could do would not be scrutinized to a horrible degree by the common and overly-obsessive fans alike. If they had moved their sound on too much, Mangini would be accused of ‘ruining’ the band, and if they hadn’t changed at all, they would have been accused of playing it safe. As much as I wish to say they’ve found a comfortable middle ground, they haven’t, with their new release falling dangerously close to the ‘playing it safe’ line.
In terms of talent, they are on top form. This shouldn’t be a surprise. They always are. They don’t get any points for this because this should be a given by now. Okay, Mangini might get a pass on this as he had to prove himself to be a suitable replace for Portnoy, and he did. He’s competent, though he fails to add any real flair to the songs which will hopefully change in the future if he is allowed some say in the songwriting. The songs are where they need to exceed themselves, though. And this is where they, unfortunately, fall flat. Let me get this straight, none of this release is bad. I like the album and the songs are all listenable.
But it also saddens me because most of the songs fail to capture the spark that make the great Dream Theater moments so great. Most of them fade into one another in some strange, proggy haze. They certainly sound differently enough, but few stand out as anything even approaching a classic. In effect, none are bad, but none rise above being simply ‘good’ as well. There are some stand out songs here, definitely. ‘On The Backs of Angels’ and ‘Lost Not Forgotten’ in particular are genuinely fantastic and may even rival some of Dream Theater’s best works, but the rest of the album fails to strike the right chord. There are the usual behemoths and a large number of softer songs as the band has stepped away from the ‘heaviness’ that was generally a main criticism for some previous releases, most obviously ‘Train of Thought.’ This is a prog album through and through, and while this should be wonderful news, the end product is a bit disappointing.
It’s decent. That’s perhaps the synopsis of this review, the main gist of it. Listenable, fair, alright. It isn’t bad, but that’s not enough for a Dream Theater release, especially given the general quality of their back catalog.
Cataclysmic changes, for better or worse, create the greatest possibilities for the future. New York quintet Dream Theater, the biggest progressive metal band in the world, was affected by such cataclysmic change in September 2010: founding member and drumming extraordinaire Mike Portnoy, stuck between continuing on against his heart or letting the band proceed without him, chose the latter. The media fallout before and after the selection of Berklee percussion instructor and world’s fastest drummer Mike Mangini has been threatening, and it only intensified before and even after the September 13, 2011 release of A Dramatic Turn of Events. Progressive metal has never seen such sensational news, and the effect it has on the actual music is worthy of intense examination. Fortunately, despite the dramatic turn of events in the media, A Dramatic Turn of Events itself almost entirely reflects the drama’s positive results.
The two ways Dream Theater has changed in 2011 are the drummer’s chair and the effect this has on the band dynamic. Replacing Portnoy in Dream Theater was as equally impossible as “replacing” Bob Barker on The Price is Right. Mike Mangini may carry the same first name, but his performing style (at least for now) is less lead drumming and more assisting the various melodic structures of the song, of which there are often multiple. Album opener On the Backs of Angels allows Mangini to enter with tasteful octobans against an eerie keyboard/guitar combination, and then grows into a balanced progressive number with every member contributing their own melodic ideas; Mangini’s stylistic contributions tweak the basic beat while maintaining the groove, unlike the fill-heavy Portnoy.
Track five Bridges In The Sky is a relentless riffmeister once the music proper kicks in, sporting one of the most creative main riffs this year, aggressive vocals from James LaBrie, and Mangini playing with assertive power, that little extra beat and the tendency to augment or truncate a measure for increased impact. Just after ten minutes is a spectacular drop onto John Petrucci’s seventh string, with the keyboard flourishes so prominent they feel alive (this moment has to be heard); Mangini moves from tom battering into faster double bass runs, eventually finishing the song proper with a lightning-fast fill that gives the impression the man has four arms. Moments like this display Mangini’s true potential, yet to be fully unleashed until the next album; Petrucci wrote the drum skeleton for Mangini to elaborate on, and though this compositional choice decreases the importance of the drums, the rest of Dream Theater was able to write their parts around each other and cohere optimally.
Mike Portnoy, as the de facto band leader, has been undeniably associated with the ostentatious, derivative metallic tendencies of Dream Theater that emerged after 2002’s Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, displayed most vividly on 2009’s Black Clouds & Silver Linings. Somebody had to usurp the band’s direction to avoid the burnout that inspired Portnoy’s exit. A Dramatic Turn of Events is a direct channel to a more melodic past, but rather than copying the style of these albums, Dream Theater infuses this album with a lush atmosphere while maintaining their own established identity and excellent coherence between the nine tracks that comprise it. The member most responsible for the album’s unique aesthetic is keyboardist Jordan Rudess; despite every member putting most of their cards on the table, he stands out the most, expanding the use of keyboards across the album and hiding them in just the right places. Critics of Rudess’ excessive keyboard unisons have precious little ground left, as the keys are more orchestral than anything ever used before and add an extra layer without getting in the way of any songwriting. Dramatic and surging when the music is aggressive, or contemplative but still prominent when the music slows down, Rudess is a vital ingredient of ADToE.
The remaining three band members are also free to explore more melodic territory, creating a nearly perfect balance between complex/simple, heavy/mellow and light/shade. Vocalist James LaBrie, with more exclusive control of the melodies, has strengthened his melodic qualities and remedied the tendency for his rougher vocals to sound out of place; how he sings the lyrical content, and what it is, overall reflect the album’s theme of opposition and change more realistically. Bridges In The Sky is chorus heaven, with a remarkable timbral contrast between heavy and soaring that carries the lyrical story of religious awakening. The modern metal attack of Build Me Up, Break Me Down is one of the smartest radio-friendly songs of the year, not for the sake of commercial relevance but integrating it into the dichotomous album theme. Digitally processed verses and sludgy riffs lead directly into an irresistible chorus, the second half of which features LaBrie backing the main melody with faint yells at higher frequency than has ever been done in studio; the lyrics criticize the popular habit of alternately deifying and demonizing celebrities based on their “erratic behavior” in personal lives. Ballads balance the album’s weight, and though they number three out of nine songs, their total duration is an unobtrusive 16:19 out of 77:05; they are optimally placed on the journey and highlight LaBrie’s exceptional control of melody. Drum and bassless ballads Far From Heaven and album closer Beneath the Surface are among the finest songs of this type to appear for some time, led by sorrowful strings, plaintive vocals and, on the latter, an acoustic chord progression that sounds as equally heartbroken yet resigned as the tragic words.
John Petrucci is more diverse and restrained in his guitar playing, with less emphasis on lead guitar and even less on super-technical excursions; these moments are the weakest parts of A Dramatic Turn of Events when they arise, as on the somewhat incohesive Lost Not Forgotten that loses itself somewhat in awkward transitions and slightly bland instrumental excursions and unisons. His slower playing is creative and as distinctly Petrucci as always, standing out on the chief ballad This is the Life and excellent Breaking All Illusions, both brought towards evocative symphonic climaxes by guitar solos. Overall, the album is less guitar-centric not simply because the instrument is less prominent, but because the other parts are more distinct.
Bassist John Myung was often reduced to doubling other instruments in recent DT years and distorted such that the bass becomes less distinct; the bass tone is now clean, higher in the mix and embellishes the songs with counterpoints or solos. The frequent dynamic changes of Outcry, about the North African revolutions, see Myung switch from doubling a crushing riff or driving groove to a bass solo accented by Mangini’s drum pawnshop and a distinct melody underneath a sweep-picking guitar solo. He even offers lyrics on longest track Breaking All Illusions, joyfully melodic and almost jazzy in its interplay between dark bass shading and strange guitar/keyboard tapping combinations. The crystal-clear, non-brickwalled production by Andy Wallace captures each of the members in their element, framing the band dynamic and sumptuously layered sound in exquisite detail.
A Dramatic Turn of Events represents a rejuvenation for a band that could have easily disappeared instead, having had existed since 1985. In an ironic twist, losing their leader has brought the four other members of Dream Theater closer together; time will tell how perfectly the newcomer fits in, but Mangini delivers a promising showing. This album shows the strength of the cohesion between Petrucci, Rudess, LaBrie and Myung, with only a few glitches related to the lengthy instrumental excursions in some of the tracks that number over ten minutes. This is a testament to the New Yorkers’ strength in proceeding through dark times, and a bright portrait of their future. For now, the grade is stellar, but yet more silver linings may lurk on the horizon.
(From Sputnikmusic as usual.)
Everyone by now knows the drama surrounding this album, so I will attempt to avoid mentioning it, however I will say that on "A Dramatic Turn of Events" the band does sound more invigorated and energetic then they did on the last few. Sure, most of the reason for this is likely going to be attributed to the loss of Portnoy and the entrance of Mangini, but it's hard to be 100% sure.
ADTOE (as I will call it from here on) is definitely an attempt at returning to the band's roots. Now of course seeing as I am a huge fan of the band's first 3 albums I have no problem with this, and after hearing "On the Backs of Angels" I was convinced all us Dream Theater fans were in for something good. The song is very "Pull Me Under"-like in structure, but has enough changes and melodic differences (not to mention more of an actual guitar solo, and a good one at that) to keep it interesting and not a rip off. All in all, a great way to begin the album.
However, from here on out the album is a little bit more hit and miss. "Build Me Up, Break Me Down" is definitely going to cause some controversy due to its odd electronic elements and a generally modern, almost commercial feel. But despite that, I still like the song fair enough. There's some really cool Rudess keyboards in the later part, and it's got a very catchy chorus (which the majority of DT's catalog has struggled with after Moore left).
So that one's a BIT of a "hit" so to say but not a complete success. The album begins to get more muddled and flawed during the middle portion of it. The biggest offender is "Lost Not Forgotten" which is a complete rip off of "Under a Glass Moon" and I'm amazed so few people have mentioned it. Sure, the vocal melodies are very different and the riffs aren't exactly the same, but the structure pretty much is. The only real difference here is they extend each section more than they need to and they added a little keyboard intro to try and fool us. The fact of the matter is it's got the same octave guitar intro, a very similar main beat, the "chug-chug" mid-paced riff in the 1st verse, and the chorus has the same rhythm AND break section as in "Under a Glass Moon"! And that's just scratching the surface as the solo is quite similar, and they even include the odd time break in the middle! It's a real shame that they chose to do this to a song that really defines the greatness of the band in that era, and seems as though they needed an extra song on the album so they tried to go with a "winning formula" and rip off one of their most famous songs.
Thankfully, the album improves after that. "This is the Life" is a solid ballad I think, with some great ethereal keyboard work and another chorus that's guaranteed to stick in your head whether you like it or not. The solo is also my 2nd favorite Petrucci solo on this album. Granted, it's a little over- saccharine but it still works as a whole.
As you probably noticed by looking at the track listing, we have three 10+ minute long songs pretty close together and, you guessed it, they are pretty hit and miss. Sure, they aren't as boring as "Far From Heaven" or "Beneath the Surface" which, despite some good moments, just drag on too much, but some of these epics just don't cut it.
The ones that don't are "Bridges in the Sky", and "Outcry". There's actually a lot of good moments in these songs including some much more prominent John Myung bass playing (he even gets a pretty cool solo in the former) and Mangini's stand out performances in both, but the songs themselves simply drag on too much. The vocal parts are very boring and the riffs don't really stand out that much. I do like how the instrumental section in "Outcry" builds though. It's really clever some of the stuff they're doing there, almost feeling like a deranged circus which is always a positive.
The best song on the album though is the third epic "Breaking All Illusions". THIS is the Dream Theater I know and love and it's great to finally hear them sounding like this for the first time in what seems like forever. These guys made such an impact on me back in the day, hearing this song makes me feel rather nostalgic and hopeful for the future. It's obviously intended to be the "Learning to Live" of this album (though the execution is more like something off of "Awake"), but unlike the direct rip off we heard earlier, this actually works as a tribute to their past. It's got some very Keith Emerson type keyboard work in there, which bounces around and leaves a melodic path for the other instruments to follow. James actually manages to pull out some very good vocals here (which he has struggled with on this album), along with the best chorus this band has done since "Trial of Tears". Kevin Moore would be proud. Oh, and it's got John Petrucci's best solo on this album. It's divided into sections and really builds and goes somewhere culminating in some great fiery picking sections.
So yeah, this album isn't quite as much of a return to roots as I had hoped, but it's still closer than anything we've heard from these guys in awhile. The problem is there's not enough creativity going on here and the energy just isn't happening like it used to (except for BAI). Still, there's some great songs here and if they choose to pursue this sound a bit more we might FINALLY get another very good/great album from them, which hasn't really happened since "Awake".
Dream Theater is back, this time without their superhuman percussionist and driving force Mike Portnoy. The band had reached a very interesting phase in their careers after the break up and had to prove that the band had a future without Portnoy. But then the single came out and proved quite a lot that the band is not quite affected by Portnoy’s departure. Filling Portnoy’s void as a songwriter was also equally important. Amazingly, all the members take up the responsibility, and we see songwriting contributions from every member. Dream Theater cut down much of their song lengths and makes the album compact like their old Images And Words days.
Technically, guitar monster John Petrucci and keyboard wizard Jordan Rudess are in top form in the album. The riff and lead work of Petrucci is amazing as usual. Rudess does an excellent job with the keys. His solos are effective and are in phase with Petrucci’s lead work effectively. James LaBrie’s vocal work shows some improvement especially in the use of raspy vocals. Come on folks let us face it, we are not in any case, going to get back the same voice that sang Metropolis Part I, but here it is at least professional and listenable. So let us speak about the major change in the album, the percussionist Mike Mangini. On technical level he is a competent drummer and a good replacement for Portnoy. His drumming style matches that of Portnoy’s and that is something to be expected. Despite the change, John Myung’s talent with the bass is underused, though he contributes heavily in the songwrititng. The production is good as expected.
The album is basically what you normally would expect from Dream Theater, with long songs, extended instrumental sections consisting of excessive, twisted jamming. The basic Dream Theater formula remains the same, except that the songs, this time are more catchy, having more emphasis on the choruses. I might go on to add that this might be their catchiest album. But did I say that it is bad? Well, not at all. The structure of the songs is similar to Threshold Hypothetical with less emphasis and more on instrumental sections. Among the highlights are the opener On the Backs of Angels which comes out as a less catchy Pull Me Under, no wonder it was released as the single. Lost Not Forgotten stands out as the second best song in the album. From its effective piano solo, to the insane soloing, sheer pace, catchy chorus and wonderful lyrics, this track is just awesome, and all the above elements just work together excellently. Outcry and Breaking All Illusions are more complex but work equally well. Breaking All Illusions especially has a superb flow between the soft and heavy parts and works as the best track from the album reminding of the good old days of Images And Words. Far From Heaven and Beneath The Surface are great ballads. Beneath The Surface could have been even better had it been darker much more in the vein of Space Dye Vest. Among the weaker tracks, Built Me Up, Break Me Down has a superb chorus, but sucks during the verses. Bridges In The Sky sucks in the chorus, and is overlong. This Is The Life is a fluffy ballad and is nothing more than a filler.
This album is a stellar addition to the Dream Theater catalogue. Though not hundred percent consistent, the positives immensely outshine the negatives. The weaker tracks present are thankfully listenable and not total abominations. Due to its catchiness this album can appeal to non Dream Theater fans easily. This album is highly recommended for all fans of progressive music and those all who wish to discover Dream Theater. Though not the greatest this outfit has to offer, it still is an album much more worth its price.
As many know, this is the first ever recorded output that Dream Theater has put out without founding drummer Mike Portnoy. That story has been covered ad nauseum by various outlets, so I won’t go into any further detail here.
The question that most people will have about this album is about the drumming of newcomer Mike Mangini. It does the job. However, the music was written before Mangini joined the band; thus seems that the music was written for Portnoy’s drumming style in mind. Mangini seems to play what was already written for him without really developing a style of his own on this album. Keep in mind, though, that to be able to play Portnoy’s parts, it does show that Mike Mangini is a great drummer, and that DOES show on this album—for the most part. One thing to remember is that there are two ballads that don’t feature drums at all, “Far From Heaven” and “Beneath The Surface”
We all know, though, that the most important reason for reading any review of any album is the review of the music contained therein, and said music is the best collection of pure songs that Dream Theater has written since “Images & Words”. The music is catchy, the riffs are great, and the vocal melodies are very well-done. One new influence does creep its way into the music a little bit, and that is electronic music. There are some blips and electronic drums in the beginnings of some songs. This is NOT to say that this is an industrial album. Further, there are also plenty of parts that are very orchestral in their nature, with loads of bombastic strings, as well as some weird chanting (if you can call it that—it almost sounds like burping) at the beginning and end of “Bridges In The Sky”.
There are a bunch of highlights on the album, including first single "On The Backs Of Angels", the Evergrey-style riffing of "Lost Not Forgotten", the floating balladry of "This Is The Life", and the downtuned-guitar heaviness and the organ-style keyboard solo of "Bridges In The Sky". Every song on this album is truly fantastic. On the whole, the album hearkens back to Images & Words without sounding like that album. This album and its collection of songs is its own beast.
Of course, what’s a Dream Theater album without instrumental and compositional wanking? There’s plenty of that to be had in this album: lots of odd time signatures and trading solos. What’s important, though, is that none of this gets in the way of the SONGS.
All in all, this album is a great return to form for the band. It’s not as good as “Images & Words”, but it’s still an excellent album that stands to become a classic Dream Theater album.
Well, isn't that an apt album title.
After Mike Portnoy left, there was intense speculation and worry over Dream Theater's future direction. Myself, I welcomed the news. Yes, Portnoy was a good drummer, even a great one, but he was one pompous asshole, dictating the other band members over what to do (just watch the Chaos in Progress documentary where he tries telling James LaBrie how to sing - James looks really pissed off), insisting on *ahem* "singing", and pushing them in questionable directions. So, I welcomed the news, and when it came out that Mike Mangini was his replacement, I only got more excited. Does this album live up to my lofty expectations? Mostly, yes.
What does this album sound like? Dream Theater. There's none of the games of "Hey, let's pretend we're Opeth!" or "Hey, let's pretend we're Muse!" that Portnoy liked to play when he was in the band, things which massively dragged down their last three albums. The only song that falls prey to this is "Build Me Up, Break Me Down", with a chugging seven-string riff and vocal distortion recalling Train of Thought, combined with a weird electronic, programmed flavour in the verses. Is it any surprise that this is the weakest track on the album?
The main flavour here is of Dream Theater's lighter side, similar to Falling Into Infinity or Octavarium, but with a heavier style that keeps it from getting as sappy or mainstream-pandering as either of those albums. Even the epics have a huge catchy chorus and a lot of melodic elements, which helps to leaven the tension and keep them focused. Similarly, instead of trying to look "modern", Dream Theater looks back to its past. "On the Backs of Angels" deliberately recalls "Pull Me Under", with the opening clean riff joined by keyboards and tom-heavy drumming, before exploding into an excellent prog-metal tune. And, wait, what's this? Audible bass, and a solo section that isn't just Jordan Rudess and John Petrucci wanking all over their instruments for 5 minutes? I can dig it! A strong opener, to be sure. There are quite a few moments on this album that recall Dream Theater's past - aside from this and the aforementioned "Build Me Up, Break Me Down", there's the Octavarium-styled "This is the Life", and "Outcry" and "Breaking All Illusions", two grandiose epics that could have fit in well anywhere.
The difference with this album is mostly in the keyboard work. Jordan Rudess never really got display his full talents when Portnoy was in the band - he was mostly limited to the aforementioned wank solos, barely audible background chords, and his main strength on those albums, piano. Here, his atmospheric keyboards get more of a workout, displaying a symphonic and choral approach that he never really used before. The choral progression at the beginning of "Outcry" is as grandiose as anything on Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, the strings in the chorus of "Build Me Up, Break Me Down" lift it from being mundane to soaring, and the flute-like solos in "Breaking All Illusions" are really quite unique. He still has a natural propensity towards goofiness, though - "Bridges in the Sky", an otherwise decent rocker, is almost ruined by the unnecessary throat-singing and Gregorian chant at the beginning.
This compliments John Petrucci's guitar perfectly - trading the overly distorted tone he's had since 2003 for one that is crunchy yet clear helps a lot, as does reining in his solos and playing more subtle riffs. He can still shred like nothing else, though - "Breaking All Illusions" makes sure to remind us of that. The two soloing titans of the band backing off a bit allows John Myung to breathe more, and while his bass tone is a little muddy, he's rock-solid throughout. As for James LaBrie, he's mediocre. He displays a fuller range, such as the backing screams on "Build Me Up, Break Me Down" and the emotional croon on "Beneath the Surface", but his voice has become increasingly flat and limited in range, with little of the unique high tenor belting that made him distinguished on Images and Words. Yes, he's pushing 50, but Bruce Dickinson's past 50 and he can still belt it out live. Still, at least he doesn't sound like Dave Mustaine on the heavy songs any more.
So, how does Mangini fare replacing Portnoy? Well... meh. Truth be told, he doesn't do too much special here, mostly keeping the beat and playing along to John Petrucci's programmed drum demos. He certainly puts in a competent performance, highlights being the speedy fills in "On the Backs of Angels" and the double bass hammering of "Outcry", but we all know he can do better.
The other main problem is the preponderence of ballads - three of them from a nine-track album. I do like Dream Theater's ballads, as they generally display somewhat more emotion in their lyrics and delivery than their heavy tunes, but here, they miss the mark. "This is the Life" slips right through my head without making an impression, with uninspired piano work and the phony passion of John Petrucci's solos dueling over Mike Mangini's bland drumbeat (is it any wonder he decided to sit the other two out?). The other two ballads, "Far from Heaven" and "Beneath the Surface", have exemplary performances on piano and acoustic guitar respectively, but Rudess smothers them both with sappy string arrangements. Actually, these songs are symptomatic of something that plagues the album - by setting out to reassure fans anxious of Mike Portnoy's departure that they're still the same band, they've pulled their horns in a bit, and haven't done anything that's truly new.
But aside from that, this is pretty good... actually, it might well be Dream Theater's best since Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence. If they utilise Mangini's talents further and build on the symphonic elements found here, while eliminating the sappy ballads, they could truly make a masterpiece once again.
Reccommended songs: "On the Backs of Angels", "Outcry", "Breaking All Illusions", "Far from Heaven"
Admittedly, I'm a big Dream Theater fan, and any release they're going to have is going to make big news in the metal world, no matter what. I was quite curious how the band would sound without the shackles of Mike Portnoy controlling them while he's off making... fucking nu-rock with Russell Allen. What?
Anyway, the band overall really doesn't sound much different. In fact, on this new one, they hearken back to their "Awake" and "Images and Words" days with a lot more rock tendencies than metal. There is still plenty of metal to be had, but many songs reek of... as much as it pains me to say it, blandness. Just listen to the opener, "On the Backs of Angels," and try to remember ANYTHING from that song. It sounds just like (and I mean JUST LIKE) "Pull Me Under," but with what little life THAT song had sucked out of it.
I now find myself writing the review of most Dream Theater detractors--- it's obvious the members of DT are very talented musicians, but they're not really doing anything with this talent. They're piss-poor songwriters, especially John Petrucci, goddamn... Just listen to that closing ballad, "Beneath the Surface," penned exclusively by Petrucci. ("ballad" and "Petrucci" in the same sentence? Yeah, you know it's gonna be painful) What a buncha pseudo-emotional bullshit. "Until one day I stopped caring, And began to forget why I longed to be so close, And I disappeared into the darkness, And the darkness turned to pain, And never went away..." Puke. Oddly enough, though, "Beneath the Surface" is probably the catchiest/most memorable song on the album. Just goes to show catchy doesn't always equal good.
The big question on everyone's minds (probably) is "how does Mike Mangini fare in DT?" He's... okay, I guess. Just as technically tight as everyone else in the band, but far less self-indulgent. He doesn't contribute any songwriting, though. Perhaps next album will see him doing some lyrics, and then we'll see the true capabilities of the new skinsman. For God's sake, though, please don't give him the microphone.
As for the rest of the band. Jordan Ruddess's keyboards add a bit more atmosphere than on the past few DT albums (but don't worry, there's still plenty of wanking to be had from the keys maestro!) John Petrucci scales back a bit on the speed (just a bit) with his guitar-playing, but it's still noticeably Petrucci. John Myung is actually... audible? What the fuck?! That's right, everyone's favorite underrated bassist actually gets a chance to remind everyone that, yes there is indeed a fifth member of DT. (he even gets his first co-writing credit since friggin' "Lines in the Sand" AND a bass solo on "Outcry!") And finally, James LaBrie is probably the worst player on this album, sounding detached from the music with an emotionless mid-range throughout most of it. Then again, he's never been the best singer; it's probably just his Canadian blandness reaching a career high.
No particular songs stand out as being either good or bad. They're kinda just there, with the occasional catchy chorus ("Build Me Up, Break Me Down" come to mind). Some parts may grab you (the two-minute jam at the beginning of "Lost Not Forgotten" sounds pretty cool), but the album as a whole sounds kind of... empty. There's not much substance here, and the songs all seem to kind of run together into one big ol' jam session. But at this album's core, it's still Dream Theater, with 10-minute songs and technical-as-fuck solos abound. They could have made a much, much worse album. In the end, this album is kind of like Stratovarius' "Polaris": it's not meant to be a great album, it's just supposed to be an album that shows that DT can manage without a longtime member. The next album is probably going to be great, because they now have a chance to really get their shit together, get "new Mike" more involved, and maybe even evolve their sound a bit. (you gotta admit, the material on this album does kinda blend into the rest of DT's discography)
**on a side-note, I think "Bridges in the Sky" should have stuck with its original title, "The Shaman's Trance." Fuck, that's a cool title. On top of that, it would have made the guttural belching at the beginning and end of the song make a bit more sense.
***edited a misfact, and added a little more to the review
When Mike Portnoy left Dream Theater I was truly surprised and shocked, not sure if I would continue to follow Dream Theater's next albums. But as time was passing by, bringing us closer to their new release, my thoughts changed. I said: "Wait a minute, I can't regret that Mike Portnoy made Dream Theater what they are today, but with the help of John Petrucci, Jordan Rudess, John Myung and James LaBrie, each one being a great musician and composer by himself also. So by hearing A Dramatic Turn Of Events I was surprised, in a good way this time.
The achievement here is that Dream Theater needed Mike Portnoy to leave, to make another masterpiece and that is reflected in every second of every song. All the members are more refreshed than ever. Jordan Rudess is free to play now, without someone holding him back and limiting his style. And the result is really great. All the classic Dream Theater elements are here. It reminded me from time to time of Images & Words, Scenes From A Memory and Train Of Thought, combined together. In the first audition you will feel excited by the catchy choruses, but every time you hear the songs, they will grow different in your mind. You will see the work that it's done here in many layers, behind the catchy sounds. You may feel stunned (in a good way) by the oriental scales on the epics Bridges in The Sky and Outcry but you may also cry hearing Far From Heaven and Beneath The Surface, proving that John Petrucci is in a great form and not to mention his great both technical and catchy solos. When I first heard the intro of This Is The Life I was shuddered by the feeling it delivered to me. And what can I say about Breaking All Illusions... only that it will become a Dream Theater classic over the years. All the songs have many emotions, melodies and they are very technical, but the remarkable thing is that they started a brand new chapter.
Maybe Portnoy did the best thing for the band by quiting and in addition to that, another "monster" came to fill his position, without a single gap. Mike Mangini gave Dream Theater exactly what they needed to continue making excellent albums. In every aspect, A Dramatic Turn Of Events is a spectacular masterpiece and the best they made since Scenes From A Memory. And this is only the beginning...
When Mike Portnoy announced his departure from Dream Theater due to conflicting plans with rest of the band, many diehard Dream Theater fans like myself thought it to be one of the worst things to happen. Since the band's inception 20-plus years ago, Portnoy has written half of the songs and produced nearly every album. His fluid and fast-paced drumming earned him the status as one of the best and most respected drummers in metal. But only a year later, the progressive metal outfit was able to regroup and put out a new album with brand new drummer Mike Mangini, another respected metal drummer and no stranger to the band, as he performed on James' LaBrie's solo album Elements of Persuasion. Though the band's ability to so quickly put out a new album and hire a new drummer was truly surprising, A Dramatic Turn of Events ends up being a fresh new chapter in the band's history while retaining the elements that made them great.
The first aspect to address would be the album's biggest change: Mike Mangini. It should be noted that he himself did not write the drum arrangements. Rather, Petrucci previously programmed the drumming and had Mangini learn them after his hiring. Although the drum compositions are not of his own creation, he does a truly remarkable job with his drumming, balancing between rapid-fire and slower tempos perfectly. The only problem is the fact that he had extremely large shoes to fill in the form of Portnoy, who's drumming has always been loud and prominent in every Dream Theater song, while Mangini's are more in the background, which is a pitfall most metal bands fall in. And yet, Mangini is still able to stand out and make use of many of the interesting drum sounds and beats Portnoy himself used.
The songwriting is also worth noting. For the past few years, Portnoy and Petrucci had basically been the sole two songwriters and seemed to call most of the shots when it came to creative control. Not much has changed, as Petrucci remains the main lyricist, but the entire album gives more breathing room to the rest of the band as they are credited with writing the music on almost every song. John Myung's co-writing of Breaking All Illusions is the first song he has penned since Fatal Tragedy in 1999. James LaBrie is also credited as the sole lyricist of Far From Heaven. Though Portnoy's departure was unfortunate, it can be implied that without his creative control along with Petrucci, every individual band member has been given more freedom, which is what makes this album so fresh and new.
The album's title reminds us that this album is all about change, and the musical styling is the most important. Don't get me wrong, there are still plenty of ten-plus minute songs, long and intricate solos, dynamic vocals by LaBrie, and melody and progression changes that has been the band's staple. After all, Dream Theater's emphasis has always been on musicianship, and that remains the case for this album. But by while still following a similar formula, the band is also able to elevate songs to higher levels, giving each track a sense of granduer and majesty. The opener and lead single, On the Backs of Angels, starts off with a slow acoustic guitar and keyboard section before erupting into a full band effort. The medium pace stays consistent for the entire eight or so minutes and contains a very catchy chorus, giving it a Pull Me Underish feel. The next song, Build Me Up Break Me Down, which is a critique on America's worship and ridicule of troubled celebrities, shows the band's more commercial side with a more straightforward metal feel along with a catchy chorus. It even contains and electronic, almost nu metal-style beginning and ultimately sounds very similar to something you would hear on one of LaBrie's solo albums. The track ends up being one of the album's most pleasant surprises. The album also contains its share of softer songs, with This is the Life and Far from Heaven. Both are sentimental and beautifully composed, especially Far from Heaven, which truly shows James LaBrie's abilities as a songwriter. There are also four songs that clock in at over ten minutes: Lost Not Forgotten, Bridges in the Sky, Outcry, and Breaking All Illusions. Lost Not Forgotten stands out as a track that while it is over ten minutes long, it does not feature only a few minutes of LaBrie's singing, as he remains fairly consistent throughout the whole song. With the song being about an ancient Persian kingdom, there are a few Middle Eastern elements as well. While the grunting sound effects in the intro of Bridges in the Sky are a bit ridiculous, the song is primarily fast-paced and has a strong metal feel along with emotional lyrics delivered perfectly by LaBrie. There is also, of course, an extended instrumental segment. Outcry follows a similar vein, this time with inspirational lyrics of standing up against war and corruption. Unfortunately, LaBrie once again stays out of a good portion of the song. Breaking All Illusions, the penultimate song, serves as a sort of grand finale, and has a very strong and majestic opening with an emotional and awe-inspiring chorus delivered by LaBrie. Though LaBrie once again takes a backseat in the bridge, the instrumentation is absolutely fabulous and features a stunning solo by Petrucci. This is obviously the most important song on the album and one the band clearly took its time in composing. The final song, Beneath the Surface, acts as a sort of cool-down from the energy of Breaking all Illusions, and is one perhaps of the most emotional and finest songs the band has ever written.
With this album promising to bring change to the Dream Theater legacy, the band passes with flying colors in delivering a new and unique experience. Though Mike Portnoy will surely be missed by diehard fans (including yours truly) it may also have been a blessing in disguise. Even though Dream Theater's past few albums have all been exceptional (not to mention underrated) this album acts as almost a fresh breath of air and promises new and exciting things from the band. That was no easy task, considering the loss of one of their main creative forces and one of their most stellar musicians, and doing it all in just one year. A dramatic turn of events indeed!
'A Dramatic Turn Of Events' is the most unsuitable title for Dream Theater's new album.
There is nothing "dramatic" about this album and all the events had already happened
dozens of times before. Mike Mangini, new drummer of the band, isn't noticeable a bit
and sounds exactly like Mike Potrnoy. In fact, he wasn't involved in the writing process
of this album and he's just there to fill the empty void that Portnoy left. Yep, they replaced
an old Mike with a new one!
So what we basically get to listen in this new record? Anything but new tunes, how ironic.
77 minutes full of nothing but sheer technical masturbation that goes nowhere plus generic
and emotionless vocals of Labrie that sings Petrucci's generic and emotionless lyrics.
When "On The Backs Of Angels" first came out as a single I was slightly disappointed.
There wasn't any inspiring riffs or leads, only casual 7 strings heavy distorted guitar
riffs plus some forgettable keyboard's interludes and the usual show offs that Petruccie
is so well known for. Even the chorus didn't sound as catchy as a single should be. All in all
I thought it was quite a meaningless song but I was horrified to discover that this is actually
the best song in the whole album.
Yeah, it doesn't get better than that. The rest of the album is filled with desperate attempts
at composing some mainstream radio hits ('Build Me Up, Break Me Down', 'Far From Heaven' & 'Benath The Surface') beside embarrassing attemps to return to the gold days of 'Images & Words' sophistication and courage that ends up sounding confused and without any direction ('Breaking All Illusions').
The most irritating song in this album, and probably in all Dream Theater's career is without any doubt 'Bridges In The Sky'. It opens with some eerie low guttural sound that precede some weird ecclesiastical A cappella, and then comes some generic power chords riff and the stupid lyrics of Petruccie ("Death survivor...take me higher...reunite my soul". Yeah, whatever.). The chorus is awkward and boring as hell and the technical masturbation that comes later just completley kills this futile song.
It's a shame that this band force themselves to release new music. It's obvious that they lost their inspiration long time ago and they should just stick with their live tours and play their classics. 'A Dramatic Turn of Events' is a new product from a giant trademark named as 'Dream Theater', not a group of musicians that trying to explore and reach new districts in the wonderful world of music, as once was.
A Dramatic Turn of Events marks the first lineup shift for these giants in over a decade, and a welcome change it is. Looking back on Dream Theater’s career, you can easily partition off eras based on the lineup of the band. I have begun to notice even more as Dream Theater discs continue to spin in my player that the Derek-era and the Rudess-era are lacking in something, and upon the release of this album I discovered what that was: heart. A Dramatic Turn of Events is a resurgence of lifeblood for these ailing giants and presents a welcome change from the career direction championed by Mike Portnoy.
Before I talk about the band politics, let me describe why I enjoyed this album from a musical perspective. Yes, many elements of Dream Theater’s sounds still remain: Petrucci’s proggy riffing and speedy solos, LaBrie’s questionable vocals (admittedly getting better as his voice continues to heal from his food poisoning bout), and immense song lengths. This is still most definitely a Dream Theater album. The band, however, does try some new stuff on this album. Rudess’s keyboard work has traditionally been restricted to either ragtime or other piano interludes, intense solos and leads, and barely heard atmospheric keyboards (with the occasional exception). On A Dramatic Turn… we hear some new things from the Wizard. His atmospheric keyboards are all of a sudden audible! And then there’s the techno present in songs like Build Me Up, Break Me Down. This is a point that I believe many will disagree on. I find this stylistic change welcoming, as Rudess has historically been underutilized in my opinion. In addition, while from a technical stand point I enjoyed the progressive styling the group presented in all their work, this more scaled down version is welcome, unlike the version present on Octavarium. What sets these two albums apart is the songwriting. Octavarium was a poorly written album while A Dramatic Turn… has much better songwriting, making the reduced shredding and proggy riffs welcome. In fact, the songs that feature a wealth of these elements fall flat compared to the rest of the album (namely Lost Not Forgotten with its extended technical intro). It’s clear that the band made a conscious shift here, ending up with a better, more song-driven album because of it.
This brings me to the political elements. Removing the Portnoy from the band seems to have freed up the songwriting reigns, allowing those who remain to gain more creative control. It has become evident listening to every album from Scenes from a Memory to Black Clouds… that intense producing control by Portnoy was stifling the band’s songwriting ability. What’s more, Portnoy’s intense control over the band turned LaBrie, Rudess, and Myung into puppets, slaves to the production prowess of Portnoy and Petrucci. Portnoy’s departure freed up the consciousness of the band, turning the puppets into participants in the process. This helped reinvigorate a band formerly run by a haggard work-/alcoholic. At this point, Mangini feels like just a hired hand, his drums featured less prominently than Portnoy’s were and not as invigorating as they could have been, but Mangini did not participate in writing the album, and was instead given programmed drum tracks to learn. I hope Dream Theater makes further use of Mangini in the future, as this would enhance the drum parts.
In summary, Portnoy’s departure was probably the best thing to happen to Dream Theater at this point in their career. The juggernaut has been reinvigorated with new blood and a new perspective on how to approach an album. While this may seem to some very un-Dream Theater (or a bit too Dream Theater to the previous reviewer), I would encourage listeners to look at this the same way they look at Scenes from a Memory following Awake (Falling into Infinity was simply a stop on the road to the next town).