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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.