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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.