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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".