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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.