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After the much-acclaimed 1999 album Metropolis II: Scenes from a Memory, Dream Theater's next four albums would be an interesting forray of experimentation that polarized and heavily divided fans. And signing with record label Roadrunner didn't help either, as many hardcore fans accused the progressive metal outfit of "selling out." And while I found those criticisms somewhat unwarranted and unfair, with the exception of Train of Thought, albums such as Systematic Chaos, Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, and Octavarium had their hit-and-miss moments. Those problems are, for the most part, not the case for Black Clouds and Silver Linings, as it proves to be one of their most solid lineup of songs with certain tracks deserving of classic status.
Despite the album having only a surprising six songs, this still remains one of Dream Theater's longest albums, as four out of the six tracks run well past the ten minute-mark. A six-song album certainly has its advantages, as the band clearly took its time and put in a lot of effort on each track. This is not surprising as the title captures the unifying theme of the album: five out of the six songs deal with deeply emotional and at times, traumatic experiences from the bandmembers' (only John Petrucci and Mike Portnoy, mind you) lives. With this in mind, the band is at some of their most emotional and often times in storytelling-mode. And it is in telling stories and capturing their emotions is why the band is at its strongest in this album. Not to mention the instrumentation and frequent solos are as fantastic as usual and James LaBrie's singing is still powerful, melodic, and emotional.
A Nightmare to Remember starts off the album and the Black Clouds half of the album, which is an over-sixteen minute story of a childhood car accident John Petrucci and his family were in. It's this track that the band shows off it's ability to tell a story using its progressive stylings, transitioning melodies and sound from soft and heavy to capture every moment of the story, whether it's the eerie keyboard build-up with rain sound effects in the intro, the aggressive riffs leading up to the accident, and the somber melodies of Petrucci in the hospital. The song is truly a roller coaster transitioning from fast and heavy to slow and melancholic, with Petrucci and keyboardist Jordan Rudess trading solos. The use of Portnoy delivering an aggressive verse in the bridge may cause some to raise their eyebrows and the song drags on a bit near the end (it is over sixteen minutes after all) it remains a very strong opening and a sign of what's to come later. The next song is the only non-personal track on the album: A Rite of Passage, which is about the free masons. Although eight and-a-half minutes long, the song is a play to the band's more commercial side, with a catchy and memorable chorus and riff. The intro features awesome bass distortion by John Myung and has Middle Eastern sounds and elements before breaking off into a drastically different-sounding guitar and keyboard solo which features interesting use of an iPhone. While the solos don't flow into the song as well as other Dream Theater songs and come a bit out of nowhere, A Rite of Passage remains one of the best tracks on the album for its sheer catchiness and memorability. Wither falls into a similar category, having the sound of an alternative rock-power ballad-arena anthem with an almost Staind-sounding acoustic guitar intro. It's also short, sweet, and to the point at only five and-a-half minutes (the shortest on the album) and details John Petrucci's diffculties in songwriting. Like a Rite of Passage, Wither is one of the album's best with its catchiness and accessibility.
The Silver Linings half of the album begins with the final song in Mike Portnoy's Twelve-Step Suite about his overcoming alcoholism: The Shattered Fortress. It is unfortuntately here that the album largely falls short of perfection. Although featuring several reprisals of the previous songs of the suite, which are a high point, the song suffers from somewhat overly-simplistic lyrics that don't fit with the aggressive riffs in the opening verse, which is disappointing given the cool build-up at the beginning. LaBrie's vocals in the opening stanzas are also distorted similarly to The Glass Prison and come off as awkward-sounding, as well as the deeply distorted vocals used during the bridge. The reprisals of the other step songs are nice and salvage the song somewhat, but ultimately The Shattered Fortress fails to be the satisfying conclusion it could have been. Luckily, this is the only misfire on the album, as things pick up with The Best of Times. Over thirteen minutes long, it is the touching story of Mike Portnoy saying good-bye to his father, who died of cancer shortly after the song's conception, and remembering the times they spent together. After an extended and melancholic intro featuring both acousitc guitar and the violin, it builds up almost immeditately into a fast, upbeat sound more reminiscent of progressive rock and containing a Rush-like feel. The song eventually transitions once again to a slow and somber sound, before ending with an extended, triumphant-sounding guitar solo by Petrucci. The album closes with the nineteen-minute epic The Count of Tuscany. Giving the album a strong close, it is easily the best track on the album and even outshines past epics such as A Change of Seasons, Octavarium, and In the Presence of Enemies. It tells the story of John Petrucci's meeting of the aforementioned count and his brother at their estate during the Train of Thought tour and how their eccentric lives caused him to fear for his life. The band's storytelling is at its finest here, transitioning from an extended melodic and upbeat instrumental section to a dark and foreboding fast-paced riff. LaBrie begins to tell the story with clear and descriptive lyrics, painting the perfect picture for the listener and delivers one of the album's catchiest choruses. The song breaks down into a melancholic riff before transitioning to an extended, near-silent, ambient bridge featuring only magical guitar wails by Petrucci. After a few minutes, the song transitions to an acoustic guitar and LaBrie returns before the song explodes into its final segment with a reprisal of the intro, finally ending with the sounds of nature and wildlife. All in all, The Count of Tuscany is easily one of Dream Theater's best and gives the album an extremely satisfying conclusion.
Black Clouds and Silver Linings falls short of perfection with the disappointing aspects of The Shattered Fortress and much of John Myung's uniqe bass is used to support the guitar. However, every other aspect of the album shines and is an excellent example of progressive, storytelling music. An essential release by a spectacular band.
Name any Dream Theater album post 1994's "Awake" and I'll find something to complain about. "Falling Into Infinity" was too mellow, "Octavarium" too modern, "Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence” a disjointed tub of brilliance and sluggishness-even their proclaimed magnum opus, “Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory” although largely masterfully crafted, had its moments of blinding excesses that became boring slabs of gratuitous ugliness. Only 2001’s “Train of Thought” brought back the compulsive side of Dream Thetaer. It was concise and to the point, its only fault being that most of the material was instantly forgettable.
If “Systematic Chaos” was a glimpse of the band retracing their steps then “Black Clouds and Silver Linings” represents the final homecoming in full glare.
And I have absolutely nothing to complain about. This is Dream Theater operating in the same element they were in when delivering “Images and Words”, their truly first and most foremost of their records.
Like “Awake” it is explosive, taut and bursting with expression and like “Train of Thought” it is concise, masterful and teeming with aggression. Fortunately, we are spared a giant instrumental like “Stream Of Consciousness” whose rambling and masturbatory texture forever blighted “Train of Thought”.
John Petrucci works some major charms. His riffing is very impressive but draws on rather traditional stylistic maneuvers. He draws on Lifeson, Blackmore and layers intricately in the same vein as Fripp and Iommi. His solos are rousing and provoking whilst maintaining enough fire in their scorching delights. Carefully laid out and equally traversing the domains of melodic and chaotic, they don’t overshadow and they don’t suffocate. He damn near gets it right on every song too. James LaBrie draws on himself. He has been reviled and cut little slack but he draws on the past; the strength and clarity of voice he had, the immense quality of emotional depth and distance and classic timbre he originally exhibited. He draws on all this and emerges penitent and revivified. He sings with heart. A professional who still enjoys what he’s doing is the feeling you get-and with that, the conviction that he will possess a legacy. Like Petrucci, his tone is tending towards traditional realms.
The entire album reeks of timelessness. Progressive rock that is expertly done and that will hold up against the greats one fine day. Mike Portnoy sounds controlled but not restrained. He is not showy but his presence is felt all the same. The same can be said about John Myung who maintains a low profile yet adds a lot to the orchestral bits of the material. Jordan Ruddess on the other hand, is on fire. His lines are blazing and passionate yet he strikes a perfect balance between melody and chaos, one I felt he failed to strike on “Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory”, his debut with the band.
“The Count of Tuscany” highlights this fine balance as does “A Nightmare to Remember”. Both are very mature pieces, something you’d frown upon if it were crafted by a genius-student band. Coming from these Prog metal veterans however, it feels altogether appropriate. On “Images and Words”, they had “Surrounded” and “Metropolis Pt. 1” which sounded vital and ambitious. With “The Count of Tuscany” and “A Nightmare to Remember” they sound defined by age and marked with it.
If you’ve traveled with DT thus far, this feels like a warm homecoming. A place to rest your tired bones after all that chaotic glory. The end of glory does not immediately signal the onset of decay. Memory can be very rewarding. You might not necessarily keep that old spark alive as the tired cliché demands, but you can use it to light a new one that better represents the point at which you have reached. On “The Shattered Fortress”, Dream Theater’s rich memory returns briefly to “The Glass Prison”, “This Dying Soul”, “Repentance” and “The Root of All Evil” and salvages a quality that eluded all those songs. It sounds ripe and ready-and as the end of the 12 Steps Suite, it makes the closure feel all the more worthy.
A quick comment I can make about “A Rite Of Passage” is how it reminded me of orchestral Led Zeppelin a la “Kashmir”, “The Song Remains the Same” and “Achilles Last Stand”. Continuing in this orchestral spirit, the band turns in a second disc with great reworkings of Rainbow’s “Stargazer”, Iron Maiden’s “To Tame a Land”, King Crimson’s “A Lark’s Tongue in Aspic (Part II) and a Queen medley.
“Wither” and “The Best of Times” are brother and sister and their essence echoes the spirit of past gems like “Lifting Shadows off a Dream” and “Trial of Tears”.
This is the sound of Dream Theater evaluating the basics of their craft with aged eyes. They salvage the best bits and use memory as the scepter that penetrates the airs of yet uncharted territory. And they arrive safe and sound, united in creative harmony. Will they be able to create so wonderfully again now that the circle is broken and Portnoy has left? That is a worry for another day. For now, we should be content to lay in this present slumber of memories both old and newly contrived. A slumber rich in antonyms-serene and chaotic, calculated and haphazard, cold and genial, pretentious and natural-that best describe the band. A slumber in the theater of one never ceasing dream.
This album is one of the rare albums that added nothing new to the sound and universe of Dream Theater. They have tried it all: Soft and dreamy progressive rock pearls like on "Images and words", complexe conceptual structures like on "Scenes from a memory", very dark heavy and thrash metal epics like on "Train of thought", silent and orchestral progressive metal like on "Octavarium" and rather modern stuff like on "Systematic chaos". Now, "Black clouds and silver linings" reunites all of this in a single whole album, leaves us the unnecessary and watering parts and simply presents the stunning quintessence of the band's philosophy. To keep it simple, this album is far away from being original or surprising but it is simply the most consistent and in my opinion best album this band has ever made. If you are a newbie and interested in the band's works you should take this album as an introduction and a greatest hits compilation at the same time.
"A nightmare to remember" is a very dark and atmospheric killer that opens the album on a very depressive mood that sends shivers down my spine. The nightmare is immediatly present and this songs makes you living it in all its high paced emotions and rare moments of tranquility. It is maybe the most addicting and intensive song the band has ever written and is a voyage to the core of your deep hidden emotions. This is better than cinema and the sixteen minutes pass extremely fast so don't be afraid to begin the album by watching the track's running time. You will highly appreciate every minute of this epic masterpiece that mixes styles from the dark "Train of thought" with the epic mood of a "Octavarium".
"A rite of passage" is the addicting single that comes along with oriental and very atmospheric keyboard and guitar sounds and a highly addicting and epic chorus. This song is like a "Innocence faded" meets "As I am" meets "Constant motion" but still has a very unique approach with its Oriental influence sthat remind me of "Home". Useless to say that the guitar and keyboard solos are fast, melodic, addicting, diversified and well executed.
"Wither" is the ballad of the album and this time it is a rather dark and atmospheric song and not a commercial piece of kitsch. This very melancholic and dreamy song reminds me of "Surrounded", "Vacant" or "Forsaken". James LaBrie is doing an excellent job and his voice perfectly harmonizes with the dark but soft melodies.
"The shattered fortress" is the last part of Mike Portnoy's famous Twele-step Suite or Alcoholics Anonymous Suite. This songs reunites passages from all other four songs before ("The glass prison", "This dying soul", "The root of all evil", "Repentance") and adds a couple of few new melodies. Some people may say that this song only repeats the previous tracks but I would rather say that this song is a perfect conclusion and resumee to the whole topic and makes us voyage on the waves of space and time forwards and backwards to remind a let us live again what we have heard before. I see this track as a grand finale to a unique and highly interesting suite and experience in the universe of the progressive metal music.
"The best of times" is dedicated to Mike Portnoy's father that died soon before the release of this album. His son had still found the moment to play this song to his dying father with his own vocals. This version is even more intense and touching than the actual album version with James LaBrie on the vocals. The lyrics are very insightful and interesting. Musically, this song has a strong progressive rock touch and reminds a lot of Genesis and especially "Rush". The guitar leads and harmonies have a strong late seventies or early eighties touch and this song might also please to people that normally rather avoid Dream Theater because it really has a different approach that has nothing to do with metal but with pure rock music.
"The count of Tuscany" is a stunning and epic piece that tells us a disturbing and weird story. Musically, the song takes its power out of its tranquility and reminds me of the silent moments of a "Octavarium" or "Space-dye west". This song is mysteriously floating through wind and wuthering and is really addicting and relaxing. I would give King Crimson's "In the court of the crimson king" or Genesis' "Wind and wuthering" as references to this sound. The track also has some nightmare passages like this album opener and a strong chorus but really focusses on an eerie and quiet atmosphere where especially the keyboards do an amazing job. This song is a perfect and calm album closener without being an ordinary ballad. Together with "A nightamre to remember", this track is my favourite one of this record and in the top five of my favourite Dream Theater tracks of all times.
All in all, this is an intense, atmospheric and diversified masterpiece and a perfect last album for Mike Portnoy that has parted ways with the band now and who left with two extremely strong tracks to finish his epic Twelve-step suite and to honour his own father. I think that this is the opus magnum, the masterpiece, the maximum that this band is able to do. But I am ready to see and listen what they are working on for the near future and if they try out something new or try to copy and follow the compilation sound of this grand resumee. To keep it short: Get this record if you love atmospheric music and if you are ready to take your time to get addicted and hypnotized by music to be ready for a voyage of the grandest kind.
First off, you should probably know that I am not an expert on Dream Theater. This was the first album I bought, and then later I got their big Greatest Hit yadda yadda yadda compilation. But the thing I noticed when listening to that compilation was that even on "The Dark Side," a lot of the songs just aren't as heavy as I would prefer, particularly with their older songs. Once it got to the songs from Train of Thought and Octavarium, then it was more what I was looking for. And then on "The Light Side," pretty much all of the songs were way too light for me. (Though I do like "Solitary Shell.")
Well, one of the things that I really appreciate about this album is that it's heavy. It gives you four metal songs and two lighter songs, and the lighter songs are both really good compared to most of the lighter songs on their greatest hits compilation. Some people complain that this album isn't progressive enough, but that's something I honestly couldn't care less about. If they shortened up their songs and played in 4/4 the whole time, and stuck with an ABAB format most of the time, I think I would like them just as much. I don't care if it's progressive, as long as it's metal and it's good metal. If you disagree, you might not like this album as much.
I know that we're supposed to avoid track by track reviews on this site, but I think it feels necessary when there are only six very different sounding songs.
A Nightmare to Remember: Great wat to kick off the album. It starts out with some quiet but evil-sounding keyboards, and then some incerdibly heavy guitar riffs blast out of nowhere. Great intro! This song is over 16 minutes long, and the heaviness never lets up. My favorite parts are in the middle of the song when he's in the hospital, and the part where Mike Portnoy does his awesome growls. Some people hate his voice, but I think it gives this band the extra edge that it needs to make it more metal.
A Rite of Passage: This is the first single from the album, and probably my favorite. This is the kind of song that would get a lot of radio play in a perfect world. I love the main guitar riff that gets repeated throughout the song. The chorus is the best part. It gets stuck in my head pretty easily. It's also got a great guitar solo.
Wither: This song is lighter and not quite as exciting, but is still a great song. It's relatively short, at only five and a half minutes. The chorus is good, and so are the verses, really. This isn't like some Sonata Arctica or Stratovarius ballad, but it's still really beautiful.
The Shattered Fortress: This song ends the AA Suite, but of course it was really the beginning for me. This one is heavier and longer. I wasn't the biggest fan of this one at first, but it grew on me and now I absolutely love it. It's just full of great riffs and different sections that are really catchy. It doesn't have your typical pop structure at all, which I suppose made it hard to get into. I think my favorite part is the part that's taken straight out of The Root of All Evil, but I didn't know that when I first heard it. I also like the "chorus" at the beginning, the part that starts "Look in the mirror..."
The Best of Times: This is a lighter song again, and is a tribute to Mike Portnoy's father. The intro is annoyingly long. Just three minutes of pointless instruments. After that, it picks up the pace and becomes a good song. Not the best, but I like it.
The Count of Tuscany: Nineteen minutes. Awesome four-minute intro. Really catchy. This song punched me in the gut right away. It's got the Portnoy growls again. It gets really quiet after about ten minutes, and is sort of boring for a while, but then gets good again. The end sometimes gives me goosebumps. It's the perfect way to close the album.
I would pretty much recommend this for any fan of metal. It's a great album and well worth the money.
Dream Theater ranks as one of my all-time favorite bands. There's nothing about them I don't like; from the insanely long and complicated songs and solos, the virtuosity of every member of the band, the self-referencing that appears on ever album, everything. I love this band, and I say that about very few band in the metal world.
Black Clouds and Silver Linings is the tenth full length album from Dream Theater, and in my opinion ranks as one of the best albums they've put out. I'm not a huge fan of their earlier music, from When Day and Dream Unite(their first album) until Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From A Memory, which I consider the bands high point and the high point of the entire progressive/rock/metal scene. I'd honestly put that album above Pink Floyds Dark Side of The Moon as the greatest album of the genre. While BCASL isn't quite on that level, I'd certainly rank it in the top 3 or 4 best albums Dream Theater have ever made.
After the previous album, Systematic Chaos, (which wasn't a bad album on its own, but for Dream Theater, it was pretty weak) I didn't have terribly high hopes for this album. Thankfully the band decided to basically do the opposite of Systematic Chaos, which is to say that they put a heck of a lot more effort into the songwriting than on SC. The writing here is the strongest its been in years; from the heavy and hard-hitting opening track to the gargantuan 20 minute Count of Tuscany to the arena rock ballad of Wither, the band is in absolute top form. This is Dream Theater firing on all cylinders, and the result is amazing. John Petrucci really gives a stellar performance (as always) on guitar, with some insane solos, heavy, complex riffs and some fantastic acoustic playing. Mike Portnoy is his usual brilliant self on drums, with a few really fast double-bass and even blast-beats thrown in, which is a first for Dream Theater if I'm not mistaken. Keyboards and bass, handled by Jordan Rudess and John Myung are both brilliant as well, though both are slightly more in the background than on previous albums, with less keyboard and bass shredding and placed in more supporting roles, though the keyboards do break out in a shred on occasion.
My favorite part of Dream Theater, however, is James Labrie, whom I consider to be one of the best male vocalists alive. I absolutely love his voice, and I think I'm in the minority for this, but I consider him to be a brilliant singer. While he's not hitting those ear-splitting high notes like on the first DT albums, he still puts on quite a show, with highs, lows, and everything in between belted out perfectly. While I happen to think his best vocal performance was on the Score 20th Anniversary tour for Dream Theater, this is definitely one of his finer moments.
Black Clouds and Silver Linings is Dream Theaters best album in years, and is hopefully a good indication of where the band is going musically in the years to come. Highlights from the album would be The Best of Times, a tribute to Mike Portnoys deceased father and one of the best Dream Theater songs ever written; Wither, a terrific power ballad; and A Nightmare to Remember, which is one of the bands heaviest songs in years. For anyone who likes virtuoso playing, brilliant song-writing and all around flawlessly executed music, this album is for you.
Dream Theater is one of those bands that everybody has an opinion about. Some outright detest the band; such as the rest of the staff here at Metal Temple, I suspect. They’re simply boring, or they’re too self-indulgent, they assert. Others positively worship the band; Dream Theater can do no wrong in their minds. Anyone that claims otherwise or anyone that likes another band better than Dream Theater is met with the response "they aren’t better because x guitarist isn’t more talented than Petrucci and x drummer isn’t better than Portnoy" or something along those lines. Another group used to love Dream Theater until a certain album, such as "Awake" or "Scenes From A Memory" and hates everything that they have put out since.
Regardless of one’s opinions about Dream Theater, it is a fact that they are largely responsible for defining progressive Metal as a genre. Each instrumental member is a virtuoso in his own right. With "Black Clouds And Silver Linings", Dream Theater has produced an album of only six tracks, but the total running time is over 70 minutes. Whether this was a conscious decision by the band is unclear, but this is definitely not an album for those with short attention spans.
"Black Clouds And Silver Linings" kicks off with "A Nightmare To Remember" which is a furiously heavy epic. It features several jaw-dropping solos and even includes a blastbeat close to the end of the song, although you have to listen closely for it. This may be the best song that they’ve written in years and is a definite winner. The other heavy song on this album is "The Shattered Fortress", which is a conclusion to drummer Mike Portnoy’s 12-step suite, which details every step in his recovery from alcoholism. The majority of the song is made up of variations of themes found in earlier parts from previous albums, but the conclusion is a satisfying and effective ending to the suite. I would love it if Dream Theater released an ’EP’ (I can call this proposed idea an EP because their last EP was over 70 minutes long) that contains the entire suite from start to finish, perhaps with a DVD of Portnoy going into details about the meaning behind the lyrics. I’ve also heard rumors that on an upcoming tour, Dream Theater will play the entire suite from start to finish, but at this point it is just a rumor.
Also included are two upbeat songs in "Wither" and "Best Of Times". The former is relatively straightforward but is surprisingly effective, which is more than can be said of the terrible "Forsaken" off of the previous album and the U2 rip-off "I Walk Beside You". The latter is a truly moving song that Portnoy wrote about his deceased father. Thankfully, the lyrics are not the only draw, as the song as a whole manages to be uplifting and emotional (something that previous Dream Theater songs have failed at) without drifting into the realm of cheesiness. Some people may forget, but John Petrucci can be a very emotional guitarist when he wants to be. His leads here at the end of the song, as well as his earlier solo, show a side of Petrucci that has been largely absent on the past several Dream Theater releases.
"A Rite Of Passage" serves as the single off of the album (the single edit is only six minutes but actually works really well. If given proper radio airplay, it has the potential to win Dream Theater many new fans). Petrucci shows a bit of a Malmsteen influence in the guitar solo, but it is hardly derivative and is a highlight of the song. The chorus is very catchy and effectual as well; vocalist James LaBrie does a good job all the way through. "The Count Of Tuscany" is by far the most progressive on the album, although the band does a good job of making it enjoyable for other listeners as well. There are many odd time-signatures and tempo changes, but the chorus is surprisingly memorable and it does a high-quality job of holding the attention of the listener, despite the length. Let the listener know, however, that this song is in no way musical fast-food; this, like all good progressive epics, takes many listens to sink in and be pleasing.
This album serves, in many ways, as a return to form for many aspects that some Dream Theater fans, such as myself, had thought were gone forever. The guitar riffs on this album are fantastic. Some fans had accused Dream Theater of writing riffs that were throwaway Metallica riffs, which is total hogwash because they fail to understand that just because a riff is heavy, or contains some palm-muting, it is not a thrash riff. Sure there have been some very heavy Dream Theater songs in the past, but none of them had any thrash riffs. However, they were correct in the assertion that the riffs were sub-par, because for the most part they did suck. Thankfully the riffs on this album are refreshing, yet break new ground as well. There is a riff around 11 minutes into "A Nightmare To Remember" that sounds like a riff that technical death-metalers Origin would write.
Also largely absent are the blatant nods to other bands, such as the aforementioned U2, Coldplay and Muse, among others. This sounds like a Dream Theater album but thankfully does not attempt to be another "Awake" or "Images And Words". James LaBrie has been hit-or-miss (mostly miss) on the past few albums, but here he is excellent. He writes catchy choruses and effective vocal lines, and expresses the lyrics with emotion. Portnoy is noticeably more present in writing fanatical drum lines, but despite the blastbeats in the first song, there’s nothing that makes me go crazy while air-drumming like the end of "Blind Faith" or "As I Am".
Much like Iron Maiden did with "A Matter Of Life And Death", Dream Theater has written an album that is a swift kick in the ass of those who accused them of becoming lethargic over time. Those who had written off Dream Theater need to give "Black Clouds And Silver Linings" a spin or two (or ten). The increase in quality between releases is astounding and I’m glad that there are still genre stalwarts who can still kick ass in 2009. Although currently, I would give a slight nod to Mastodon and Candlemass for best album of 2009, we will see what happens when December rolls around. Buy or die.
P.S.: The album artwork for this release is remarkable.
(Originally published at www.metal-temple.com)
“Black Clouds and Silver Linings” opens with a song that seems to essentially describe the entire album. “A Nightmare to Remember” begins with silence… and then some rain…. And then some violins…. And then the song gets started. This is a precedent for the whole album – filler with some music.
You’ll notice from the beginning that “Black Clouds” is heavier than “Systematic Chaos”, “Octavarium”, or anything else besides “Train of Thought” and “Awake”. That in itself is a good thing; Dream Theater presents itself as trying some new ideas, or at least one new idea. However, the heaviness of "Black Clouds" is the only "new" idea (seeing as it's already been done - twice) on this album. Dream Theater seems to just be ripping off some of its older albums. Even the cover art is strikingly similar to that of "Awake" (minus the elephants) ; in "The Shattered Fortress", LaBrie urges the listener to look in the mirror.... just like he did in the song "The Mirror" off "Awake". Likewise, a doctor asks John how he feels in “Octavarium” in a very similar way to the way he does in “A Nightmare to Remember”. The sound effects in the song don’t help either.
On a similar note, Dream Theater seems to have lost the progressive aspect of their music with respects to both themselves and the genre of progressive metal. You won't find any unusual stylistic differences on "Black Clouds" that you haven't already found on "Octavarium" or "Train of Thought". Dream Theater's music needs to keep changing for them to still be considered progressive, and changing it up with some heaviness is not enough. New prog bands like Scale the Summit are emerging onto the progressive metal scene, drawing attention and forcing Dream Theater to work harder. If there's not a significant sign of progression by the next album, start to get worried. Dream Theater is treading water in the world of prog at the moment, and a single error could drown them.
But the worst part of this album is how much filler it is. 1 hour and 15 minutes of music is only tolerable when it’s really good, and about 1/3 of this album just doesn’t cut it. “The Best of Times” is just boring. 10 minutes of soft piano and clean chords (plus a killer solo, but even that can’t save it) is just too much. Maybe 2 minutes would be acceptable. “Wither” is plain and simple, a useless song. “A Rite of Passage” is good, but the album would have fared just as well without it. Likewise, the longer songs incorporate too much filler into them as well. “A Nightmare to Remember” could have cut the first two minutes of silence and rain out, and then should have removed some of the riffs that don’t fit (which there are too many of for a 16 minute song). Even the masterpiece, “The Count of Tuscany”, has 3 minutes of guitar swells that could easily be cut down. “Black Clouds and Silver Linings” could be compressed into half its length whil! e losing little to no merit. H! ell, they could have even released just “The Shattered Fortress” and “The Count of Tuscany” without losing merit!
Fortunately, what is good on this album is really, really good. “A Nightmare to Remember” stays heavy while maintaining a catchy enough groove and theme, and it also has a killer 2 minute long guitar/keyboard solo duel. Mike Portnoy even displays a rare blast beat around the 14th minute, a rare treat for heavier DT fans. “The Shattered Fortress” has an amazing display of Rudess’s abilities, and is a killer song all the way through. When they do it right, Dream Theater stays heavy as FUCK throughout “Black Clouds” while incorporating melody, shredding (of course) and excellent lyrics.
Petrucci’s work on this album is much like that of past albums, although there is a noticeable Blackened-era influence especially on songs like “The Count of Tuscany”. His solos are at the height of his playing for this album, and the riffs are really good too.
Portnoy’s drumming is typical Dream Theater – polyrhythms mixed with your usual Portnoy fair. It’s good, but unremarkable. The same goes for Myung’s bass playing. You really can't hear much of it (sigh... modern metal) but when you can, it sounds pretty good.
LaBrie’s vocals are lower than they’ve been in the past, and will surely cause dissent. They’re not as good as they were of old, but they guide the album along well and work with the songwriting. However, they do get annoying - the constant droning on "A Rite of Passage" really gets to the listener, which is probably why the solo section seems that killer. The lyrics work in the same way as the vocals – most of them are anecdotes from members of Dream Theater, such as a car crash Petrucci was in, the death of Mike Portnoy’s father, and John’s meeting with a real Italian count. They work well with the music, even if they're not the greatest lyrics ever written.
Finally, in reviewing this album, I had to take two ratings into account. First, there's the relative rating, which compares the album to other progressive metal albums. Then there's a separate rating, in which i was forced to compare "Black Clouds and Silver Linings" to past DT masterpieces. "Black Clouds and Silver Linings" would score very highly (90+) on the first scale, but on the second scale, it is only mediocre (60-65) because of all the filler! However, Dream Theater pull through and show that they can still create a really good album.
After two years of wait, here we are with Dream Theater’s tenth studio album – and, as befitting an album filling the first double-digit spot, it serves as a fine example of album craft in the progressive genre and features the most appreciable sort of songwriting – cohesiveness that lends itself to meaning and expansion of the musical themes presented. This album has six songs, four of which extend past twelve minutes, giving us seventy-ish minutes of music that doesn’t become boring and gives us what Dream Theater does best: songs with depth and musical worth.
Systematic Chaos, the band’s previous album, was written by that exact process; simply moving the band into the studio and recording as ideas came. This emphasized some of the problems with that process – in places, the songs felt disjointed, some sections felt out of place, and some songs were too long for their own good. While it was still a decent album and had its own merits, Black Clouds and Silver Linings cleaned up the process and tightened the songs by consequence (Parts were recorded by stages here, as far as I know). Chunks are differentiable without becoming unrelated; songs like album-opener “A Nightmare to Remember” make use of heavier portions (Even allowing drummer Mike Portnoy to venture into blast beat territory) as well as calmer, more melancholic sections and transition between them almost seamlessly. This trend continues throughout the album as a whole. “Wither”, a softer, power ballad-like song, is juxtaposed with heavy-hitter “The Shattered Fortress”, to name one example. There are a lot of different ideas contained here, but unlike some of the songs on Systematic Chaos, they work with one another instead of being conflicting and distracting.
“A Nightmare to Remember” opens the album, and as said before, it combines some of the heaviest parts of the album with some of the most morose and fragile. The storm noise intro at the beginning is a nice touch; it does a good job of conveying the point of the lyrics (About a car crash). A fast, heavier section at the beginning lasting about five minutes and rushing through a little more than half of the lyrics transitions into a slower, more somber and more ambient section featuring some splendid Continuum work by keyboardist Jordan Rudess and quiet, calm vocals from James LaBrie. As a person who focuses a lot on vocals, I consider this part some of my favorite voice-work on the album; it conveys the sense of destruction felt after an accident well. That then leads into Mike Portnoy’s oft-criticized (I think somewhat unfairly) lead vox section – Portnoy has since explained that he wanted to put in a full death growl and the “Constant Motion” style vox was the result of a compromise with guitarist and lyricist for this song John Petrucci. Portnoy posted a sample of the death growls on his forum and I actually liked that version more, but I think most of the problem here was misplacement of the heavy voice on the last four lines (The “everyone survived” part). I think that the speaker isn’t giving us as listeners all the information and I’ll spare my own ideas about what the speaker is trying to convey, but I’ll say that I think the choice of emphasizing the fact that everyone lived and nothing more was deliberate.
We then move to album single “A Rite of Passage”, and while it doesn’t have the epic scope of some of the other songs, it is a solid rocker with a very catchy chorus. Bassist John Myung gives us an incredible bass intro and solid work throughout, even though he tends to be somewhat inaudible unless whatever you’re listening to this on happens to deliver some very low-end, but as a whole the mix for this album is much more balanced than, say, Octavarium or Systematic Chaos. While it’s certainly not the most technical work on the album, it’s a very good song with the sort of feel that “Pull Me Under” from Images and Words did.
Next up is a lighter ballad addressing the subject of writer’s block, “Wither”. John Petrucci brought this song into the studio as a complete work, and he accomplished what he was going for well – a softer break in the album that focuses more on emotional aspects than the most technical musicianship. Rudess and LaBrie deliver another very good performance (If you happen to have the Producer’s Edition mix CD that came with the box set of this album, try mixing this song with just the keys and vocals, it’s lovely). I think opening the verses with repeated lines is a nice touch; it expresses the sort of stream of consciousness that occurs in writer’s block (Repeating one phrase, usually a self command like “come on, come on” in an attempt to break through a block). It’s a nice song and a good break before the next trio.
The last three songs on the album are all long songs over twelve minutes in length, the first being Steps ten eleven, and twelve of Portnoy’s multi-album suite dealing with the Twelve Steps of Recovery from Alcoholics Anonymous, “The Shattered Fortress”. A below reviewer harshly criticized this song as highly derivative from prior songs, such as “The Glass Prison”, and like, and it is – but the reviewer doesn’t seem to understand those songs are part of a unified suite and the fact that it is very derivative is absolutely intentional, as it is the closer of the suite and is used to recapture the prior ideas from earlier songs for the thematic purpose of reflection and is not laziness on the band’s part in any form. True, this song is at its most enjoyable if the listener knows the previous four songs in the suite, but even so it’s a very good standalone song; it’s very easy to listen through the near thirteen minutes without growing bored or annoyed. I especially like how the band made the “Repentance” quote stronger and I like how smooth and quick the transition into that part was. Another of my favorite parts of the song is how it ends, but I won’t spoil that for you (It’s neat if you know the other songs of the suite). By the by, the lyrics for Step XII: Responsible are a nearly exact quote of the AA motto, and it’s a good tribute. I very much like this song and it’s one of my favorites on the album, but I can understand how people might think it lazy if they don’t understand the intent of the band (Though I would caution against the use of caustic language to attack in light of this ignorance).
Afterwards we get another Portnoy lyric song, “The Best of Times”, a tribute to Portnoy’s father (Who passed away in the creation of the album). This track has amazing violin work courtesy Jerry Goodman, a classical key section courtesy Jordan Rudess (His Juilliard training shows here) and a classical guitar melody from Petrucci. The song is very touching and while the lyrical form can be a little cliché, it’s natural and appropriate. It has a lot of major key work, something absent from recent Dream Theater recordings and woks very well, and the ending guitar solo is nothing short of majestic. This song showcases Dream Theater’s return-to-form (That form, ironically enough, being musical diversity on a theory level).
We end with the longest track on the album and the obligatory epic closer, “The Count of Tuscany”. This track opens with a long instrumental intro that feels Rush-like in scope and concept, it’s grand and floats through a number of very harmonic musical ideas. We then descend into a heavy lyric section. The lyrics nominally detail a run-in John Petrucci had with a count in Tuscany a few years back. I say nominally because I’m fairly certain that the lyrics are intended to be a simultaneous tribute to Edgar Allan Poe and a rejection of his philosophical outlook, but I won’t delineate my reasoning for that here. Although this is a very long song at nineteen minutes, in contrast to other Dream Theater epics, it isn’t segmented – the whole thing follows the same song structure, as opposed to something like “In the Presence of Enemies” or “Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence” which are both broken up on their respective CDs or “Octavarium”, which isn’t broken up but does feature a number of sections which aren’t necessarily integral to one another. After the heavy section comes a lower section featuring a set of chimes that works absolutely brilliantly before launching into a final, more positive, and very epic final section and beastly instrumental work from all of the members. The song ends with some ocean noises, contrasting the opening storm and illuminating in the album’s final moments the overall concept, a Newton’s Third Law sort-of thing that essentially says “For every black cloud, there is an equal and opposite silver lining”.
This album is well-written, well-executed, and is the epitome of what band should be doing ten albums and twenty years into their careers. While there are some odd moments, they’re minimal, do not detract from the album at all and are likely more a result of my preferences more than any flaw integral to the album. This is a *very* good album and is accessible, at least for the genre in which it exists – while it wouldn’t be the first album I’d give to introduce someone to Dream Theater given that the majority of the songs are very long, even if they don’t feel as long as they are, it’d definitely be a good second or third choice. Finally, get the three-disc version if you have the chance. The second disc, featuring covers from Rainbow, Queen, the Dixie Dregs, Zebra, King Crimson, and Iron Maiden is great (Especially the Queen cover, praised by Brian May as “Possibly the best Queen cover ever”) and showcase a batch of Dream Theater’s influences extremely well. The instrumental disc is a nice touch too, even though they removed the solos from these tracks and I don’t think I’ll listen to it too often.
A very worthy purchase – go get it if you haven’t already.
Dream Theater strikes again, people, with another LP produced by John Petrucci and Mike Portnoy. Recently, they seem to have the upper hand in the band, commanding the other members what is to be done and what is not. Jordan Rudess may be an exception, but Labrie and Myung are the main victims.
6 songs.115 minutes. Who likes long progressive metal bands will have no problem listening to it. Those who are more into bands like Fates Warning and Queensryche will probably reject this product. Let’s start with the pros. It’s Dream Theater, folks, the same Dream Theater that was reborn in 2002, when Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence was released, meaning that this album, Black Clouds and Silver Linings will be as well criticized and used as a fine subject for controversial discussions, just like all Dream Theater albums since 2002. The songs are well created, there’s no doubt about this. Heavy passages mix well with melancholic and melodic ones. All in all, every member of the band does their job properly, they are talented and know how to show it. Highlights? A Rite of Passage, Wither, The Count of Tuscany.
You probably wonder why I entitled my review the way it is entitled, as long as no specific negative aspects have been presented so far. Well, it’s time to reveal something very interesting that I have spotted recently. If what I’m about to say has already been written in any other Dream Theater reviews, I pray for forgiveness. What the Fuck is The Shattered Fortress supposed to mean? Does not anyone see that this song is useless on this record? It consists 80% of its length of pieces taken from other Dream Theater songs: The Prison Glass, This Dying Soul, Root of All Evil and Repentance. How is it possible to put an almost 13 minute long song in there, so that you can fill an album, a progressive metal album? So, The Shattered Fortress is not even a filler, it’s worse than that! But, this shouldn’t be surprising, as Dream Theater has got us used to such kind of “manoeuvre” since 2003. If you listen more attentively to This Dying Soul from Train of Thought, you‘ll realize that it resembles somehow to The Glass Prison. The middle sections of both these two songs are very similar, the same in fact. Further more, if you pay a little attention to Root of All Evil from Octavarium, you’ll realize that it includes some musical parts and even lyrics from This Dying Soul. Going on, I can tell the same thing about Repentance, from Systematic Chaos. It is based on the same notes that can be found in This Dying Soul. And now, the surveillance plane has arrived in Black Clouds. What do you know? The Shattered Fortress overcomes the other impostors. This time, we don’t deal with a song taking some other parts from only one song. The Shattered Fortress hanged This Dying Soul and took its liver out. Then it decapitated Root of All Evil and took its brain out. Afterwards, it crucified Repentance and takes its soul out. Eventually, it stabbed The Glass Prison into the heart and rooted it out. This is how The Shattered Fortress was born, desecrating other desecrators. Is this a bad joke? You really wanted to revenge The Glass Prison? Is this the last song that will be structured in such a way? Or the next album will reveal yet another hideous monster that feeds on the past in order to secure its present and future? Why don’t you copy Metropolis Pt 1? Why don’t you copy all your first three albums?
The special edition contains two more discs. Disc 2 consists of 6 covers. They are averagely well done. I’m not getting into it too much. And the last disc….is this really a surprise? Or you want to compensate the fact that you strongly lack of originality? The last disc consists of the instrumental songs of the first disc. Black Clouds and Silver Linings goes speechless, I suppose.
As a conclusion, Black Clouds and Silver Linings isn’t a bad album, but due to the fact that The Shattered Fortress is there as an offense to any Dream Theater fan or admirer, I can’t rate the album higher. I’m really sorry about The Count of Tuscany and the other 4 songs on this record. They cannot overcome the greatness of When Dream and Day Unite, Images and Words and Awake, but still, they are good and worth listening. I’m sure that anyone who loves Dream Theater will have to bear to listen to The Shattered Fortress as well. There’s a very fine comparison to explain this kind of attachment. A woman that truly loves her husband, she will love him for ever, even if he sometimes comes drunk home late at night and beats her up and then fucks her up till she fades. Dream Theater fans feel the same when encountering This Dying Soul, Root of All Evil, Repentance and The Shattered Fortress. Try not to copy your own songs anymore, guys! Be honest to yourself! Don’t regurgitate the food you have already crapped out.
Black Clouds and Silver Linings is Dream Theater being Dream Theater. Portnoy, Petrucci, Myung, and Rudess are still masters, and yes, James LaBrie still sings for them (for better or worse). They are still the same band that created epics such as “Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence”, “Octovarium”, “Learning to Live”, and many more before that. It should come as no surprise that four of the six songs on this album are over the ten minute mark, the longest of which is “The Count of Tuscany” clocking in at over nineteen minutes! They have a flair for the epic, and have created a solid album full of them.
The album starts off with quite possibly the heaviest track Dream Theater has ever written, “A Nightmare to Remember.” Mike Portnoy really lets loose on this one with a ton of double bass. It is probably the most dynamic song on the album. It has several twists and turns, including a nice melodic middle section. The only thing I am really curious about is the spoken word passage at the end. I don’t think Portnoy’s vocals sound very good, but it is still a great song nonetheless.
The other highlights for me are the last two songs, “The Best of Times” and “The Count of Tuscany.” The former is a tribute to Mike Portnoy’s father who passed away late last year. This song is lyrically upbeat, but all over the place musically. The outstanding achievement on this album is certainly the epic closer, “The Count of Tuscany.” This song runs the gamut, from the clean intro, to the really cool ambient section in the middle, all the way to the triumphant ending. There is even a nice vocal hook in the song. Petrucci’s outro solo is quite possibly his best ever. They could not have closed this album with a better song. Despite all the good this album has to offer, there are a couple noticeable flaws.
Like “Systematic Chaos”, this album contains two songs clearly meant for the label to use as singles. “A Rite of Passage” is generic and forgettable in the same way that “Forsaken” was. “Wither” is probably my least favorite Dream Theater song. It is an awful power ballad with incredibly stupid lyrics. Sure, they have done good ballads such as “One Last Time” and “The Spirit Carries On.” This one, however, completely misses the mark. It wouldn’t be out of place on “Falling Into Infinity.” It is a blemish on an otherwise good album.
This is easily the best Dream Theater album since “Scenes From a Memory.” It does not flow as well because of the weak songs sandwiched in the middle, but has plenty to like. Overall, I feel this is one of their best CDs ever.
Dream Theater has received a lot of crap from fans and others alike in recent years. I'll admit, I even have lost interest in their whereabouts at times, but there isn't a single album by them I can honestly say is bad. That trend continues with their latest, Black Clouds and Silver Linings.
Right from the beginning, with "A Nightmare to Remember" the sound is perfect, the instruments compliment each other, and there is some very strong harmony, as well as a lot of interesting tehcniques on the drums, compliments of Mr. Portnoy. It's obvious the guys have been listening to quite a bit of Opeth these days, as their influence comes quite clear in this opening track. While Portnoy's drums are solid, his increasingly abundant stabs at singing are still awful, and we, as the listeners, are subjected to a decent chunk of the song featuring the man himself singing solo, and trying to sound as tough as possible. It's absolutely terrible, but aside from this, the song is one of their best.
Speaking of the vocals, I have to admit, they could've used some work. James LaBrie is often considered the weakest link, but I've always maintained that he IS the voice of Dream Theater, and I've been very pleased with his work on each and every release so far. Yet here, for some reason, he just sounds worse somehow. It sounds like they chose to not layer his voice nearly as much as they've done in the past, instead opting for backing vocals on the part of Petrucci and Portnoy. This comes off as very weak, and his vocal melodies as a whole are a lot less emotional and powerful as they sound be. This is only minor, however, as he still sounds great, but probably could've sounded better.
"A Rite of Passage", and "Wither" are considerable different than the opener. The former is a nice addition to the album; very catchy, sick solo, and rather memorable. In fact, aside from the verse, which has a little too much going on with the added effects in my opinion, the song is fantastic. I wish I could say the same for "Wither". This review might have been a 97 if not for this song. It's cheesy, it's generic, and it sounds like crappy filler for a mainstream rock band. It is easily amongst the worst the band has ever recorded. I've always enjoyed Dream Theater' ballads, as they usually try to bring something more to the table than just being a "soft song for the ladies", kind of approach. "Wither" isn't even at that status. It's bland, it's typical, the lyrics suck, and above all, it's just fucking boring.
The rest of the album is fantastic, however. "The Shattered Fortress" is a magnificent closer to the Twelve-Step-Suite, although it is probably their most UNoriginal song, as it's basically riffs and lyrics from the other installments played slightly differently. It's still very good, however, and another Highlight of the album. "The Best of Times" is a great song, but I have to say that it didn't click with me as much as the others. It's still a good listen, and definitely solid. That brings us to the end, with "The Count of Tuscany". I have to say, DT's lyrics have gone downhill in a while, as have their song titles. I wasn't expecting much out of this one, but goddamn, it blew me away. The first half is just incredible, and features LaBrie's best vocals on the album by far. The second half tones itself down a little bit, and might get a little boring, but it brings itself to a beautiful close. At the end of it, you know that you've just listened to a good fucking CD. It's sure to be remembered as one of the better additions to their catalogue. While I liked Systematic Chaos, this blows it out of the water, and will hopefully be called into the setlist often from now on.
...You Won't be Pleased with Anything.
Since Dream Theater's "Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence" many naysayers have complained of the latest albums made by the band; 'Train of Thought' being too boring, 'Octavarium' being too commercial, and 'Systematic Chaos' being too "dull". In my opinion, none of those albums was bad, in fact, they were masterpieces. But then we find "Black Clouds & Silver Linings", and let me tell you, if you're not pleased with what this album has to offer, you won't be pleased with anything that DT releases after this. Metal Fans are too complex: when a band continues with their style along their albums, their reviews are called "More of the Same" however, if they change their ways and decide to experiment, the reviews are instead called "Why didn't they stick to their old ways?" and none of this arguments is valid when it comes out to review this album. So let's begin with the Album to see why:
"A Nightmare to Remember" opens, and in an awesome way. A heavy riff with some Jordan Ruddess' synthetizer notes. James LaBrie singing styles in this song are low toned, and fit perfectly in the song. It specially makes me think what would happen if "Awake"'s mysterious atmosphere, "Systematic Chaos" melodies and "Train of Thought" heaviness were merged together and synchronized in a new, but spectacular song. The only thing that I found annoying was Mike Portnoy's singing part.... it didn't fit anywhere. Portnoy might be good doing backing vocals, but he looks absolutely ridiculous when he does main vocals. Good Ruddess-Petrucci solo, and is a sign of how progressive this band can get (In fact, the tempo-changing parts make up the awful Portnoy-singing part). "A Rite of Passage" is next. At first it seemed like an average song. Nothing special, good chorus, good vocals. Until the tempo changes and the solos apear. I can swear that this part is the one that sticks you into the entire song. It makes the first part appear attractive, and the rest of the song appear awesome. "Wither" follows. A good ballad, and reminds me of the "Falling into Infinity" days. It is almost perfect: Good singing, good melody, good solo, good drums. The Keyboards might be a little missing in this song, but it doesn't make a big difference.
"The Shattered Fortress", the next song, is the last song from the "Twelve-Step Suite" which started with "The Glass Prison". In my opinion, this is the best final part that the Twelve-Step Suite could ever get. Glass Prison references are everywhere, nonetheless it has its own melody and style. The drums of this song left me astounded, and it's a great evidence of Portnoy's drumming skills nowadays. An awesome Petrucci-Ruddess solo again like in The Glass Prison is present in this song. The Repentance-like spoken part in the middle of the song is kind of boring, but it isn't a long part.
"The Best of Times" is a rare but somewhat soothing ballad. Reminds me of the soft part of "Octavarium" At first it has nothing special to offer and it stays that way for the first 2 minutes, but then it turns out to be a really emotive and powerful song. Unlike "A Nightmare to Remember" Portnoy does good backing vocals on this song. But what I found best is John Petrucci's solo, one of his best in the last decade. It seems that he's playing with his soul instead of his hands, and that solo, in part, saved the rest of the song. An emotive, good masterpiece overall. "The Count of Tuscany" is, by far, the most progressive Dream Theater-ish track of the song. The lyrics aren't good, but the music itself is stunning, making it a 20 minutes masterpiece. Jordan Ruddess work stands out in this song (Specially in the relaxing, soft part), as well as James' vocals. An awesome way to end an awesome album.
Overall, this is a very well balanced album. Soft parts, heavy parts, loud vocals, low vocals, it has everything that Dream Theater has to offer. The dedication from Octavarium, the technique from "Systematic Chaos", the heaviness from "Train of Thought", and a special, "Black Clouds & Silver Linings" sound that makes it unique. This special balance between tradition and experimentation makes this album another masterpiece made by DT, and maybe their best album in the last decade.
Dream Theater's latest album shows us that a band doesn't always lose their magic after being around for such a long time. Despite having been around for over twenty years, these five musicians have done nothing but evolve over time and constantly push themselves to create something fresh, unique, and above all, interesting. As time goes on, this band just seems to grow with each album, despite being in their late forties now. Not many bands can say that about themselves - in fact, I can't honestly think of another off the top of my head that does the same.
What we have here on Black Clouds & Silver Linings is an odd batch of songs. At first glance, six songs doesn't seem like much, but when you see the lengths of the songs, it may be overwhelming. Some have criticized Dream Theater for making their songs so long it becomes ridiculous; some complain that the songs sound contrived and are long just for the sake of being long. Black Clouds & Silver Linings is the answer to that argument. If anything, it shows that Dream Theater are at their absolute best when they create long musical epics. However, if you just aren't a person who can sit through long songs, this album won't be your cup of tea. You will find moments that captivate you and amaze you, but it's totally understandable to not want to sit through a fourteen minute song and still have five other songs of similar length to go through. This really is an album you will have to concentrate on and be in a certain mood for in order to truly enjoy and appreciate it.
Black Clouds & Silver Linings stays in line with the musical direction in which Systematic Chaos took. The music is taking an even more heavy direction, which has been a major source of controversy amongst fans since the Train of Thought days. However, as previously stated, the band continues to evolve - they took the intense power of Systematic Chaos and Train of Thought and combined it with the beautiful melodies once found on albums such as Falling Into Infinity and Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence. Obviously, the glory days of Images & Words and James LaBrie's soaring vocal screams will never return, but this album delivers moments that are very reminiscent of a young Dream Theater, still working on melodious epics like Metropolis, Part I while retaining the maturity of newer albums. Much to my and many others fans' appeal, there is a moment near the end of the album that is highly reminiscent of the Falling Into Infinity days, specifically Trial of Tears.
This album is much easier to swallow than their previous release was simply because the songs are based on personal experiences once again, unlike Systematic Chaos, which had a big vampire and monster theme going for it. A Nightmare To Remember is about a car crash Petrucci experienced as a child. A Rite of Passage is about freemasonry and secret societies. Wither is Petrucci speaking about writer's block. The Shattered Fortress is the final 12-step suite song, and it is just magnificent. The Best of Times was written as a memorial to Mike Portnoy's father, and The Count of Tuscany was written about Petrucci visiting a foreign land and literally being afraid he was going to die. While it may sound cheesy and over-the-top, the concepts are performed stunningly and are done in a much smoother and easier-to-swallow fashion than on Systematic Chaos. The best part is that despite the length of the songs, they never drag, and that's what Dream Theater did best on this album.
The most commercial of the songs is easily A Rite of Passage, with a very basic formula up to the solos, and even the lead-in to the final chorus is very basic. In my opinion, it's definitely the weakest link of all the songs on the album, but it's still a great song with a great solo section. Jordan Rudess experiments with an iPhone during a solo, which is very interesting to hear and makes me wonder if he'll continue to do this on future albums or not. He has really expanded his work the past few albums with his brilliant playing of the Continuum, so it's not unlikely. I look forward to it, but many people don't seem to feel the same way.
Another source of controversy is Portnoy's ever-increasing presence in the backing vocals. We heard them all the time on Systematic Chaos. I don't mind them, myself, but there really needs to be a limit on how much he is throwing in. Just like on Prophets of War, he has an entire vocal section for himself that would've worked fine with LaBrie singing it with a fitting melody, but this time we get a roar out of him, which immediately made me think Opeth is having a huge influence on Portnoy. Growls or not, there is a definite influence with the blastbeats and rough singing that has been becoming more and more noticeable in Dream Theater's music. He also shares vocals on The Shattered Fortress and A Rite of Passage. Personally, I think it's too much, but that's just because I think LaBrie should be the one in the vocal spotlight.
The Shattered Fortress is a large source of debate on this album because of its structure. Being the final step in what is basically a concept album (which began on Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence with The Glass Prison and has been followed up with one song per album since), many expected an original finish to the series. The Shattered Fortress is what you could call the mash-up song, taking parts of all previous songs, throwing them together with some original bits, and ending the series for good. Some call it lazy, some call it hack, but in all honesty, it just works. Even as a standalone song, The Shattered Fortress is a brilliant piece of work - hearing Jordan Rudess's synths soaring in the background behind James LaBrie's tremendous screams is one of my favorite things about it. It ends wonderfully and is a brilliant way to end the steps. Even those who don't like the song should be impressed when all the songs are performed back-to-back on the next live release.
The Best of Times is one of the most brilliant songs Dream Theater has done yet. With a beautiful piano-violin intro that leads into a blistering guitar solo, we arrive at the most Rush-sounding song in the Dream Theater catalogue, telling a heartwrenching tale of a boy and his father, the good times they had, and the death of his father. It's a very emotional song that really touched me, and the final guitar solo that ends the song could probably be one of the best John Petrucci has ever written for the band. No lie, this song is already definitely one of the shining stars in the repertoire.
The final song that has to be mentioned is the one everyone has been talking about since the first bits of information came out. The Count of Tuscany is the monster of this album, clocking in at almost twenty minutes. It has everything that this new age of Dream Theater should have. The acoustic intro and guitar solo is beautiful. The next few minutes are a flurry of keyboard and guitar interludes and melodies. The verses are fast, heavy, and mysterious, and the chorus is an epic anthem that is sure to be stunning in a live setting. A guitar solo follows and carries us into a very mystical section that feels exactly like Trial of Tears, as I mentioned earlier, which is the thing that made me happiest about this album. From this section until the end of the song, the band delivers the most hauntingly beautiful songs they have done in years. It sounds just gorgeous.
And that's not mentioning the special edition - the instrumental mixes are perfect for those who want to check out some sections without vocals, and the covers are very good. The only songs I had heard previously before listening to the cover versions were Stargazer and To Tame A Land, and they killed them. James LaBrie is the star of them, in my opinion, nailing every note just like the original singer. Excellent.
Having given this album multiple spins already, I can already see this being one of my favorite Dream Theater albums. Don't let the length of the songs be a deterrent - spending the time to listen to this album is worth every second. This is Dream Theater at it's finest in almost ten years, and I urge you to pick this up as soon as possible. These songs each have special and personal meaning, except maybe A Rite of Passage (even though it's still a good song - it just pales in comparison to A Nightmare To Remember or The Best of Times, is all, just because of the emotional and personal attachment involved). I managed to get the three-disc special edition for $15 and would have gladly paid double. Haters of the heavy style may be turned off, but it's no lie that there are things on this album for everybody. Black Clouds & Silver Linings is easily my album of the year already.