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For some reason, I am both very pleased and somewhat at odds with Dream Theater’s new album. On one hand, they have ditched the excessive mallcore and aimless wankery for a more progressive album. On the other hand, a lot of this album seems contrived, as if the band went into the studio with the purpose “creating a diverse album.” Usually, this is a recipe for disaster, but in this case DT manage to pull it off unlike their last contrived effort to make “a classic metal album,” Train of Thought.
The album starts very solid with The Root Of All Evil, which provides themes from the better sections of Train of Thought’s This Dying Soul as it is a continuation of the AA saga. The riffs in this song are genuine (un-nu-metal), and there is an amazing keyboard break as well as a highly solid Petrucci solo. To its credit, the solos don’t take over the song, and there is some great piano at the end. The energy of this song transitions nicely into The Answer Lies Within, which is one of contrived ballad songs that seems to have been written for the purpose of variety. It’s catchy and unusually simplistic for Dream Theater. Overall this track doesn’t offer much. Interestingly, this song also has no instrument solos, a rarity.
These Walls is a varied tempo catchy song with heavy and softer sections, keyboard melodies, a lot of hi-hat and stax by Portnoy, and a very interesting guitar solo that actually stays within the confines of the song (4:40 to 5:10). The keyboard melodies have a New Millenium vibe, but overall the song has a vibe like the Awake album. Track 4, I Walk Beside You, begins with an eerie passage that turns into a fairly mainstream U2-like rock song. There is a cool key change near the end, and again …no solos.
Panic Attack is another heavy track full of keyboard scales, 5/4, catchy melodies, crazy solos, and time changes. The next track, Never Enough, is the most interesting for DT. It is very highly influenced by the British rock band Muse, but DT puts their own virtuostic spin on it. Musically, this track is very busy and has some excellent soloing. The following track, Sacrificed Sons, is based on 9/11. It starts out much like a ballad, but around 4:15 it breaks into a classic DT instrumental section full of scales, key changes, and soloing. This section is includes orchestral accompaniment, and while it’s long, it doesn’t turn into a wankfest. The vocals come back in after this break with a much heavier background than the first 4:00 of the song.
The final track is the big wow. Obviously an attempt to create another A Change of Seasons with the 24:00 running time, it doesn’t have the honesty that ACOS possesses, but it’s a great song in itself. There are all sorts of prog influences here from Yes to Pink Floyd to ELP with more orchestra. The song begins very slowly with the vocals in a story format and doesn’t really take off until after 12:00 at the simply amazing musical interlude. After 18:00, the vocals come back in spoken and slowly build up to a scream unlike anything Labrie has ever done before.
Overall, unless you’re already a Dream Theater or progressive fan, there is little chance that this album will draw your attention. With 2 softer songs and other's with softer sections, only 3 of the 8 tracks can consistently be considered metal, but this album is much more in tune to what Dream Theater is all about. I recommend it to everyone, but don’t expect anything “true.”
Best tracks: The Root of All Evil, Never Enough, Octavarium