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A return to the grand scheme of things! - 100%

FateMetal, March 11th, 2011

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.