Register Forgot login?

© 2002-2019
Encyclopaedia Metallum

Best viewed
without Internet Explorer,
in 1280 x 960 resolution
or higher.

Privacy Policy

Excellent epics, Broadway ballads - 84%

gasmask_colostomy, August 15th, 2016

I haven't reviewed any Dream Theater albums so far, not because I don't care about the band or haven't actually got any albums, but more because - as a stubborn Englishman - it's taken me a long time to mentally prepare myself for misspelling "theatre" a dozen or so times during the review. As such, I'll try to stick to DT for everyone's sake. There's also another reason that I haven't reviewed any DT albums as yet, and that's because the band's music isn't exactly to my taste. I tend to find some of the earlier DT albums a bit wishy-washy and inconsequential, which is my personal reaction to them being classically "proggy", something that I don't have a great deal of time for. Also, my sister likes DT, my sister being the barometer for anything that is too cheesy or pompous for normal people to enjoy in a normal way.

All that aside, Black Clouds & Silver Linings agrees with me more than almost any other DT album you'd care to mention, though I'm also somewhat partial to the heavier offerings Train of Thought and Systematic Chaos. The 2009 effort currently on the dissection table bears that "heavier" stamp as well and in my view benefits a lot from it, sounding commanding and puropseful with the weight of John Petrucci's guitar thundering out some big riffs in 'A Nightmare to Remember', 'A Rite of Passage', and 'The Shattered Fortress', which looks to take Opeth on at their own game (a game Opeth have now lost if one cares to remember). The heaviness comes in part from the guitar tone, which is bold and fat though with plenty of classic appeal; there is also an effort to riff in a decidedly metal way, as can be seen from the (downtuned?) no shit riff that greets the listener after an atmospheric introduction to 'A Nightmare to Remember', plus a full-on double bass stormer as James LaBrie spits out a three-quarters death grunt after a particularly masculine verse late on in the song. In the same vein, the heaviness of some of the instrumental passages keeps things energetic between verses, which is especially important when trying to maintain attention during 16 or even 19 minute songs.

It's a testament to DT's impressive planning and interesting musical ideas that those lengthy songs don't become testing experiences, because I don't find myself drifting off or growing restless during 'A Nightmare to Remember' nor 'The Count of Tuscany', which certainly happens to me during other DT albums like Awake (I guess it was named ironically). Indeed, both of those songs must go down as some of the best exercises in extended songwriting and storytelling that I can think of, since the plot of LaBrie's lyrics is as gripping as you would hope, particularly in the closer, where you wait a good 5 minutes through an instrumental break to find the conclusion of the story, the other four musicians keeping the suspense alive the whole time. There are a lot of memorable moments in those instrumental sections too, what with the great keyboard theme to the opener, the excellent guitar and keyboard solos in 'A Rite of Passage', and the consistently diverting and atmospheric closer. I could go on for a long time about the qualities of these songs, but let a single example suffice: I once had a dream in which I played through the entirety of 'The Count of Tuscany' in my mind and I'm pretty sure every section was present - it's certainly a memorable listen.

All of the musicians are important to creating the greatness of those songs, but James LaBrie deserves a special mention. It's natural to assume the skill of the instrumental members given their pedigree, though LaBrie has often been the weak link in the band, sounding a little tired or too plaintive to fully convince. Here, he has more powerful backing to work with, which helps him a lot, though he also pulls out some great changes and immensely powerful performances, the pinnacle of which is that unexpectedly heavy part of 'A Nightmare to Remember' alongside the electric chorus of 'The Shattered Fortress'. That said, there are moments where he still struggles, such as on the ballad 'Wither', which my sister wouldn't bat an eyelid at but I have quite a problem with, emotional overblowness and all that. The same thing happens for large parts of 'The Best of Times', the lyrical sentiment being really unsubtle and overdone:

Thank you for the inspiration
Thank you for the smiles
All the unconditional love
that carried me for miles
It carried me for miles
But most of all, thank you for my life.

This is only made worse by LaBrie singing in this kind of gay "I'm opening my soul" way, though the instrumental sections are alright, the closing melodic solo helping to eradicate the nasty taste in my mouth.

Those less tasty aspects of DT must be expected to some degree I suppose, it's just a shame that it leaves the album unbalanced, since the best songs (the other four) are all really good. The softer songs could have done with less overbearing emotion, thus providing a respite from the heaviness elsewhere, though I know there are people who will lap up that kind of Broadway obviousness. As such, making a judgment on Black Clouds & Silver Linings is rather difficult, because there's a clear hour of great music, which could have made an album on its own and been gripping from start to finish. I heartily recommend having a listen, but only if you know what to expect of Dream Theater: complex and captivating instrumental ideas, nasty ballads, and American spelling.