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No Silver Lining Here - 86%

pinpals, September 28th, 2009

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)