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When epic and commercial unite - 80%

symbolic1188, June 28th, 2009

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.