The eleventh studio album from USA based progressive metal powerhouse band Dream Theater is something to be marvelled. Not only for its title, somewhat of a hint as to the events that occurred in the last 12 months, but for its milestone achievement – the first album with new drummer Mike Mangini. How does it stack up? Dave Roberts track-by-tracks to tell us if it’s really worth the hype.
Ok, I gotta admit. The first time I heard the title of the new Dream Theater album – I immediately thought of the Dramatic Hampster, with it’s ‘Duh-duh-Daaaaa!’ in the background. And to be honest, it was probably fair close to the reactions of the fans when Portnoy left, all that time ago. However, the album’s name, as I found out on Monday night, was to be given no thought when deciding on the album’s contents. And by contents I mean the songs.
Now, I’ve already reviewed 'On The Backs of Angels" so I’ll skip that and move onto track two – "Build Me Up, Break Me Down".
First of all, I’ll say this. Wow. I’m not usually a type who is stumped for words, but this song left me struggling to describe it. I’m usually good with analogies of mixing bands, but even this was difficult, and I ended up coming up with nothing. Their obvious heavier influences were smashing through my speakers and leaving me in a stupor. Even the lyrics were gritty, determined, and hugely impacting. The chorus swells and makes for a part where I know people will be singing their heart out live. The solo section is pure technical prowess, and the ending gives way to an epic orchestral swell.
From the electric drum intro, to the build up, to the crack of the snare and the evident mosh-tastic sequence before the lyrics, I was already bewildered by the mix, the raw intensity of the song and, a little shocked at something else – the accessibility of it. I’ll explain that one later, but firstly onto the rest of the album.
Track 3 – "Lost Not Forgotten" opens with a horse galloping (a continuation from the ending of track two) which introduces a hopeful piano piece, which lays the foundation for and epic intro not too far from the vein of "Under a Glass Moon". However, the dial is turned up another notch, with head bangers grinning at the Raw-Dog style but heavily progressive bridge into the verse. And this is where LaBrie starts to show off how his voice has healed over the years since his food-poisoning incident in the early 90’s. At an almost growl he sings the lyrics: “I am not a mortal, I Am Just A Man.”
Yes it’s here that the heavy influences in Dream Theater don’t poke their head out, but rather crawl out of their hatch and stand in the sunlight fully unrelenting for the first time since "Train of Thought". However, the middle eight section reveals that famous "Yes" influence. And we the listener hear a glimpse of Octavarium once again, before our sight is blocked again by the metal man. A quintessential Petrucci/Rudess solo section leads into the final chorus before the ending that leaves you reeling.
Welcome now, to track 4 – “This is the Life”. Opening with the sound of a huge acoustic guitar introducing an all-in guitar solo intro. If you mixed "Cemetery Gates" and "Another Day" you’d be pretty close. The song is more of ballad and radio friendly than the previous two tracks, despite it’s length. Light until the middle eight and solo section, which paves the way for another glimpse of James’ vocal strength. The song ends with and epic short solo section and the opening guitar makes another appearance to leave us wanting more.
Now, onto track 5 – "Bridges in the Sky" (which was name-changed from "The Shaman's Trance"). With a haunting medicine-man beat greeting you before what I’m going to assume is either a vocoded belch, or a unique take on the horn from Inception, we are transported to a church with a Gregorian Choir, before Mr. belch comes back to signal the metal-as-anything guitar riff and an intro that would leave the boys from Disturbed running home with their tales between their legs. Even David Draiman wouldn’t want to ‘ah-ah-ah-ah’ this. And once LaBrie starts singing, the song raises the bar again.
Albeit with new mixing, his voice sounds raw, powerful and when the chorus comes you can already picture the fans singing along with him, mimicking his one hand up in a claw. Oh, and then there’s the solo section, which for all accounts was as Dream Theater as they get. It sounded like something off Metropolis Part 2, and the ending leaves us with soaring choirs and one more Inception BWAAAAHHHH just for good measure.
Track 6 – "Outcry". The intro where you your heart tighten in your chest before an all in frontal assault of a simple (by Dream Theater standards) orchestral-metal intro. Another mosh-friendly song, and again rather radio friendly (asides again, it’s length). And then James Starts singing. My first thought? “Who is that?!” Welcome back Images and Words James LaBrie. His voice sent shivers up my spine, focussed and mid-range, and then swelling to his signature falsetto. Again, another instrumental section that will leave you trying to catch up, before slamming into an ending that will hit you harder than a full bottle of tequila the morning after. But track ends on a sour note, something that is not right, leaves you tense – no resolution.
To lead into the next song, of course. Track 7, "Far From Heaven", is a beautiful James and Jordan piece that is an excuse for lighters to come out, couples to hold each other, stare into one another’s eyes and dance on the spot while times stands still. Unless you listen to the lyrics, which are melancholic and dark – a very sad tale. In fact this entire track reminds me a lot of Wait for Sleep in it’s structure and content. Just less ‘boppy’ for want of use of a better term.
However, the track everyone was waiting for has come – track 8 is "Breaking All Illusions". No, that’s the track name, and everyone is waiting for it because why? Myung wrote it. It’s the first time in twelve years that one of his songs has made it onto the album, and its difference is immediate. It’s upbeat and sounds a little bit like the power-rangers theme. Not the crappy version – the rockin’ version from the SNES video game. But that gives way to a more melancholic verse section, before building to a chorus of proportions so huge and awe-inspiring that Chuck Norris himself would shrivel. OK, maybe not Chuck Norris, but superman, definitely.
The instrumental section is, no word of a lie, about five minutes long. And keeps you entertained and on the edge of your seat the entire way. You can hear all the influences that had gotten lost in the last few albums coming through – Marillion, YES, Rush, Pink Floyd. So, thank you to the ‘quiet one’ on this one – top job. Even the ending has you wanting more, but the sound effects keep going… the link to the final track.
Track 9 – "Beneath the Surface". Acoustic ballad – something I’d been missing from the boys for a long, long time. Since "Take Away My Pain", really. It’s simple, shakers, and acoustic guitars set with chairs on stage and Jordan with his iPad. Yes, they’ve done some ballads since then, but there’s something about this one that takes me back to when Dream Theater were younger, and I assume had that look in their eyes that nothing would stop them.
In fact, this entire album gives me that feeling. It feels like an album that they wrote with the idea on their mind that they weren’t done yet. The fat lady hadn’t sung for Dream Theater yet and they weren’t about to go down without a fight. And fight they have.
In fact, I’m going to say that they’ve won. This album is a masterpiece. Every time they’ve had some kind of massive issue in the band they’ve written a canon album that everyone looks back to and compares the next album to. And the one after. And the one after that. This album is no exception to the trend. It’s a testament to the band’s stick-ability, and the band’s resource and hardiness to withstand the storms that rock the boat from time to time.
Overall? If you haven’t pre-ordered this album, do it. If you don’t like Dream Theater, get this album and it will change your opinion on them forever. Yes, the Majesty Is back, with a vengeance. And I don’t think they’ll be going any where.
Not for a long, long time.
Synopsis: Even if you hate progressive rock music, there’s something in here for every one. The weakest track is the single they released, and frankly, it doesn’t taint the album at all. Masterpiece.
Review Score: 10/10