Sound — 9
If you have been a Dream Theater devotee over the past few decades, the departure of drummer and founder Mike Portnoy undoubtedly left an unsettling feeling. Would the band's sound be altered now that one of the best drummers in the rock world decided to pursue other projects? Well, after delving into the 11th studio release A Dramatic Turn of Events, the verdict is in: Fans can rest easy. There is no shortage of the trademark Dream Theater sound, and if anything, it sounds like guitarist John Petrucci and keyboardist Jordan Rudess took it up a notch. New drummer Mike Mangini handily controls the ever-changing time signatures, which come across just as complex as ever.
The album's most engaging aspect is its diversity, at least in terms of Dream Theater's usual repertoire. In moments the band could be considered very nearly metal (Bridges in the Sky) and in the next it seems that sentimentality is at the core of the songwriting (Far From Heaven). It should also be mentioned that vocalist James LaBrie is 100 percent the vocalist this time around, with the slightly annoying back-and-forth between he and a yelling Portnoy (if you recall Constant Motion) being a distant memory.
If you're looking for the jaw-dropping technical prowess (not that any of the tracks lack this quality), take a listen to Lost But Not Forgotten and Outcry. The latter at times is almost a frantic overload of riffage from Petrucci, but if you're a guitarist who appreciates skill, you'll eat it all up. Lost But Not Forgotten is particularly fascinating because it manages to create this hybrid of neo-classical shapes with almost a mechanical delivery. Ah, but it doesn't stop there. There are instances where there are jazz sections and some fantastic guitar harmonies orchestrated by Petrucci.
Build Me Up, Break Me Down comes very close to being an all-out industrial song, and although that's not a typical genre for Dream Theater, it works. Petrucci throws in some juicy grooves and subtle pinch harmonics here and there to add a nice contrast. Bridges in the Sky feels like it's tailor-made for a exorcism-themed film, so expect plenty of ominous voices and haunting chants. After a compelling, cinematic intro, Petrucci dives right into some of his most metal riff work on the album.
One might expect every song on a Dream Theater album to feature at least one or two elaborate solos, but there is definitely a stripped-down aspect to some of the latest record. Far From Heaven and Beneath The Surface are restrained, solemn ballads that are beautifully tasteful through and through. The strong vocals of LaBrie (along with a subtle piano or synth backing from Rudess) are all those tracks needed to strike a chord, and the band wisely allowed the emotions to reign.
Lyrics — 8
While this could have easily been a way to spit venom at Portnoy for leaving, there is not an overabundance of negativity in the lyrical content. Even a song like Build Me Up, Break Me Down might seem possibly aimed at the former drummer, but the band has pretty much said that the record really wasn't directed at him in the end. There is a pensive, passionate approach to quite a bit of the material, whether it's a dramatic call to battle in Outcry or exploring self-doubt in Far From Heave (Every day I struggle through it once more; Keep things bottled up; Never speaking my mind; Misinterpreted). And of course, LaBrie's vocal range certainly lends to each song's message.
Overall Impression — 9
Dream Theater does throw in quite a few different musical genres within the course of one record, but that cauldron of styles usually is always backed up by the band's trademark sound. If you love Dream Theater, A Dramatic Turn of Events shouldn't disappoint unless you plan on nitpicking the differences between Mangini and Portnoy. There are tracks that might be a little too technical and spastic for some ears, but in the end the band has proven that they are more than capable of carrying on without its founding member.