Sound — 9
A Dramatic Turn of Events, progressive metal titans Dream Theater's 11th opus, represents their maiden voyage sans founder member and long-time drummer Mike Portnoy. I'm sure you've all heard the fairytale by now so I am not going to bore you with it again. All that needs be said is that whatever water has flowed under the bridge over the past year, it has done nothing but galvanise this band. A Dramatic Turn of Events (henceforth ADToE) is unashamedly a Dream Theater record and this return to their roots is nothing less than refreshing. At almost 80 minutes in length, this is a long album but it simply doesn't drag at all. The pacing is spot on. Theatrical choir patches on opener On the Backs of Angels set the album on its way and the momentum never drops. The peaks are as strong as the troughs and just about every song has its moment. Bridges in the Sky', which contains probably the pick of the riffs on the album, is every bit as good as The Glass Prison' and the ethereal This is The Life' could easily go toe to toe with the bands better ballads such as Hollow Years'. If you want technical expertise, then the driving Lost Not Forgotten', Outcry's' schizophrenic mid-section and the imperious Breaking All Illusions' all pack it in abundance without there ever being an instance where an instrumental section is formulaic or completely overstays its welcome. The lack of awkward transitions between sections is nice too. The decision to close with an introspective ballad proves another masterstroke; Beneath the Surface' comes out of nowhere, is simply beautiful and is a fitting end to the album. It's noticeable for the first time in a while that seems like all instrumental aspects of the band are functioning to their full capability too. John Myung is audible once more and possibly the best compliment I can pay new sticksman Mike Mangini is that you barely notice anything different. He fits the band that well. The album seems more thought out than previous efforts. The ever majestic John Petrucci and Jordan Rudess' interplay seems less forced and and more considered, with the latter channeling Kevin Moore in contributing significantly more melodic and memorable lead lines and the former proving that he is a both a riff factory and a supremely consistent soloist all rolled into one. Granted, ADToE is not without its flaws. Build Me Up, Break Me Down' sounds more like Disturbed than a Dream Theater song ever should, the belches that book-end Bridges In The Sky' are downright ridiculous and Outcry', despite all its instrumental meandering and one particularly powerful riff, is almost too much at times, doesn't really go anywhere and is probably, lyrically speaking, is probably the weakest song on the album. There's also a great deal of self-referencing going on here: On The Backs of Angels' shares a structure with Pull Me Under', Lost Not Forgotten's' guitar solo, chorus, outro and large part of its general structure are semi-interchangeable with Under A Glass Moon' and Outcry' tries so, so hard to replicate Metropolis pt.1's insane dynamics without ever really managing to do so. That said, I'd rather Dream Theater copy Dream Theater than Dream Theater copy any other band and to their credit, they stay very true to themselves here.
Lyrics — 8
Lyrically and vocally, ADToE stands head and shoulders above recent efforts. Petrucci's lyrics don't go anywhere near the cringeworthy depths they have plumbed in recent years and his lyrics on tear-jerking closer Beneath the Surface' are a genuine highlight. Even John Myung gets another long awaited stab at contributing lyrically and Breaking All Illusions', co-written with Petrucci, is every bit as poetic as Learning to Live' or Trial of Tears'. James LaBrie sounds more convincing than he has in decades, delivering soaring chorus after soaring chorus (Breaking All Illusions and Bridges in the Sky being the most impressive) whilst supplementing the album's softer moments with appropriate melodrama. Every song plays to his strengths and apart from the last minute of Beneath the Surface', LaBrie never sounds strained, representing a massive return to form.
Overall Impression — 8
On the whole then, A Dramatic Turn of Events is a mighty good effort and much better than recent albums which have been afforded hype which has only died down shortly after release. Everything you want from a Dream Theater record is present and correct. Is it a classic? I'd suggest not but there's still some great music on offer here. Does it sound stuck in the same formulaic rut as the last couple of DT releases? Not at all. Is it a triumph? You bet it is. Make sure you pick this up. Acquire: Bridges In The Sky, Beneath The Surface, Breaking All Illusions