Sound — 9
After not being wowed at all by their last release, Systematic Chaos, I was really hoping Black Clouds & Silver Linings would be a big step up. I had heard this album for more than a month before it came out, so I've been listening to it for a while. I liked it a lot at first, but the more I listend to it, the more it faded for me. But you could say that about any album I suppose. Sound-wise, Dream Theater is miles ahead of anyone else. I think they've really honed their sound in, and it is very tight. They are still writing great music, as every song on the album is nicely done, musically. The first time I heard A Nightmare To Remember, I fell in love with it and knew it would be my favorite song on the album. However, once I listened to the rest of it, I realized that it wasn't as good as some of the other ones. The best part of the song by far is the lyrical middle section. That's just great music. The second track, A Rite Of Passage, was released as a single, just like Constant Motion was two years ago, and the song itself reminded me too much of Constant Motion. A good song, but I don't like this single-making business. Dream Theater should not be making singles, in my opinion. The third song, Wither, is a power ballad of sorts, and I think DT pull it off. I especially liked the Brian May-style Queen guitar solo by John Petrucci. The Shattered Fortress is probably my second favorite song on the album. Some have criticized it for being merely a medley of the last four movements of the Alcoholics Anonymous Suite, but I think that DT took the right plan of action when they wrote this song. I like that it recapitulates all the past parts of the saga, and adds new material to bring it all to a close. Great finale to a great concept. The Best Of Times, the fifth track on the album, is dedicated to Mike Portnoy's father, who died of cancer. It has a beautiful introduction, with piano and a violin soloist, before coming in strong. Some of the chord progressions sounded very familiar to me, but I can't put my finger on it. That brings me to the best song on the album by far, The Count Of Tuscany. I've seen a lot of people bashing this one, but don't listen to them. It is a masterpiece from start to finish. The recap of the solo at the end gives me chills when I listen to it, and it is a very fitting end to the album. Overall, a wonderful sound by the band.
Lyrics — 7
The lyrics on this album almost go together. With A Nightmare To Remember, The Count Of Tuscany, Wither, The Shattered Fortress, and The Best Of Times, there are lyrics about life experiences, and A Rite Of Passage has lyrics about free masonry and secret societies. I was trying to find a central theme here, but there is none. However, the lyrics themselves are fine. A Nightmare To Remember is about a car crash from Petrucci's childhood, and I especially like the lyrics from the middle section I mentioned earlier. The part I don't like is where Portnoy speaks the words and then does that ridiculous "roar" noise. That is by far my least favorite part of the entire album. It is pointless and reminds me too much of Systematic Chaos. I liked some of the lyrics in The Shattered Fortress, over top of the riffs from past movements. I liked how they changed them from having a problem to being past the problem. The Count Of Tuscany lyrics are intriguing, and tell a story. It's a bit of a strange story and cannot be total truth, but I think it works. James Labrie sounds good throughout this album; nothing wrong there.
Overall Impression — 7
For me, this album had little or no direction. The things that I liked about past albums were the themes and concepts that linked everything together, and Black Clouds & Silver Linings, as well as Systematic Chaos, lacked that factor. Other albums have lacked a connective concept (Train Of Thought, Images And Words, Awake), but they still managed to be great albums because they forwarded their style and music from the preceding release. This album sounds just like Systematic Chaos, and Systematic Chaos is one of my least favorite DT albums. Ever since they joined Roadrunner Records, they have been giving lackluster effort, compared to their past works, and giving a little too much promotion. For a band that took pride in not making commercial hits and found success without making singles, they sure have taken a turn. It almost seems like sometimes they think that they can just put out whatever they want and still expect to be gods. This isn't the case, and I really hope they can turn it around and make something new and unique with a theme or concept. Don't get me wrong; I like this album a lot, but it just wasn't an Octavarium or a Scenes From A Memory.