Sound — 9
How can a band with such a strong powerful fan-base, after having been in existence for almost 25 years now, not have slipped into the mainstream and still be alive and well? Whatever the answer, method, or formula; Dream Theater seems to have found it. These 5 virtuosos are at it again with a new album Black Clouds & Silver Linings, which so far has seen a good bit of controversy. Upon listening to this album, it is evident why this air of discord and confusion might be around. The sound is very oriented around the heavy metal aspects of Dream Theater which have become increasingly more powerful post Train Of Thought. ut the band doesn't forget it's majestic beauty and places many melodic passages and full on ballads, reminding us that Dream Theater still has as much melodic skill as ever. The songs are filled with odd time signatures and key changes, much like any Dream Theater album, but they seem to have acquired a better understanding (if it was even possible) of how and where to place these "progressive sections". Though the album is very dark and metal at some points, they really are taking a strong turn towards their roots again throughout the entire album. Because the album is so variant in styles, I will proceed to review each of these 6 tracks individually. 01.A Nightmare To Remember: this song starts off the album in a heavy dark progressive form. It is littered with heavy riffs and a beautiful soft section in the middle with some of the best lyrics on the album. The whole band plays very well on this track, and it is probably one of the strongest tracks on the record. A great way to open the album. My only issue with this song is the grunt passage near the end, although strangely enough Portnoy actually made it work this time unlike his previous attempts on Systematic Chaos. I give the song a solid 9 out of 10. 02.A Rite Of Passage: this song is a normal everyday post-Train Of Thought Dream Theater song. It starts off with an interesting bass intro, and leads into the very catchy main riff of the song. Unlike the previous track, this song follows a definite formula, which is not unusual for the post Train Of Thought DT, but they do present some haunting melodies and the many voiced melody in the chorus is enough to give anyone chills. Petrucci and Ruddess are at their career heights with there fingers moving in a blur as usual. The very acrobatic solo section reprises back into the chorus almost instantly and I thought that was extremely well put together. The song as a whole is pretty solid, and is a pretty solid single. I give it a good 9 out of 10 simply because I expected a little more from DT, but I like their ability to calm their musical expertise down and write a simple formulaic song. 03.Wither: this track is nothing short of beautiful. The lyrics are very open-ended in this song and can be interpreted really anyway the listener wants them to be. it's a very strong ballad and Petrucci plays with such feeling in the solo section of this song, though it isn't his most passionate solo on the album. LaBrie is at top form again and it really shows in this song. His tone is absolutely perfect. This song reminds me of an older DT, maybe all the way back to Images And Words, it has the same kind of beautiful feel that Another Day had, only this time with a more dark and eerie twist to it. I grew very attached to this song despite it's technical simplicity it is shear beauty. I give it a 10 out of 10. 04.The Shattered Fortress: MP's final chapter in his "Twelve Step Suite" and it is a proper finale indeed. It reprises and recalls almost all the key points in the suite that have been previously presented on the last 4 albums. It has been stated that they should have had more original parts, which at first I agreed with, until I listened to the entire suite from start to finish. When you listen to it in that fashion this song is all the more powerful and makes all the more sense. It connects everything very well, and gives us an amazing dramatic finale. The boys are at their very best technically in this song, I fell in love with Rudess's strange keyboard solo in the middle, it was so free-base but extremely interesting. But in regards to it as a stand alone track, this song isn't as powerful, I'll give it an 8.5 out of 10. 05.The Best Of Times: the track starts with what would seem to be the ticking of a clock, which sets the mood for this teary-eyed ballad. It has been since Octavarium that we have been treated to such a majestic masterpiece. This is Mike's second song he's written about a late relative. This one is about his recently passed father, and the sting of his passing is still evident in this song. As most hardcore DT fans would recall, Portnoy's father gave the band the name Dream Theater (as stated on the Score DVD). It may not come as a surprise that the whole band seems very reflective in this entire song. It isn't as chilling and intricate as it's predecessor "A Change Of Seasons" (written for Portnoy's deceased mother), but it definitely is more mood appropriate. They pick up the mood a few minutes into the song and lift us up with some very Images And Words-esque riff-age by Mr. Petrucci. It's good to see the band recalling such finer points in their career throughout the whole song. Portnoy's father would have been pleased to hear this song. I want give away much, but I will say that this song is very powerful, and the lyrics, though incredibly straight-forward, really hit yo if you listen closely. The solo at the end by John Petrucc is a complete masterpiece, it will rival his other solos for the spot of his best solo ever quite possibly. It is riddled with strange time signature changes and so much feeling it gives me the chills every time I hear it. I give this song a strong 10 out of 10, it is good to see the boys taking a turn to their roots with a very Rush-esque song! 06.The Count Of Tuscany: this song is an excellent finale. It starts off with some beautiful acoustic guitar which actually is in the same key as I&W's Another Day intro riff (listen to the song and look at the fret patterns and key, you will see that they are almost identical). Despite this odd yet effecient look into DT's past, this song is riddled with all things DT. Heavy sections with LaBrie screaming out his vocals with utter passion, smooth sections with ambient guitar, and even some acoustic beauty near the end. Also there is a lot of the trademark odd time signatures throughout this entire song that have made DT so famous, only this time it seems to be even more efficiently put together. The song is not very solo packed, but it does have a few emotional solos by JP and some interesting melodies by JR. Myung gives ambient bass backing to JP's ambient solo in the middle and this is one of the few song where you can hear his playing, which truly is a shame, because if you turn the bass up on the stereo you can tell JM is doing some interesting things as usual. The song as a whole is a masterpiece and nothing short of brilliant, it will most likely join DT's classics one day in the future. I give it a 10 out of 10.
Lyrics — 9
The album as a whole seems to have a theme oriented around the idea that despite all the devastating event in life, there is always a silver lining. Though this is not exactly very original, and is almost completely cliche, it is something that mankind (more so the youth) need to be reminded. Dream Theater's lyrics aren't usually anything to leave the reader amazed by them technically, but rather they are usually lyrics that give the listener a definite feeling and help us to relate to the song as a whole. This album lives up to that. One of the lyrical highlights if found in "A Nightmare To Remember" during the melodic middle section: "In peaceful sedation I lay half-awake, As all of the panic inside starts to fade, I am hopelessly drifting, bathing in beautiful agony... ". A Rite Of Passage also contains some interesting lyrics that are filled with cryptic meanings but all in all average rhyme schemes. And as for the song considered the worst lyrically by most, "Wither", because it seems to be about writer's block, if the listener takes that aside and listens to the hidden meaning underneath it all, like most DT songs have, they will find themselves pleasantly surprised and eotionally moved. Vocally, James is back in top form again which is amazing to hear. His vocals on this album are at times gorgeous and passionate, and other times screaming and powerful. He also lives up to his reputation at excellent delivery and proficient knowledge on when to sing operatically, and when not to. Portnoy's vocals on this album are the same average grunts. Nothing amazing, and at times they are even out of place. But for the majority of the album they fit the section well, but I do think they belong in the background more than the foreground. However his vocal backing for LaBrie in "The Best Of Times" is some of his best back up singing work. It's actually beautiful and his father would be proud.
Overall Impression — 8
This album as a whole when placed on a scape where it is alone and the only DT disc ever, it is amazing and nothing short of brilliant. But once you place this album up to DT's other mammoth albums such as Images And Words, Scenes From A Memory, and Octavarium, the album is dwarfed almost immediately. It really isn't DT's best work, but it is leaps and bounds ahead of Systematic Chaos and Falling Into Infinity. It is placed more along their middle ground with Awake, Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence (which almost should be in the top albums category), and Train Of Thought. The most impressive songs on this album are probably "A Nightmare To Remember", "The Best Of Times", and "The Count Of Tuscany". All great songs which will undoubtedly join DT's classics. "The Shattered Fortress" when placed with the other songs in the suite is an amazing song as I said, but alone, it just isn't nearly as strong. I love the fact that DT is moving more towards their roots again, it leaves me to believe their next album will be another mammoth magnum opus much like I&W, Scenes, and Octavarium. But at the same time there isn't much I dislike about this album. Upon first listen I was bothered by how much heavy metal litters about 50% of the album, but after a few listens it grew on me and I began to understand that it is a very important and incorporable element to the album as a whole. Though I really wish MP would stop his grunts, they are better for a solely metal band, and don't really have much a place in DT, I prefer his deep baritone vocals for LaBries background along with JP's baritone backings. If this album was stolen, I'd definitely buy it again, it is a terrific album as a whole, just not one of DT's best. It however gives us a look at the future for a possibly more mammoth DT album that possibly lies just over the horizon.