Sound — 9
The overall sound of this album was up to par for the most part. I was not greatly impressed by any of it, nor was I greatly disappointed. The musicians show us they can still play at a level we all expect from them. The harmonies are spot on as usual. The editor did a great job mixing this. Every instrument has a significant part in the music. One is not too loud or soft. As far as style, it's a typical Dream Theater album. It has an excellent contrast of fast, driving, heavy parts and slower, relaxed, mellow parts. Those of us who are fans of this band know that the songs "Another Day", and "Take Away my Pain" were written for John Petrucci's father. If you don't know, Another day was written while he was struggling with cancer, and JP wrote Take Away my Pain after his father died. Well, now there has been another tribute. Mike Portnoy wrote "The Best of Times" after the death of his father, Howard, late last year. This album also has the the conclusion to Portnoy's Twelve-Step Suite, based on the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. The steps of the Suite are strewn throughout Dream Theater's career. The first 3 parts are in the song "The Glass Prison" off of their Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence album. Then, parts 4 and 5 are in "This Dying Soul" off of Train of Thought. This is followed by parts 6 and 7 in "The Root of all Evil" from Octavarium. Parts 8 and 9 are found in "Repentance" on Systematic Chaos. And finally, 10, 11, and 12 are in "The Shattered Fortress" The high rating on this album is mostly due to the vocals of James LaBrie (which will be reviewed in the "Lyrics" section of this review, and the mixing of Paul Northfield. The excellent mixing and fitting together makes this album a great listen. It earns a 9.
Lyrics — 7
A lot of people don't like James LaBrie's vocals. After listening to this album, I don't know how you could hate them. He really knows how to raise the bar. He is perfectly fitted for this band. With his wide range, he can provide excellent vocals over excellent music. For the heavier riffs of this album he really digs in and gets a dirty gritty sound that compliments the songs beautifully. And as usual, his softer voice fits for the softer music. The lyrics were fairly weak. It's evident that Petrucci is running out of ideas as he wrote the song "Wither" about writer's block. As usual, Petrucci writes most of the lyrics for this album. Portnoy wrote "The Best of Times" and "The Shattered Fortress" due to their personal meaning to him. I give the lyrics a 7.
Overall Impression — 8
As stated, I was not impressed, nor disappointed by this album. It's a good album, but DT has done much better. But I suppose after 23 years and 10 studio albums, they just don't have the same spark they used to. Back when they wrote Images and Words, their reason for it was to try to outdo themselves and their first album, When Dream and Day Unite. For Black Clouds & Silver Linings, they just wrote the music because they love it. There's nothing wrong with that, but if you don't try to go over the top and beat yourself with every album, then it will always just be average. For Dream Theater, the word average means good prog metal. It's not they kind of album that will make you love this band, but it will most likely peak your interest. Overall, this album merits an 8.