Sound — 6
Truly, I had very low expectations for this album. My thoughts before listening to the album were that Dream Theater would use that 'perfect' sound which had manifested itself in the latest works "Systematic Chaos" and "Octavarium". A mediocre, flawless mix which wrings the flavour from the music, turning it into a dry work. The album begins with an extremely heavy choral intro, followed by a driving riff into an aggressive piece that shows obvious influence from their Swedish accomplices Opeth, mixed with minor chords & double-kicks galore. Frankly, Portnoy's vocals don't contribute much. The Continuum seems to have that 'that's so 2006' feeling, as we endure its melody. The next piece leaves every great work in Dream Theater's past in a cloud of dust, as it goes off on such an askew tangent towards mainstream, synthetic metal. Especially startling is that disgusting augmented fourth/flat five chord that punctuates the main riff. Had the preceding songs to "Wither" been satisfactory, the third track would have seemed appropriate. As this is not the case, I would liken it to a Christian rock song that would be played at church, or by Neal Morse for that matter. "The Shattered Fortress" truly does shatter the fortress built up by its parent songs, and is surely just a perversion of those four songs. "The Best Of Times" introduction is reminiscent of "Hollow Years", but the middle of the song reminds me of a watered-down, dull reflection of the triumphant tone that "Surrounded" had - and the third part of the song is simply a predictable chord progression that sounds like it should be the theme to a movie, a bit like "Ministry Of Lost Souls". Finally, "The Count Of Tuscany" brings the album to a generally decent closing. It contains many of the elements for which we grew to like Dream Theater; the strange technical passages, the excessive tempo changes; and fortunately Rudess' doesn't ruin the piece with displaced exotic synth tones. But the album's sound juxtaposed with "Images And Words" and "Awake" will show how dull it really is.
Lyrics — 4
LaBrie truly is a great singer. He doesn't try to be overly agressive, and he provides a commendable performance on this album. Unfortunately the lyrics don't do his voice justice. They are not nearly as inspired as during the "Images And Words" and "Awake" period. "The final stage, a sacred home, unlock the door, and lay the cornerstone" - "I wither, and render myself helpless"? Really, what? "A Nightmare To Remember" sees the return of more Octavarium-esque "peaceful sedation" substance, but I suppose we must give credit for the one good line in the entire album "Hopelessly drifting, bathing in beautiful agony" The lyrics are so pedestrian it really generates the feeling that the boys from New York are straining to find decent, sensible rhymes anymore. The Count Of Tuscany's storytelling style is majorly belittled by what Dream Theater had in "Scenes From A Memory", and a majority of the lyrics' meanings seem pointlessly evasive. Thoroughly uninspiring.
Overall Impression — 6
It's a rather morose feeling to know that Dream Theater is unlikely to conjure another masterpiece like "A Change Of Seasons" or "Images And Words". I get the impression that Dream Theater is trying to sound like they're still experimenting a lot by throwing in a few wacky synthesizer noises and letting Portnoy go all metal on us, but really the album lacks the true experimental aspects that "Six Degrees..." and "Falling Into Infinity" had. "The Shattered Fortress" had a big role to play in this album, and it did not deliver. I would have been exponentially happier with the album if it had actually been the six cover songs that were released, instead of these six works corrupted by modern trends.