Sound — 9
Two long years after the release of their controversial album "Systematic Chaos," progressive power house, Dream Theater, has returned to the spotlight with their latest album, Black Clouds & Silver Linings. Once again Dream Theater has tweaked their sound and mood from previous albums, and headed in a sometimes more gothic direction with songs like "A Nightmare to Remember." Not to say all the songs have a gothic feeling, and actually far from it. This album has a range of Dream Theater not seen on past albums. Starting with a dark and foreboding head banger, and ending with a nineteen minute proggresive rock masterpiece, sprinkled with ballads, and heartwarming melodic soundscapes, Black Clouds & Silver Linings is one of Dream Theaters best sounding albums in recent memory. For me, there is little to complain about the sound of this new album except for a few nitpicks, such as a few of Portnoy's vocals (which you get used to after a few listens) and the deep voiced talking in the AA Saga Finale. Surely detractors with poorly trained ears, who listen through generic ipod headphones will complain about the lack of Myungs bass, but if you have decent headphones, and a usable set of ears, you should have little to complain about.
Lyrics — 10
Like most Dream Theater albums, Black Clouds & Silver Linings has a plethora of lyrical topics ranging from personal tragedies and losing loved ones, to masonic cults, and writers block. To be honest, myself, and I assume most others, don't listen to Dream Theater in search of some deep and profound lyrics, as much as we do for their amazing technical prowess. Despite this, when it comes to lyrics, Dream Theater doesn't simply dish out generic boy meets girl love stories, and goes out of their way to write about interesting and unusual topics. Sure there they can be silly at times, or just plain corny *cough*wither*cough* but as I stated, DT's lyrics are overcompensated by their amazing musicianship, and vocal meoldies. On the topic of vocals, DT fans are in for a treat. Often criticized as the weak link of Dream Theater, James Labrie really gets his vocals just right this time around. James does a great job of balancing the high vocals with the lower, without ever sounding whinny or cheesey. I found the vocals on the "Shattered Fortress", and on the cover CD song "Stargazer" two very strong vocal performances. Bottom Line: Some of the best Dream Theater Vocals in the past decade
Overall Impression — 9
01.A Nightmare to Remember: this 16 minute thrill ride of a song starts out with the distant clapping of thunder, and soon goes into an eerie piano melody which leads into one of the most epic (and sinister) Dream Theater intros ever. With a driving guitar and choir melody, cascading drum fills, and thunderous double bass, this song pulls you in, and doesn't let go till the rides over. Featuring a powerful singing performance, brilliant guitar and key solos, melodic interludes, and hectic drumming. Easily one of my faves from the album. 02.A Rite of Passage: the first single off of Black Clouds, "A Rite Of Passage" doesn't disappoint. Beginning with a catchy bass melody which quickly grows into a memorable, and driving riff. Though one of the heavier tracks, it features many SFAM type vocal melodies. By the end you may be a little bored by the repetitious chorus, but in awe of the inhuman solo of Petrucci, and a bit confused by the ending of Rudess's. Over all not my favorite song, but by no means a bad one. 03.Wither: the third track Wither is the albums ballad. And like with most DT ballads, it's usually a love/hate situation. The track starts with the echo of acoustic guitar, and soon drums and vocals kick in. The most melodic song on the album, the song continually builds up to the end, where it ends with a short queen inspired solo. The song's lyrics focuses on the difficulties of writers block, and when you pay close attention to the lyrics, it will come across as quite corny. I found that I enjoyed this song more before finding out the context of the lyrics. Still it is a good song, and props to Petrucci for his short, but more than sweet solo. 04.The Shattered Fortress: the final piece of the AA saga, and the second heaviest song on the album, "The Shattered Fortress" brings the 5 piece series to a climactic close. The song takes various riffs and melodies from past AA songs, and melds them with new ideas, to create a familiar, yet intriguingly solid track. Slowly fading in with a distorted guitar, a growling riff soon takes over, and is layered with a key melody punctuated by a snare drum. It's hard to describe, but it comes together very nicely to form an awesome riff. After about a minute and a half of the intro, the guitar goes into a soaring rendition of the "This Dying Soul" solo, and then changing to the "The Glass Prison" riff. Throughout the song you will hear past snippets from the series. All together, the combination of old and new elements makes this a worthy ending to the AA suite. Only complaint I have is the deep voice in the "Repentance" rehash. 05.The Best of Times: The second to last track, and definitely the most emotional, and soulful song on BC&SL, the song is an ode from Portnoy to his deceased father. Starting with a beautiful, tear jerking acoustic solo, and rapidly changing pace into a Rush-esque epic. Hosting Some of the best lyrics on the album, and with a more classic prog-rock vibe, this track is sure to please old-school DT fans. Like "Wither," the song builds up until the end where Petrucci unleashes one of his most amazingly passionate guitar solos. Ever. Even if this song was bad, which it isn't, this solo alone would make up for it. 06.The Count of Tuscany: finally, the final track. "The Count of Tuscany" is the albums epic, and clocking in at 19 minutes of Progressive awesomeness, it is not a let down. The song begins with an acoustic melody, leading into a beautiful electric guitar solo, which fades away back into a new acoustic melody. Then the distorted guitar kicks in, and Portnoy lets loose some inspiring drum fills. Riddled with catchy meoldies, time signature changes, interesting interludes, synchronized solos, and heavy riffs, This track is sure to please all Dream Theater fans, and become a classic. Many have complained about the strange lyrics of this song, which deal about Petrucci's travel to Tuscany, where he met a count who he thought would kill him. Frankly, as long as the lyrics aren't as cliche as singing about monsters *cough*Dark Eternal Night**cough* they're good enough for me. In conclusion, "Black Clouds & Silver Linings" is a great progressive metal album, probably the best album out this year, and certainly one of Dream Theater's best in a long time. Great vocals, great instrumentation, and great production all lend to making this a must have for any DT fan, or progressive fan for that matter. My favorite tracks are the first and last tracks, "A nightmare to Remember," and "The Count of Tuscany." If stolen I would impale the thief with a spork, and force him to eat shrinky-dinks till he internally ruptured, than I would throw him in a pool of battery acid, and ammonia. Than I would go buy a new one.