Sound — 8
Pros: This album has an amazing blend of guitars and keyboards, like in the opener, "A Nightmare To Remember." Rudess effectively uses quirky, "Halloweenish" Keyboard tones over some muscular riffing by Petrucci to make for a fairly unorthodox, but sonically amazing atmosphere. The actual song arrangements have taken a huge leap forward. Dream Theater have done away with most of the arbitrary instrumental excursions that flooded Systematic Chaos. Although they are still present, they seem to have more of a purpose in the song rather than being just a jam session that was pasted to the end of a 5 minute song. The melodic hooks are still very present, especially in "A Right Of Passage", "Wither", and "The Count Of Tuscany." Cons: John Myung's bass track is almost inaudible for about 90% of the album. One would think a band that has gotten respect for being "musical innovators" would find a more creative way to incorporate the bass so that it's even somewhat in the foreground. "The Shattered Fortress" is by far the weakest track on the album. It is a montage of a montage of a montage of a montage of Dream Theater songs. Having already listened to the preceding four songs of the 12 Step Suite, I could pretty much predict every melody, modulation, and tempo/feel/time signature change.
Lyrics — 8
Pros: The overall lyrical theme of the album, as stated in the album title, is triumph and defeat, light and darkness, etc. They seem to have tried to write more personal songs to reflect this theme. Yes, this means no more fantasy, sci-fi, or horror themed lyrics, which is to me, a pro. The lyrical subjects include a car accident, free masonry, fear of writers block, alcoholism (predictably), personal loss, and something to do with a count. The lyrics from "The Shattered Fortress" that aren't extracted from other 12 Step Suite songs are very well written and truly sum up the saga (not the album) very well. Cons: The lyrics to "Wither", and "The Count Of Tuscany" are written in a very whiny and melodramatic tone. Writers block is a song topic that only someone, well, with writers block should write about, and judging from the intensity of "The Count Of Tuscany" one would think Petrucci was tortured in a dungeon by this guy. I am assuming this is not true...
Overall Impression — 9
If you love Dream Theater, you will like this album, if you hate Dream Theater, you won't. This album isn't breaking any ground, it will only re-enforce your love/hate of their music. Over all it is a solid 8/10. Standout tracks: "A Nightmare To Remember," "A Right Of Passage" and "The Count Of Tuscany".