Sound — 9
The self-titled twelfth studio album by Dream Theater, contains 9 tracks (one of which is a 22 minute monster) and runs at almost 70 minutes. The singles released from the album were "The Enemy Inside" on August 5th and "Along for the Ride" approximately one month later. There are two things that immediately stood out to me about the album – it is much more adventurous than there last several releases, and Mike Mangini is a seriously talented drummer. Mike Mangini makes a really strong creative outing, showing that John Petrucci and the gang made a good choice. Sure, Mike Portnoy was a beast on drums but he decided to leave and if someone has to replace him then Mike Mangini is proving to be a good choice. The album also contains an instrumental called "Enigma Machine," which is the first instrumental on a Dream Theater album in 10 years (if you don't count their "suite" tracks). The album opens with "False Awakening Suite," which has a very epic feel and contains 3 separate movements titled "Sleep Paralysis," "Night Terrors" and "Lucid Dream." The next track, "The Enemy Inside," is where Mike Mangini really begins to shine on the album, with some heavy rhythm playing by Petrucci. "The Looking Glass" starts out with a melody that reminds me of some of Dream Theater's earlier work with Jordan Rudess providing a nice bed with his keyboard for the song to lie in. The next track, "Enigma Machine," is an instrumental piece that could be described as six minutes of the band showing off if the composition wasn't so formidable. "Enigma Machine" contains some really exciting soloing by Petrucci peppered with a few short bass solos by Myung. "The Bigger Picture" is an awesome heavy melancholy track, and in my opinion, a track where Mangini, Rudess and LaBrie really shine (as Mangini gets to show both his skill and constraint). "Behind the Veil" builds slowly, has a very creepy vibe, and the best guitar tones from the entire album. "Surrender to Reason" seems to come from the same creative place that a lot of the music of Rush comes from, but it is indisputably Dream Theater's take on that particular muse. "Along for the Ride" is a more subdued track than most from the album, but grew on me with more listens. The album closes out with the track "Illumination Theory," which is a massive 22 minute track, and seems to be doing something new every 30 seconds or so. The band has broken "Illumination Theory" into 5 parts: "Paradoxe de la Lumiere Noire," "Live, Die, Kill," "The Embracing Circle," The Pursuit of Truth," and "Surrender, Trust & Passion."
Lyrics — 9
James LaBrie has been one of the strongest vocalists in progressive metal for a long time, and he doesn't disappoint on this release. James LaBrie is a master of his craft, as the other members of Dream Theater, and he continues to prove it consistently from album to album. At some point James LaBrie's age will surely wear on his vocal performances, but it is not on this album. As a sample of the lyrics, here are a few from the track "Behind the Veil": "What would possess you to justify/ Such dark and twisted ways? / What kind of monster would come to feast/ When the devil shows his face? / What does it take for life to change/ And a mind to lose control? / Cruelly left you to suffer the blame/ After all the lies you told/ I am finding courage in my darkest hour/ I am bent, not broken/ Calling out/ Someone save me, look behind the veil/ Please don't walk away/ Someone save me, bring me home tonight/ I can't face another day."
Overall Impression — 9
The bottom line is that "Dream Theater" is one of my favorite albums by the band in a good while. The musicianship is flawless (as always), the composition is genius, the mixing is great, and Mike Mangini showed that he knows what he's doing. My favorite songs on the album are "Enigma Machine," "Behind the Veil," "Illumination Theory" and "The Looking Glass." After about my third listen through the album began to grow on me even more - so with the first listen I went from liking the album to by the third listen being convinced the album is something really special. This is one of the albums where a lot of thought and effort went into some masterful mixing and producing. You would be doing yourself a disservice if you don't listen to this album through some nice speakers or headphones.