Dream Theater review by Dream Theater

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  • Released: Sep 23, 2013
  • Sound: 8
  • Lyrics: 7
  • Overall Impression: 8
  • Reviewer's score: 7.7 Good
  • Users' score: 8.6 (110 votes)
Dream Theater: Dream Theater

Sound — 8
I've been listening to the new Dream Theater album almost non-stop for the past week and I'm going to sum up my impressions of it in one big statement: this is in my opinion the best album they've recorded since 2002's "Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence." It's got everything a DT fan should expect: complex drumming and riffs, big compositions and keyboard arrangements and trademark instrumental mastery. The album opens with "False Awakening Suite," a short instrumental track that sounds like a mashup of trailer music for fantasy and action movies, and then moves on to The Enemy Inside, which is fast, heavy and straight to the point. This song is representative of the album as a whole: it doesn't focus entirely on complexity and progressive craziness; these elements are present on the album, but this is no Awake or Metropolis 2 in that aspect. This album is complex and progressive, but at the same time it's catchy and accessible. After "The Enemy Inside" we hear "The Looking Glass"' opening riff, which surely will remind some people of a certain prog rock band from Canada. Hell, the whole song and its instrumental section feel like a tribute to Rush. It's a short song that relies on a big chorus and a catchy riff that drives the entire piece. Not remarkable in any aspect, but it works and I'm sure it will be great for live performances. The tribute to Rush ends and then begins one of the best, strongest pieces in the album. "Enigma Machine" is an instrumental track that's all about the heavy, the crazy and the dark side of Dream Theater. It opens with a haunting melody that transforms into a balls-to-the wall guitar intro which is then followed by a riff that sounds dark and nasty, like the whole song. Around the 1:40 mark begins one of my favorite parts in the entire album, where Rudess and Petrucci decide things need to get insane. The song contains some trademark keyboard and guitar soloing and there's also one crazy drum fill. Mike Mangini had to shine on this one too, after all. "The Bigger Picture" feels like a song that was specifically designed to be played live. It's like a long power ballad, with its piano intro and its big chorus perfect for singing along and what not. A good song, but a bit weak in the context of the album. "Behind the Veil" starts with some quiet ambient sounds and music but after a while it blasts off with some of the best riffing in the album. It's fast and heavy combined with slow and melodic. The instrumental part is in my opinion one of the best in the album, with a fantastic short solo by Jordan Rudess. This whole song sounds like something out of Images and Words. "Surrender to Reason" contains a variety of different feels and atmospheres and features a nice instrumental section in which Petrucci goes noisey yet melodic over a fantastic bass groove. It's one of the few occasions where John Myung gets to shine, and while not especially technical, fast or complex, his playing works perfectly in this part of the song. The whole thing sounds like Liquid Tension Experiment. "Along for the Ride" is the ballad that apparently every Dream Theater album requires. It's a nice little song where everything is soft and emotional and melancholic. Of course it wouldn't be a Dream Theater album without some doses of cheese, and this song, especially the keyboard solo, is that dose. The song itself is ok, but it's one of the weakest tracks in the album. And then there's "Illumination Theory." A 22 minute monster that is like a mix of everything this album has to offer: huge keyboard arrangements, fast and heavy riffing, complex drumming and indstrumental gymnastics. It's got anything from heavy and almost thrashy to neoclassical to quiet and sad to groovy and psychedelic. It starts like a standard song with verse-chorus structure, then goes into an instrumental section followed by a spacey bit that then gives way to a string interlude. An interlude performed with actual strings, not just a keyboard. And then it's turn for James LaBrie to really shine. His presence in this song is minimal, but he really delivers his best performance in the second part of the song. What follow are three minutes of instrumental wizardry, an outro that reminds me of that in Octavarium, and then the song ends, as beautifully as it started. As a song that's composed of various parts it kinda feels like it lacks a clear structure and a theme (the string interlude feels somewhat out of place, especially), but it's amazingly well done and performed. By far the best track in the album. I think there's some aspects which deserve a special mention. First of all, the bass. Man, that bass. You can hear it, and it sounds gorgeous. John Myung doesn't get many chances to really shine, but he doesn't need to shine with bass solos or anything like that when his tone is so great and you can hear his playing at almost all times. It's always nice to hear the bass among all that guitar and keyboard, especially when the guitar is played by John Petrucci. I found the keyboards to be amazing at times, to disappointing in some other parts. There's nothing particularly wrong with Rudess in this album, it's just that I think he can do better. Some of his arrangements and solos in this album sound like they've been done before, and I think the best Rudess is that which tries to push the boundaries and do the craziest stuff. Now don't get me wrong, there are some parts in the album where the keyboard really kicks ass and the overall impression is not at all bad, but I would have loved to hear the adventurous and fun Jordan Rudess I heard in "Scenes From a Memory." And then there's the drumming. Mike Mangini already played on Dream Theater's last album, but he played the parts that Petrucci wrote for him. In this album he had the chance to be creative and prove DT made the right decision when they chose him to replace Mike Portnoy, and boy, does it make a difference. The drumming is much, MUCH more interesting than in "ADTOE." From the groove in "The Enemy Inside" to the overall craziness of "Enigma Machine" to the instrumental sections of "Illumination Theory," Mike Mangini is always doing something to spice things up, in the entire album. Whether it's some fast and complex fill or variations of the main theme or the expected odd time signatures, he keeps things dynamic and interesting. Portnoy fanboys will hate, but the drumming in this album is great.

Lyrics — 7
I'm not going to comment much on the lyrics. Dream Theater were never known or admired for their lyrical prowess, anyway. These lyrics just work, but that's it. Some nice bits here and there, but nothing really special. The singing, on the other hand, is great. James LaBrie's voice is not everyone's cup of tea and I'm aware that some people just can't stand him, but the man can sing, there's no denying that. He's of course not in his best shape, but he still delivers. His voice sounds rougher than usual in some parts, and he does some impressive high notes in the second half of "Illumination Theory" (here's hoping he can pull that off in a live performance). In general, the singing is pretty decent for Dream Theater standards. Not bad and not super good, just more than good enough overall.

Overall Impression — 8
I said at the beginning of the review that this is the best album they've recorded since 2002. "Scenes From a Memory" and "Six Degrees..." are my two favorite DT albums, and this one is quickly earning the bronze medal. I think this album tries to combine the heavy and metallic sound of the latest records (from "Train of Thought" to "Black Clouds") with the more progressive aspects of classic Dream Theater. The final result may not be a total progfest like previous albums, but it's still a great blend of metal and prog and a damn good album in terms of instrumental and songwriting capabilities. A solid 8 that could be a 9 if it weren't for a couple underwhelming songs. If this is the way the new Dream Theater is going to sound from now on, then I believe I'm along for the ride.

59 comments sorted by best / new / date

    I don't understand why most people hate LaBrie. He has an amazing voice!
    I think it's less his singing ability and more his tone, as that's what I hear most people complain about it in his case.
    You're right he IS an amazing singer but his voice has always made it tough for me to really REALLY like Dream Theater. "Awake" was the last DT album I ever bought because I always thought that LaBrie's voice, although technically impressive, really dragged the overall sound of the band down GREAT musicians with a very dated sounding singer. James LaBrie always sounded like the most gifted rock vocalist... from a hard rock-esque band circa 1987. Just not my thing I guess. As soon as I discovered other progressive rock bands making equally as interesting music but with less "frozen-in-time" sounding vocalists.
    In previous albums he did have some weak spots, but I think from BC&SL his vocals have really improved.
    From Images and Words to A Change of Seasons he sounded amazing. I think around then is when he blew out his vocal cords, and from then on they've been slowly getting better. Especially around Black Clouds and Silver Linings, as you said.
    sinForge xJp
    He ruptured his cords in 1994 while on vacation. He got food poisoning and hurt his vocal cords while vomiting. Ever since, he lost a lot of range. He gained much of it back by the mid 2000s, but is nowhere near the powerhouse he was on Awake.
    Was it on vacation? I thought it was on tour, and he kept touring instead of resting, resulting in more serious long-term damage. He's said a couple times now that he's back to full strength, but you're probably right. He hasn't hit the highs on songs like "Surrounded" since.
    I don't think people fully appreciate James Labrie's singing until they try to sing a Dream Theater song... the way James Labrie sings it. Kind of the same thing with all of them, though I suppose... you don't really appreciate the band unless you are a musician.
    He's no Ronnie James Dio but he is one of the most technically accoplished singing voices ever, perfect for Dream Theater.
    He has a love it or hate it type of voice, just like many famous singers from great bands like Led Zeppelin or Guns N' Roses, although technically he is a more skilled singer. Bruce Dickinson also has a similar voice to LaBrie. I admit when I first heard him I didn't like his singing, but it really grew on me and now he is one of my favorite singers. I find that is often the case with unique singers, as I also didn't like Hansi Kursch, Devin Townsend, Geddy Lee, and a ton of others the first time I listened to them either, though they all later grew on me. It often just takes a few times for me to adjust to a singers style/ tone for me to appreciate their ability.
    Arfing Thumb
    I would say "The Looking Glass" starts out with a melody that reminds me of some Rush, more precisely their song "Limelight".
    I had the same feeling, then in had a Entre Nous kind of riff, the whole song pretty much reminds me of Rush.
    Does anyone else think of the theme song from 'Inspector Gadget' when listening to 'Enigma Machine'?
    Mr Winters
    This review doesn't really tell anything about the songs other than "this one has a cool solo and this one is epic".
    Unfortunately most of the reviews on this site boil down to that, feeling more like a wiki article rather than an actual critical review.
    Yes...the idea is to get you to check out the album yourself. A good review doesn't break it down song-by-song, minute-by-minute, second-by-second. It gives you enough to decide whether you want to listen to it or not.
    Mr Winters
    I think if you choose to talk about every song separately, you should do it in a bit more detail. But the review I just sent might be a bit excessive in that aspect lol
    Does this album contain a hidden message, or am I just going crazy? Not talking illuminati, I'm not that crazy.... yet.
    I was expecting John Myung's bass to be mentioned in the review.
    Me too. I'm disappointed that it wasn't, especially considering there was an entire article not too long ago about Petrucci praising his input.
    This sounds more like an advertisement speech than a review. If it's so perfect, why didn't you just go all in and give 10 for every criterion?
    Fantastic album. Finally a return to the more classic DT sound (awake,scenes). This album has instrumentals, epics, ballads, and heavy tracks. I wasn't a fan of their sound on Black Clouds and Systematic Chaos so this album is a breath of fresh air.
    On my...maybe fifth or sixth listen now and I'm totally sold on this album. Definitely a new chapter for the band, I feel like Mangini is the kick they needed. Not necessarily saying previous efforts were bad, but I felt like they were being pushed into an unfamiliar direction. One thing I have noticed is they sound like they're having fun playing on this record. Some parts in songs sounded forced, but now it's as if they have huge grins on their faces with every note. Favorite tracks: the looking glass, surrender to reason, illumination theory (an epic among the epics)
    Not sure if I'm the only one, but can anyone hear a huge Rush influence on most of the songs?
    Just saw the comment above so I'm not the only one haha
    Yeah man, there's definitely an old school prog influence here (noticeably Rush and ELP). But highlight the word INFLUENCE, not straight up copying, many people forget the difference.
    Mr Winters
    Why does my review say "overall= 0"? D:
    That threw me off too. I thought it was a troll review at first complaining that "DT sux." Then I read the review and it all made sense (it was a good review) but my initial impression was WTF. Hopefully that gets fixed.
    Seems like a glowing review, but if the album is a 9/10, what made you deduct a whole point from it, preventing it from getting a perfect score? This review doesn't tell us about any downside to this album at all.
    This is a good review except for one thing: Labrie didn't write any lyrics on this album. Of the seven songs with lyrics, Petrucci wrote six of them and Myung wrote the other one.
    Album is amazing except that snare drum! It sounds triggered or too heavily gated. It's horrible. The toms on the kit sound so good so I don't understand how that snare can sound so bad. Sounds like an old 8" x 14" snare sound from an 80's hair metal band or and 80's country backing band. I hate to rant on that sound but come on. Other than that, great album DT. Since the beginning with When dream and day unite to now you guys have never failed to make my jaw hit the floor listening to the masters.
    One of my favorite albums of the year so far.
    This also may be on my favorites list, besides Coheed's Afterman: Descension
    The new Carcass album has got me hooked, but funny I say I may like the new Alter Bridge album more that just leaked today. All completely diff bands.
    Not bad... But first of all: The mix sucks... I don't know if i have been listening to too much of SW's stuff, but i don't enjoy this mix at all. Too much guitar and the drum's toms are way too loud IMO. It's like Rudess didn't play at all, and LaBrie had to shout his way through the songs ( except on ballads). After a pretty awesome album as ADTOE, they weren't able to keep up... Songwriting was generic textbook DT stuff (with its ups and downs)... I still don't like it very much... But probably after a few more listens I'll start enjoying it a little more, as I always do. Bottomline: 6.5/10
    I totally agree, Richard Chycki really screwed up the mix. Regarding the album itself, it's full of good ideas, but there's TOO MANY! In most cases these ideas aren't given time to develop and before they start to make any sense the song has already moved on to another idea, resulting in unfocused and meandering tracks which, given more time, could have been MUCH better (except Enigma Machine and Along for the Ride, total and pointless fillers IMO). Overall, as a DT fan I'm a bit disappointed with this album, especially after ADToE, which I really enjoyed. This one is certainly good, but it's DT we're talking about, and just good isn't enough. They can do much better than this, even if this isn't bad. My rating would be a 7/10.
    I'm guessing I'm the only person to notice that it says this is the debut album of new drummer Mike Mangini? I thought he played on A Dramatic Turn of Events.
    It says it's his debut in the creative process. He played on Dramatic Turn of Events, but he didn't contribute to the writing process at all.
    Ah, dammit. My first comment didn't show up right away. You need a "delete comment" button, UG.
    It says it's his debut in the creative process. He did play on Dramatic Turn of Events, but he didn't contribute to the writing process at all.