Sound — 8
Was it really 2 years ago that Dream Theater entered the post Mike Portnoy era and released "A Dramatic Turn of Events"? With Mangini on board, Dream Theater shattered rumors that they might disband, and solidified their status as prog metal masters by confirming they were in for the long haul. The influential concept metal masters release their 12th studio album, their first in 1989, and drummer Mike Mangini's second album since joining in 2011. From Petrucci's ultra efficient, flawless guitar to Myung's inventive fingering, every musician in the band gets time to shine. A hurricane of heavy, arpeggiated duels and mesmerizing time changes feature in musical mayhem madness. But it is not just who can play the most notes. They have the ability to take that power and make an elegant set of masculine and heroic masterpieces. Opener "False Awakening Suite" is a brief three sectioned ("I. Sleep Paralysis," "II. Night Terrors," "III. Lucid Dream") cinematic near-instrumental with twinned guitars from Petrucci and keyboard riffs from Rudess. From the first track, it is clear that we are in for an explosive ride. After Portnoy laid down the drum tracks in "A Dramatic Turn of Events," this is Mangini's first chance to be creative. "The Enemy Inside" shows he has few mortal equals and is a fast paced, stand out track. "The Looking Glass" is influenced by Rush but moves beyond its crunchy intro into an intricate web of time changes, tight melodic rock riffs and invincible vocals, and will have DT fans thinking back to "Images and Words" released in 1992. "The Enigma Inside" is a 6 minute guitar masterclass from Petrucci, featuring some Portnoy style drumming. Virtuosic piano arrangements start "The Bigger Picture" off, before a steady guitar interlude takes over. This is definitely the slower song on the album, but is emphatic in its own way. "Behind the Veil" reveals itself slowly, but to punishing guitar riffs pounding bass lines and proof yet again that LaBrie's vocals show no sign of weakening. Acoustic lead "Surrender to Reason" is reminiscent of 1997's "Falling Into Infinity" and has a hint of "Subdivisions" by Rush. It ends with a really groovy rock section, with funky bass line by Myung. Radio friendly "Along for the Ride" is similar to track 5, "The Bigger Picture" as they are both easy songs designed to hook in new listeners and are rather disappointing. All this leads up to the astronomical 22 minute epic finale "Illumination Theory." Every second of this track is phenomenal and epitomizes everything we seem to know about Dream Theater, and their creativity. It's packed with face melting jams, and forests of progressive majesty and is a progressive metal jewel where every instrument is utilized tremendously. The song can be broken down into 5 parts ("I. Paradoze de la Lumiere Noire," "II. Live, Die, Kill," "III. The Embracing Circle," "IV. The Pursuit Of Truth," "V. Surrender, Trust & Passion").
Lyrics — 9
"The Enemy Inside" is lyrical genius by LaBrie, and the meaning of the song will grab a lot of people. Released as a single, DT have created a conceptual video showing the torment of a soldier reintegrating with normal life whilst suffering with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Petrucci told Billboard that: "the topic of ptsd really seemed to fit the song as it is fast paced with machine gun style riffs which makes you feel anxious, perfectly matching the theme and song." Final track "Illumination Theory" draws on real life questions and gets us all thinking "Consider this question, Look deep inside, Deliver a true confession, What are you willing to live for?" I think the album has quite powerful lyrics, aimed at drawing in new listeners by singing about engaging topics. If you think LaBrie's vocals would have declined, then you'd be wrong, as he produces a solid vocal performance.
Overall Impression — 8
There maybe other prog metal outfits out there, that blend dazzling crunchy riffs with swirling strings and dramatic keyboards creating musical prowess, but DT are still considered lords of the genre. Being one of the progenitors of the early progressive metal genres, DT have been the most consistent metal band of its generation. Overall, this is a prog metal show piece done by the best in the genre. If you were worried that Mangini's couldn't fill Portnoy's shoes, he shows outstanding technical ability, and really drives some songs. He adds a new flavor to the band, whilst being previously influenced by Portnoy.