Dream Theater – A Dramatic Turn Of Events (2011)

Posted: September 4, 2011 in Music

Supposedly the album title of Dream Theater’s 11th studio album has absolutely nothing to do with the departure of long-time drummer Mike Portnoy this last year (yeah, right). We’ve already covered that story, though, with our Adrenaline Mob review a while back (which can be read here).

Instead, we are just going to jump right into A Dramatic Turn Of Events. If you haven’t heard of Dream Theater and their impact on progressive rock/metal, I don’t really know what to say. They have been at the forefront of the genre almost since their inception. The band is made up of founding members John Petrucci (guitar) and John Myung (bass), as well as longtime member James LaBrie (vocals) and Jordan Rudess (keyboards), with recent addition Mike Mangini on drums. If none of those names strike a chord, you can quit this article now…

Still with me? Awesome. Let’s get to it.

Opening the nine track set is “On The Backs of Angels,” which leads in with some softer guitar parts and a lot of barely audible keyboards and effects. It’s typical DT fare, with grand guitars and keyboards, tempo changes, and strong vocals from LaBrie. It didn’t blow me away like a lot of their earlier stuff, but the structure was unique, intricate, and definitely kept my attention along the way. Some nice piano halfway through accented a very nice track. Being pretty and pretty heavy simultaneously isn’t easy, but this song – and this band – often makes you think otherwise.

Keeping things heavy, “Build Me Up, Break Me Down” has Petrucci working overtime with a hard, gritty impact that stood out above everything else going on – which was plenty. The beauty of Dream Theater always has been and always will be the intricate nature of every single layer of sound. When put together, the parts blend perfectly, but make for a different listening experience each time through. Even though this track has a bit of a ‘rougher’ feel to it, it is still a smooth arrangement on display.

Too often, I feel, Dream Theater gets caught up in the beauty of their sound, forgetting the metal part of their pedigree. “Lost Not Forgotten” is a perfect example – at least in the beginning. ‘Grandiose’ comes easy for the band – it always has – yet it feels like when they ‘try’ to sound epic, it comes across overly convoluted. Thankfully the track settles itself down after the first minute or so, and gets very metal. It feels far more natural and less forced the rest of the way, and the solos from Petrucci and Rhodes are extremely progressive and extremely well done.

“This Is The Life” opens acoustically, and leads in to a guitar-filled first minute. What felt like a pretty strong build gives way to a ballad – and unfortunately kills the momentum the first three tracks built. Sure, it’s nice. And gentle. And flowing. But it also is pretty boring. I don’t know if it’s a ploy to get a single to rock radio, or just a message LaBrie wanted to get off his chest – but it wasn’t up to par with what this band is capable of.

Ending my ‘WTF?’ moment from the previous track was an interesting Gregorian-via-voodoo-themed intro for “Bridges In The Sky.” Not long thereafter, Petrucci fires into a ten-ton riff that – along with the thunderous drum and keyboards – takes us to depths this album hadn’t seen yet. This track feels darker and more evil than the band usually gives us. The lyrics try to lighten the mood, but I couldn’t escape the feeling of being in a shadow I was unable to shake. Loved this track, not only for the mood it set, but for the complexity throughout. All the shifts were spot-on. Every layer was perfect. Dream Theater being Dream Theater

The onset of “Outcry” makes you think you are getting the album’s second ballad, and even with the instrumental backing getting heavier as the track progressed, it stays happily in first gear (even if the tachometer read otherwise). While I was waiting for the song to explode – which it never really did – I was instead treated to the best vocal display of LaBrie in ten years. It was mesmerizing and focused. James has never been accused of not putting his heart and soul into everything he does, but it just felt so much ‘over-the-top’ here. Which was a good thing. Considering he almost destroyed his vocal chords regurgitating some poisoned shrimp in 1994, it was great to hear the power in his voice again. There is a cool instrumental section in the middle, but it was hard to dissect, as all I wanted was to here more singing here. If there is one ‘epic’ track on the disc, this was it.

“Far From Heaven” is another slower, more intent tune which, at under four minutes in length, is easily one of the band’s most truncated tracks. It’s a decent enough ballad to make the cut here, but I see it being performed on stage for no other reason than to get Petrucci and Mangini a breath of oxygen and a quick drink.

A bit of a surprise comes in the form of “Breaking All Illusions,” simply due to the fact that the lyrics were written by bassist John Myung. Petrucci and Labrie have always penned the songs in the past, and while Myung has been credited often for writing the music, this is the first time in over 12 years that he is listed as sole author of the lyrical content. For me, the difference was obvious – in a good way. The track starts of dedicatedly mid-tempoed, but hits a ‘power-up’ around the 3:30 mark and gets decidedly more energetic and technical. The next nine-plus minutes is a roller coaster ride of vocals and instrumentals that take you all over the band’s past landscape. At times it’s metal, at other moments it is definitely prog/rock, and even a few instances of jazz fusion rear their head from the rubble. It’s not far from the better moments of Rush, Yes, and Pink Floyd all wrapped up into one tight little package – and it stands out as one of the band’s better tracks of their entire career.

Closing the album is the acoustic piece “Beneath The Surface” (which would have made for a far better and less controversial album title, in my opinion). It has been a while since the band has recorded a track this simple yet this powerful. The instrumental aspect is carried by nothing but a simple guitar, some softer, ethereal violins in the distance and a few keyboard hits (highlighted with a spacey, Moog sounding solo midway). LaBrie steps the vocals up at the end, which seemed a fitting conclusion to the disc. A disc that sent a message loud and clear.

Dream Theater couldn’t have asked for a better solution to the whole Portnoy distraction. This album exemplifies their mantra that a whole is merely a sum of all its parts, and all the cogs are aligned here. The balance of music to vocals, drums to guitars, and keyboards to bass is flawless throughout. I’m not going to go as far as to say the band seemed ‘re-energized’, but it was very obvious that they were intent on putting out a hell of an album to move the band forward – instead of being mired in one of metal’s biggest stories of the last year.

Is it as epic as anything they’ve done? No. It is, however, another great chapter in their legacy and should please even the casual listener as one of the better progressive metal albums of the year. If nothing more, it’s an important statement that they can survive anything, and don’t plan on going away anytime soon.

8/10

Tracklist:
01. On the Backs of Angels
02. Build Me Up, Break Me Down
03. Lost Not Forgotten
04. This is the Life
05. Bridges In The Sky
06. Outcry
07. Far From Heaven
08. Breaking All Illusions
09. Beneath The Surface

Buy at Amazon

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