Category Archives: Dream Theater

Black Clouds and Silver Linings – DREAM THEATER – 2009

I’m not terribly enthused by the latest effort by what was for the good part of three years my favorite-est band of all time. A full on Gothic Metal opening with ‘A Nightmare to Remember’ seems a good start, with a massive organ (snicker) and big guitars and a heavy bassy bottom end and double bass drumming. But it kinda peters out into something that is basically quite soul-less that you simply wait to get over.

WAH!!! More prog. MORE PROG!!!!! throws tantrum

WAH!!! More prog. MORE PROG!!!!! <throws tantrum>

The lyrics are terrible from beginning to end except ‘A Rite of Passage’, and the singing is insipid. James Labrie is much improved from his pseudo-metal bullshit avatar in Train of Thought and Six Degrees, but he still lacks soul, and his voice sounds uninspired and dead. Dream Theater should get a singer with more soul and innate musicality, even if it is at the cost of a lower range of notes. I’m not fond of the completely faltoo (useless, in Hindi) Heavy/Death Metal vocals by Mike Portnoy. His drumming though, is as solidly virtuostic as ever.

John Petrucci has beautiful guitar tones. The intro of The Count of Tuscany is a thing of beauty. Sadly, that song ends oddly abruptly, with not even ¼ of the expected number of goose pimples happening. It makes the instrumental grandeur look ridiculous. Thankfully, its a great song despite that. Petrucci is also emphatically the better soloist as compared to Jordan Rudess, who has the chops to make great stuff, but is too busy making the potentially awesome keyboard lead patches sound like a short circuited video game. Oh, and the much fabled Haken Continuum is abominably overplayed by Rudess. Think Kerry King’s guitar solos, but with both hands on the whammy, and you get close to his Continuum soloing.

There is a similar problem with bassist John Myung. He could wipe the floor with such metal bassists as Rob Trujillo, Steve Harris and Cliff Burton in terms of skill, but he doesn’t know how to use it. It’s a bit like Superman using his super-strength to only shovel huge quantities of garbage. He’s too busy following the guitar. I call it Jason Newsted Syndrome. Where are the bass solos he should be doing? Oh, don’t tell me that is ‘excessive’, in a band which regularly features 5 + minute instrumental passages.

I’m starting to recognize certain patterns in the way Dream Theater arrange their riffs. But isn’t that against the whole concept of progressiveness-unpredictability? In places, Dream Theater are starting to veer into a bafflingly contradictory space- formulaic Progressive Metal.  As a result, the songs themselves aren’t THAT great. ‘The Shattered Fortress’ starts with a very Mudvayne riff. The rest of the song is a load of other riffs that constitute the AA suite by Mike Portnoy. It’s big and all that, but just OK, as far as Dream Theater epics go. Middling.  The intro of ‘Wither’ is exactly like One by Metallica. Anyone noticed it? The rest of the song is a-ok, but no classic. Neither are the other songs, except ‘The Count of Tuscany’, which is a great song.

Dream Theater’s problem will be solved by one simple phrase: “Less metal, more prog”. Their greatest material will always be Metropolis through to Scenes from a Memory, after which they degenerated into Thrash Metal riffing and aural rape through incessant soloing (except Octavarium, which was great). I think Dream Theater should learn from their earlier days. Only then, will their music sound right again.

- El Bajista

Still Learning to Live? Check out other DREAM THEATER Reviews HERE.

I’ve always preferred their Progressive side. PROGRESSIVE/ART/PSYCHEDELIC Reviews HERE.

Sadly, many prefer the METAL side. More METAL reviews HERE.

Images and Words – DREAM THEATER – 1992

You know I’m going to love this one, don’t you? Go absolutely gaga over its pioneering sound, and virtuostic playing and even pretty decent lyrics? Leave  adeposit on it? Well, you’re absolutely right. I love this album. Its brilliant. I think its Concorde moment in metal music. It is to Dream Theater what Terminator is to Arnold Schwarzenegger, and what Appetite for Destruction is to GnR. The original, the best and the purest distillation of what I think is the ‘classic’ DT lineup. All this really is all that you need to know about this album. You might as well leave the review right now, unless you want to read my hilariously unbalanced skills of analysis and frankly petty nitpicking in areas.

Another opaque prog album cover. They should explain what these mean.

Another opaque prog album cover. They should explain what these mean.

For those of you who want to read further though, let me say that this is much better in production than the last and at least in terms of resolution and balance between the instruments, much better than most albums after it. Right from the beginning, the maturity is evident, with the presence of vocal harmonies and lyrics which seem to have been written with the song structure in mind. It gives more variety to the otherwise putty-like structures of prog-metal songs, with pieces like ‘Pull me under’ and ‘Another day’ coming to mind. Further maturity is seen in the balance that the whole album lends itself to, with three ballads, all of them fantastic.

The good news about the vocals is that James Labrie sounds brilliant on this record, with the glass-shattering F# in ‘Learning to Live’ standing in particularly high stead. Bad news is, he has never quite been able to match these heights since, as DT has since moved on to heavier music requiring guttural vocals which is quavering soprano can’t quite do justice to.

Kevin Moore (keyboards) is the secret weapon here. He holds the ballads together, solos with Petrucci (guitar) note for note, and lends the correct atmosphere where needed. It’s a landmark keyboard performance that has gone oddly unappreciated as one. The keyboard solos, despite the slightly cheesy lead patches, are amazing and high flying. The wheel manipulation is masterful and extremely musical, especially on Take the Time and Pull me Under. Though not as technically sound as Petrucci, his solos are eminently more listenable, well composed and memorable than Petrucci.

The rest of the band gives great and memorable performances on their respective instruments, with Mike Portnoy’s machine-gun double-bass drumming on Metropolis being a standout. The biggest surprise though, is the lyrics. Though not always decipherable (and annoyingly opaque on the aforementioned Metropolis), Moore, Myung (bass) and Petrucci have penned eminently poetic lyrics that are sometimes surprisingly insightful. My favourite lines? “Better to save the mystery, than surrender to the secret” from Another Day and the whole of “Wait for Sleep”. I wish they always wrote this way.

When it comes to nitpicking, there is precious little that I can point out to other than Moore’s 80’s keyboard patches, Petrucci’s sometimes indecipherable lyrics and the fact that this isn’t an easy album to listen to, in the first go.

If DT are to be remembered, this is the album to be remembered with. They haven’t quite managed anything as its equal for more than 15 years now. Octavarium and Scenes from a Memory came close, but then this will always remain their inarguable best. In my opinion, its value also can be measured in terms of being an example of what DT are best at, and in teaching them what they are doing wrong right now. I haven’t yet heard “Black Clouds and Silver Linings” (their latest album), but if it takes lessons from Images and Words, I know that it will sound very right.

El Bajista

When Dream and Day Unite – DREAM THEATER – 1989

This album is from Dream Theater’s pre-fame visionary days, when they were still looking for a definite sound. While this sound would not fruition into delicious goodness completely until the next album (spoiler alert for the Images and Words review!), we do get some of the main course elements in this not-all-that-bad entrée. I will not take you song by song; just tell you what’s good and what’s not. That might involve some mention of the songs. So I won’t be contradicting myself. Damn, the lawyer me just came out. Moving on…

Am I the only one who finds this cover vaguely kinky?

Am I the only one who finds this cover vaguely kinky?

It’s great to see non-riff based songs. By that, I mean it’s nice to see that songs are treated organically rather than in segments and variations of the same riff. If this were 1989, I can imagine what a welcome change this would have been from the look-how-fast-I-can-play shred era. It does retain a lot of it, but puts it in the context of, you know, music. This experiment isn’t entirely successful and occasionally it misfires, giving us amorphous songs that sound tacked together from various ideas. Like ‘Light Fuse and get Away’ and ‘The Ones who help set the Sun. What aggressively shitty songs. With aggressively shitty names. Shapeless and ridiculous. Avoid.

Also, the pacing needed in a good prog album just isn’t there. Unrelenting headbanging type persons, switch to Slayer. To alleviate this problem, DT decided to put the best songs at the beginning. Which makes a great impression with classics like YTSE Jam. Its perfectly symbolic what makes DT so good. Young John Petrucci (guitar) gives a performance worthy of making Yngwie think twice, with well thought out solos and catchy riffs. Incendiary stuff.  Bassist John Myung is (for once) a completely separate identity from Petrucci rather his quiet little Korean cousin. His digressions are fast, numerous, and delicious managing to use chords, harmonics and the full range of the bass. Kevin Moore (keyboards) doesn’t really do much here, choosing to stay mostly on synth strings and the occasional organ tone reminiscent of Rick Wakeman in Close to the Edge.Which sounds annoying and repetitive. And stale. And worst of all, a bit 80’s synth pop. Erp. YTSE Jam also tells us another story. It tells us that the band has always been at their bestwithout a vocalist. LTE is further proof of that. James Labrie should read this.

Next, we come to the lyrics. Now, looking for great lyrics on a DT album is like looking for 30 minute songs and soaring solos on a Bob Dylan album. It’s just not the point. Nevertheless, I shall review them. They are largely lame and pseudo-gothic, especially when Petrucci decides to pen them. He should stick to being guitar god and not try to be…well…Bob Dylan. Moore is the best of the bunch, but that’s like saying Diarrhea is the best of the digestive diseases. Sometimes, the phrasing of the lyrics gets truly atrocious, like in ‘The ones who help set the sun’. Thankfully, the vocal melodies are tidily resolved.

Overall though, given the vision and breadth of what DT strives to achieve, this album is a great start. Young DT deserve a thump on their backs. Is it worth a try? I’d say yes. There are several glorious moments on this album, especially in the first half. Granted, the second half is bad enough to turn anyone off Prog Metal for a long time and the 80’s production might give you nightmares about men in tight spandex with teased hair. The first part though, holds its own. That definitely sounds right.

El Bajista


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