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.

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