Issue 2013-064: Dream Theater - Dream Theater - Duo Review
Tracklist: False Awakening Suite (2:42), The Enemy Inside (6:17), The Looking Glass (4:53), Enigma Machine (6:02), The Bigger Picture (7:41), Behind the Veil (6:53), Surrender to Reason (6:35), Along for the Ride (4:45), Illumination Theory (22:18)
Basil Francis' Review
Releasing a self-titled album is a tricky business, especially if it's nearly three decades into your very successful career. Usually an eponymous album is also the debut, but it can also be used to create a strong statement about the band themselves. In a recent interview singer James LaBrie has said that the music on this album is supposed to epitomise what Dream Theater is about while the album title reflects the fact that the new line-up - with Mike Mangini who replaced stalwart Mike Portnoy on drums for 2011's ironically titled A Dramatic Turn of Events - is a new chapter for the band, and one that they feel is their strongest to date. If I had a penny for every time I heard a band saying their latest album was the strongest to date...
With the titling of the album, however, they risk looking apathetic in the creative department, as if they simply couldn't think of a proper album title. Things get worse with a peek at the new artwork, which is arguably the worst artwork ever for a Dream Theater album. While the band feel that the art may provoke intrigue, making fans wonder what may be on the album, it seems as if artist Hugh Syme couldn't be bothered to design anything better. Indeed, once you know what is on the album, the artwork is pointless. Not even embossing the Majesty symbol on the special edition is going to help this case. If I may be so bold - and I think I can given that I've been a solid fan of the band for quite a while - I think Syme should be fired as the band's house artist, as the last four album covers have been terrible. That said, his 'gatefold' artwork for Octavarium was probably Dream Theater's best, so I can forgive them for keeping him so long.
I'd also like to take this opportunity to lament Dream Theater's ongoing decision to release each of their albums in at least three different formats, in a heinous money-making scheme. When I see 'Special Editions', 'Deluxe Editions' and 'Limited Editions', I suddenly become rather sceptical as to the integrity of the band and their music. The album is a sacred design and should only be about the music and the package it is delivered in, so when customers are able to receive different packages depending on how much cash they are willing to shell out, it doesn't seem as if the album format matters. I could have paid even less money for a download and received no package at all. Would Dream Theater care about that? I doubt it. Rant over.
Musically speaking, Dream Theater are in very new territory, yet also very familiar. Gone are the sprawling ten-minute mini-epics that the band have become so well-known for. In their place, shorter, more streamlined packages that average at around six minutes apiece. With much of the band's signature sound, this is still recognisably Dream Theater. The choice to release shorter tracks is bound to cause a kerfuffle amongst fans, but I for one am happy that the band are comfortable enough with their output to release an album of mainly shorter tracks.
The album begins with the shortest of them all, the instrumental False Awakening Suite which, at under three minutes, may be the shortest 'suite' I've ever heard. Guitarist John Petrucci believes this is an album that should be listened to in its entirety rather than as a collection of tracks and certainly the presence of a true 'opening' track gives weight to this argument. He also mentioned that the band wanted a track that they could open their gigs with, so there's certainly an element of convenience to the piece. Just as Yes had the Firebird Suite, so Dream Theater will have their False Awakening Suite. It's a brief heavy symphonic number, but oddly doesn't seem to contain themes from later in the album, a trick missed if I dare say so.
Petrucci's 'entirety' argument falls down with the rest of the album, since the pieces within the album don't seem to have anything to do with each other. We are firstly treated with the band's lead single The Enemy Inside, which begins with a chunky instrumental before getting to the main part of the song. The piece performs exactly the same function as Dream Theater's last few lead singles, Constant Motion, A Rite of Passage and the stellar On the Backs of Angels. Although this track keeps its momentum throughout, it does seem to go quite hurriedly, as if Dream Theater are trying to 'Rush' to the next piece.
The pun is very definitely intended. Rush have always had a clear influence on Dream Theater, but it doesn't take an Einstein to see that the next track, The Looking Glass, is wholly based on Limelight from the legendary Moving Pictures, borrowing both musical and lyrical themes. Petrucci mentions that it was difficult to create an original arena-rock piece, since many of the good riffs had been done before. I guess they decided to veer close to their heroes. The lyrics of the chorus make absolutely no sense to me, a bunch of confused metaphors:-
"You live without shame
You’re digging up a gold mine
Standing on the sidelines
Watching through the looking glass."
Petrucci reveals all: the piece actually discusses how pretty much anyone can become instantly famous now via the Internet - sound anything like Limelight? Despite, or perhaps because of its proximity to the Rush track, this has become one of my favourite tracks on the album. There is another reason though. The instrumental sees bassist John Myung finally coming out of his shell. Dream Theater are notorious for covering up Myung's bass in post-production, but his solid bass finally sees the light of day as he underpins the spacey organ sounds of Jordan Rudess's keyboards.
We've already had one instrumental so far, but the band decide to go for round two in Enigma Machine, whose title is taken from the infamous German cipher generator from the Second World War. This track again seems to recall Rush, with some of the structure of YYZ. All of the band members, minus LaBrie of course, get their own spotlight solo on this track. It's a fun piece, but not a patch on Ytse Jam or Hell's Kitchen.
The remaining four shorter tracks show Dream Theater representing many facets of their music: the symphonic The Bigger Picture, the harmonious '80s style metal of Behind the Veil, the more progressive Surrender to Reason, and melodic pop on Along for the Ride. Of these four, Surrender to Reason is my favourite - no surprise there. With Portnoy out of the picture, John Myung has finally been made to put pen to paper after a gap of twelve years, with some fantastic results in Breaking All Illusions and now Surrender to Reason as well. His songwriting skills are not to be underestimated; he may very well be the George Harrison of the band. As for Along for the Ride, it's catchy, and it's certainly poppy, but it's nowhere near The Spirit Carries On.
This leads us to the last track, Illumination Theory, which dominates the album at nineteen minutes, taking up nearly a third of its length. Those hoping for the next Octavarium or A Change of Seasons will be a tad disappointed, but I don't think anybody will really be expecting that. After all, Dream Theater themselves don't really make a big deal about this song anywhere else either. It's just an everyday nineteen minute track, no problem!
In fact, I quite like all of it: the opening instrumental, the individual lyrical parts, the soothing string section at the halfway point and even the symphonic climax. The bit I really don't like is the 'bonus track' style finish which consists of Rudess tinkering away on a piano for 2½ minutes after the suite proper has finished bringing the running time up to 22 minutes. It's a messy way to leave the album. But apart from that, it's all quite good indeed. The aforementioned string section titled The Embracing Circle really gives a sense of maturity to the album, and is much needed after fifty minutes of metal. The following part of the suite, titled The Pursuit of Truth contains some of the best music on the album, with a true Rush-style pattern reminiscent of The Necromancer.
However, what stops Illumination Theory from being a masterpiece is that it seems to be just a bundle of ideas thrown together, rather than a cohesive whole. Only a recurring theme heard in The Embracing Circle gives the piece any kind of form. It's not a track with a great sense of continuity, and so I treat it more or less as five separate songs that segue into each other.
Dream Theater is the first album to feature newbie Mike Mangini collaborating on the song composition and it shows. Some fans wrongly believe that 'drummers is drummers,' but the difference between Portnoy's and Mangini's incredible drumming is quite vast. Portnoy was always incredibly meticulous when composing his drum parts, always incrementing the complexity one iota at a time throughout the length of a song. His handling of odd time signatures was mature and educational. Mangini on the other hand always seems to use too much force, erring on the side of difficulty over style. As a result, his drum parts are astonishing, but just not as interesting as Portnoy's. I always knew that Portnoy was a very special drummer, but it's only when you take him out the picture like this that you can see just how profound his input was, from the structure of songs to the lyrics and of course the drumming itself. His disappearance from the band has also meant that Dream Theater seem less in touch with their fans than before, as Portnoy was always doing press and interviews and making the band themselves seem more personable. He was a valuable asset indeed.
An album titled Dream Theater should have been the most special in the band's career, but I can't help thinking here that it is short for 'Dream Theater Lite'. Many of the facets of the band are toned down or streamlined into neat packages, making this album enjoyable but rather fleeting. It doesn't seek to make bold impressions but is just a bunch of fun songs for the band to play live. They haven't entirely lost their integrity however, and it is quite possible that they will return to form at some later point. They haven't done it here though.
Dave Baird's Review
The imaginatively titled Dream Theater marks the first release from the band with Mike Mangini as the incumbent drummer and full writing partner, following their previous release, A Dramatic Turn of Events (ADToE) where he joined the band too late to add fully to the creative process. What has resulted is an album which is distinctly different from the previous release, tending towards Classic Rock and Symphonic Metal as opposed to the more Symphonic Prog-Metal approach that characterised ADToE. That's not to say there aren't moments of Prog and notably the 22-minute closing "epic", Illumination Theory, makes an attempt to redress the balance, but more on that later. Tempering, perhaps, a certain disappointment that DPRP readers may feel at this more mainstream approach (if one could ever apply that word to Dream Theater) is the superb production this time around. In the final analysis, ADToE was very badly mastered and horribly compressed, the drums were way too low in the mix and the cymbals almost inaudible. By comparison, Dream Theater is a tremendous sounding album, beautifully balanced and allowing all the instruments their own sonic space - terribly important given the amount of notes the band all play in parallel and critical for appreciating the intricacies of Mangini's drumming.
The other area where Dream Theater loses out is in terms of melody. ADToE was stuffed to the brim with catchy tunes and singalong moments - it's an album I return to often and I'm still floored by some of the tracks, in particular This is the Life and Breaking All Illusions, parts of which still run through my head two years on. That's not to say that Dream Theater isn't tuneful, it has some wonderful moments, Surrender to Reason, The Enemy Inside and the choruses on the Live, Die, Kill section of Illumination Theory are very memorable, but overall it's less prevalent. I feel this was one of the problems I had with the first couple of weeks I spent with the album; after listening more that ten times I found I struggled to remember or penetrate any of the songs.
The first track that opened to my ears was the instrumental, Enigma Machine. This is a rip-roaring instrumental with driving, memorable riffs, some great heavy Hammond sounds, trade-mark breakneck keyboard/guitar unisons and totally insane drumming - the rolls on the floor toms in the introduction are just jaw-dropping. John Myung has never sounded so good - not only is he prominent in the mix, but he has a beautiful, deep, organic, raw tone which perfectly complements the precision of Mangini. Furthermore, Myung appears to be more of a BASS player these days; he's laying a deep-riffing foundation for the tracks as opposed to playing the second guitar role and following the guitar pyrotechnics. This isn't to say that Myung isn't showing his chops, the riff he plays mid-track, under-pinning the guitar and keyboard solos, is a killer and played with such pace and attack - tremendous. If all this isn't enough, on the 3'30" mark they drop a few gears into the the most luscious, dripping guitar break with some scintillating support keys. And then BOOM!, they're off again for another few sprints around the block. Quite breathless and the standout track for me; very reminiscent in feel and pace to Ytse Jam. The other instrumental on the album is the opening False Awakening Suite which is as symphonic as it gets and despite running less than three minutes, the band still manage to chop it into three named sections. To be fair though, the early release 'single', The Enemy Inside, is far more indicative of the album as a whole, one of the stronger tracks in fact and classic up-tempo Dream Theater, albeit a bit more straight-laced than ADToE's On the Back's of Angels.
There's also quite a Rush vibe on the album which can be heard in The Looking Glass, Surrender to Reason and to a lesser degree, Along for the Ride. And although The Looking Glass is ultimately rather disappointing in being way too generic, Surrender to Reason is one of the better songs, benefitting from strong melodies in the lead guitars and vocals - James sounds fabulous here and has a killer singalong chorus to work with. Super lyrics also and guess what, seems Myung wrote them.... A big nod to Myung's monster playing once more, especially around the four-minute mark. OK, he sounds like Geddy Lee played at 45rpm, but I'll put my cards on the table and state that John Myung just totally owns this album! Along for the Ride gives some flashbacks to ADToE's Beneath the Surface, even more so with Jordan whipping his Moog out and it's *that* same patch as well, although to be fair it sounds less out-of-place here and isn't so overwhelming. The track evolves away from there and once again nods quite a bit towards the aforementioned Rush and even lyrically it has parallels with some of Neil Peart's writings.
And so we come to the "epic" on the album... Illumination Theory clocks-in at over 22 minutes and along with pretty much everything you can imagine including the proverbial kitchen sink! It's a real mishmash and to be honest does sound a little bit cobbled together at times. To give an idea of the piece, here are the notes I took in my final listen before writing this review:
"Symphonic intro is lovely, but is a rather well-worn romantic sequence much beloved by film score composers (Rudess really ought to do a soundtrack)! I think they could have extended the orchestral section somewhat before the early-Rush riffing and segments reminiscent to Scenes From A Memory before the vocals get going. Mangini's quite restrained... Great, great anthemic chorus... Changes between riffs and sections are a bit abrupt, oh, an Erotomania snippet and The Count of Tuscany frogs make a return!!
Close to the Edge mid section... More classical cheese - it sounds really nice, but a little too clichéd - think Rachmaninov, Rimsky Korsakov etc... Great bass riff brings us back into Awake-ish aggression, nice! Then it starts to to go mental: Keith Emerson after five double espressos, Larks' Tongue in Aspic Part II, Mangini's limbs are going to fall off!! This will be a lot of fun live... Back to classic riffing and a typical Rudess solo over the top, then Petrucci has a turn - too formulaic though... Blah! Feel of Home a little in the Arabic scaling before back to symphonic for the end, I would have liked if they could have kept this through the whole piece.
Big cheesy, epic/feel good ending, James is singing too high and doesn't sound great. I can visualise whole band must be swaying in time and waving their arms together here - double cheese, reminders of the finale from 6DOIT... And yes, they're still going... Aha, finally ended. Oh no, a gong - triple cheese!!! And then they start again, noooo, OK it's a nice piano/guitar interplay, but it's not needed at all - was this just to push the track beyond 20 minutes?"
So what to make of it all? Well the album has energy - lots of energy. It also has the great mix and production that ADToE cried out for. It's more cohesive than ADToE too, but it loses out on being, with a few exceptions, a bit too "safe". As said earlier, after listening to it for a couple of weeks I couldn't penetrate it at all and it wasn't until I decided to review and listened to it in a more focussed manner that it began to open up. Difficult to nail down why that might be, but I think it's the general lack of melodies and rather predictable soloing at times, especially from Petrucci. Perhaps I said in passing, but the real star of the album is John Myung, he's really adding so much to every song. Mangini also shows some of his skills that weren't apparent on ADToE and it's stupefying to imagine that he's playing all that he does, at the same time? Really??
I did my note-taking while listening to the 24bit/96 stereo mix from the DVD, straight to my DAC and into Sennheiser HD600's and I'd highly recommend those that can to do the same. This revealed the full extent of Mangini's mastery of the kit; superlatives aren't enough. Rudess is on fine form too; the odd uninspiring solo put to one side, his sonic palette and patch choice is excellent, really supporting the music, adding colour and atmosphere. James has his moments, but I don't feel that the music showcases his talents fully and Petrucci, well he's not really stretching himself here and that's a bit disappointing.
This is very difficult to rate. It really didn't agree with me at first, but I've grown quite fond of it and I think it will continue to grow. Nevertheless, it's not the masterpiece I was hoping for and yet it's a very solid album that will be appreciated by many...
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Recommended Dream Theater CD Reviews:-
|Metropolis Pt 2: Scenes From A Memory|
|"Undoubtedly the best album of the year!"|
(Bart Jan van der Vorst, 9.5/10)
|Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence|
|"The main thing lacking...in comparison to its predecessor, is good vocal melodies...the 42-minute title track is the inevitable highlight of the album, but misses too much to become a real prog-classic."|
(Bart Jan van der Vorst, 8/10)
|Train Of Thought|
|"I never thought that they could top their previous album, but they managed it...without any doubt the best progressive album of 2003, and maybe many years to come..."|
(Martien Koolen, 10/10)
"Overall then, a fine release - not without its drawbacks...possibly not for everyone."
(Tom De Val, 8/10)
"...when I look back at all the albums I've listened to this year and pick out my favourites, this won't even register in my train of thought."
(Andy Read, 5/10)
"Everybody knows this band consists of five of the best musicians in the world. Perhaps it is now time to focus a bit more on those songwriting abilities."
(Bart Jan van der Vorst, 7/10)
|"it is a slightly unbalanced album, with the second half being far more interesting than the first half."|
(Bart Jan van der Vorst, 8.5/10)
"...Octavarium is a logical successor to Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence, not to Train Of Thought."
(Dries Dokter, 8.5/10)
"...undoubtedly their finest since 1999's Scenes from a Memory."
(David McCabe, 9/10)
|"...prog metal at its best."|
(Martien Koolen, 10/10)
"...they certainly sound like the fire in their bellies evident on Train Of Thought yet mostly conspicuous by its absence on Octavarium has returned."
(Tom De Val, 7/10)
"...this is definitely one of the better Dream Theater albums. Better or at least on par with Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence."
(Bart Jan van der Vorst, 8.5/10)
"Dream Theater have come a long way...and have grown bigger than perhaps anyone could have predicted, with releases like this, long may that rise continue."
(Dave Baird, 9.5/10)
|Black Clouds & Silver Linings|
|"...the album pacing is good; there is metal, there is power, there is catchy melody...and, as you would now come to expect from Dream Theater, the performances from the band are top notch."|
(Alex Torres, 8/10)
"The good substantially outweighs the bad...but if Dream Theater doesn't change it up more next time, I'm afraid they will be left behind."
(Brendan Bowen, 8/10)
"...there are precious little new ideas...of course the musicianship is top-drawer...but on many levels it fails to excite. It's competent without sticking its neck out too much."
(Dave Baird, 8.5/10)
"Dream Theater is still at the top of their own league."
(Edwin Roosjen, 9/10)
|A Dramatic Turn Of Events|
|"I really can't pick faults with this album, it's been making me smile for two months now..."|
(Dave Baird, 9.5/10)
"...a highly polished and accomplished album that is challenging, full of intricacies, lyrically thought provoking but more importantly highly entertaining."
(John O'Boyle, 9/10)
"Dream Theater proves that they still stand at the top of the genre they created themselves."
(Eric Laan, 9/10)
|Other CD & DVD Reviews:-|
|Images and Words (1992)||Through Her Eyes (2000)||Live Scenes From New York (2001)|
|Metropolis 2000 [DVD] (2001)||Images And Words Live In Tokyo /|
5 Years In A LIVEtime [DVD] (1992/1998 - 2004)
|Live At The Budokan [DVD] (2004)|
|Score [DVD] (2006)||Greatest Hit (...and 21 other pretty cool songs) (2008)||Chaos In Motion [DVD] (2008)|
|Previous Dream Theater Live Reviews:-|
|1997:-||Tilburg, The Netherlands||Tilburg, The Netherlands|
|2000:-||Düsseldorf, Germany||Weert, The Netherlands|
|2002:-||Jan/Feb Euro Tour||Oct/Nov Euro Tour|
|2004:-||U.K., Netherlands & Germany||Los Angeles, U.S.A. (with Yes)|
|2009:-||Las Vegas, U.S.A.||Rotterdam, The Netherlands|
|2011:-||Loreley, Germany||Weert, The Netherlands|
|Previous Dream Theater Interviews:-|
Mike Portnoy speaking with Jerry Van Kooten (2000)
Jordan Rudess speaking with Bart Jan van der Vorst (2008)
Jordan Rudess speaking with Dave Baird (2011)
Mike Mangini speaking with Dave Baird (2012)