Published on September 20th, 2013 | by Nico Madden
“Dream Theater” Album Review
Summary: This album was well worth the wait. It's a stellar piece of work from a stellar band!
The progressive rock/metal giants have done it again. Dream Theater’s self-titled album presents listeners with the newest installment of the glorious proggy euphoria we’ve been waiting for since the release of A Dramatic Turn of Events two years ago. The official release comes next week, but Rolling Stone has been kind enough to provide a stream of the full album (available on their website here). I am pleased to say that Dream Theater is an excellent album, and was well worth the wait.
Before I give a track by track rundown, I’ll discuss the production of the album. Dream Theater did something different with this album: they set up their tones and microphones exactly how they wanted them for the final product. This means that instead of writing something and then coming back to it later to record it for the mastered product, they sometimes found themselves using first takes as the final product. This made the recording process much more streamlined, and it allowed for much more creativity in the songwriting process – which I’ll get to in a bit. Apart from that however, I will say that the production on this album is superb. Petrucci’s tone is chunky and powerful, and everything sits extremely well in the mix – especially the bass. To my delight, this album is the best that John Myung has ever sounded, which makes for an incredibly full final product in terms of the mix. Also, this is the first album where Mangini has had writing duties, and his drum parts are stellar.
Without further adieu, here’s a listing of the tracks for review:
- False Awakening Suite: The band has said in interviews on multiple occasions that they’ve always had “cinematic” intros, wherein they’ve used pieces from different movie soundtracks. They wanted to take a different direction for their self-titled album, and so this intro fills that role. It’s a very symphonic piece, reminiscent of Kamelot or Nightwish. The orchestral elements really tie the whole piece together, providing both a dramatic atmosphere and an ominous tone for the listeners. I’m very eager to see how they pull this off live, the extra stage effects are sure to be spectacular for this one!
- The Enemy Inside: Dream Theater released this piece earlier as a single for the new album, and it’s still the same crushing metal monster of a track. It’s got a killer riff using John Petrucci’s new signature 7 string guitar that drives the whole song, and it’s a very driving piece. Everything about this song is fast and powerful, and it all pays off with killer solos and immense choruses. This one is a definite ear worm: it’s not as technical as “The Glass Prison” or anything, but it’s still got some crazy guitar work. One of my favorite tracks off of this album for sure!
- The Looking Glass: Anyone who’s done their homework on progressive music will hear an immediate Rush vibe from this – and that’s a good thing for sure. The upbeat atmosphere of this song lasts the entire way through, but the band manages to keep a steady rock rhythm driving the entire piece. It’s a very refreshing tune to hear after the darker previous track, and it’s always nice to hear a band go back to their roots. This one is definitely more “rock” than “metal,” but that’s a good thing, because Dream Theater does both so well.
- Enigma Machine: This one’s a treat. Along with the intro track, this is the first real “instrumental” piece that Dream Theater has had on an album in a long time. And to celebrate this, Dream Theater really had fun with this one! They threw in elements from many different bands and really allowed themselves to experiment. In particular, I can hear a big influence of “heavier” progressive metal bands and even some math metal. I can easily hear influences from Between the Buried and Me, Periphery and a few others. Of course, they still keep it very “Dream Theater” – so there are roaring solos from Jordan and Petrucci, and of course the entire track just sounds huge.
- The Bigger Picture: This track sounds the most like a “Dream Theater” track. On this one, the band doesn’t stray too far from what you’d normally expect: choruses with vast orchestral sections combined with a strong powerchord line from Petrucci. It’s just a very, very good and solid track. It has heavier moments and it has softer moments, but the one thing I like about this track is that it all flows so well together. At almost 8 minutes, this is a fairly long song (not long for a progressive band, but long in general, mind) and it goes by very fast. If anything, I admit I can hear a bit of a Symphony X sound in lieu of their song/album Paradise Lost. I still retain that this is the track that’s the most like”Dream Theater” though: the resolution at the end reminds me very much of the end of “Strange Deja Vu” from their album Metropolis Part II: Scenes From A Memory.
- Behind The Veil: The sound of this track combined with the title made me imagine frontman James LaBrie as a demon behind a veil. Allow me to explain – the first lines we hear from LaBrie sound aggressive and almost demonic, a definite change from the elegant melodies we’re all used to from him. This line of reasoning continues for the rest of the song, it’s just an extremely potent track full of aggression and pain. This is definitely the track with the most raw emotion – the screaming guitar licks combine beautifully with the crushing power of the bass and the titanic sounding drums. It all ties together with atmospheres provided by Jordan’s keyboard work and beautiful, anguished lyrics from LaBrie. This is definitely another one of my favorite tracks on the album.
- Surrender To Reason: Much to my surprise and happiness, this song also took me by surprise. It starts out with an intro that reminds me a lot of “Subdivisions” by Rush, then it flows into a very light acoustic section, and then it goes into really funky rock section with heavy organ usage and syncopated rhythms. During the funkier section, James LaBrie joins along with great vocal work, but after this section comes a short break with striking choral arrangements, and then an even funkier bass-heavy section that sounds like if Tool and Symphony X had a musical child. Suffice to say, this is easily the hardest track to succinctly describe. It all ties together very smoothly though, which is a testament to the band’s creative talent.
- Along For The Ride: Personally, this is my least favorite track. This isn’t to say that I don’t like it, I just like it the least out of the rest of the tracks on this great album. It’s the powerballad of the album, and it’s filled with lush acoustic guitars and soft orchestral work and piano rhythms. This is easily the least heavy of all the tracks on the album, which is by no means a bad thing. It’s still a good track, I just don’t personally like it as much as the rest of the album. I will say though that I’m very confused by Jordan Rudess’ solo towards the end: he has access to literally hundreds of sounds with his keyboards, and he chose to use a Moog that sounds like a distorted pan flute. It’s… very uncanny.
- Illumination Theory: The last track on the album is a big one… it clocks in at 22 minutes and 16 seconds. Not a particularly “easy” track to digest, but that’s a good thing, because every second of this track is phenomenal. Every time I listen to it, I’m blown away at what Dream Theater’s done with themselves: at one minute, it’s fast paced progressive metal ready to burst at the seams with all the time signature changes and interesting production choices with the sounds they use. At another, I’m hearing a fantastic bridge and a building orchestral piece that’s reminiscent of something by John Williams… and then it’ll go into a rumbling rock section reminiscent of Tool. Every time I listen to this track, I fall in love with it in new ways – it’s simply superb.
If you’re a fan of progressive music – be it rock, metal, or something in between, get this album. If you enjoy fusion, get this album. If you enjoy good musicianship, get this album.
Get this album.