Since the release of their last album, a lot has happened in the world of Dream Theater. A world tour, including shows with the legendary Iron Maiden, another Progressive Nation run, sharing the stage with bands like Bigelf and Scale The Summit. I feel like I am forgetting something. After a long and busy two years, a new album has been signed, sealed a delivered. It is time to experience "A Dramatic Turn Of Events." Wonder where they got the name from. Guess we'll never know.
Clean guitars open "On The Backs Of Angels," which is, by all intents and purposes, a gauge with which to measure your interest in the rest of the album. The entrance of drums reassures you that despite a notable departure, there is still percussion in this band. The guitar hook leading into the verse is standard Petrucci, and the darting keyboards that follow are still Rudess. James Labrie sings well, benefiting from some crystal clear studio work. The song follows the formula that Dream Theater have written time and again. Understated verse section, a catchy hook, and a flurry of instrumental solo sessions. The constant has always been John Myung, whose rock steady bass work keeps things in time and moving in the right direction.
An electronic beat builds to a resounding rumble in "Build Me Up, Break Me Down," the first heavy burst of the album. Rudess supplies a healthy dose of symphonic keyboards, providing direct support to an energetic guitar riff. The overwhelming surprise to this point has to be James Labrie, who seems to have found his long lost voice amidst the turmoil. The track moves quickly, until a tad overblown outro that consists of a minute or more of repeated keyboard tones. The first epic of the album, "Lost Not Forgotten" sees a delicate piano intro take hold of your heart strings. This is a rock opera intro, complete with thundering tympani. As a barrage of instrumentation flies forth, you have to be wondering when the song will take shape. One guitar stomp later, you have arrived. Rudess and Petrucci have a fun exchange of dueling notes in the breakdown section, as if to remind you that this is still a Dream Theater album. They then exchange solos, shake hands, and rejoin the rhythm section to bring things to a close.
The first ballad offering on the album, the lighter igniting "This Is The Life," may begin as a ripping guitar track, but quickly turns into a piano led crooner. The light tapping of cymbals and orchestrated strings only bury Myung's bass work. The lyrics take a sugar coated turn, choosing to live life gracefully. But in typical fashion, the ballad becomes a monster with the buildup of drums and guitars. A quick run up the neck of the guitar, and the beast has awoken, albeit for a brief run of layered instrumentation. A tribal tinged moan is an odd welcome, but "Bridges In The Sky" evolves into a heavy bit of progressive metal mastery. Tracks like this are the strength of the band, with a cohesive delivery winning out over individual musicianship. Labrie seems to fall short on his end, however, holding things back in the verse. He returns to his normal self in the chorus, bringing that melodic edge back. Once again, the alternating solo sections take over and Rudess and Petrucci flex their respective muscles. And a tribal moan of satisfaction ties this one up.
Parts of "Outcry" could fit in perfectly to the "Systematic Chaos" sessions, yet somehow stand apart from the rest of this offering. It seems to be the song that best and worst represents Dream Theater, with some of the more generic rock riffs dominating the verse, and some of the more intricate musicianship highlighting the breakdown and chorus sections. Rather than a happy medium, they jump back and forth across that fine line. The shared stage of solos occupies several minutes, before the smooth jazz portion takes over, with Rudess dropping in some piano tones. This tickling of the ivories continue into the shortest song on the album, the four minute "Far From Heaven." A light violin joins with the keys to form a fragile plate which Labrie serves up his breathy vocals. This one is beautiful, if not a little puzzling in the flow of the album.
The jaunty opening to "Breaking All Illusions" will wake you up, allowing Petrucci to put forth some lighter guitar riffs. However, that brisk tempo dissipates as the Weather Channel jazz returns for round two. It is all well delivered, but sorely lacking any sort of continuity.The bulk of the song is traditional Dream Theater, winding keyboards tangling with the signature guitar style and a surgically precise bass. But the flow and momentum feels lopsided, and after twelve minutes, it needs to come to an end. It isn't often that you can describe anything Dream Theater does as having a minimalist approach, but "Beneath The Surface" is exactly that. This is a ballad, in every sense of the word. Light orchestrated strings, soft acoustic guitars and James Labrie. Labrie holds his own, with some sharp production giving his voice a soul that many fans sorely missed. A short keyboard melody leaves as quickly as it enters. Sappy, yes. But a fitting end to this journey.
It is hard to evaluate a Dream Theater album as a stand alone entity. Like their individual songs, each album seems to be connected to the one before it. And yes, "A Dramatic Turn Of Events" seems like the logical next step after "Black Clouds & Silver Linings." The band have leaned more towards the emotionally delicate songs, and away from the harder edge metal that they do so well. And as with all change, you just need time to adjust. I am prepared to accept this new, emotionally fragile Dream Theater. Are you?
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