One Album – Three Perspectives: A Review Dream Theater’s Dream Theater
Posted by Reggie
Firs the first time, A Metal State of Mind (all three of us) are reviewing one album. It’s something we have never done before and thought it would be cool to get three perspectives on one album. The three of us have our favorite metal genres we gravitate to, but Dream Theater is one band we like that we all have in common. Though we do not all agree on which of their albums are the best, you will find at least one Dream Theater album on all three of our “favorite albums” lists. Therefore, it goes without saying, this is probably a good opportunity to compare our thoughts on a new album from a band that has impacted the lives of the three of us at some point in time. Dream Theater’s self-titled album was released on September 23rd and here are or thoughts on their 12th studio album.
The definition of progressive, as we all know, is to continuously be moving forward and progress towards new, fresh ideas. Which is something Dream Theater hasn’t really done at all for the last six (including this one) albums, if you ask me. But I won’t be too hard on them, because this is their self-titled release, and with that comes the expectation that it’s going to be a record where they to their best efforts showcase the typical, and by now very familiar, Dream Theater sound. Which is exactly what it is. Nothing more and nothing less.
Once they used to be my favourite band and I adored every piece of music they put out in the 90’s. I still follow the band and have been looking forward to hear this album. At the first listen, the pompous and mighty intro track had me excited and hopeful, but as the song title (ironically) suggests it was just a “False Awakening Suite” and after the third track I still feel unaffected. Nothing really stands out; I know when I can expect a keyboard or guitar solo and there’s little to no variation in LaBrie’s vocal performance. At times his voice has an annoying electronic feel to it, like it’s been fixed up to sound better.
On a positive note, I find that certain parts of the album, particularly some moments in “The Looking Glass”, “The Bigger Picture” and “Surrender To Reason” sound like they’re taken from Images and Words or Awake, which gives me a nice reminder of how Dream Theater used to sound in their glory days. The bass is much louder, groovier and more prominent overall; something that greatly improves the songs and the drumming is solid and enjoyable, but nothing extraordinary. I miss the emotional context that was prevalent in their music during their early years, it was such an important piece in their otherwise very technical sound. I’m not happy to admit it, but this release is incoherent, predictable and uninteresting.
I have been excited about a lot new music this year and there have been several surprises that have earned a solid spot on my end-of-year list. Dream Theater is no exception to my level of excitement and it probably has something to do with the fact that this is Mike Mangini’s first real input into a Dream Theater album. I mean, I am sure he was able to personalize a few things on A Dramatic Turn of Events (2011), but that album was pretty much written before he came into the picture. The new self-titled Dream Theater album was released this week with much anticipation…mine especially. But, putting all bias aside (or as much as possible) how does the new album live up to expectations?
I was a little shocked by the intro False Awakening Suite. To me, it sounded like something Nightwish would use to open their albums – a little heavy on the symphonic side. But, it didn’t take long for the signature Dream Theater sounds to kick in. The introductory song is short-lived and by the time the album is in full swing, the biggest thing I notice is the album rocks (for lack of a better term) more than most Dream Theater albums…sort of takes me back to the Inner Turbulence sessions.
During the week, Matt and I talked about our initial reaction to the album. He mentioned some Rush influence which can’t possibly be a bad thing right? When The Looking Glass came on, the Rush influence was obvious, but mostly in the opening notes. It was also obvious in a later song Surrender to Reason. Another thing I noticed was the sound of bass not only within the songs, but on a few songs the bass stood out alone. Also, most of the songs fell into the average time span of about 6 minutes. Dream Theater usually has a more wide-ranging time stamps on their songs. Of course, a Dream Theater album would not be complete without something described only as epic. There is a 22 minute song and as much as I can appreciate a song like that, I think it would have been better to chop it up into smaller individual songs. The rest of the album had larger dose of heavier prog. It gave the album a bit more bite than we are used to. But The Illumination Theory is something we’ve heard before.
I wouldn’t call Dream Theater’s 12th studio album earth-shattering, but that doesn’t mean it’s a poor album; I enjoy it quite a bit. Dream Theater is too talented to put something together that would be considered bottom of the barrel. The tone and tempo of all the songs gave me the impression that Dream Theater pulled influence from a wide swath of bands and artists including their own past experience. As for Mangini, his playing is impeccable and his addition to the band helped Dream Theater not miss a beat (no pun intended). He keeps time like a pro and when needed can certainly shred that myriad of percussion instruments he is surrounded by.
Holy crap have the boys of Dream Theater been listening to a lot of Rush lately. I can’t count how many times I had to double-check WinAmp to make sure it didn’t magically start Fly by Night or Moving Pictures. I’m not complaining, I love Rush and they are one of my all-time favorite bands, so more is always better to me. But, man, Dream Theater, while they have had a Rush influence before, really brought it out in full force on their new eponymous album. Sufficed to say, even though there is an overabundance of Rush influence on the record, it is still wholly a Dream Theater album with plenty of their own signature style on it, just not much of the style you’ve been accustomed to during the past decade with the band.
While maintaining enough of a heavy metal edge of their more modern music, this record really brought to mind the bands very early albums, especially Falling into Infinity. Here you will hear a more AOR/rock and roll color to the songs and likewise the lyrical content leans towards more brighter and uplifting words. That’s not to say they are all prissy clean and uber-positive as songs like “The Enemy Inside” and “Behind the Veil” have darker turns to them. But there is certainly a very uplifting, spiritual feel to the whole thing. At times the lyrics can sound a bit cheesy, but since the music surrounding it is so damn solid, I guess it’s forgivable, but I know Dream Theater have been much better in this regard.
Like the lyrical topics the actual tone of the instruments has a bright feel to them, and it’s really in there that I’m getting that Rush feel from. Bright sounds of serpentine guitars, bass, keys, and drums flow nonstop through songs that are just as complex as the licks that fill them up, and in true Rush fashion are incredibly catchy regardless of how twisted a tune gets. Mike Mangini’s presence is felt much more on this record as this is the first time he has been a part of the writing process and you can hear the impact he’s had especially when they move away from the more metal territory and just let him be Neil Peart for a bit. Of course the rest of DT are in the usual top form as expected.
After a good amount of spins I can say I find the new record enjoyable, but for my own tastes it gets a little too fluffy (I wanted to puke cotton candy during that keyboard solo in “Along for the Ride”). The obvious Rush feel makes me happy and the 1hour 10 minute run time gives you a lot of bang for the buck. The top end is definitely the strongest half of the album as the 2nd half is where stuff starts to get a bit sugary and I think they could have cut a song out or edited some of the longer ones down a tad to keep me more engaged for its entire duration. For now I am satisfied with the songs I love off the album and can easily skip the ones I don’t care much for and commend DT on at least trying to keep their sound fresh which they do with varying levels of success. If they can keep rolling with that AOR/Rock and Roll feel they’re doing here but do away with all the sappy fluff on the next record they still have the potential to write an album that equals the masterpiece levels of Scenes from a Memory.