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on 12 September 2011
Dream Theater fans tend to be an obsessive bunch, almost invariably skilled and knowledgeable musicians themselves. As I sit here writing this on the morning of the CD's release in the UK, there are debates raging on various forums about Dream Theater's latest album. Some are analysing the music like it's a crime scene, dusting through every bar looking for odd time signatures and evidence of earlier influences. Others are obsessing over the mixing and mastering. And yet another group is combing through the lyrics (particularly those by John Myung) looking for clues to the secret of life. I'm going to take a radical angle here and discuss the music itself, and how it affects me. I'm not saying those other issues don't matter. Clearly they do, or else so many people wouldn't write so passionately about them. But I'm not a gifted musician, I know nothing about the techniques of recording and mastering music, and if I want great words, I tend not to look to rock stars for them. Why I fell in love with Dream Theater back in 2001 was the exceptional musicianship and gorgeous textures of their music. So this is how I'll try to appraise this latest album.

Firstly, as we all know, Portnoy left in September 2010. What affect has this had? Well, immediately, only Labrie sings. There are no more growls and toe-curling death-metal rapping, for lack of a more apt description of that abomination that marred A Nightmare To Remember. And Labrie sings brilliantly. Nowhere on this record does he sneer or snarl or bark or shriek his way through passages, as he occasionally did on the previous 2 or 3 releases. He merely sings, and his voice has colour and charm and beauty and power. It is becoming a cliché on those forums I mentioned, but it is nonetheless true: this is the James Labrie of Images and Words and Awake. It is among his best work.

His contribution to the song-writing is also evident. Build me Up, Break Me Down sounds like something that would have fit nicely onto one of his solo albums, and has a wonderful chorus. Not my favourite track on the album, but a good, solid piece. Lost Not Forgotten works for me on many levels (Petrucci's guitar solo is wonderful. Echoes of Under A Glass Moon, but this could never be a bad thing). The opening contains an over-the-top segment of (it seems to me) completely aimless widdling, but it doesn't last too long.

The real surprise on this album was the 3 ballads. With a few notable exceptions (Anna Lee, Hollow Years, Disappear) I've never really taken to DT ballads. Too sickly, too banal. The appeal of Dream Theatre is usually the formidable musicianship and wholly unique arrangements of their pieces. Water them down to a 3rd-rate Coldplay and what's the point? But on this album, the ballads (I'll repeat, 3 of them!) are a) well placed on the CD, and b) beautiful. This Is The Life has a soaring guitar solo (2 of them in fact), and tasteful playing from Rudess. Far From heaven ddn't do it for me at first, but after many listens, is now one of my favourite DT tracks. It's a short one, but...such a beautiful, gorgeous vocal line from Labrie. And finally, what may be the most purely sublime piece DT have ever written, the album's closing track: Beneath The Surface. I like to think I hold myself together quite well, I'm not an overly-emotional person, and very few things move me to tears - but this track did, the first time I heard it. And with each repeated listen, it somehow becomes more and more beautiful. One of those tracks (for me at least) which, once it's sunk in to your soul, it's hard to imagine a time before it was a part of your life.

The other tracks on the album are very strong. Bridges In The Sky begins oddly, with a noise that any lover of a spicy mutton vindaloo will find familiar, but turns into quite an epic song, with a soaring melody and - lord be praised - a tasteful instrumental section which fits with the song, as opposed to a collection of impossibly difficult technical exercises. Some chap on the Dream Theater website's forum is currently engaged in a forensic examination of this song, claiming that its structure exactly mirrors that of Metropolis. Maybe so, maybe so. I personally couldn't care less about that degree of analysis. To me, it's just a great song, and to my ears sounds nothing like Metropolis. Besides which, I'd much prefer Dream Theater draw on their own catalogue for inspiration rather than any other band's, which is what I feel they were sometimes doing with Octavarium, Systematic Chaos, and Black Clouds. After all, nobody ever did it better than they themselves did.

Outcry is an album highlight, a great balance of technique and beauty. Breaking All Illusions is the album's masterpiece, with one of the most beautiful and spine-chilling endings I've ever heard in a song. I know the album is still fresh and it's tempting to be hyperbolic before it's really had a chance to sink in fully, but nonetheless, if I were stranded on an island I honestly think I could be happy with only this track for company. Dream Theater have often written exceptionally beautiful endings to otherwise mediocre tracks (Octavarium, Best of Times), but here, the entire track is one flawless gem.

So, in conclusion...I loved Mike Portnoy (still do). I think his drumming on In The Name Of God was a masterpiece of technique counterpoised against emotion. He was that rarest of entities - a truly musical drummer. But I didn't like the direction DT was taking with recent albums, and I feel that he was the reason for that change. Too much death metal growling. Too much musical masturbation, too little music. Sometimes it was just plain silly, and other times, embarrassingly derivative (watch the Systematic Chaos `Making Of' DVD and count the number of times Portnoy says things like: "Wow, this is great, we sound like Biohazard here!" Or "This is our cool Meshuggah section". Just be freakin' DT please!). This album is the sound of a group of preternaturally talented musicians playing as a tight unit. The songs are well constructed and brilliantly executed. They are original and inspiring, sometimes sending chills down the spine. There are moments which are supremely beautiful, but never childish and mawkish as seen on previous albums ("The Answer Lies Within" - is that right? There was I thinking an unexamined life was the way forward). This is not an easy record, it takes time to even begin to get a grasp of all that is going on here. Hence, it is classic Dream Theater. God forgive me but I'm happy Portnoy left if this is the result. This is what made the group wholly unique, and this record - while drawing on their past - is entirely new and fresh.

Album highlights, in order:

Breaking All Illusions
Beneath The Surface
Outcry
This Is The Life

My whole-hearted recommendation is to buy this album. And thank you Dream Theater, on the off-chance you're reading this. The music you create makes my life so much better.
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VINE VOICEon 13 September 2011
I like Dream Theater - but not to the point of being obsessive. Yes, they have turned out some excellent albums and yes, they have turned out some less than excellent albums, particularly of late, therefore when this album was announced, I seriously questioned whether or not to pre-order or wait a few months until the hype had died down and we could see what we truly had. Well, on balance, I thought that DT could not produce another less than excellent album and with the departure of the towering figure of Mr Portnoy, I put my money down and awaited release date.
With the remnants of hurricane Katya still making it's presence felt across the land, my copy duly arrived and went straight to the player and...crisp, clear, beautiful music began to fill the room - Oh my, a return to form and with a vengeance! Petrucci playing delicate little interludes with power riffs loading over the top, LaBrie singing like he hasn't done since Images & Words, Myung playing his stylish, understated thumping bass, Mangini playing a more thoughtful, more delicate set of drums (than Portnoy ever played!) and Rudess filling in the gaps and pulling it all together - DT at their most definitely, creative best!
From the opening lines of On The Backs Of Angels to the final bars of Beneath The Surface, DT show that they are indeed masters of their craft and prove it throughout the 77 minutes running time - never, never a dull moment - and that's after 3 straight listenings! Doubtless, I am going to find much, much more as I explore this album over the coming weeks and months!
As for the bonus DVD - an interesting little diary of the inner workings of the band recorded during their searching auditions to replace Mr Portnoy - all interesting stuff, but not something that you will come back to time and again - but as it has no effect on price - it's a nice little touch!
Oh - and mention has to go to the artwork and presentation of this pack - very stylish with some excellent imagery to boot - it makes for an overall quality presentation of what lurks within.
So, if you like your music to display virtuosity and to hit you right between the ears - then GET THIS!
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on 12 September 2011
Well I was a little worried as to what might happen with new DT albums once Mike Portnoy was out of the picture when it came to the songwriting and production, but I needn't have feared. The new CD is excellent. Definitely the best one since the band has been on Roadrunner Records.

Standout tracks so far (I've only had it on for a few hours) are Breaking All Illusions (with a brilliant guitar solo) and Lost Is Not Forgotten, but of course as the tracks bed-in I might change this opinion. I wonder if I'll even get used to the strange throat-singing intro to Bridges In The Sky - it sounds like my 16-week old son after a bottle of milk has just gone down! It's another great song though.

I suppose it depends which type of DT songs you like the most but the best news about the new album is that MP's growling backing vocals have gone. HOORAY! This was not something I enjoyed in their songs. I hope this remains in place for future releases.

Well done to the boys.
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VINE VOICEon 6 November 2011
It took a lot of plays, and seemed dull at first, but wow what a CD. In my opinion their best since Train Of Thought; just when I thought I'd lost faith.

What I like: Tighter structures, disciplined vocals (one of James' best performances), real feeling, interesting lyrics, less meandering, good electronica, Mike Mangini in seamlessly (phew).

What I don't like: Hardly anything bad to say about it. Still not as tight as, say, Awake, - but getting there.
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on 10 April 2012
DT came to my attention between Scenes from a Memory and Six Degrees. I found Scenes to be interesting but a touch corny. Six Degrees was a colossal step up. Track VII in the suite was quite simply the most dazzlingly proficient prog playing I had heard since ELP in their heyday, or Yes' Gates of Delerium (1974). I was blown away, and eagerly awaited the next outing. But when Train of Thought turned up I was almost totally disappointed. One-dimensionally, insistently and irredeemably heavy. I persisted with Octavarium, which showed some spark of adventure, but then followed the dire Systematic Chaos which, apart from fascinating artwork and the first ten minutes or so, I cannot abide.

When the next one came out, I didn't get the expensive editions I had in the past, but this was a definite step up, with three very good complex tracks that reward repeated listens - Nightmare , Fortress and Tuscany. But I was of the opinion that the miracle of Six Degrees was not going to see a rival.

But there has most certainly been A Dramatic Turn of Events.

What an amazing album this is.

Others have gone into considerable detail about the individual tracks: I will confine my comments to three.

Beneath the Surface, the ballad that closes the album, skates dangerously close to the thin ice of cheesiness, but manages to avoid falling through. James la Brie's rather breathy delivery does remind of some of the more embarrassing singers on the BBC Radio 2 of old; also his climb into a higher register doesn't work too well. But the orchestration is lovely, and the tone selected by Jordan Ruddess' tone during his keyboard solo is perfect.

Bridges in the Sky and Outcry, which seem to form a pair in my mind, appear to call for reconciliation and the end of wars. Both have enormous contrasts, tricky rhythms, and devilishly difficult passages. From 4:50, Outcry launches into a magnificent instrumental passage with everything I could have wanted, and far more than I could have imagined. And they're all involved up to the hilt - with perhaps Jordan in the lead a la Emerson. It's simply electrifying. The vocal line only re-enters after four and a half dizzying minutes.

An astonishing album. I have listened to it, I don't know, thirty times perhaps. And I STILL LOVE IT!

I am really hoping they will tour in the UK to support it.

Thanks guys. How ARE you going to top this one?
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on 12 September 2011
My first review - approaching the half century, not something we do! So why now? I must confess to relying upon my children to point me in the right direction nowadays and as a consequence i first learnt of DT some 7 years ago. since that time i have thoroughly enjoyed each album for what it gave me - astonishing music and virtuoso playing. I know there has been a great deal of chatter about this new album- understandable I suppose given the departure of MP. On my thrid listening and am totally immersed in the terrific music DT have created. i cannot and will not liken to other albums - what's the point, all i know this record (outdated term) is giving me much pleasure. Ironically, given DT's history, the very last track (a ballad) has me reaching for the rewind button to savour once more. My advise - if you love this style of music, just buy and enjoy and immerse yourself in what DT have give us and celebrate the fact that few bands create such joyous music.
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on 14 October 2011
Buying a Dream Theater album reminds me of the old days when you would wait for ages in anticipation for your favourite bands new album. You would know you would need to listen to it again and again. Some things were isntant and some things needed some time to explore and grow on you. First you would listen to side 1 for a week and maybe preview the long closing track on side 2. It was important, it was a possession and became personal.We didnt skip tracks or expect instant gratification and we didnt expect all our friends to like it either.

Thats why I like Dream Theater and this album. Its an album you have to afford time for, be patient and often very suprised.

At first listen I began to think 'this all a bit too clever and complex. Too many uncomfortable time signatures'. But, as ever with DT this is comlimented by superb melody and musicianship and will always throw up that element of artistic suprise and delight. There is a balance and quality that puts DT at the top of the modern prog rock tree (imho), suburb individual yet collective and complimetory musicianship together with inventive and creative songwriting and production.

This does sound like a 'band' album. It sa very good DT album, maybe not the best, but a very good and enjoyable album that proves the band are as strong as ever despite recent 'turns of events'.

It will be in the CD palyer for some time yet.
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on 23 September 2011
So many other reviewers have said it all. This is one more 5-star vote for this new DT album, from an early-days fan who's got all the albums and seen them in concert. Portnoy left, so what? To be really honest, the new guy just blends in perfectly, and the music is better than in recent years. Even LaBrie is great. Good luck Portnoy, but DT is better than ever. See you soon in concert, guys!!!
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on 12 September 2011
When I heard Mike Portnoy was leaving DT I thought the impact would be Bonhamesque (new word!) as I had always thought of him as being DT. How wrong I was! This is DT back to its rockiest and is a fantastic album throughout. Fantastic musicianship as usual - including some fantastic drumming. Buy with confidence!
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on 13 September 2011
Sensational album. I was concerned about the loss of Mike Portnoy, but this wipes the floor with the last album. Superb musicality and excellent songwriting. Highlight is definately 'Breaking all illusions'... low points (and there are hardly any) the shortest track on the album (thankfully) Far from heaven (wet as anything) and the huge burp at the start of 'Bridges in the sky' (There...I've said it!). the rest... pure genius... too many hi spots to list... Just buy it! wow wow wow! One of their best for me....
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