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Sunday
Aug072011

A Dramatic Turn Of Events - Dream Theater Album Review

 With an album title that only hints at the unbridled chaos that has engulfed Dream Theater’s world over the last year, this first album without drummer Mike Portnoy is a pivotal moment in the band’s twenty six year history. With an expectant fan base, Dream Theater quite simply had to deliver a “classic” Dream Theater album. If they moved too far away from their blueprint, or stacked the album with “filler”, they would be immediately be castigated for letting Portnoy leave in the way he did and for rebuffing his attempt to rejoin the band a few weeks later. The central reason Portnoy cited for his departure was that he felt that the band had become stale and that they needed an extended break to recharge. Put simply, he felt that if the band were to survive, something needed to change in order for them to create truly special albums once again. The ultimate irony here is that by leaving, Portnoy has provided that spark, and indeed Dream Theater have returned with a fresh and frankly stunning album in A Dramatic Turn Of Events.

For all the drama of the acrimonious split and the bitterness that is understandably still evident on both sides, eventually it comes down to the music. And no matter which side of the argument your loyalties lie, it’s the music that the band will ultimately be judged on. The most startling aspect of this album is the vigour with which the band have applied themselves. The attention to detail is noticeable – both in the songwriting, the production and the mix – with all members of the band (including the normally reserved John Myung) contributing strong melodies and lyrical concepts. Keyboard player Rudess has talked of how he would write sections to fit snugly around John Petrucci’s riffs, and this careful craftsmanship has provided a fresh edge to the album’s sound that at times is spiritually reminiscent of such standout albums as Images And Words or Scenes From A Memory. Progressive metal as a genre has a sliding scale between the two poles, and the material here veers more towards the prog, which many would say was no bad thing. The growling vocals have vanished to be replaced with typically complex DT musicality and countless melodies, and critically the album is not immediately gratifying, and requires several listens in order to fully grasp exactly what the band have achieved here.

uild Me Up, Break Me Down contains some epic riffs, along with a incredibly catchy chorus, and the same can be said of Lost Not Forgotten – the finale of which has some truly blistering interplay between Rudess and Petrucci. Such a description could be viewed as being Dream-Theater-By-Numbers, but that would be missing the point. This is the sound of a band having fun, playing to their strengths and infusing their sound with an energetic new edge without at any point resorting to prog metal cliché. It’s also easy to fall into the trap of viewing the lyrical content of the album as perhaps hinting at their recent turmoil, and This Is The Life falls into that category. With lines such as “Some of us choose to live gracefully/ Some can get caught in the maze and lose their way home/ This is the life we belong to” reading almost like a revised mission statement, it remains one of the most wonderfully tranquil pieces of music the band have ever created, and the searing guitar solo is on a par with Dave Gilmour in his pomp. The same can be said of the similarly mellow Beneath The Surface, which is another beautifully constructed song that’s propelled by a string section.

Harking back to Scenes From A Memory, Outcry contains the type of musical dexterity that drove The Dance Of Eternity but is combined with a striking vocal melody. Similarly engaging is Bridges In The Sky, even if the unexpected sound of an Aboriginal battle cry that opens the track does sound a touch like The Simpson’s Barney Gumble cracking out a hearty burp down in Moe’s Tavern. Far From Heaven is another lilting, heartfelt piano led track that provides a continued balance to the album. Perhaps the most audible contrast with previous albums (and no doubt for the DT hardcore the most widely anticipated song) is Breaking All Illusions which contains John Myung’s first foray into lyric writing for many a year. It also showcases Myung’s talent as a bass player – which many have claimed has been left in the background in the recent past – and it’s a pleasure to hear him so prominent in the mix once again.

Ultimately, this is a breathtaking album that Dream Theater fans will adore. It’s just such a crying shame that it took such cataclysmic change within the band for them to create it.

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