It’s been quite some time since I did a music review and I’ve been meaning to review this album since it was released. I guess the Dream Theater guys like the consistency of an album every other year. It’s been almost exactly two years since “Systematic Chaos” was released. You can read that review here. Much has happened with DT in the past couple of years. They have seen their song “Constant Motion” become available as a download for the video game Rock Band. DT headlined a successful 2008 package tour called “Progressive Nation Tour 2008. They also released a DVD of their previous tour called “Chaos in Motion”.
The newest album from the progressive aggressors known as Dream Theater is titled “Black Clouds and Silver Linings” is their tenth studio album. The album was released June 23rd of this year and on July 1st the album debuted at #6 on Billboard’s Top 200 album chart. In addition to the standard CD, the album is available on vinyl LP, as well as a 3-disc Special Edition CD that includes the full album, a CD of instrumental mixes of the album and a CD of six cover songs. The album I purchased from Amazon Downloads contains the new original material plus the six cover songs. The album was nominated for Album of the Year by Classic Rock Magazine and announced by the enduring heavy metal rockers Spinal Tap, seen here.
The first track of the album literally begins with thunder crashes and positions the listener in the middle of a thunder storm. The song is about an auto accident a young and future rock guitarist John Petrucci experienced. It is called “A Nightmare To Remember”. The music begins with just a tinkling piano and then creeps into an ominous churning of heavy metal string ka-chunking, double bass drumming, and choir effects that progress toward an assuming climax that ends with unexpected silence. Then Petrucci, who wrote the lyrics, kicks in a low end driving riff on guitar that provides the main rhythm throughout the song. The track is typical DT progressive metal with several course changes. The only thing that doesn’t really work is the Portnoy growling of the positive-centered lyrics near the end of the song. The second track called “A Rite of Passage” rings as a commercially motivated song, although the beginning does have some wonderful fluid bass guitar and cleaner electric guitar voicing that plays well together. The signature Petrucci riff that follows is cool with it’s harmonic tails. The third track, “Wither” feels like their token ballad and is somewhat weak lyrically but offers a nice catchy tune. The fourth track is Mike Portnoy’s final installment of his twelve step suite. The song consists of three movements, each corresponding to the last three steps for AA. Musically the song rocks big time. The song is filled with fantastic guitar riffs that would make even the wanna be guitar hero, like me, salivate. Although the lyrics are strong and definitely borrow much from the AA steps of the “heal thyself” philosophy, it flies in the face of real soul salvation. I know that the twelve steps have helped folks get through a seemingly desperate position in life. The major thing this process does not mention is the eternal salvation found in the bible. I prefer the no step theology that teaches us to cling only to the righteousness of Jesus Christ and the eternally secure salvation found through him and him alone. If you wish to know more please go here.
Dream Theater is well known for it’s unique impression of cover songs. I will briefly mention my favorite covers released on this album. The first is “Stargazer” originally written by Ronnie James Dio and recorded by Blackmore’s Rainbow. The DT version is almost dead on the original with the drumming of Portnoy matching the skills of the late great Cozy Powell, and Petrucci matching lick for lick the legendary guitar prowess of Richie Blackmore. I was a big fan of the earlier works of this band and had several vinyl records back in the day. The other real good cover on this DT album is “Tenant Funster/Flick of the Wrist/Lilly of the Valley” written by Freddie Mercury and originally recorded by Queen. This is a favorite of this Queen fan and one of the best transitional multiple songs in one ever done. Vocals aside, sorry James LaBrie you are no Freddie Mercury(ie: Lilly of the Valley), the music and unique composition is incredibly tight and emotional, which is very difficult to pull off when covering another artist’s work.
My album highlight’s would be “A Nightmare to Remember”, “A Rite of Passage”, “The Shattered Fortress”, and most definitely “The Best of Times” which was written as tribute to Portnoy’s father who recently passed away due to cancer. The powerful lyrics can be briefly seen in the following verse:
The fleeting winds of time
Flying through each day
All the things I should have done
But time just slipped away
Remember “seize the day”
Life goes by in the blink of an eye
There’s so much left to say
This is a really good album for Dream Theater. Some of the other reviews I’ve read minimized the effectiveness of the album to deliver the DT goods again. I disagree because I do not look for the artist to consistently try and re-invent themselves. I am a fan, and a musician, and I like what I like. Too many times I’ve enjoyed a band only to find their next album sucks because they tried to be to artsy or too inventive. The songs on “Black Clouds…” are bursting with guitar riffs and ominous keyboards, you know, the typical staple of DT. This is some of the music I could listen to for hours on end. I give it four (OLP MM4 Petrucci) guitars out of five.
Please check out the video for “A Rite of Passage” below.