After the success of 2007’s Systematic Chaos, it’s only natural that for their tenth studio album, Dream Theater might hark back to writing and performing the kind of music that wowed their fans and alienated their critics in the first place. Their consistent successes over the years has meant that Dream Theater have had more than their fair share of depreciators, but some of the more abrasive edges were sanded off that last album and they had a new label – hungry to flog their wares in a bid to attract more mainstream attention than ever before. It undoubtedly worked.
Now, after climbing back into the world’s arenas and main stages, they unleash Black Clouds & Silver Linings against their own heady benchmark. It’s a weighty selection of six songs – four at well over ten minutes in length – that manages to both hark back to the good old days of 70s prog as well as displaying the multi-faceted brilliance of modern prog metal.
Opening track, A Nightmare To Remember would slot seamlessly into Systematic Chaos, with James LaBrie’s vocals outstanding even above the glorious riffs from John Petrucci and Jordan Rudess. DT purists might call for an end to the gruff, growled vocals that appear here, but they still add a variety and charm to the album before the accomplished but relatively unremarkable next two tracks. It isn’t a coincidence that these are the two shortest tracks, but it’s difficult to be amazing all of the time.
However, thunderously intense metal comes back to the fore as Mike Portnoy’s Twelve-Step Suite comes to a close in The Shattered Fortress. This decade-long compilation of DT’s heaviest and darkest tracks (unsurprising, considering the subject matter) has been confirmed to be released as a live album and, using the unquestionable medium of personal history, it’s the song that links the listener to the heart of the band.
It’s possible that over the course of a 13-minute song, you might lose track of where you are on the album – there’s no verse-chorus formula to help remind you of the title every 30 seconds – but after a few listens, even if you dip in and out, you’ll never fail to discover a musical nuance held within each song.
This is most apparent during the magnificently epic final two songs, where The Best Of Times (13 minutes) and The Count Of Tuscany (19 minutes!) showcase just what Dream Theater do so brilliantly. While the former is a beautifully emotional, undulating dedication to Mike Portnoy’s late father – which wields a nifty Petrucci-shaped dagger towards the end – the album closer is an unpredictable, exhausting beast that incomprehensibly twists and turns its time signatures until stunning, carefully-constructed confusion reigns.
These songs will remain in set-lists and ‘best of’ lists for years to come. Despite one or two nagging gripes, there’s no doubt that DT have created yet another challenging and rewarding listen with some dazzling arrangements within. Even if you’re already a fan, prepare to be amazed.