Dream Theater turn up fresh new direction

Dream Theater emerge with new resolve and a fresh direction on their new album, “A Dramatic Turn of Events”. 

Confession time – I have been a Dream Theater fan for 18 years so if I come off a bit gushy about them then please forgive me. To me, they are one of only a handful of bands who have the balls and talent to transcend the radio 3-minute mad music culture and create music that is truly Extraordinary.

The 2011 edition of Dream Theater is both vintage while heading at warp speed into some startling new areas – no doubt in part due to the absence of the drummer and cofounder of the band, Mike Portnoy. His replacement, Mike Mangini offers a fresh and exciting detour and his influence on the sound of the new album is apparent.

How to listen to a Dream Theater album

For many people, at least in my circle of friends, Dream Theater presents some challenges. As a fan of ice hockey, the gripe I hear from often non-hockey buffs is: “The game goes by so fast I can’t see the puck” and in many ways that is the way Dream Theater play music. Like a game of ice hockey, you have to experience the whole event to really grasp it because you will miss a lot if you focus on one part here or there.

Dream Theater have always stressed the importance of taking an album as a whole and listening to it from that perspective. Guitarist John Petrucci says this approach is best exemplified by Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of The Moon” – an album that had a major influence on him as a youngster.

“A Dramatic Turn of Events”

The new album is perhaps the most anticipated Dream Theater album for some time. I won’t go into the whole “Mike Portnoy leaves the band after 25 years” saga. I think Portnoy’s departure was positive thing for all concerned – Mike has his freedom and relief from burnout; Dream Theater has created a masterpiece of an album with a new cool new drummer. The new album wouldn’t have sounded exactly the same way if Mike was around pulling the strings

The album opens with On the Backs of Angels* – an intelligent rock sound with an ethereal sounding arpeggio intro. This is classic Dream Theater.

Build Me Up, Break Me Down continues the recent tradition of DT albums having a powerful straightforward rock tune at the top end of the album. “Black Clouds Silver Linings” had “A Rite of Passage” and “Systematic Chaos” had “Constant Motion. “Build Me Up, Break Me Down” rarely quits it’s torrid pace and flows nicely into a melodic, classical sounding arpeggio solo just when the noise threatens to take over. Always brings a smile to my face.

Lost Not Forgotten is one of my favourite tracks on the album. From the beautiful melodic piano intro, to the driving chorus riff, this song has a lot to like. This song also contains the most insane passage of music Dream Theater have ever committed to record (which is saying something).

From then on, the album twists and turns nicely with epic tracks such as Bridges in The Sky and the melodic and riff intensive Outcry. After a short slow down with the song Far From Heaven (interesting in context, a bit boring in isolation), the album kicks back into full gear with Breaking All Illusions – to me, the best song DT have written in 10 years. The song’s mix of old school riffing, with lighter moments and an awesome extended Dave Gilmouresque guitar solo make this a true masterpiece. The song acts as a nice crescendo before easing into the melodic ballad Beneath The Surface.

‘Odd’ criticism

Some of the criticism of the album has included that it sounds like old Dream Theater. I don’t see this as something to be critical of – the album was always going to sound like Dream Theater and that is good for fans who obviously love their sound. So criticism that Dream Theater sounds like Dream Theater is a bit silly.

Similarly, the implication that the album doesn’t represent a creative difference from other albums deserves to be challenged. While a number of songs have undoubtedly similar styles of riffs and passages to previous songs, the overall mixture and final product overall is refreshing and every bit creative.

The approach and direction on “A Dramatic Turn of Events” is remarkably different and the result is an overall sound that DT have only hinted at over the past 10 years or so.

Criticism that the album is “too progressive” and technical in places sounds odd from the stand point of a Dream Theater fan. Progressive is what we want, expect and love from Dream Theater. Saying Dream Theater is too progressive in places is like saying a comedian is too funny. This what sets Dream Theater apart from most bands out there. They can play anything and fans of Dream Theater like them for that reason. Therefore the label “too progressive” seems a bit out of place here.

Final thoughts

Listen to the album as one big masterpiece rather than just one song. “A Dramatic Turn of Events” is the best album Dream Theater have produced in 10 years – melodic, interesting, fresh and kick arse – the boys harnessed the excitement of incoming drummer Mike Mangini and channelled some genius tracks from themselves. A new bar has been set in progressive metal.
——-
*Guitar World magazine has tutorials from John Petrucci on how to play “On The Backs of Angels“.

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