Category Archives: Music

Dream Theater ratchet up everything on new album

Dream Theater 2013

Dream Theater have done it again — dazzling us diehard fans with some superbly crafted songs and an overall collection of masterful works.

Admittedly it is hard for me to be impartial when talking about Dream Theater. I have, after all, been a fan of the band since 1994. However, I think the new self-titled album is something rather special.

That’s saying something. This is Dream Theater album no. 12 so at this stage they shouldn’t be surprising fans as they did in the preceding 11 albums. True to form, Dream Theater have outdone themselves and produced a stunning album with perhaps 2 or 3 of their best songs ever.

For the uncompromising prog rock fan, there’s 22 minute opus Illumination Theory, the 6 minute scorching instrumental Enigma Machine and a haunting, cinematic sounding intro entitled False Awakening Suite.

The album is superbly well thought out in terms of overall contour. It’s a total listen rather than a pick and choose kind of album with several high points on the way to the massive denouement provided by Illumination Theory.

Dream Theater promised that this self-titled work would be indicative of their entire career but would stand alone as an innovative and individual piece of work. I think they achieved that quite beautifully with sounds dating back to earlier albums such as When Dream and Day Unite, Images and Words and 1994’s Awake (regarded as the band’s best album by many).

The band explicitly reveals their influences on a few tracks, notably Rush and Metallica, but there are also some touches of Yes, Pink Floyd and Genesis in places. Instrumentally, every member of the band brought their ‘A’ game to the recording studio. Guitarist John Petrucci and Keyboardist Jordan Rudess drive the bands electic mix of melodies, harmonies and jaw dropping solos. Fans however will note the emergence of somewhat reserved bassist John Myung in the mix. Myung’s bass seems to really jump out in places and the effect harkens back to classic Rush and Yes era where the bass drove the band solidly.

Drummer Mike Mangini seems right at home on this his first album as a true creative contributor from day one. His chops are phenomenal in songs such as The Enemy Inside where his blend of syncopation and double bass play elevates the band into the stratosphere.

James LaBrie is in top form vocally, especially in songs where the meter of the song is so off the wall it is a challenge to hum let alone sing. This album could potentially contain LaBrie’s best vocal performances of his career.

Here is a song-by-song breakdown of Dream Theater. The [Bright spot] label indicates what songs I think are the high points of the album.

False Awakening Suite

Short but suite! The song seems to be an intentional opening track — The percussive opening adds drama and intrigue as we instantly know this is a Dream Theater album, but remain uncertain as to which way the song and album is going to go. The snake like melodies at the beginning of this track and ensuing riffs are classic Dream Theater.

The Enemy Inside

The past three albums had On the Backs of Angels, A Rite of Passage and Constant Motion. The Enemy Inside is this album’s installment of the continuing Dream Theater tradition of beginning an album with a well crafted, power song with a memorable riff. These are usually the songs that I want to learn how to play on guitar first and make good singles (usually abridged of course). This track was released 6 weeks prior the album release date, giving us a taste of the music to follow. The song makes a lot more sense in the album context rather than as a standalone track.

The Looking Glass [Bright spot]

Lots of memories invoked by this song. The feel is very much like Rush with the upbeat Lydian main riff. The song, though, is very reminiscent of the Images and Words/Awake era in sound and structure. The solo beginning at 3:13 is classic Petrucci, nice scalar flourishes and a melody that fits the music perfectly. The first of a handful of songs on the album to have touches of Rush’s Moving Pictures sound.

Enigma Machine

Angry, haunting and sure to be recognised in the same breath as The Dance Of Eternity when mentioning Dream Theater’s best instrumentals. The interplay between guitar and keyboard, along with the melodies and heavy 7-string riffs really do recall the best moments of the Scenes From A Memory album from 1999 with heavy touches reminiscent of Train of Thought. One of the many champagne moments on the album.

The Bigger Picture

The song sounds like it could have easily been a song originally written for the 2007 Systematic Chaos album. A catchy chorus and a nice ‘come down’ from the craziness of The Enigma Machine. Overall a nice melodic structure and great songwriting. Probably top candidate on the album for radio airplay, despite clocking in at over 6 minutes.

Behind the Veil [Bright spot]

Could well be my favourite track on the album. A quiet atmospheric opening brings to mind Yes and Rush again (Xanadu maybe?) before Petrucci launches into a Megadeth style power riff. The verse settles in and the sound is unmistakably Dream Theater. Another catchy chorus, this time preceded by a lovely open string chordal figure. The breakdown comes and we hear the odd time signature riffs that have become Dream Theater staples. Behind the Veil is a triumph of musicianship that the layperson could happily listen to whilst also satisfying us diehard prog fans.

Surrender to Reason

If the Looking Glass was channeling Rush’s Moving Pictures, the Lydian riff in this song and the opening passages sure bring to mind Freewill from the Permanent Waves album with touches of Chemistry and Distant Early Warning from the Signals album. The acoustic verse is a nice contrast before a heavily phased/chorused guitar sound enters, which serves to further bring the Rush sound. The solo is also very Alex Lifesonesque, both in tone (washed out wah flavoured) and in attack. Another very well crafted song.

Along for the Ride

Beautiful clean tone and song structure. The only ballad on the album, is similar in atmosphere to The Ministry of Lost Souls from 2007. It is a fantastic piece of songwriting that serves as a setup for perhaps the most remarkable and majestic finale to a Dream Theater album ever…

Illumination Theory [Bright spot]

Wow. I could write an entire blog post breaking this song down and salivating over how great it is. This is Dream Theater at their epic and sublime best and it is going to be one mother of a song when witnessed live. It has everything: A great anthemic beginning, power riffs, insane interplay between keyboard and guitar, great drumming, haunting chorus… Even an extended string section followed by funk bass guitar that propels the song into the final sections. A scintillating masterpiece reminiscent of A Change of Seasons and just as epic. The denouement that the album needed to fully satisfy the committed listener and the grandeur to inspire awe.

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There’s a Yes Music podcast! (And it’s great)

Few people know what progressive rock music is, but if you’re new to the genre or a diehard prog rock fanatic, the Yes Music podcast is the place to go.

Subtitled “One fan’s exploration of the greatest progressive rock band of all time”, Kevin Mulryne and his Yes Music podcast delves into the band Yes, their 40+ years of producing landmark albums and makes for a pleasant end to a busy week.

Tales from Topographic Oceans - Roger Dean cover art masterpiece.Tales from Topographic Oceans — Yes would often rely on artist Roger Dean to create the scenery Yes’ music would invoke.

Yes for the uninitiated

Who are Yes and why should we tune into a podcast about them? Quite simply, they are a band of uber-musicians that have rarely followed trends and in the process produced some of the most elaborately beautiful compositions in the history of music.

That sounds like a big call — I mean, there is an awful lot of music produced throughout human history. I like to think that if the great composers of the past were around in the 20th century, they would have ended up being in bands like Yes.

For example, head over to the interweb, fire up Spotify and listen to the ethereal 18 minute Close to the Edge track on the album of the same name. I challenge anyone to find a more dazzling and effecting composition from a rock band. Don’t stop there, keep the album playing and take in the beautiful And You And I — a long time staple in the Yes setlist and a stunning piece in its own right.

Yes, like the prog rock genre they helped pioneer, defy an off the shelf categorisation. Indeed, progressive music is characterised by exceptional musicianship and more elaborate,  often unpredictable arrangements. This fact by itself is what makes the genre so intriguing — you can never predict how one album will sound from an artist’s previous release.

This is certainly true of Yes. In a span from 1971-1980, Yes produced what purists would call “classic Yes”, redefining the genre and blazing the trail for generations of musicians  — not just progressive rockers. However, the procession of albums made critics and fans of the band scratch their heads; what ere Yes going to next?? This evident in the fact that no one saw the band producing a record like 1974’s Tales from Topographic Oceans — a double LP comprised of four 20 minute pieces.

 A grand concept

Yes is more of a grander, transcendent concept rather than any one collection of musicians. The band has had so many lineup changes throughout the decades that it is sometimes hard to keep track of, but the classic lineup (and most enduring) would be:

  • Jon Anderson — vocals and arguably the single most important factor in the Yes soundscape
  • Chris Squire — co-founder of the group with Jon Anderson
  • Steve Howe — probably the most underrated guitarist ever
  • Rick Wakeman — an extraordinarily talented keyboard player and prolific composer
  • Alan White — took the reins admirably after Bill Bruford left the band in 1972.

The band underwent its most dramatic change in the 1980s with the introduction of now film score composer Trevor Rabin, producing probably their most well-known hit Owner of a Lonely Heart
on the stadium rock sounding 90125 album.

About the Yes Music Podcast

Having the exciting proposition of spending some iTunes vouchers that I got for Christmas, I plugged “Yes” in the search bar and amongst the enormous back catalogue, the search returned a podcast.

“A Yes Music Podcast,” I exclaimed! Intrigued I had to give it a listen and impressed I was. The host, Kevin Mulryne, is based in the West Midlands region of the UK (Stratford-upon-Avon), which lends a degree of street cred for me as it is hard to imagine a podcast dedicated to Yes without a soothing British accent.

So the podcast is an excellent introduction for people looking to find out about Yes and their extensive back catalogue. Kevin’s take on the 1996 Yes double album Keys to Ascension was a sufficient sales pitch for me and I dashed off at once to purchase it via the iTunes store.

Kevin’s passion is undeniable and his descriptions of Yes songs often evoke powerful emotions for me, a fan who shares that passion and knows exactly what Kevin means when he says “and that my friends is a Yes champagne moment”.

If you’re a Yes fan, or curious as to why there are numerous fans claiming that Yes music is in class of its own, listen to Kevin’s spellbinding exploration into the greatest progressive rock band of all time. There is no better Yes resource around.

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.
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*Guitar World magazine has tutorials from John Petrucci on how to play “On The Backs of Angels“.

Dream Theater Take 2: Settin’ Sydney on Fire

If Auckland was the theatrical experience, the Sydney stanza of the Dream Theater experience was the arena rock chapter.

The setlist was 1 song shorter than the Auckland show but very much more energetic and powerful, due to the difference in venue style.

Anyway, the Sydney installment of the Dream Theater roadshow was a loud one, though that maybe due in part to standing directly in front of a huge column of speakers on the right side of the stage. Of course, the setlist (below) reveals the mood the band on this tour – they wanted to rock and so they did.

1. A Nightmare To Remember
2. A Rite of Passage
3. Hollow Years (super-extended version)
4. Keyboard Solo
5. Prophets of War
6. The Mirror
7. Lie
8. Wither
9. The Dance of Eternity
10. One Last Time
11. Solitary Shell
12. In the Name of God
13. The Count of Tuscany (encore)

A fairly well-rounded list, with a number of hard and heavy pieces to ensure the neck got a thorough workout.

Perhaps the most euphoric moment for the crowd as one organism occurred upon hearing the first signs of “The Mirror” – those chunky low end chords that have since become staples on DT albums. The next “moment” was discovering that we weren’t just being treated to The Mirror but also it’s sister song Lie. Wicked! I know that this probably doesn’t make sense to the non-Dream Theater disciples among us so if you want to get some idea of what I’m on about, make sure you get a listen to a prog rock classic – the album Awake.

Finishing with In the Name of God and The Count of Tuscany topped of an evening of surprises in a very pleasant way. It seemed an epic show so two songs amounting to 30 minutes was much appreciated.

This was my first show at the Hordern Pavillion and one which I will treasure. How keen am I to head to Melbourne to catch the show tonight and tomorrow? Very.

Dream Theater are almost upon us!

It’s been a long time. I would say between drinks but that wouldn’t be entirely accurate because when the great New York-based progressive rock legends Dream Theater arrive next week they will perform their first show on Kiwi soil.

I waited a long time to see them – I have been a huge fan since 1994 when the opening drums of the song “6:00” hit my ears. The wait ended when I saw DT live in 2007 at Wembley Arena and then a month later at the Wolverhampton Civic Theatre. What an awesome show the guys powered out during the Chaos in Motion tour. Systematic Chaos is an awesome album and translated well into the live sets. They played a lot from their extensive back catalogue and this tour promises to be an even more eclectic mix of their classics. Dream Theater guitarist John Petrucci has promised Kiwi fans a trip back through the archives, since this will be our first experience of their instrumental madness.

To top it off, as any mad fan would, I’m off to Sydney to see them 5 days later. It should be a somewhat different show – the Sydney venue has been described as “a big shed” while the Civic in Auckland is an old and classy little theatre utilised more as place for plays. Whatever the case, DT are the sort of band you can thrash to (in the places where they’re not in some exotic time signature like 7/4 or 5/8) while also a spectacle to watch from the comfort of a theatre seat. Every Kiwi fan is now in a perpetual state of high anticipation. John Petrucci himself says there is electricity in the air at the thought of playing their first show in New Zealand. A full report will follow both shows.