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Dream Theater – Black Clouds & Silver Linings: Review

June 23, 2009 is the scheduled release date of the tenth studio album of the legendary progressive metal band, Dream Theater. The album is entitled Black Clouds & Silver Linings and consists of six songs (four epics and two singles as described by drummer Mike Portnoy). Personally, I have found that the quality of music in a Dream Theater album is often reflected by the quality of the album art. In this case: absolute beauty.

Dream Theater - Black Clouds & Silver Linings (2009)

The Music (rating: A-)

  1. A Nightmare to Remember
  2. A Rite of Passage
  3. Wither
  4. The Shattered Fortress
  5. The Best of Times
  6. The Count of Tuscany

First Single: A Rite of Passage

I’m unbelievably glad that I managed to get an early listen of this album. This is the best album I’ve heard (opinion, not fact) and the first album I plan on buying since Iron Maiden’s A Matter of Life and Death from 2006. It is not quite as brilliant or complex as earlier albums of the band such as the masterpieces Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory and Images and Words, but it is definitely a musically impressive album. I’ve always had extremely high expectations for DT albums and this one doubtlessly satisfies them.

There is a great deal of variety in this album. It should not just be seen as a metal album. Obviously there are hard-hitting riffs and sections of speed and heaviness, but they are finely balanced with toned-down acoustic sections and melodic ballads. Moreover, the keyboardist, Jordan Rudess, does an outstanding job of manipulating the tone and feel throughout the album. During heavy sections in the album, he is able to create an epic atmosphere or present metal in it’s rawest form, depending on what is most fitting in the context. He is one of the many reasons why this album is so diverse.

Every song on the album was amazing and under regular circumstances I would be unable to choose one over the other. However, “The Shattered Fortress” stood out to me because it completed Portnoy’s seven-year project: the Twelve-Step Saga. This is a collection of five songs, one from each of DT’s past five albums. Each song deals with Portnoy’s experience with alcoholism and represents a certain number of steps in Alcoholics Anonymous Twelve Steps. “The Shattered Fortress” combines melodies from the previous four songs along with new sections, giving the feeling of nostalgia as well as a new, riveting experience. Apparently, the band plans to release these five songs together in a future live album. They are as follows:

Twelve-Step Saga (“song” – album)

  1. “The Glass Prison” – Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence
  2. “This Dying Soul” – Train of Thought
  3. “The Root of All Evil” – Octavarium
  4. “Repentance” – Systematic Chaos
  5. “The Shattered Fortress” – Black Clouds & Silver Linings

The instrumental performances on this album are spectacular for the most part. John Petrucci (lead/rhythm guitar) has killer riffs, mind-blowing solos, and lovely rhythmic acoustics as well. He gave what was expected to be given (note that expectations are extremely high).  Mike Portnoy (drums) is consistently amazing with his amazing control and speed and imaginative fills and beats. Although there was no drum performance that could match “6:00” or “Stream of Consciousness,” I was more than satisfied with what the album had given. As stated earlier, Jordan Rudess (keyboards) delivers a typical Rudess-like performance: pure genius. Along with his wonderful melodies and atmospheric sounds and his blistering keyboard solos, he gives us samples of his out-of-this-world musical mind (example, keyboard solo on “A Rite of Passage”). It could be said that John Myung (bass) is lingering in the background. In my opinion, the bass generally seems turned down a notch in DT songs, and there is no exception in this album. However, if you actually attempt to listen to the bass, you would be able to hear some complex bass grooves that effectively weave all the instruments together. Beyond any doubt, Myung delivers a great bass performance. However, I was rather disappointed with James LaBrie (vocals). The vocals on the album barely surpassed mediocre in my opinion. The vocal melodies were fitting and decent-sounding, but in general I found it to be rather simple and uncreative. After listening to Images and Words or Awake, this album seems rather vocally unimpressive. Nonetheless, he gets the job done.

Altogether, I think this is album is a very worthy purchase. Every individual section of this album is excellent as well as distinct. Instrumentally, it is a top notch piece of art (with the exception of the vocals). For the next month, I will be waiting anxiously to hit up the closest music store and drop what is hopefully a ten dollar bill for this album. Not only does it define an album worth purchasing, but it reassures the idea that the most brilliant musical minds are still out there doing what they do best.

Metropolis Pt. 2:

  1. saureign
    May 31, 2009 at 9:00 am

    It seems that this LP is their “Death Magnetic”: doing what they know best, but adding quite nothing new to the forefront of progressive rock. A so-so LP, going from anonymous and predictible tracks to the heartbreaking ones (thinking at their last track).
    Still waiting for their “Close To The Edge” album; but I’m afraid they reached their limits a while ago. I hope not

  2. Rita
    July 8, 2009 at 10:29 pm

    haven’t listened to DT in a couple of years now but now I’m tempted. :)

    & if you say that quality of album art reflects quality of music, what did you think of Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence? because that album looks like a punk band whipped out grunge brushes in Photoshop or something …

    • CJ
      July 9, 2009 at 12:36 am

      lol kay u win rita i did really like Six Degrees :P i’m not worthy sorry rita

      but i guess it works for me personally cuz my 3 least fav albums by DT are When Dream and Day Unite, Falling Into Infinity, and Systematic Chaos, which are my 3 least fav album covers…

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