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Dream Theater - Dream Theater (Album Review)

Tuesday, 24 September 2013 Written by Simon Ramsay

Releasing a self-titled album after almost 30 years as a band may seem strange, but this record is a roaring statement of intent that embodies and expands on every element of Dream Theater's unrivalled progressive metal sorcery. As such, it's the perfect fit.

Following founding member and drummer Mike Portnoy's acrimonious departure in 2010, Dream Theater were on the precipice of implosion. With consolidation and damage control essential, 'A Dramatic Turn Of Events' was a potent return to the sound of their best-loved work.  

Although replicating that style was a safe move, the album earned rave reviews and a Grammy nomination for the song On The Backs Of Angels. 

The subsequent world tour was also a success as fans welcomed new boy Mike Mangini and his ridiculously huge drum kit.  With renewed confidence flowing through their veins and band chemistry thriving, they were ready to create something special.

'Dream Theater' maintains the last record's astute balance between metal, progressive and melodic elements, but weaves them together in a way that sets it apart from past releases. Where 'A Dramatic Turn Of Events' was almost 'Images And Words Part 2', this new opus has an identity of its own.

The majority of the songs are shorter – around the six minute mark – than they've been for some time.  Combine that with the most striking commercial hooks of their career on lighter-waving ballads Along For The Ride, The Bigger Picture and Rush-influenced anthem Through The Looking Glass – with its major key bounce, tranquil floating vocal and sky straddling chorus – and it amounts to the most accessible Dream Theater album to date.  

That's not to say they've sold out a la 'Falling Into Infinity'. The requisite off the wall time signatures, darkly dramatic textures and crazy instrumental passages drive the likes of Behind The Veil and Surrender To Reason, but by employing tighter song structures each dazzling sequence hits hard and moves onto something equally exhilarating without overstaying its welcome. The only downside to this leaner approach is that the album's second half feels rather samey in places as each tune builds to similar melodic pay-offs. 

Plenty has been made about the production, with claims the drums sound awful and James LaBrie's vocal is lost in the mix. The latter accusation is largely false, and while the guitars occasionally overpower his voice LaBrie's excellent performance continues his recent return to form. The drums, meanwhile, don't sound as domineering and tight as when Portnoy was playing and producing. They're a little flabby and lower in the mix, but far from disastrous. What hasn't been mentioned is that John Myung's bass has never sounded better, with his aggressive work given increased prominence and clout.

Although he played on 'A Dramatic Turn...', this is the first album where Mangini was involved from the beginning – and he nails it. The Enemy Inside is likely to be his calling card as his unbelievably fast and ferocious attack propels the track in spectacular style, typifying the technical prowess and musical intelligence he brings to the whole record.

The album is bookended by two contrasting tracks which epitomise the band's continued evolution. False Awakening Suite opens proceedings with a Hollywood-sized bang, delivering an instrumental fanfare whose nightmare fusion of snarling guitars, marching drums and regal orchestration sound like John Williams scoring a sci-fi horror film.

Closing colossus Illumination Theory is a conceptual 22 minute roller coaster delivered in five movements.  A feast of thrilling sequences hurl from the speakers one after the next before an existential narrative unfurls. After eight minutes of head-spinning riffs, the band fade out as ambient electronic soundscapes give way to a sweeping symphonic section that's beauty and grace incarnate.  

It then lifts off again as feisty soloing from Jordan Rudess and John Petrucci leads to a grandstanding climax rich in personal epiphany. It's a telling finale that sends out a clear message - Dream Theater are a band creatively reborn, thriving in the here and now without relying on trusted formulas and past glories.

Dream Theater UK & Ireland Tour Dates are as follows

Thu February 13th 2014 - MANCHESTER O2 Apollo
Fri February 14th 2014 - LONDON Wembley Arena
Sat February 15th 2014 - WOLVERHAMPTON Wolverhampton Civic Hall

Click Here to Compare & Buy Dream Theater Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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