The first Dream Theater album without Mike Portnoy was always going to be a very interesting experience. After the band’s long and well publicised search for his replacement, they found a most capable drummer in Mike Mangini, no less than the fastest drummer in the world. With Mike on board the band set about carving out the first Dream Theater album of their new era, so aptly titled A Dramatic Turn Of Events, and it is due to drop for public consumption in just a few days time.
The first thing that Dream Theater diehards will be pleased to know is that this feels like a Dream Theater album. The band have not strayed too far from their well trodden paths, but some elements of the sound have been adjusted and experimented with, to largely good levels of success. The fact that the writing process is now far more of a group effort is apparent on many of the tracks. The usual elements of individual genius are present, but where perhaps in the past there would have been a long guitar or keyboard solo, much of these song elements are now intertwined. Breaking All Illusions, the track most likely to be titled the “epic” of the album as it is the longest track at nearly 12 and a half minutes features a couple of sections of fantastic keys duelling with both guitar and drums, offering up a veritable instrumental smorgasboard.
In terms of song dynamics, Jordan Rudess’s presence in the writing process can be felt more keenly throughout the album than possibly ever before with plentiful use of keyboard in various modes, piano and continuum (the finger slider instrument similar shape to a keyboard if you are unfamiliar). There is some careful organ use which gives the songs a very symphonic, grandiose, almost “Lord Of The Rings soundtrack” feel to it at times. From a collective sound point of view, the band feels a more cohesive unit than it has done so on some of the more recent albums. Compared to the last album Black Clouds and Silver Linings, which split the fans down the middle with some people feeling it was unnecessarily over the top in places (even for Dream Theater), there is a lot less of what is often referred to as “musicial wanking”. For better or worse depending on your disposition as a fan or listener, there are no enormously long solo’s (e.g. The Count Of Tuscany) but there are some wonderfully creative instrumental moments across the whole album, just they may last 30 seconds rather than 60 or 90 as they would have done in other instances.
How does new recruit Mike Mangini fare? In my opinion he does extremely well. Album opener On The Backs of Angels (which feels like an archetypal traditional Dream Theater song, an ideal choice to kick off the album) sees Mangini figuratively flying all over the place demonstrating several different aspects of his drumming from making good use of his bass pedals to underpinning other sections with some extremely fast handiwork all over his drumkit. Lost Not Forgotten, one of the album’s heavier tracks hears Mike fully on the bass pedal gallop and providing real substance to the track all the way through with some heavy controlled drumming. The guy is clearly as talented as Mike Portnoy (not a compliment awarded lightly) and it will be interesting to see the influence he has as he is in the band for longer. He is able to cut loose on this album, albeit in shorter bursts than one may have expected.
James Labrie is often pinpointed as the weak point of the band (sometimes with justification, other times not so) and puts in a solid shift on A Dramatic Turn Of Events. The vocal highlight is probably This Is The Life, a slower tempo song which is a nice prog ballad, which features a rather awesome solo from one John Petrucci. Build Me Up, Break Me Down features some slightly questionable vocal harmonics, which feel like the band attempting to compensate for Portnoy’s missing growls that made themselves known over the years but it is a rare blip on an otherwise fine album. As anyone who saw the band at High Voltage will attest to, Labrie was arguably in the form of his life that evening so a lot of the stick he gets in my opinion is over the top.
This review should not go without mentioning John Myung. Myung is as often the case is less noticable than the other members but does his usual excellent, efficient work, helping the drums to form crunching rhythm sections throughout the album and it sounds like he and Mangini have developed a good understanding already (a view further enforced by the bands excellent performance at High Voltage Festival).
This album has tracks to please all kinds of Dream Theater fans; Lost Not Forgotten and Bridges In The Sky hold up the heavier end of the spectrum (Bridges In The Sky having a very symphonic feel to it also) while Far From Heaven is a song that may surprise some even long time fans. Featuring only Jordan and Mr Labrie, it is one of the most sombre songs ever produced by the band in their 20+ years of making albums, but it works extremely well. In my opinion it perhaps lacks a truly memorable song to hold above all the others like The Count Of Tuscany or Learning To Live but it is a thoroughly consistent highly enjoyable album. An enormously positive start to Dream Theater’s recorded output in the post Portnoy era.
Release Date: 12th September 2011
Record Label: Roadrunner Records
For Fans Of: Progressive Rock & Metal, Symphony X, Kamelot, Blind Guardian, Metallica, Opeth, Rush, Tool
1. ‘On the Backs of Angels’
2. ‘Build Me Up, Break Me Down’
3. ‘Lost Not Forgotten’
4. ‘This is the Life’
5. ‘The Shaman’s Trance’
7. ‘Far From Heaven’
8. ‘Breaking All Illusions’
9. ‘Beneath The Surface’