Wednesday, July 15, 2009

My Summer In Prog


I may have used that title before so if I'm recyclying at least I'm saving the planet. Dream Theater has returned with yet another disc stacked with solos on top of solos on top of solos, this time called Black Clouds and Silver Linings. When last we left our intrepid prog metallurgists, DT aimed for head throbbing dark muscular metal on 2007's Systematic Chaos. I had to play this one a lot to get a fix on it and get past my natural bias to say "Hey, it's Dream Theater it's automatically the best thing ever made by man or nature!" After shaking that off, I was able to give a clear headed review:

First the good stuff. Every DT album has its own character and this is one of their proggiest. Long stretches of time pass by between James LaBrie's singing and/or ominous spoken word stuff. In those intervals virtuoso guitarist John Petrucci and keyboardist Jordan Rudess tear it up, trading solos as the rhythm develops and shifts behind them. The result is much like the first disc to their 2002 effort Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence where there are about six 10 minute songs. Drummer Mike Portnoy and bassist John Myung are in fine form and are given plenty of space to stretch out as well.

The songs are pretty good, the highlights for me are the magnificent power ballad "Wither" and the heartfelt "The Best of Times". "Wither" is old school power balladry, sort of like "Forsaken" from Systematic Chaos taken to the next level. "The Best of Times" starts off slowly and then picks up in the midsection before descending into an inspired, majestic guitar solo.

One of the things I like about DT is that they wear their influences on their sleeve, it's not unusual to hear direct lifts from Metallica or Queen in their stuff. On Black Clouds... they don't lift anything, this is the most original sounding recording I've heard from them. It sounds entirely like Dream Theater and nobody else. They also tackle some different moods with the scary aesthetics of "A Nightmare to Remember" or the regal "The Count of Tuscany". A pretty strong accomplishment.

Despite these advancements, my overall impression is that this is a good Dream Theater album. It's not a great one, one of the dangers of going more prog is that if every second isn't magic my attention meanders which happens a few times here (particularly on the draggy single "A Rite Of Passage"). A slight feeling of stagnation takes place even with the push for new ideas, once they hit a certain groove in their songs it can get a little predictable.
There are more magic moments than not and since I like them so much I'm gonna play this to death anyway. It's just having heard plenty of their other albums, I know they have the ability to pack a disc (or two discs) with stellar songs and performances from beginning to end. They tried hard here, just missed the mark for me. Still an awesome band though. Maybe it will grow on me more as I continue to play it.
One last note, an unintentionally funny part takes place in "The Count of Tuscany" where the song goes on and on about this Count and how he doesn't want to die and tell people about my family this and that...then talking as the Count the singer goes "Wait a minute Man, it's not supposed to be this way!!!" May not be a word for word transcription, after all the pompous drama that precedes it I find that lyric way funny.

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