Tuesday, June 23rd, will see the release of Dream Theater’s latest album, Black Clouds & Silver Linings. We wanted to review the album in an effort to convince you – up until this point the naive Death Cab fan – that whatever it is you’re listening to, progressive music is better. Dream Theater is better. On to the review!
1. A Nightmare to Remember (16:10) – The album’s opener features everything we’ve come to love about Dream Theater. The song runs the gambit from hard guitar to soaring melodies. My only complaint would be some death metal vocals toward the end of the song that just sort of come out of left field and don’t really fit in. Other than that, it’s a very solid opener, with a very nice instrumental break toward the end.
2. A Rite of Passage (8:35) – For some reason, I like this song a lot more when listening to the entire album. Maybe it’s because while, musically, A Nightmare to Remember is all over the place, A Rite of Passage is a much more solid rock song. On the other hand, by itself, I think the song is kind of forgettable. There was a video posted up on Jordan Rudess’ website a while back of Mike Portnoy and John Petrucci in the studio, discussing the arrangement of one of the songs. Petrucci was talking about things Dream Theater does a lot, and how they should try to mix things up a bit. There’s not really much of that here. The structure of the song, the arrangement of the solos, it’s all very paint-by-numbers, and I’m not sure the incredibly catchy chorus saves it in the end. Not a bad song by any means, just very vanilla.
3. Wither (5:25) – The band mellows things out here for the album’s shortest track. Oddly enough, I’m having a hard time boiling it down to just a few sentences. The song really sort of breaks the album into two pieces, and after listening to it, you’re sure to find yourself singing it to yourself for the next few hours. Also features some of the album’s more thoughtful lyrics.
4. The Shattered Fortress (12:49) – It’s taken eight years and five albums, but the band has finally completed their Alcoholics Anonymous Suite, which kicked off with The Glass Prison on 2001’s Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence. While the four previous songs in the sequence (The Glass Prison, This Dying Soul, The Root of All Evil, and Repentance) have called back themes and rhythms from previous songs, in no other does one really get as great a sense that these five songs are only parts of a greater whole. A hint for those who haven’t heard it yet – this story ends where it began.
5. The Best of Times (13:09) – Soft guitar and violin fade into a more poppy song that fits in very well with The Answer Lies Within, I Walk Beside You, and Take Away My Pain. Portnoy wrote the song as a tribute to his father, who unfortunately passed away while the album was being recorded. Instead of a somber tune, he wrote a more upbeat song, celebrating the times they spent together. Very catchy.
6. The Count of Tuscany (19:16) – Hands down, my favorite track of the album. Actually, I kind of can’t stop playing it. I’ve always liked it when Dream Theater takes non-epic subject matter and sings epic songs about it, and Petrucci’s experience with meeting an eccentric count while in Tuscany certainly fits the bill. While the song isn’t as all-over-the-place-crazy as Octavarium, it’s still very good, and has one of the best choruses I think the band has ever written.
Rich Wilson called Black Clouds & Silver Linings, “Dream Theater’s finest and most balanced album in a decade,” and I’d be hard pressed not to agree with him. The album loses a few points for some lyrical passages that could have been a bit better, but really, this seems like an almost perfect blend of hard and soft. Dream Theater has never had a problem coming up with rocking tunes, but with Black Clouds they’ve really hit the low-key stuff in a way they hadn’t on previous albums. The album will only grow on you the more you listen.
You may be thinking, “Hey, hey! Wait a minute! If there were things you didn’t like about the album, surely Dream Theater can’t be better than my precious Fall Out Boy!” You’d be wrong. Dream Theater is better. Now, go order their entire catalog, and set up your summer vacation around their touring schedule.
Buy the album from amazon.