Dream Theater band photo

DREAM THEATER – Dream Theater

Dream Theater - Dream TheaterI remember the first time I ever heard Dream Theater. It was back in 1989 and they had just released their debut album When Dream And Day Unite and it was in the middle of melodic hard rock’s heyday and it was catchy choruses, ballads, big hairdos and glammy looks and I loved that era, still do, but Dream Theater was something completely different – and they floored me right on the spot. I bought the album right after listening to it at a friend’s house and since then I have played it to death. I still love that album. But after that release we didn’t hear anything at all from Dream Theater until one day back in 1992, their new album Images And Words was on the shelves and I didn’t even know that the band was still around. Singer Charlie Dominci had been replaced by James LaBrie and the album was a masterpiece. Right there and then I decided that Dream Theater was my new favourite band and that they should always stay that way. Well, it didn’t exactly happen like that because after the brilliant follow up Awake (1994) my interest in the band vanished a bit because of the disappointing Falling Into Infinity (1997). Only sporadically have Dream Theater rocked my world since then, but it must be said that they never ever made a bad album. Metropolis Pt 2: Scenes From A Memory (1999) was a killer but it shouldn’t take them eight years to release something brilliant and magnificent again and we were writing 2007 when Dream Theater totally knocked me on all fours with the brilliant Systematic Chaos and its follow up, 2009’s Black Clouds And Silver Linings. With the band in new fine form and apparently on fire again, something had to happen to jeopardize all this. Of course! Drummer and main song writer / producer together with guitarist John Petrucci, Mike Portnoy decided he wanted to take time-out to do other stuff and put Dream Theater on ice for a while, the other guys didn’t agree and so Portnoy left the band and joined Avenged Sevenfold in the studio to guest on their album Nightmare – he also decide to go on tour with them.

So with Portnoy out, the guys brought in another Mike, this one with the last name Mangini. Now Mangini is a brilliant drummer, that’s no secret. Mike has played with such different acts as Extreme, Steve Vai and Annihilator, he was also involved in singer James LaBrie’s solo career. But Portnoy had a really peculiar and original way of playing drums and even though being a killer drummer was a must for the job, Portnoy left some really big shoes to fill. The first album with Mangini on drums was released in 2011 and was called A Dramatic Turn Of Events and the first time I heard it it left me cold. Petrucci was left to produce the album himself and it must have been somewhat a difficult task to all of sudden produce a drummer in Dream Theater. However, the album grew on me fast and I like it, but it wasn’t even close to its two predecessors. besides, Mangini’s drums were so low in the mix that it must have hurt Mangini big time. But the guys were probably nervous as Portnoy was such an important member of the band. Which leaves us to their brand new self titled album just released. Would Dream Theater feel more confident now that Mangini had been out on the road with the band for a while and grown into the place as a band member and the other guys gotten used to not having Portnoy around anymore?

The answer to that question has to be: yes! What I noticed first of all is that Mangini is higher in the mix. Also, the sound is a bit more direct and in your face than the last album. And most important, Mangini has a song writing credit on all songs but one. On the other hand, I find it hard to hear if Mangini has a style of his own, because on many, many places on this record, I hear Portnoy’s playing. Not to be mean, but I have a feeling that the guys and especially producer Petrucci told Mangini pretty exactly how they want the drums to sound. But enough about that, let’s get to the important stuff, the songs. Are they any good? I’m happy to say, yes they are. The songs on the last album were also good but for some reason they really didn’t stick with me at all. On this album, they do. The album starts with “False Awakening Suite”, a 3 minute instrumental, split in three parts. The song sounds symphonic, almost musical like and I like it a lot. “The Enemy Inside” is very much Dream Theater, both catchy and heavy and has a riff that reminds me of Kiss’ “Love Gun”, which is kinda cool. “The Looking Glass” is excellent. Very catchy, almost pop at times, but very much Dream Theater sounding, “Enigma Machine” is a heavy, progressive instrumental, “The Bigger Picture” is a heavy ballad with the pop influences shines through and “Behind The Veil” is a great, classic Dream Theater rocker – melodic, progressive and heavy. We get some cool symphonic and classical undertones  in the awesome “Surrender To Reason”  and the pop influences comes along for the ride in the very catchy ballad  “Along For The Ride”. But they have saved the best for last. “Illumination Theory” is a 22 minute piece with all the ingredients you would want in a Dream Theater song. It’s progressive, it’s melodic, heavy, catchy, groovy and all the tempo changes you could ask for. It also holds a pretty long classical string section in the middle, but still, the song isn’t that hard to get into at all. With this piece they have managed to put metal, hard rock and balladry into one tune without making it sound schizophrenic.

To sum it up, I spontaneously feel that this album is Dream Theater’s most melodic and catchy album ever – the riffs are all extremely catchy and there’s a pop thread that runs through all the songs here without making it sounding cheesy at all. Still, Dream Theater hasn’t made a pop album or anything like that, no, they have just added some catchiness and has become more easy listening without losing the heaviness and the progressive side that is so important for this band. James La Brie on the other hand sings better than ever here. I have always found him a bit annoying when he uses his higher register, but on this album, I didn’t find his voice annoying once. I think the production is really good here as well, but even though Mangini is higher in the mix than the last time, I’m used to Portnoy’s drums in Dream Theater and therefore I want the drums up there in the mix. Other than that, the production is faultless. Dream Theater has with album # 12 released one damn fine album, much better than its predecessor, but it still isn’t as good as Dream Theater’s classic albums or the last two they made with Portnoy. But if you’re a Dream Theater fan, it’s definitely worth buying.

Jon Wilmenius (8/10)

Tracklist:

1. False Awakening Suite
i. Sleep Paralysis
ii. Night Terrors
iii. Lucid Dream
2. The Enemy Inside
3. The Looking Glass
4. Enigma Machine
5. The Bigger Picture
6. Behind the Veil
7. Surrender to Reason
8. Along for the Ride
9. Illumination Theory
i. Paradoxe de la Lumière Noire
ii. Live, Die, Kill
iii. The Embracing Circle
iv. The Pursuit of Truth
v. Surrender, Trust & Passion

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