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Dream Theater: Black Clouds & Silver Linings (2009)

dream_theater_-_black_clouds__silver_linings

–DREAM THEATER: Black Clouds & Silver Linings (2009)

One may most accurately dub Dream Theater some of the mightiest Energizer Bunnies in metal. The legendary prog-heavyweights from New York have been creating some of the most passionate and technically proficient heavy rock since 1985, when fellow Berklee College of Music students John Petrucci (guitar), John Myung (bass) and Mike Portnoy (drums) formed the band. What began as a modest Rush and Iron Maiden cover project quickly evolved into one prolific and powerful, if not quite mainstream, band of musical geniuses.

Yes, Dream Theater are THAT good, but if you’re reading this you doubtlessly know that already. I still hold fond memories of picking up their second and breakthrough Images and Words album in Christmas 1992, marveling at this new band’s incredible display of musicianship, power, melody and emotionally-resonant songwriting. This was quite a marvelous revelation for an introverted high school junior and budding metalhead, and the enigmatic lyrics to songs such as “Surrounded” proved to be quite the provocative subject for a poetry analysis assignment in English class, prompting Miss Cocetti (who indeed enjoyed melodic metal from bands like DT and Queensryche) to declare that “these guys must have been on drugs when they wrote this stuff.” Possibly, but knowing what DT are capable of, drugs and booze would have just stood in the way.

Of course, the band has since continued on to release string after string of amazing progressive metal masterpieces, never faltering in quality even while continually branching out their dynamic and diverse soundscape. That’s not to say that I have enjoyed all of DT’s post-2000 material equally. After the glorious prog-metal triumvirate of Metropolis Pt. II: Scenes from a Memory (1999), Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence (2002), and Train of Thought (2003), I thought DT faltered a bit on their last two releases. Now, my issues with Octavarium (2005) and Systematic Chaos (2007) are numerous, but I could best summarize them by saying that I thought the former was pedestrian and a retread of old musical ideas, while the latter was basically an excuse for 70 minutes of overbearing, self-indulgent soloing and technicality without any sense of emotion or purpose. So, needless to say I was reticent of spending any money on the new DT disc, but its glowing accolades eventually became irresistible. Besides, redemption is always possible from musicians the caliber of Dream Theater.

In a nutshell: Black Clouds & Silver Linings returns DT to their former glory. Regardless of the level of musicianship and technicality of any band, I believe great music first is about creating great songs. The Ramones wrote incredible songs despite their rather limited playing abilities, yet so did the uber-talented DT on their many outstanding releases. Basically, DT wrote six REAL songs for Black Clouds, and the stellar playing once again works to complement the songs rather than serve as a reason for them. The complex instrumental passages on tracks like “A Nightmare to Remember” and “The Shattered Fortress” flow seamlessly within the strain of the songs’ main musical themes, while the mellower refrains of “Wither” and “The Best of Times,” a moving tribute to Portnoy’s late father, are haunting and gorgeous. Sure, Petrucci and Jordan Ruddess’ (keyboards) dizzying solo forays are still present in abundance, but it never feels superfluous or meandering here. James Labrie’s voice sounds solid too, and the lyrics are pleasantly diverse and free of overused heavy metal cliches. This is just a heavy, dynamic and emotionally powerful collection of Dream Theater songs, not excepting the epic finale of “The Count of Tuscany.” The melodies underlying the final confrontation in the last verse may just be some of the most memorable of DT’s entire catalog, and the songs haunting concluding refrain places a definitive stamp on a triumphant return to form for DT.

I’m not sure how I would rate this album against some of DT’s greatest releases, as Images and Words and Metropolis Pt. II still hold major sway for me. But this one is right up there. So get it ASAP, and “Turn the key/walk through the gate/the great ascent/to reach a higher state.”

–Tracklisting: 1. A Nightmare To Remember 2.) A Rite Of Passage 3.) Wither 4.) The Shattered Fortress 5.) The Best of Times 6.) The Count of Tuscany

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~ by jonnyboyrocker on November 3, 2009.

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