Friday, October 18, 2013

Dream Theater - Dream Theater (2013)
Progressive metal veterans Dream Theater have had a complex, at times frayed relationship with the larger metal community. Whether it's singer James LaBrie's oft maligned vocals or guitarist John Petrucci's "wankery," or even such controversial albums as "Systematic Chaos" metalheads, and even Dream Theater fans, have found no shortage of charges to level against the band.

The band's previous album, "A Dramatic Turn of Events," while hailed by many as a return to form after the mostly ill-received "Black Clouds and Silver Linings," nevertheless felt somewhat formulaic to a lot of fans, this reviewer included.

Fortunately, with their curiously self-titled opus they prove that not only is their still plenty of juice left in the creative gas tank, but also that they can pull together the musical elements they've worked so hard to develop over the years into a coherent, highly accessible album.

Lead single "The Enemy Inside" perfectly illustrates the overall feel and direction of the album. It's a heavy, technical track yet it's almost immediately catchy; it's just the kind of track to rope in new fans and simultaneously leave the faithful satisfied.

"The Looking Glass" continues this theme, but with an interesting twist. It's the most Rush-sounding the band have ever sounded and it's hands down the most accessible track on the record.

Dream Theater throw us another curveball with "The Enigma Machine," the band's first instrumental since 2002's "Stream of Consciousness" off "Train of Thought." Petrucci provides a highly memorable and headbangable riff to provide the piece's backbone, while he and Jordan fill in the gaps with some blistering alternating solos and a haunting interlude.

Things then slow down a bit to provide some breathing room with two less intense, though no less impressive, songs "The Bigger Picture" and "Behind the Veil," the latter of which is heavily inspired by Megadeth. In fact, parts of it sound like they were taken straight from Rust in Peace or Countdown to Extinction.

Keen to continue lavishing praise upon Rush, Dream Theater then bust out "Surrender to Reason" which starts off with an intro remarkably similar to that of "The Camera Eye" off "Moving Pictures."

The eighth track "Along for the Ride" is the calm before the musical storm. Ballad-wise, it's the best thing the band have written in a long time. I assure you, it won't take you very long to get the chorus stuck like superglue in your head.

Just as you were taking a breather, "Illumination Theory" arrives to sweep you off your feet with a tour de force of technicality, emotion, and just plain good songwriting. It's a 22+ behemoth of a song, the longest they've done since "A Change of Seasons." It's Dream Theater at their most bombastic, ambitious, and proggiest. Some metalheads will undoubtedly avoid this track like the plague while others, especially prog fans, will probably eat it up like manna from heaven.

Though this album may still fail to convince many doubters, Dream Theater have a number of things going for them here that they didn't before. One, as I mentioned, is their newfound knack for accessibility - always a plus when it comes to expanding the fanbase. Another is drummer Mike Mangini finally getting an opportunity to show off the goods with some tasty, original drum parts (Petrucci wrote Mangini's drumming on "A Dramatic Turn of Events). This album definitively cements Mangini's place in the band after previous drummer Mike Portnoy's departure in 2010.

"Dream Theater" may not be revolutionary enough to compare to, say, the legendary "Scenes from a Memory," but it's the most solid thing they've done in years and a major highlight for both 2013 and prog metal overall.