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Thursday, July 9, 2009

Dream Theater: Black Clouds & Silver Linings

Year released: 2009
Official website: http://www.dreamtheater.net/
Label: Roadrunner Records


1. A Nightmare to Remember [16:10]

2. A Rite of Passage [8:35]

3. Wither [5:25]

4. The Shattered Fortress [12:49]

5. The Best of Times [13:07]

6. The Count of Tuscany [19:16]


With only 6 songs in it, this sure is a helluva long album, with a total playing time of about 1 hour and 15 minutes. And that's exactly my beef with this album. Yeah I'm afraid I didn't become a huge fan of Dream Theater when I listened to some songs by them, and my first experience with an album of theirs hasn't changed that disposition. The strange thing is: I actually think they're good.

With a career spanning more than 20 years, Dream Theater is one of the most famous progressive metal bands around, so I guess I should be shot for making Black Clouds & Silver Linings, their 10th album released only a coupla weeks ago, my first ever Dream Theater album. But I was never good at appreciating what most people call epic tracks, generally songs that last longer than 10 minutes, and if Black Clouds & Silver Linings is any example, 'epic' describes not only the quality of Dream Theater's musicianship, but also the length of their songs.

See, they've got everything on this album. Heavy atmospheres, emotional playing, melodic riffs, totally sick solos, not bad vocals, I quite like the sporadic death growls, catchy choruses, tight drumming, some cool blast beats, the lyrics fluctuate a little but are generally masterfully written. The problem is, they can have everything on a single song as well. You can almost hear them say, "Alright lets make 15 minute songs and throw everything we've got in them, so everybody can at least like something from them. That way, no one will say we suck!" Mash-up seems to be the idea here, and the transitions aren't always seamless. Even the lyrical themes of the songs are each so different, ranging from experiences of car crashes to writer's block to meeting strange royalty in Italy.

Its not always that bad, "A Nightmare to Remember" is my favourite track because some of the heaviest moments of the albums really do fit in well with the lighter ambience of other parts and the lyrics tie them neatly together. That 20 minute monster of a song, "The Count of Tuscany", on the other hand, is completely lost on me. It was a great display of talent, and I certainly can't say I was bored. But nothing striked me very much either and I can't hide the feeling that if it were separated into 4 five-minute songs, I would have liked each of them much better. This being my first Dream Theater album, I couldn't really appreciate the final part of the Twelve-Step Suite fully, but "The Shattered Fortress" was quite enjoyable both in its exuberent moments and when the quiet vocal work came in. Surprisingly, the shortest song on the album, "Wither" was the one I liked the least, ironically because the ballad was so constantly smooth and repetitive, almost gospel-like.

Left to right: John Petrucci (guitar), Jordan Rudess (keyboards), James LaBrie (vocals), John Myung (bass) and Mike Portnoy (drums)

Ultimately, I guess I like their work, but I'm simply not used to how much of their work is in a single song. But I s'pose that's how they are, its what makes Dream Theater Dream Theater, and their mastery of music just has to come to be manifested in epic tracks. In a final stab at my confusion though, below is a vid I found of "A Rite of Passage", shortened by about 3 minutes and I absolutely found no reason why it couldn't exist just like that, as a 5 minute plus song. Ah wells.

Verdict: 8.2/10

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