Dream Theater’s new self titled album is sort of a mixed bag. Being a long time fan sometimes makes me a little bit biased giving them a lot more credit than they deserve. I’ll be as objective as I can with this review. Having given the album a few spins I can honestly say that it isn’t the band’s best work. Releasing an album every two years isn’t a good idea in my book; it seems they have the same ideas and just mix them up to make a new record. I believe they need a little more time to truly bring something fresh to the table. For the first time I believe Mike Portnoy was right when he told the band they needed a brief break. Ever since Systematic Chaos, they’ve been sounding the same every time around. With the exception of A dramatic turn of Events, which featured a new member and the absence of one of it lead song writers, every album seems as a continuation of the previous one and that isn’t as good as initially thought. Dream Theater’s new album is more of the same and that isn’t particularly good this time around.
Lets start of by looking in to song structure and production. There are 9 songs in the album, most of them never get to the 8 minute mark and sound like compressed songs, musically and sonically wise. Even though the album doesn’t sound like Music’s biggest over produced albums, Vapor Trails by Rush and Death Magnetic by Metallica, it does lack the dynamic range Dream Theater’s previous album has. It sounds way to loud and over processed, specially the voice and drums. Its everywhere, Bass sounds heavily processed, voice has way to many effects in some songs, the snare drum is ridiculously strange sounding and mixing is way off in many songs. I’ll go ahead and rate Dream Theater as the worst produced album in the band’s history. Musically songs seemed to have been trimmed from an original version we’ll never get to hear. The Looking Glass’ sudden ending sounds as if they ran out of the scheduled time for that song in order to fit the album. Other songs just jump from a section to another seeming as a Radio Edit instead of the actual original version.
Song by song its not as weak as i’m making it sound, I’m just being critical and pointing out my main gripes. Songs like The Enemy Inside, False Awakening Suite, The Looking Glass, Surrender to Reason and Along for the Ride, are quite good and sound like a good add on to their live repertoire. Enigma machine, an instrumental suffers from over production and is quite ambitious. It doesn’t sound as a real song; its more of a 6 minute section taken out of Systematic Chaos songs like Ministry of Lost Souls. It does have its moments but its not a great addition to the instrumental collection by this band. Even the short False Awakening Suite is much better than this song. Lyrics seem to have a cohesive theme of spirituality, growing as a person, chasing our inner demons and finding the ultimate solution. It’s a theme that’s been present since the last album. Petrucci must very much into spiritual themes recently as his lyrics seem influenced by this thematic.
There are memorable moments throughout the album. The Enemy Inside is a great sounding song that’s very catchy and has some great riffs. The Looking Glass is also a reminder of the great moments that Petrucci can bring us without going into a thousand note spree. Surrender to Reason has some very strong creative moments by Jordan that mesh with great bass playing by Myung. The first half of Illumination Theory is also very strong, which leads me to this epic. I was a little bit disappointed with this song, it’s probably the weakest epic they have. As I said, the first half is probably the best part of the whole album and then we get the middle orchestral part. Why? Really, there’s no reason for this part and it sounds way off. I never understood why modern prog needs to mix symphonic music with rock. Symphony X and Savatage have done this in the past and it sounds so cheesy. Jordan’s skills with this kind of music aren’t as great as many think. Being a musician myself and specializing in this kind of music makes me aware of Jordan’s limits in this area, he should stick to what he does best. For me, this ruined the song, it just destroys the flow it was building upon, it was on its way to a five star rating but failed because of this.
There’s an easter egg in the end which I loved; it’s probably my favorite part of the album. I won’t spoil it away, just listen to it. One final thing. I know many are going to say I’m a Portnoy lover, which i’m not, but I do miss him a lot. Mike Mangini may be a more gifted technical drummer but he can’t match Iron Mike in terms of creativity and originality. He sounds way too mechanical, sometimes overdoing parts that could sound better if made simpler. Dream Theater without Mike Portnoy is not Dream Theater, and we can tell in this album. Last album was all Petrucci, but two in a row finally shows the weaknesses that this brings. John needs a co-writter to truly excel, this time it shows.
Ultimately Dream Theater is an album that fails to deliver. It’s good, but not as good as previous efforts, including A Dramatic Turn of Events, which features a masterpiece in Breaking all Illusions. It has its moments of greatness but in the end the final product doesn’t seem final. It lacks a certain cohesiveness that makes a great album.
FINAL SCORE 7.9 out of 10.0
Dream Theater (2013)
1.-False Awakening Suite
2.-The Enemy Inside
3.-The Looking Glass
5.-The Bigger Picture
6.-Behind the Veil
7.-Surrender to Reason
8.-Along for the Ride
John Petrucci, John Myung, Jordan Ruddess, James LaBrie, Mike Mangini