Dream Theater Album Review

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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
4.-Enigma Machine 
5.-The Bigger Picture
6.-Behind the Veil
7.-Surrender to Reason
8.-Along for the Ride
9.-Illumination Theory

John Petrucci, John Myung, Jordan Ruddess, James LaBrie, Mike Mangini 

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14 thoughts on “Dream Theater Album Review

  1. You nailed it, man, great review. I agree with 90% of the things in it. The drums sound terrible and Mangini fails to bring greatness to the songs… Even in the great parts of the album, the production just spoils it… It really makes me feel like listening to their classic albums.

    • And it does have memorable songs and memorable moments but I think the combination of over producing the album and the lack of creativity in the drums lower the score. I do love some of the songs. Only time will tell. Thanks for the positive comment.

  2. I have to question several things here. A 7.9/10 is so so so close to being an 8/10, which to me looks like a pretty good rating, but reading through the review, I was expecting you to have given it around a 6 or a 5 out of 10. It’s simply the way you word everything that delivers your message and if you enjoyed it as much as a 7.9/10, you should have focused more on the positives as well if you really felt that way.
    Aside from that, I can’t disagree with you more on several points. I feel that this is DT’s first album in a long time that’s felt very cohesive and the song order and structure here is very strong. It’s the kind of record I can press play from the beginning and go through the entire thing without wanting to skip around, which brings me to my next point: I feel that this is probably their first album since Train of Thought that doesn’t have a single weak song.
    In regards to song length, I’m actually glad they could trim out a lot of extraneous passages that would have simply drawn out the song without needing to, as they’ve done recently. The end result is still pretty satisfying, and to me, that shows how talented these guys are, to be able to restrain themselves and still pump out some great songs. My only real gripe is the abrupt ending to The Looking Glass.
    If you don’t like mixing symphony with rock or even metal, that’s fine, maybe the style just isn’t your cup of tea. Personally, I think the string section in Illumination Theory is simply splendid and probably one of the most beautiful moments in Dream Theater history.
    I never understood the “technicality = not real music and just showing off” argument. Sure, in a lot of cases is true, but i think Mangini here has really achieved something. The guy is a beast, enough said. I think he was as great choice to fill the large shoes Portnoy left behind. If there’s any single quote in this review I have to be totally against, its: “Dream Theater without Mike Portnoy is Dream Theater”. I just feel this is pretty much a big slap in the face to the group’s efforts since his departure. I understand he was one of the founding members, but everyone else carries the Dream Theater mantle proudly on their shoulders just as much.
    As far as production goes, parts may feel over-produced and brick walled, but that’s something I really don’t have much of an issue with unless it’s “Death Magnetic far”. DT’s self titled release isn’t nearly as loud or as over-produced, and with how they captured the final result, I think it gives it this nice “in your face” sound.
    I also feel that Petrucci’s lyrics have matured in this one. Yes, it’s very spiritually focused and some of it sounds somewhat preachy, but it’s certainly his best writing in quite a bit (I also enjoyed Myung’s contribution as well on Surrender to Reason).

    To me, this might be their best album since Six Degrees. Every song has something unique to offer, and I don’t think this is just them reusing the same elements they’ve been doing; when I listen to it, it feels like a new experience and set apart from their other releases.

    I would suggest checking grammar here as well, but those are my two cents about all this.

    • Thanks my friend. English isn’t my first language and sometimes I just write as I think. True, my rating is high and it may sound as if I was giving it a lower score. Here’s why: I actually like the album. Im a big Dream Theater fan and love their music overall. I was one of the first guys to say that having a new drummer was actually a good thing when it happened. I thought Portnoy and Petrucci weren’t evolving anymore. They just released too many albums. ADTOE was a move in the right direction and was expecting this one to be even better. To be honest I think there are good ideas in this album. It feels more like its been rushed. I dont hate symphonic passages in rock I just feel it needs to be done right. Jordan isn’t as good at that as he thinks he is and I think he should be a little bit more subtle with the integration of these kind of passages. SCORE was done very well, thats what im looking for. Octavarium is a pretty good example of doing it right. Symphony X is a good example of overdoing it. Its just an opinion coming from a guy who does that for a living. Of course, your taste is different than mine and thats ok.

      I mostly pointed out the bad things because I always only point out the good things. I sound like a broken record. I still think there are strong performances in this album. My favorite song is Surrender to Reason. The Looking Glass does end abruptly. Along For the Ride is also a brilliant song. Those three are standout songs in my book but none of them compare to Breaking all illusions. Thematically its also pretty straight forward. I like some of the lyrics. Some are reminiscent of what we heard last album, which is fine with me , being that i’ve been probably reading much of the same stuff Petrucci is.

      Overall its still a weak album by DT standards. It certainly cant compete with Riverside, Steven Wilson and Symphony X recent efforts. Still, a regular album by Dream Theater is better than mostly everything on the market, thats why I gave it a 7.9.

      Thanks for the comment! Ill keep improving that grammar!

      • English not being your first language, it’s quite impressive man, so no issues there.

        And yeah, Breaking All Illusions is a brilliant song (my favorite off of ADTOE). Score and the symphonic elements in Octavarium are also amazing, and I do prefer the latter over Illumination Theory’s string section by just a hair. The one in Illumination Theory still serves its purpose though. It’s calming, majestic, emotional, and beauty all in one. I can’t really explain it too well, but I just get a good feeling out of it. In this song in particular it isn’t integrated fully as well as in Octavarium, but I feel as if it was very intentional, and they meant this to be its own thing, rather than try and go all out with all the guys all the while. It really sets the mood with just the orchestra alone.

        What I found similar about this release and ADTOE is that they’re both growers, however this one took much less time to grow on me. I also remember vividly that on my first listen to ADTOE, I was actually somewhat disappointed by most of the songs, but with this new one, I had a much better experience first time throughout. In the end, I think it’s a step up from ADTOE, which is an album I also like quite a bit. Some songs I like better than others. My personal highlights are probably Illumination Theory, Surrender to Reason, The Looking Glass, and Behind the Veil. But like I said, they all have something to offer and none of them I would really skip if I were listening to the whole piece. If i were to rate it myself, I would give it maybe around a 9/10.

        You’re right though, a weak DT album is still miles better than a majority of the stuff out there, and that’s what I really love about these guys. They’re so good that they somehow increase your musical standards, and I notice that DT fans are still quick to make any critiques they need to make, as loyal as they are, which is something I do admire.

        Glad to share my thoughts with you, mate! Cheers!

      • Thanks man, I agree with a lot of the things you say. It’s a definite grower! Songs i still dont get are The Bigger Picture and Behind the Veil. Nice to exchange thoughts with you!

  3. I think this is the perfect review that a die hard DT fan does NOT want to hear. I did not want to hear it, and frankly was disgusted with the review until I saw the 7.9 out of 10 and understood where you were coming from. With a little objectivism I have to agree wholeheartedly. The fact is that it’s a solid sophomore album with sky high expectations that are nigh impossible to achieve. I don’t agree with all of the decisions they made for this album, but the fact is I sat down at 2am this morning with nothing but headphones and a drink and returned to reality an hour later with a smile on my face.

  4. You have no clue about what you are speaking. Been a DT fan since 1992, and this is by far their best effort since Awake. Get over your Portnoy love, buddy.

    • Sorry man. I did like this album. I actually thought the band needed a change with one of their key members. I think Mangini is technically superior to Mike Portnoy but he doesnt have the creative part. Its just my opinion. Love Surrender to Reason. Glad you liked it.

  5. Anyone here noticed how much Rush influenced this album is?

    Don’t get me wrong, it’s no mystery that DT have always been influenced by Rush, but this time around it’s pretty straightforward. Even at first listening, one can easily relate some of the passages to the corresponding parts on Rush albums.

    I’m thinking:
    “The Looking Glass” main theme ~ “Entre Nous” intro;
    “Behind The Veil” intro ~ “Xanadu” intro;
    “Surrender To Reason” guitar theme ~ “Subdivisions” chorus;
    “Illumination Theory” orchestral bridge ~ “Hemispheres” orchestral bridge;
    “Illumination Theory” Part IV drums/bass kick ~ “Cygnus X-1″ beginning…

    I kind of loved the album though. Not as good as the last one (and, yes, seemingly a bit rushed) but still better than most of their 21st century albums. I’d take DT quoting Rush and Pink Floyd over DT quoting Metallica and Slayer any time. :)

    • Even though I gave it one of the lowest scores Ive given a DT album, I do think it has at least 4 very strong songs. Surrender to Reason and Looking Glass will be considered DT classics in the future. Along for the Ride and False Awakening Suite are also great additions to their repertoir. Enemy Inside is also a very good song. I think Behind The Veil, Enigma Machine and Illumination Theory are barely there. The Bigger picture is a little bit to long, still dont think it belongs here. I agree that it has Rush influences everywhere and I like that. Rush is one of my favorite bands. I do prefer they stick with that rather than go the Metallica/Slayer way (bands I actually love). Prog shouldnt be mixed with metal that much. Dream Theater has managed to mix the right amount with this album. Mike Portnoy’s absence is finally being felt. Dont know if this is a good or bad thing yet! Thanks for the comment!

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