“Meta title is meta”
It is finally here. The magnum opus. The 12th Dream Theater album, which is expected to define everything the band, that has been around for more than two decades, stands for. People who know/follow me on Twitter (shameless pimp) know the level of fanboyism towards this band. The triumphs, the shameless retweets. Heck, nearly all the covers on my Soundcloud page feature this band’s work. And not for lack of reason. Though I cant help but think I may have overhyped it for my own good. Why do I say so? Read on.
Words cant explain what I think of the False Awakening Suite . It tries to emulate the overture tracks, but it felt hurried, lacked any sort of depth, and doesnt exactly give an overview of what to expect from the album. Replay value, near nil.
That brings us to The Enemy Inside, which also happened to be the first single released from the album. Dare I say, its the best track of the lot. Balls to the wall riffwork, drum parts that sound just right (especially the snare-double bass roll at the interlude) a strong bassline and a solo that signals to one and all that Petrucci is back to his best. But we knew all of this, didnt we? The single received highly positive reviews, and had gumption to leave fans salivating and speculating as to what the album might hold.
What hits you right away when you listen to The Looking Glass is the very clear intent to pay homage to the prog legends of yester-years. Having heard it a few times, you can hear the whole of Rush’s Moving Pictures, Fragile by Yes and maybe a hint of Camel’s Mirage as the track starts to unfold. If you’re a fan of prog music, this is the song that will leave you hooked.
The Bigger Picture is another such track, a standout. Rudess and Petrucci combine really well, LaBrie (surprise!) gels in really well with the rest of the band, for the first time in God knows how long. Again, you can feel the presence of the bass as Myung is turned all the way up on the mix. I can easily say that The Enemy Inside, The Looking Glass and The Bigger Picture are the ‘unintentional’ standout tracks on this album.
Now that we’ve done away with the ‘good’, I’ll start focusing on what I don’t like.
Cue the Enigma Machine. Cards on the table, I do not like it. In fact, I hate it. Why? Because this is a band that lauds itself in technical capabilities and song-writing skills, has given us instrumentals that can either hit you right in feels (Hell’s Kitchen anyone?) or blow your mind in terms of sheer awesomeness (do I really need to spell out the Dance of Eternity here) and that fit right into the bigger picture of the album as a whole (woah, a DT reference inside a DT reference, I’ll stop now). Sadly, The Enigma Machine comes off as a disappointment. Its that ominous feeling you get when you think your folks are buying the perfect birthday present all year long, but all you get is an expired gift card to a store that exclusively sells college textbooks.
In fact, that’s the vibe I get throughout the album. You’re constantly looking for that big ‘wow’ moment in each track, but sadly the track ends before you feel vindicated for sticking it out. And before you know it, you’ve already reached the end of DT12. The band has been around for so long that they seem to have resorted to opening their archives, picking a random riff from a track they wrote, throwing in a ton of reverb and then putting it out as a new track for this record. Dream Theater fans can easily see through this: the solo on the Enigma Machine and the haunting interlude from the Ministry of Lost Souls; the guitar solo from A Change of Seasons and the solo from the Bigger Picture. I’ve just picked two examples because this review is already beginning to look lengthy, but the album is full of moments like this.
The grand epic, Illumination Theory, is the weakest sub-20 minute track that the band has ever come up with. This is a band that has given us the Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, Octavarium and a Change of Seasons. Compared to these monstrous sagas, Illumination Theory is weak. The interludes are too long, I spent a lot of time listening to Jordan Rudess assigning various wind and breeze patches as a horribly out-of-place orchestral section takes over. There is this moment towards the end of the track where all band members go berserk, trying to one-up each other on solos and unisons. But before you can savour that moment, the track ends.
Coming to the musicianship on the record. It pains me to say this, but Mike Mangini’s drum parts are rather unimaginative, and the drum tones he brings to this album are muddy. Everything except the snare seems triggered, however, you expected Mangini to come of age and show us what he can do. He maybe technically gifted, but at this point I’d say John Petrucci wrote better drum parts on the previous album than Mangini did on this one. The mix isnt that great too, though I’ve had this complaint ever since the band signed on to Roadrunner Records a few years ago. Petrucci’s guitar tends to overshadow the rest of the band, while Rudess has clearly held back. There are few moments where he gets to shine (eg. his solo on Along For the Ride) otherwise he has been subdued a great deal on this record. Myung can *finally* be heard. While LaBrie manages to play the balancing act really well with his soaring vocals.
This isnt a bad album, in fact it has its moments to leave casual fans hooked and coming back for more. But that’s the deal here; I’m no casual fan. I quite literally made this band my religion, I was smitten the minute I heard Train of Thought, and became a worshiper the moment I heard Images and Words. I know what this band is capable of, and in that respect, it falls flat. It has set itself up to be the ultimate gateway album, ushering in a whole new wave of fans who have never heard such music before, but it has left die-hard fans like me feeling lost; it confirms what I dont want to believe, that the band has stopped being relevant to the progressive scene since the days of Octavarium. And that truth hurts.
I want my religion back.
3/5 for the album. But definitely far away from what I expected.