With the release of their eponymously-titled album on Sept. 24, the iconic band Dream Theater has put forth its 12th studio album in 24 years. Not only is the band’s constancy to be admired – it’s created new material every two years since its first album debuted in 1989 – but it is essentially the founder of the progressive metal genre as it’s known today. The band has always managed to incorporate moving, emotive choruses in major tonality alongside the pure and heavy tone of guitarist John Petrucci’s classic riffs. Though the new album “Dream Theater” continues to demonstrate the band’s versatility, it seems as if the progressive metal godfathers privilege the former of the two aforementioned musical qualities in this album more than ever before. The binary of “light and sensitive” versus “intense and heavy” would be a far too simplistic analysis of the different musical faces of Dream Theater, but one could say that the lighter side certainly emerges as the more prominent one in this new release.
The album begins with the exhilarating instrumental track “False Awakening Suite,” which stands among a long line of tradition of Dream Theater intro tracks that feature orchestration. Followed by the intro is the album’s single, “The Enemy Inside.” The song opens with a beautifully complex and heavy riff from Petrucci that is sure to captivate longtime fans. The following song, “The Looking Glass,” hearkens back to the band Rush in the attempt to achieve an easy-flowing, bouncy, Red Barchetta-like tune. The most overt styling of Rush, a prominent influence of Dream Theater, comes in the track “Surrender to Reason,” that in many ways sounds like it could have come right from Rush’s Signals era.
Other notable songs on the album include another instrumental track, “Enigma Machine,” which demonstrates the dexterity of the band’s playing ability, particularly that of Petrucci and keyboardist Jordan Rudess. “The Bigger Picture” continues to reinforce the band’s intent to create emotive, piano and orchestra-driven melodies that function in part as a soundtrack to the listener’s own epiphanies in life.
However, most focus on the album should be on the concluding track, “Illumination Theory.” After all, the track accounts for just about a third of the entire album’s length. Like similar Dream Theater epics before it, the closing track contains several differing subparts in its 22-plus minutes of duration.
For some devoted fans, the first eight songs of the album might be considered a great effort by general standards but only a marginal effort by lofty Dream Theater standards.
A potential downside of the album is how some of the chorus and verses are glued together – some of the transitions just don’t seem to flow as smoothly as in past Dream Theater albums. Just when the listener is starting to get sucked in by powerfully complex and sometimes groovy riffs, an all-too airy chorus interrupts, as in the case of “Behind the Veil.” Despite communicating sincere meaning throughout, the lyrics of the album also leave something to be desired.
Thus, the final track is undoubtedly a deal-breaker to determine whether “Dream Theater” stacks up as a great effort from the band or if it falls to the middle of the pack in the grand scheme of the band’s discography. The final third of the album does not disappoint, as “Illumination Theory” can be considered one of the greatest songs the band has ever recorded. Singer James LaBrie showcases great vocal power and intensity throughout the song, reassuring listeners that this album does indeed get down to business. Combined with yet-again enjoyable riffs from Petrucci and some of Mike Mangini’s most catchy drum work, the first two portions of “Illumination Theory,” “Paradoxe de la Lumière Noire” and “Live, Die, Kill” carry the same type of thumping progressiveness as the band’s 2002 track “The Glass Prison.”
The band then transitions into the third subsong within “Illumination Theory” with the empyreal and orchestral middle of the track, “The Embracing Circle.” After that segment, which sounds like a piece from a grandiose film soundtrack, John Myung lays down a funky bass line, and LaBrie sings with robustness and range over top Petrucci’s riff, which follows Myung’s lead. Rudess and Mangini then team up for a fascinating few seconds of keyboard work and the clicking of drumsticks. Rudess’ gifted fingers continue to master the piano as Petrucci’s guitar comes in amid increasingly complex rhythms, and the proggressive extravaganza has reached its climax. The song concludes with another new emotive chorus, the best of the album, and closes with a fading-out piano outro.
Altogether, “Dream Theater” is sure to please longtime fans and new listeners. Being projected to sell over 30,000 units in the first week and the vast and dedicated worldwide following of the band are just two indicators of their recent and established success. Though Dream Theater has put forth several releases in the past that are superior to this most recent one, “Dream Theater” still shows their presence as a musical euphoria machine that isn’t slowing down anytime soon.
Jesse Silk is a senior English major and an arts & entertainment writer for Cedars. He is an avid fan of film, many different kinds of music and well-done comedy, and he is an aspiring writer and musician.