Reviewed by MJBrady on 22 Oct 2009
For their most recent release, it seemed that Dream Theater was again posed with the task of reinventing themselves to both their existing fan base, as well as their newer fans. With a series of releases that were not considered at the level of their very best work, they have busied themselves with constant touring, DVD releases, and minimal side projects and clinics. It seemed that the band was dwelling in a state of content continuity. So they release this cd in 2009, and on it are six very impressive songs, and as has been my experience, the quality of the music is as good as anything they have done to date.
Four epic songs, and a couple shorties at 6 and 8 1/2 minutes. The band shows that they are far from having discovered the limits of their collective imaginations, and just when I was expecting some of the same that I heard on Octavarium and Chaos in Motion, both decent cds no doubt. It had been some time since the impressive Scenes from a Memory (2000), which was a big turning point for the band after acquiring keyboard virtuoso Jordan Rudess. I feel that the material on this cd is as good as anything they have composed thus far.
When considering what makes this cd special, I found that not only were the compositions solid, but the vocals, lyrics and melodies were fantastic. Not to mention the quality of the musicianship, which is typical of what folks have come to expect from this band. Some of the most tasteful guitar playing, drumming and vocal work I feel they have ever done. It should be noted that this review is for the main disc that goes by the same name, as there are other versions of this release with one and two additional discs. Which I hope to review soon. But for those that are wondering, this cd alone is well worth the purchase, a cd that simply elevates everything that they have done to this point, at least for this listener.
With the fact that there are some lengthy epics on this cd, each song deserves it's own review, yet I have to say that the music flows so nicely from beginning to end. Starting with A nightmare to Remember, the band previews their intentions for the rest of the disc. And that is, beautiful melodies paired with incredible arrangements, James LaBrie sounds excellent on this disc, the best I have heard from him since he joined the group. As would be expected the musicianship is pretty much flawless, with the band showing that they have no shortage of chops and new ideas.
The highlight of this cd for me has to be the ending track - The Count of Tuscany, which showcases everything I like about Dream Theater, first of all, it's nearly 20 minutes long, full of non-repetitive arrangements, the band is in rare form, with each musician shining throughout. My only knock on this cd is the attempt at harsh vocals, something that band has really never delved into before, they are not exactly cookie monster, angst driven styled, but are added for effect, not obnoxious by any standard, just unusual for the band. In contrast, as stated earlier in this review, LaBrie really has delivered great performances throughout this cd, he has backed off of the over the top shrills that many have complained of on previous studio and live performances, the less is more approach works quite well for his vocals, which are very good here.
The sound quality of this cd seems to be a bit more HQ for my ears, particularly the drumming, which are more forward and tight this time around. Well, I will say it yet again, I don't love everything they create, but when they are hitting on all five cylinders, they are as good as it gets for the Progmetal genre.