After the dark and gripping Black Clouds & Silver Linings and the lighter and more diversified A Dramatic Turn Of Events, I was hopeful for the new self-titled Dream Theater release, and was excited to see in which new direction this output would go. I was equally curious to hear how Mike Mangini would be integrated. I was looking forward to see John Myung taking up more space than before in terms of musical presence and song writing qualities. And finally, of course, I was hoping for new musical ecstasy from guitarist and main songwriter John Petrucci, front man and singer James LaBrie, and creative keyboardist Jordan Rudess.
The new output only introduces a few new elements to the Dream Theater universe. The opening instrumental “False Awakening Suite” will take the place of other cinematic overtures the band has used as samples to start their concerts with. Their very personal overture is cinematic and concise and just sounds fine. The band decided to close the record with a laid-back and sadly unfitting and unspectacular hidden instrumental at the end of “Illumination Theory”, which somehow tries to close the circle. Let’s also mention another instrumental called “Enigma Machine”. New drummer Mike Mangini and bassist John Myung (who has been rather passive over the past few years) finally find their time and place to shine in this song, which is one of the best on the album.
The rest of the album offers nothing new, but rather a mixture of different band phases. So your appreciation will really depend upon whether or not you like the connected phases of the band. The dark and sometimes too-technical first single “The Enemy Inside” could have come from Systematic Chaos. The warmer “The Looking Glass” goes back to the Awake sound, and is clearly inspired by bands like progressive rock legends Rush. “The Bigger Picture” has symphonic elements, piano passages, soothing vocals, and a ballad-driven sound. However, it’s combated by the poor-fitting harder sections. This kind of half-ballad would have found its justified place on records like Metropolis Part Two and Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence. Fans of laid-back progressive rock sounds of the seventies by Genesis or Yes should adore “Behind The Veil”, which has a darker tone close to “The Count of Tuscany” without reaching its class. The more laid-back sound could also please fans of the underestimated Falling Into Infinity. “Surrender To Reason” could also fit that release, and should appeal to fans of progressive rock bands like King’s X or Pendragon. It’s a calmer but technical piece of music with a few magic melodies and moments.
Moving on to the last couple of tracks, “Along For The Ride” is another appeasing Dream Theater half-ballad dominated by LaBrie’s soft vocals, acoustic guitars, and great bass guitar work and beautiful keyboard passages in the middle part. This kind of song has a touch of Awake, but could also have been a leftover fromA Dramatic Turn Of Events. Then comes the closing “Illumination Theory”, with a running time of over twenty-two minutes, including the hidden closure I’ve already told you about. Musically, this track calls to mindMetropolis Part Two. As always, such a long song has its ups and downs. The mysterious sound collages with nature noises that appear seven and a half minutes into the track remind me of Mike Oldfield’s amazing “Music From The Balcony”, for example. What then follows are parts inspired by classic music like Muse used to do on their last two albums. These parts in the final song are cinematic, epic, and touching. The rest is technically appealing but sounds a bit directionless.
While there are a lot of positive things to point out, such as the calm arrangements, the stunning keyboards, and the strong bass guitar work, there are also a number of mentionable drawbacks to Dream Theater. In fact, I really didn’t like this record as much as the two previous ones. First of all, almost all tracks feel lengthy and stretched. Concise song writing and shorter songs would have helped. The final “Illumination Theory” would have been a gripping song around the seven or eight minute mark, but twenty-two minutes are far too long and offer too many changes and too much instrumental masturbation. That’s also the case for the faster, hectic and very technical parts in “The Enemy Inside”, “The Bigger Picture”, and even the instrumental “Enigma Machine”. Another negative aspect is that I was able to relate each track to a certain Dream Theater record. This means that the band doesn’t really offer anything new at all. There isn’t much progression going, and the band digs in its own successful past. That’s not a big problem because they have written some progressive metal masterpieces, but I was expecting more creative input. My favorite songs here are “The Looking Glass” followed by “Surrender To Reason”. The two instrumentals are quite good, and the rest is somewhere between good and a comparatively boring average. Those who already have albums such as Awake, Metropolis Part Two and Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence don’t really need this record, as it shows nothing new or better than these.
In the end, I would only recommend this album to faithful Dream Theater fans. It’s a good but not a spectacular album and some things could have been done better. After the last two records, this album is a little letdown. I’m complaining at a very high level though. Maybe the tracks are working better in concert. This being sad, the band will release a new live package from their last tour entitled “Live At Luna Park” by the end of the year. If I had to choose between the new album and the live package, I would save my money for the live package.