October 3rd, 2009 Dream Theater's "Black Clouds and Silver Linings"
So I’ve been listening to Dream Theater’s latest album, “Black Clouds and Silver Linings” for about a month now. I fully expected to hate it, especially after the debacle that was their previous album, “Systematic Chaos”, but I was pleasantly surprised.
Usually with Dream Theater albums, I go through the following stages: 1. I am absolutely in love with the album at first. 2. The songs on the album start sounding less and less good over time. 3. I have spurts of renewed interest in an album, where for a short period of time, the songs will sound amazing again. (Depending on how good the album is, these spurts occur more or less frequently).
With Black Clouds and Silver Linings, I can say that, so far after a month, I have not entered stage 2 yet. And I am pretty sure that, even after I start disliking the songs, the “spurts” will occur more frequently.
It seems that, by switching to the new label (from Elektra to RoadRunner Records), they have performed a reboot on their musical style. This newest album is very similar to DT’s second album, “Images and Words”. One word sums up both of these albums: atmospheric. Of course, John Petrucci’s big work in this album “Count of Tuscany” is incredibly atmospheric and also cathartic (as was expected). But Mike Portnoy’s songs are on the atmospheric side as well. His song “The Best of Times” is a tribute to his father, who passed away from cancer during the recording of this album. The song resorts to some cheesy string effects, and while it sounds amazing on first listen, it falls flat pretty quickly on repeated listenings.
But, the rest of this album is a gem. My favorite work on this album is the aforementioned “The Count of Tuscany”. It is an orgasmic mix of the older atmospheric style of Dream Theater with the newer, more aggressive sound DT has espoused since Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence. I can tell that John Petrucci tried to consciously move away from the old DT-foruma: come up with a few great motives and develop these ideas multiple times through the piece. Instead, “The Count of Tuscany” introduces tantalizing new themes that never come back later in the song. This teasing aspect to the song makes it fresh and new for Dream Theater.
“Wither” is a surprisingly catchy and fun ballad tune, and it excellent to rock out to. “The Shattered Fortress”, while a somewhat disappointing end to Mike Portnoy’s 5-part suite, is an excellent heavy song to head-bang to by itself. “A Rite of Passage” is perhaps the weakest song on the whole album, but surprisingly it sounds much better without the vocals! (The instrumental versions of the songs were released on their special edition).
I would like to offer a conspiracy theory (of sorts): DT’s final album with Elektra, “Octavarium” ended with the words “We move in circles”. The album art had Newton’s Balls and Mobius strips. I think DT is deliberately starting a new cycle with their albums from the new label. Their first album with the new label, “Systematic Chaos”, had some similarities to DT’s first ever album , “When Dream and Day Unite.” And now this second album with RoadRunner Records has many similarities to “Images and Words”. Furthermore, both album titles have the word “AND” in it. (“Images and Words” and “Black Clouds and Silver Linings”). “Black Clouds and Silver Linings” is at once invokes an Image, yet are a set of Words that are uttered often. One exciting prospect is that “Images and Words” contained “Metropolis, Pt.1″, which was later expounded upon in their concept album “Metropolis, Pt. 2″. There are many tantalizing possibilities for writing out a concept album based on one of the songs on “Black Clouds and Silver Linings”. If this theory is correct, then their next album will be somewhat heavier and less melodic, much like “Awake” was.