In the time that I’ve been writing reviews for Lady Obscure, there have been many occasions where I have uttered something along the lines of “this is the one we’ve been waiting for” or “the most highly anticipated release of the year”. Well, though I was sincere at the time, and each of those releases did come with tremendous anticipation, they all pale in comparison to this one. For me, for the whole of the Lady Obscure staff, and most of all for the Lady herself, this is the album we’ve been waiting for, Dream Theater’s twelfth studio album. In the Lady’s own words, she was “jumping up and down like a five year old who’s just been given a Popsicle” when she finally got her first full spin. For me though, it goes all the way back to that day in the early 1990’s, when I first heard those ominous opening notes of Pull Me Under that forever changed my musical landscape. Since then, said musical landscape has been shaded and colored by the band in such an intimate way that I often question where the music stops and I begin. I would like to say that my adoration for Dream Theater will be out of the way after this opening, but alas, it won’t. The reason is that with their new release, Dream Theater quite possibly has delivered their magnum opus.
Two of the founding members remain, guitarist John Petrucci and bassist John Myung. Vocalist James LaBrie (insert Lady fangirl squeal here) is still at the mic, as is the wizard Jordan Rudess on the keys. The only relatively new member is Mike Mangini, who replaced founding drummer Mike Portnoy before the last album’s release. This album marks his first album as a full member of the writing process, and considering Portnoy’s huge contributions to the band’s earlier works, this was a big deal, and a huge concern for the fan base. We fans tend to worry needlessly, I guess it’s just when something we are so close to gets threatened, we go into panic mode. The band however, just went into overdrive, and delivered an album that shattered even the most particular fan’s wildest expectations. The Lady Herself called it ,”not only the best album in their catalogue, but the best album of the century,” quite a statement from someone who has listened to more music than most do in a lifetime. Somehow though, this review fell into my hands, a blessed gift from the ever benevolent Lady, so let’s get right into things, my thoughts on Dream Theater- Dream Theater…..[pullquote]The Lady Herself called it ,”not only the best album in their catalogue, but the best album of the century,” quite a statement from someone who has listened to more music than most do in a lifetime.[/pullquote]
The album opens with a short instrumental, The False Awakening Suite, and right away, I know I’m in for one hell of a ride. The band takes a page from symphonic metal on this one, the sounds are huge and grandiose, almost overreaching. This track is effective in two ways, first it fully gets one’s attention; it’s forceful, powerful, and in your face. Second, it gets every ounce of my musical soul vibrating at just the right frequency, perfectly priming it for the almost seventy minutes of epicness that’s just about to hit me, and they start hitting me right away with track two. The Enemy Inside is the first single released, and with this one we know a few things questions are answered right away. Mangini will deliver, this song alone has a few jaw dropping moments from him, but these pale in comparison to what he delivers throughout. We now know what chocolate cake sounds like, Petrucci’s statement to make the guitar sound like chocolate cake had many scratching their heads and laughing, but upon hearing the guitar, I can describe it in no other way. Rich, dark, sweet, and multi-layered, it is chocolate cake. Third, and what really stood out for me, Myung is up front and in your face. One of the biggest complaints in the past was that the bass was too low in the mix, not the case here, and he becomes a literal force later in the album. This song also sets the spiritual low end for the journey that Dream Theater takes the listener on through this album. Though I won’t officially label it a concept album here, I find it hard to separate the individual pieces from the whole as I listen to it more and more. There is a certain spiritual path that the band wants us to walk, and they lay that path pretty clearly. The Enemy Inside is the low end, the self hatred and shame, the inescapable pain that every journey of this nature begins with.[pullquote_right]I find it hard to separate the individual pieces from the whole as I listen to it more and more. There is a certain spiritual path that the band wants us to walk, and they lay that path pretty clearly.[/pullquote_right]
The Looking Glass settles the listener down into a more succinct Dream Theater groove, with an unbelievable catchy opening riff and a structured pace that never runs amok or gets lost. There is a quiescent middle section where LaBrie supple side shines through, and the first of many of Petrucci solos, this one laced across a deep and soulful bass line by Myung, As to our little journey, I feel this one really signifies the isolation felt, spending our days looking through a delusional ideal of life, but in reality we are just hiding. The Enigma Machine is the album’s token, godlike instrumental from the band. They go with the quirky and complex approach with this one, though still a tight and focused piece. As to the caliber of playing, it’s Dream Theater folks. No one does insane, beastly instrumental work like them. Then the band starts going in for the kill with The Bigger Picture. As I said, we are on a journey. They started by putting us at the bottom, then slapped us into some semblance of sensible thinking with the instrumental. Now they start to bring us towards the light. The Bigger Picture is a huge and soaring song, reaching high and far. It serves as the wings we are meant to fly with, I really can’t put it any other way. LaBrie takes the helm on this one, soothing and lifting us like only he can. I know I’m not alone in saying that his voice connects with me on a deep level, and when paired with lyrics like “When I see the tearstained lights illuminate the night, then I will know, I am home…”, it can’t help but change me, as they have so many times in the past. Behind the Veil opens with a spacey surrealistic tone, that is almost immediately replaced by a seriously ass kicking riff. This is a song with purpose and intensity. LaBrie digs deep and releases throaty and rich vocals in the beginning, then settles into his more classic style. The instrumental section is highlighted by solos from Petrucci and Rudess, with Myung and Mangini laying the rhythm thick and heavy. It’s classic Dream Theater all around, a killer song. Surrender to Reason pulls it back just a notch in the opening, with softer guitars and the soothing side of LaBrie, before the monster steps in again to toss us around a bit more. The shining moment here is the instrumental, kicking off with some more symphonic elements before handing it over to Myung and Petrucci. Myung is simply amazing on this song, period. Thematically, we are being set up for the finish, the cries of “restless angels, help me find my way…” are the final, desperate cry for a new way, a new path. We are now fully ready to finish our journey.
[pullquote]Inspired by a piece from Tchaikovsky, this is our reward for our journey, the piece of our soul that was missing.[/pullquote]Along for the Ride, when released as a single, seemed to be a fairly standard Dream Theater ballad, soft, soaring, and emotional, with a message steeped in hope and faith. At first there was a sense of finality to its message, but when taken in the context of the album, it’s really the set up song for the big finish, Illumination Theory. Twenty two minutes in length, this just might be Dream Theater’s finest moment. Opening in a grandiose and epic fashion with huge, soaring sounds, the band jumps right into a four minute instrumental intro that is more than worthy of being a part of a Dream Theater epic. In fact it’s brilliant, period. They barely settle down as they go into the feverishly paced second movement. The band collaborates here to really deliver an ass whooping, relentless and with authority. This is our final test before we are given our enlightenment, and oh what enlightenment it is. They dive into another instrumental section headed by, again Myung and Petrucci, before settling into a wondrous atmospheric segment from Rudess and Mangini. This morphs into what is quite possibly one of the most beautiful segments of music the band has ever produced, an orchestral section conducted by Eren Başbuğ. Inspired by a piece from Tchaikovsky, this is our reward for our journey, the piece of our soul that was missing. I have seen many people, myself included, state they were moved to tears here. That is the healing power of music, being able to reach a part of our souls hereto untouched, and soothing it like nothing else can. When I referred to not knowing where Dream Theater ended and I began, this is what I was talking about, so much of me have been transformed in this manner by them. Healed and anew, we are now ready to take our last steps, paced by the stunning bass work of Myung. He really reaches a new level here, I don’t think there’s a person that will disagree with me. The rest of the band, especially LaBrie, live up to the new standard he sets though. James hits some notes here like only he can, setting us up for the big finish. The band spends the next few minutes playing a master level game of “top this riff”, nailing it down for that standard bearing moment for any work of Dream Theater, the searing, soaring epic finish. The big notes are hit, the rich lyrics are sung, and we are carried higher than we thought possible. For me, only the end of Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence live up to this finish in its scope and power. As James repeatedly belts out, “You’re never alone…..”, I know he is speaking truth. As long as I have music like this to walk my path with, I will never be alone. The crashing finish, and the fade into silence. Then the final gift, the last hug, a brief but unspeakably beautiful piano and guitar moment sends us away with hope and faith anew.
You did it guys, you really did it. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.
[pullquote_right]But magnum opus pertains to the definitive work of an artist, and in time, I feel that Dream Theater- Dream Theater will stand as the hallmark for the band.[/pullquote_right]In the beginning, I declared this work Dream Theater’s magnum opus. Does that mean it will have the same effect on my life as did Six Degrees, essentially giving me the healing I had been waiting years for? Does it match Scenes from a Memory in its range and scope as a certified masterpiece of progressive metal? Will it be as groundbreaking for music as was Images and Words, in essence creating a new genre? Time will tell, as time is needed for anyone to fully digest a work as huge as this one. But magnum opus pertains to the definitive work of an artist, and in time, I feel that Dream Theater- Dream Theater will stand as the hallmark for the band. It is the amassed knowledge, skill, and wisdom of over twenty five years of playing gathered onto one album. Through all the paths the band has walked in their career, this album will be the hallmark they walked them for. This album will forever be Dream Theater.