Sunday, January 8, 2012

Dream Theater - A Dramatic Turn Of Events (Limited Edition)

Dream Theater
A Dramatic Turn Of Events (Limited Edition)
Roadrunner Records/Warner Music Australia

For twenty years, Long Island (New York, U.S.) based outfit Dream Theater not only stood as one of the scenes biggest progressive metal acts, but also one of the scenes strongest. But in September 2010, all that changed when it was revealed that co-founder/drummer Mike Portnoy had decided to leave the band. The news sent many fans into a spin, questioning what had transpired behind the scenes to prompt Portnoy’s dramatic decision, and whether or not Dream Theater could possibly continue in the same capacity without Portnoy in their ranks.
Without taking so much as moment to reflect on what had transpired, the remaining members of the band (Vocalist James LaBrie, guitarist/backing vocalist John Petrucci, bassist John Myung and keyboardist Jordan Rudess) announced plans to hold auditions for the vacated drum stool. Soon enough, Dream Theater had welcomed Mike Mangini (Ex-Extreme/Steve Vai/Mullmuzzler/Annihilator/James LaBrie) into the fold, and announced their plans to enter the studio. Within a year of Portnoy’s resignation, Dream Theater has returned with their eleventh studio effort, appropriately enough entitled ‘A Dramatic Turn Of Events’.
Given how instrumental Portnoy was in every aspect of Dream Theater’s past (As a song writer, a performer and a decision maker in general), it was always going to be interesting to see how the remainder of the band would fare on their own, and how Mangini would stand against the incredibly big shoes Portnoy had left. It’s not so much a question of whether Dream Theater could still make a great album or not, but just how different it would sound without Portnoy’s involvement.
For the most part, ‘A Dramatic Turn Of Events’ is still very much a product of the Dream Theater fans have come to know and respect. The album still boasts a mixture of short punchy numbers and long epic numbers, and the band still find the right balance of melody and technical showmanship. In fact, you could be mistaken that this is still the same line-up that recorded 2009’s ‘Black Clouds & Silver Linings’. But if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find that if anything, ‘A Dramatic Turn Of Events’ is perhaps a little more cohesive sounding overall (In terms of the album’s overall flow and the general feel of the tracks from one to the next), and the songs are really strong individually. But most important of all, is that ‘A Dramatic Turn Of Events’ actually sounds like a band effort (Which hasn’t always been the case in Dream Theater’s albums from the recent past).
The opening track and first single ‘On The Backs Of Angels’ is introduced via a long slow build up, but eventually emerges as a hard hitting progressive number with plenty of twisted riffs and keyboard riffs. Myung’s bass is a little more present than it has been in the past (Which is a good thing), while Mangini proves himself to be more than up to the challenge with some impressive percussion work throughout the epic track. In a lot of ways, this track structurally reminds me of the band’s classic ‘Pull Me Under’ (From 1992’s ‘Images And Words’), with the balance of melody and heaviness working in perfect unison. And in my eyes, that’s a great thing.
‘Build Me Up, Break Me Down’ is something a little different sounding from what you would normally expect from the band with its use of programmed drums, the effects used on LaBrie’s vocals in places and the fairly straightforward approach of simple riffs and minimal amount of progressive elements. But while I can appreciate the band’s push towards something a little different, its LaBrie’s weakened attempts at screams during the choruses that really let the song down. Thankfully, it’s one of the only real weak moments on the album.
The lengthy ‘Lost Not Forgotten’ is introduced by a lengthy progressive intro, before settling in for a heavy and strong groove like pacing. The guitars and keyboards certainly set the tone of the song throughout, and alongside LaBrie’s powerful vocal presence and melodies, the song stands out as not only one of the heaviest, but certainly as one of the album’s more memorable efforts.
‘This Is The Life’ is one of the album’s first ballad efforts, and what an effort it is with LaBrie providing some stunning and memorable vocal lines. Elsewhere, LaBrie shines in the piano/strings driven ‘Far From Heaven’ and the acoustic based closer ‘Beneath The Surface’ are further examples of where the band have somewhat returned to their past by entrusting LaBrie to convey the emotion and tenderness within the song, rather than relegating him to the sidelines. Sure, three ballads on a nine track album might sound like an overkill, but here, equation actually works because all three songs sound very different, add contrast to the heavier and faster songs elsewhere, and LaBrie hasn’t sounded this inspired in years (At least in terms of working within Dream Theater. His solo stuff is something different altogether).
The three remaining tracks on the album (‘Bridges In The Sky’, the technical and diversified ‘Outcry’ and the classic ‘Breaking All Illusions’) are the three big epics on the album, and prove beyond any doubt that Dream Theater still have enough song writers within the band (Including Myung, who’s contributions to this album really stand out more so than everything he’s contributed in the last ten years) to pull off something exceptional.
In the end, while I always knew Dream Theater would be able to continue without Portnoy, I didn’t expect that their first release without his presence to be as strong as ‘A Dramatic Turn Of Events’. Everybody involved sounds like they’ve contributed to this album, and that hasn’t always been the case on some of the band’s last few efforts.
As mentioned earlier, the special edition of ‘A Dramatic Turn Of Events’ also comes with a bonus D.V.D. entitled ‘The Spirit Carries On’, which is an hour long documentary showcasing the band’s extensive search for a new drummer following the departure of Portnoy. Presented much like a reality T.V. show, the D.V.D. allows the viewer to see those selected for the audition process (Virgil Donati, Thomas Lang, Marco Minnemann, Aquiles Priester, Derek Roddy, Pete Wildoer and Mangini) jam with the band on classic Dream Theater songs and try out some new ideas through jamming. But what really separates this D.V.D. from other reality T.V. efforts is the human quality to the whole proceedings, both from the band (Who throughout have nothing but the highest respect for Portnoy and his contribution to the band) and those involved trying out from the position (All of whom are so humble, and are grateful just for the privilege to simply jam with the band). Filmed jam footage spliced with candid interviews from the band and the various drummers make the D.V.D. a compelling watch from start to finish, and show that while Dream Theater might be the biggest progressive band in the world, finding a new drummer wasn’t something they took lightly or without some idea of what they were looking for, and that they weren’t looking for just another Portnoy clone. Simply put, this D.V.D. is something all Dream Theater fans have to see (Or own) to truly appreciate what the band had to go through in order to find the right drummer for the job.
Overall, Dream Theater suffered a monumental loss with the Portnoy from their ranks. But as expected, they’ve managed to find the inner strength to move on, rediscover themselves, take control and record one of the best albums in years.

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© Justin Donnelly