Dream Theater - Black Clouds And Silver Linings
Amongst the best progressive music has to offer, Dream Theater may rank at or near the top of most people's preferred acts. For such a technically complicated and far-sighted group to have sold millions of records across the world is a feat in itself, and speaks of their ability to couple complication with familiarity, ringing a chord in fans of prog, metal, hard rock and many points in between. In terms of full-length albums, this is their 10th and also marks the 20th anniversary of their first, When Dreams And Day Unite. The band has certainly come a long way since. Black Clouds And Silver Linings is far less an ambitious and provoking project as what they've been used to in the past, forgoing a lot of the opportunities to individually shine on their respective instruments and instead focusing more on cohesive, coordinated songwriting. The results make for an enjoyable listening experience, but in this reviewer's opinion, there are still flaws.
One of them is the lengths the band goes to fully emphasis a particular riff, lead passage or solo section. You'll either be enamored with or disgusted by this behavior, however less it appears here; this is a Dream Theater record and as such you know to expect wanking, however tasteful the band attempts to make it. "A Nightmare To Remember" is mostly free of it (beyond a near two-minute solo right in the middle of it's 15 minutes), and possesses some nice, dark riffing passages and an overall feel of dread and despair. When a band opens an album with a 15 minute song...you may already know if they're for you or not! "A Rite Of Passage" is less spastic and sticks to a pretty solid main melody. Another two-minute solo breaks up the continuity and is altogether out of place on this rather mid-paced anthemic track. Up until now, I've left my opinions of vocalist James Labrie go without mention. But on "Wither", his vocals take on the entire focus of the track and show, to me, his inability to front a band of this nature. It's simply a matter of taste, but also a matter of fitting in: his voice would work better on a myriad of power metal bands' rosters. Not terrible in any means, but certainly atypical and lacking in real oomph and grit. It detracts from the music too often to be seen as a benefit, and that's something a band of this nature shouldn't be burdened with. The last three tracks all stretch beyond 10 minutes and offer more of the same: excellent verse passages and musical ingenuity that ultimately is weighed down by each member's eagerness to impress and, as metioned previously, the lackluster vocals. "The Best Of Times" is my personal favorite, an ode drummer Mike Portnoy put together to honor his deceased father.
Those fans (and fanatics) amongst you will no doubt have varied opinions of what makes this and almost every other Dream Theater album either classic or near-perfect, and that's fine. I have been looking at this band objectively since I first heard "Images and Words" many years ago, and I am still unable to fully appreciate what they do. This obviously reflects my review in certain ways, but in no way shape or form am I attempting to bash the band. Fact is, a more talented bunch of instrumentalists simply is hard to find. But as songwriters they are working on a very basic level, using a "more is more" approach and layering virtuistic passages atop one another until something resembling coherence is found. Add to that the ball-less (sorry, but it's true) vocals of James LaBrie and what you get is a band custom-made for those who drool over complexity but need very little in the way of true musicianship to satisfy them. If you count yourself amongst Dream Theater's fanbase already, then you will want this album. Otherwise, venture forth with an open mind and attention span.
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on 2009-07-21 SolitaryMan Said:
I think my review reflects a lot of what people see in general: high musical talent. I am guessing most of the people enamored with this band are working out of some sort of superiority complex when it comes to the bands they like. As in, "none of your favorite musicians can do what mine can". I've gotten this feeling from many DT fans I've seen write reviews for and comment on the band. Of course you must also leave room for individual taste, but there's obviously something fishy about anyone who likes this "band" for being a "band" who can write "songs". What they do write is mostly extended solo sections with a main melody holding it all together.
on 2009-07-20 dscanland Said:
That's totally what it seems. A band shouldn't be a showcase of individuals. Look to someone like Joe Satriani for that. You know what you're getting. With Dream Theater it's more of a "look what I'm capable of". A band should be about gelling together and making some awesome chemistry. Obviously there is the other side too. A lot of people flock to Dream Theater still. Anyone shed some light on what they see in the band still?
on 2009-07-20 SolitaryMan Said:
You summed up my thoughts as well, Dennis. It's even worse in a live setting as they seem more willing to all do their own things. They obviously have a good thing going as individual performers. Maybe they should all be teachers instead of players, eh? Haha.
on 2009-07-20 dscanland Said:
Strangely enough, I ventured out to catch Dream Theater at last years Progressive Nation tour with Opeth, Between The Buried and Me, and 3. I couldn't stay for Dream Theater entire site. They were so over the top with solos and ego stroking solos that it turned out to be pathetic. I'm OK with a little bit of soloing etc but when it ends up being on pretty much every song where ALL of the musicians go through the solo wagon it just ends up completely boring. Even going into the show I brushed up on some of their newer offerings as I had never really heard anything since Images and Words and I couldn't really get into anything particular. Seems this one isn't going to change my opinion on these Julliard Grads.