Black Clouds & Silver Linings
Roadrunner Records, 2009
REVIEW BY: Sam Rusk
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/14/2009
Over the past few years, Dream Theater has gained a far more prominent role in the modern progressive music scene, wowing fans with their absurd technical skill and sprawling epics. The band has steadily been evolving their sound, with their previous two releases, Systematic Chaos and Octavarium, showing off a rawer metal sound. With the release of Black Clouds & Silver Linings, that metal influence is more prominent than ever, as the band makes heavier use of techniques like blast beat drumming, growling vocals, and heavy, rhythmic riffs. Also, for the first time in the band’s history, the album debuted at #6 on the Billboard Top 10, despite the off-putting track length of most of the songs; this proves that the band must be doing something right to garner more fans. Overall, though, this new release still retains virtually everything that has made Dream Theater the band they are today.
Regarding the actual album, I was pleasantly surprised by the three-disc special edition I received; it came with not only the six main studio tracks, but also six new cover songs and a complete instrumental remix of the album (this seems like a bit of slap in the face to James LaBrie, since the instrumental tracks are pretty much the same as the originals but with his vocals removed.) Guitarist John Petrucci and drummer Mike Portnoy are still completely in charge of lyrics, which remain as dramatic and cheesy as they’ve ever been, if not more so this time around. But lyrics have never really been the main attraction of Dream Theater’s music, so I didn’t expect them to be much different here.
Instrumentally, however, the band remains as virtuosic and awe-inspiring as ever. Petrucci’s riffs are somehow even more infectious this time around, yet the inclusion of mindless shredding in just about every song gets rather irritating. The same goes for keyboardist Jordan Rudess, who seems to indulge in “shredding battles” with Petrucci. Mike Portnoy’s drumming prowess is certainly one of the highlights of the album, but the same can’t be said about his rough backing vocals, since they just sound silly most of the time; at the end of “A Nightmare To Remember,” I can’t help but laugh every time I hear him rapping with that grunting voice. The vocal performance of James LaBrie is definitely an improvement over the band’s last album, where he was pretty hit or miss. This time, however, most of his vocal work is superb, especially during the slower ballads like “Wither.” As for the bass work, I can’t really say much since it was pretty overshadowed most of the time, which is a shame because John Myung is such a talented bassist.
Most of the tracks on the album are great, save one: “The Shattered Fortress.” I really can’t fathom what the band was thinking when they added this song, since it just serves as unoriginal filler; recycling multiple riffs and melodies from older albums can only hurt an already painfully generic song. Other than that, though, the songs are pretty consistent quality-wise, especially the final two tracks, “The Best Of Times” and “The Count Of Tuscany,” which will definitely be favorites for the major prog enthusiasts. The song “Wither,” a soft, five-minute ballad, serves as the centerpiece to the album, providing a nice break from the mammoth songs that surround it.
As it stands, Black Clouds & Silver Linings isn’t really a step forward or backwards for Dream Theater, since it has some outstanding songs and it will certainly please the fans, but the band seems to be falling back on some bad habits (mindless shredding and mediocre lyrics). But despite its flaws, it still serves as a great new addition to the group’s ever-growing discography and will excite old and new fans alike.
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