The latest from Prog Metal titans Dream Theater. The heavyweight champs of the Prog Metal world do their stuff.
Release Date: 22nd October 2021
Label: Inside Out Music
Format: CD / 2LP / Digital / Boxset
Dream Theater music always takes some time to sink in. Cut back to the year 1999 when the iconic Scenes From A Memory was released. I seem to recall having to break with a headache and my ears bleeding well before the halfway mark. Of course now, I can do the full album with ease, but as they say, the song remains the same. “Too many notes, dear boys, too many notes” is what Emperor Joseph II would have probably said. Perhaps Dream Theater are the Mozart of the modern age?
At the risk of being caught in a Mr Creosote moment and exploding through overindulgence by listening to any whole new album in one go, I’ve taken the precaution in more recent times of having a new DT album playing ‘in the background’ and not settling to concentrate until a couple of run throughs have eased me into it.
Talk of what will inevitably referred to as the fifth album since de facto leader Mike Portnoy jumped ship (or since his replacement, Mike Mangini stepped in) has revolved around the claim that it’s seen the band return to writing in the old school way. Face to face, albeit with James LaBrie beamed into a monitor in the corner, and working out tune sin the studio in the old style. In the Images & Words style to be precise and induce a shiver down the spine of the band’s followers. Recorded in the new DTHQ (it does what it says…), much has also been made of the increased sonic presence of John Myung in the general mix. At times during the opening The Alien, his bass can be heard growling away prominently. It’s either that or the John Petrucci EIGHT string guitar…the very eight string that makes a significant contribution to the heaviest part of the album on Awaken The Master, where the Rudess keyboard stabs add a heightened drama.
Instrumental prowess and virtuosity is, as expected, to the fore. There are plenty of Rudess/Petrucci keyboard/guitar duels and battles – what Rudess has described as Petrucci playing the Metallica card while he responds with the Gentle Giant card and Mangini is never far from the sort of spectacular drum fill with which his predecessor made his mark. LaBrie also weighs in with a ‘let’s not get preachy’ political lyric inspired by scenes from the TV screen with the atrocities going on in Saudi Arabia.
While most of the new songs hit at around the seven to nine minute mark, the more accessible side pops up with a strong contender in Transcending Time. One in a similar vein to I Walk Beside You from Octavarium (not such a good thing some might say) and perhaps too obvious to be the single despite offering the ‘lightest’ moments in an album of inevitable tests for the unbelievers. Invisible Monster however, has risen to the status of having a video made. It’s their 2021 horror movie theme, not quite in the same league as The Dark Eternal Night, but dark enough to suggest (beyond the obvious title) something more sinister.
The extended arrangements win out of course as we know how the boys like to push their limits. They hit the marks with the twenty minute title track that sees the band fully subscribed to the philosophy of taking their music as far as they can. The grandiose and cinematic opening is invaded by the heavy guitar as we pass through several sequences where the pace slackens and peaks come and go. Petrucci peels off what’s probably intended as the showcase solo that relies on his emotive tones rather than sheer speed and power.
Housed in another superb piece of Hugh Syme artwork, A View From The Top Of The World is an an album that finds Dream Theater doing what they do best. After the hugely divided opinion that came as a result of the ambitious The Astonishing, both Distance Over Time and the new album revert to what have been called ‘proper’ Dream Theater. A band controversial to the point where the band members seem to be constantly on the defensive and ready to fight their corner. Even within elements of their own fanbase, sometimes they can’t do right for doing wrong, and the album title might give those critics more fuel for the fir, but whatever they do, they remain one of the undisputed heavyweight champs of the Prog Metal world.
Here’s Awaken The Master from the album: