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Dream Theater: A Dramatic Turn of Events

Over the course of the year leading up to their eleventh full-length studio album, American progressive metal legends Dream Theater have withstood a dramatic turn of events indeed. With the departure of longtime drummer and founding member Mike Portnoy, the band went on a long search for a replacement behind the kit, and after auditioning seven of the most talented drummers on the scene, Dream Theater eventually agreed upon seasoned veteran Mike Mangini, best known for his work with Annihilator, Extreme, James LaBrie, and Steve Vai. Although Dream Theater's fanbase may be split on whether or not Portnoy is a replaceable element of the band, Mike Mangini does an excellent job on this album, and rest of the quintet shines as brightly as ever. A Dramatic Turn of Events features some of the best songwriting in Dream Theater's catalog, some of the most impressive instrumental runs you're likely to ever hear, and a more light-hearted sound that has been missed on their last handful of albums. This may not shatter your perception of Dream Theater's distinct progressive metal style (in a positive or negative way), but it's a refreshing change of pace after the darker atmosphere of their previous few outings. I'd confidently regard this as one of the best Dream Theater efforts since Scenes From a Memory, as well as one of the year's most impressive progressive albums.

Whereas albums like Black Clouds & Silver Linings and Systematic Chaos focused on a heavier, darker, and edgier metal sound, A Dramatic Turn of Events shows Dream Theater returning to the lush, progressive rock soundscapes of albums like Images & Words and Scenes From a Memory. Despite my immense enjoyment of both styles of Dream Theater, it is nice to see them focusing on lighter atmospheres with progressive arrangements and integral keyboards. Although this is jam-packed with heavy riffs and hard-hitting instrumental sections, Dramatic Turn rarely strikes me as a dark album, largely due to the wide array of keyboard tones. Jordan Rudess has taken a bit of a backseat on the last few Dream Theater albums, but the keyboards on A Dramatic Turn of Events are just as dominate and tasteful as they were when Kevin Moore was still in the group. Jordan Rudess's thoroughly integrated keyboards don't come at the expense of the other musicians, though - John Petrucci delivers plenty of hard-hitting riffs and blinding leads, Mike Mangini show his expressive drumming abilities, James LaBrie delivers helpings of memorable vocal melodies, and John Myung's bass playing has more personality than ever before.

Prior to hearing this observation, I was openly skeptical about Dream Theater's songwriting abilities without Mike Portnoy - although I have never had any doubt about the members' abilities as songwriters, Portnoy was obviously responsible for a big chunk of the band's compositions, lyrically and musically. It appears that my initial predictions were entirely incorrect, though, and A Dramatic Turn of Events showcases some of the strongest songwriting in Dream Theater's large catalog. Like most Dream Theater albums, this misses the 80 minute CD time limit by just a hair, and somehow the entire disc is filled to the brim with some of the best songwriting you're bound to hear all year. "On the Backs of Angels" tends to be the most instantly enjoyable track, with its hard-hitting riffs and progressive instrumental portions kicking the album off in high gear. The rest of the album strikes me as a bit more of a "grower", so to speak, than previous Dream Theater albums - whereas I was humming tracks from Black Clouds & Silver Linings after just one spin, it takes a bit longer until all of A Dramatic Turn of Events puts its hooks in the listener. This shouldn't at all be interpreted as a bad thing, though, and I tend to think that it's a sign of Dream Theater turning their compositional depth and finesse up an extra notch.

A Dramatic Turn of Events is without any weak tracks, but a few stand out a bit more than others. "Breaking All Illusions" should be the one that really makes every prog fan's mouth water - this twelve minute opus seamlessly blends relentless technicality with a sense of melody and soul, very much similar to what the band did nearly 20 years ago with "Learning to Live". A Dramatic Turn of Events also contains something that has been noticeably missing from some of their post-new millennium albums - soft, semi-acoustic ballads. Before all of the metalheads shake their head in disgust, let me say that both of the drum-free ballads here are some of the finest I've ever heard, and easily rank up there with the masterpiece "Wait for Sleep". "Far From Heaven" is a touching song with just piano and strings accompanied by James Labrie's soft vocals. "Beneath the Surface" is a slightly more uplifting track, featuring gentle acoustic guitars and James Labrie's powerful vocals. Jordan Rudess's synth solo is also truly spectacular.

There are a few other tracks that should also appeal greatly to fans of progressive rock, particularly "Bridges In the Sky" and "Outcry", both of which are fantastic ten-plus minute epics with some of the best vocal melodies ever put in Dream Theater's music. "Lost Not Forgotten" has a slightly power metal-influenced vibe that brings Symphony X to mind, and "This is the Life" is a gentle track with some excellent acoustic guitar harmonies reminiscent of Pink Floyd. "Build Me Up, Break Me Down" is probably the most unremarkable and conventional song on the album, but it still has a memorable enough chorus to keep it from being anything mediocre.

A Dramatic Turn of Events was produced by John Petrucci and mixed by Andy Wallace (known for his work with Slayer, Faith No More, Nirvana, Avenged Sevenfold, Guns N' Roses, and many others), so of course the sound is professional and well-done. I can't say I'm a huge fan of the way the drums are mixed, but that's been a small issue of mine with every Dream Theater album from Scenes From a Memory onward. It's worth noting that this is the first album in quite a bit of time where John Myung's bass is actually audible at a reasonable level without being drowned out by the other instruments - definitely a plus in my book.

Regardless of your opinion about Dream Theater, they are an unstoppable and unignorable force in the progressive metal world, and their ability to constantly churn out top-notch albums is the reason why I've remained a huge fan since I first began listening to them. Even though A Dramatic Turn of Events was made under unusual circumstances, the band sounds as inspired as ever and it'll be very interesting to hear where they head in the coming years. My faith in Dream Theater has not only been renewed by this album, but it has also been increased to a higher point than ever before. A near-flawless masterpiece, this stunning observation deserves to be cherished by every progressive metal fan who gives it a spin. This is definitely among my favorite Dream Theater albums, and an easy 5 star recommendation from this humble reviewer. One of 2011's best albums? You bet!

Track Listing:
1. On The Backs Of Angels (8:46)
2. Build Me Up, Break Me Down (6:59)
3. Lost Not Forgotten (10:11)
4. This is the Life (6:57)
5. Bridges in the Sky (11:01)
6. Outcry (11:24)
7. Far From Heaven (3:56)
8. Breaking All Illusions (12:25)
9. Beneath The Surface (5:26)
Total Time: 77:05

Added: October 27th 2011
Reviewer: Jeff B
Related Link: Dream Theater Official Website
Hits: 8502
Language: english

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» SoT Staff Roundtable Reviews:

Dream Theater: A Dramatic Turn of Events
Posted by Brian Block, SoT Staff Writer on 2011-09-13 17:09:39
My Score:

Ever since I first heard Octavarium, my first Dream Theater album, I was hooked on them. Since then I've come to own every single one of their albums. So when I heard that they would be releasing an album this year I couldn't wait until it was released. Then the news came that Mike Portnoy, their drummer since the beginning, was leaving the band. As a fan, I really didn't know what to think. Who would be their new drummer; could they replace who I think was irreplaceable? As time went on I was that, yes Dream Theater can still go on without their fabled drummer. When it was announced that Mike Mangini was to be their new drummer I was ecstatic. Since they filmed the auditions and made them into a mini series titled "The Spirit Carries On" I was able to see who the drummers were that tried out, and out of all of them Mangini was definitely my favorite. This album, the first album without the line-up that made the legendary Scenes From a Memory, returns to the sound leading up to and including Octavarium, which is my second favorite Dream Theater album, so that in itself is a huge plus. The song writing has also taken up a lighter sound that is also reminiscent of the Octavarium and before era. Unlike Black Clouds and Silver Linings, which was very dark, and depressing in spots, this album is very cheery and definitely reverts back to Dream Theater's distinct progressive metal sound that many fans have loved for the past 25 years.

This album tells a story, maybe of them losing Portnoy and getting Mangini as the title suggests, and as John Petrucci states, "When you listen to it your whole experience will be more of a rollercoaster ride". This roller coaster ride is definitely a light one, so if you enjoyed Black Clouds a lot, then this album will definitely be a whole different world. I tend to like Dream Theater's lighter passages on their past albums, so with this album being mostly lighter progressive metal it adds a lot more enjoyment when I listening to it. A good thing with this album being lighter is that Jordan Rudess is spotlighted much more often. With the last couple of albums, DT has focused more on John Petrucci and Mike Portnoy, and now with Portnoy gone and there needed to be someone else to take the front seat, and thankfully that was Jordan Rudess. A lot of the keyboard and synth sections on this album also remind me a lot of his awesome synth lines on Octavarium, which were some of my favorite. Another thing about this album is that the drumming isn't the main focus as it sometimes was during the Portnoy-era. Since Mike Mangini wasn't there for the writing of the album, Petrucci, I believe, wrote most of the drum lines, so they are a bit toned down compared to past efforts. Also, up until this album I never really noticed John Myung's bass playing that much. I always knew he was good, but I never expected this much personality from him, and this is definitely one of his best efforts on bass.

Right from the start this album is extremely melodic, especially the opening lines of "On the Backs of Angels". This song, which was released as the only single off of A Dramatic Turn of Events, is definitely a signature Dream Theater song with very nice rock oriented rhythms and great choruses. "Build Me Up, Break Me Down" is really the weakest song on the album but it's still a pretty good song. The catchy chorus makes it really good, but there are some industrial metal sections in it that make it a little weird. I don't really know why they put those sections in it, but overall it's not that bad. James Labrie's voice on this song and all the other's is absolutely superb, and probably the best it's been since Octavarium. I never really got the people who didn't like his singing, I think it's very good and can never find much wrong with it. This album also features four epics, which are all quite amazing. "Lost Not Forgotten" starts with a great keyboard and drum intro the segments very well into some of the darker moments on the album. The guitar solos on this track are also very well done and mix perfectly with Labrie's great vocals. "Bridges in the Sky" is yet another very riff driven track that excels in every way possible and features great bass parts by John Myung. The best epic on the album is definitely "Breaking all Illusions" because it returns to Dream Theater's roots, or more specifically "Learning to Live". This song features many of the melodies from the song before it, "Far From Heaven" so it adds very nice flow to the album. The technicality of the song is amazing, and each band member is at their greatest on "Breaking all Illusions".

A lot of people have complained in the past about the production of Dream Theater albums, mainly because the band produced them, and they really didn't like the tone of the albums, or something like that. I, for one, have loved the production on all Dream Theater releases, except When Dream And Day Unite. This album is no exception. The drums aren't nearly as prominent as before, but that is to be expected with the absence of Portnoy. The bass, as I mentioned earlier, is finally noticeable and Myung's talent shines through, for the first time in a long time.

This was definitely my most anticipated album of 2011 and it did not disappoint at all. Though this album might take time to grow on some people, though not on me, it is well worth the purchase. My love of Dram Theater has resurfaced after a brief decline since Black Clouds and Silver Linings. This album has jumped to the top of my 2011 charts, which I expected, and probably will stay there for the rest of the year. I really didn't want it to be so easy to put it there because I'm such a big fanboy and I didn't want to put it there just based on my fanboyism, but this album was so good that, fanboy or no, it is the easiest 5 star album I've given out in a long time.

Dream Theater: A Dramatic Turn of Events
Posted by Murat Batmaz, SoT Staff Writer on 2011-09-12 11:40:39
My Score:

The first Dream Theater album without founding member and original drummer Mike Portnoy, A Dramatic Turn of Events will certainly continue to divide the fans, especially those that are extremely upset or pleased by Portnoy's departure. Without getting into that debate, I will just mention that the sound achieved on the album is still unmistakeably Dream Theater with a few minor differences.

The album has a great flow to it. The songs are tied together organically exuding some of their freshest ideas in a while. Jordan Rudess, in particular, expands the songs' chordal parameters and no longer strictly functions as Petrucci's shadow, coming to the fore prominently both during the choruses and solo passages. He also avoids using his more eclectic synth patches and tones as he plays to the strength of the compositions. Of course, he is integral in the unison leads of tracks like "Bridges in the Sky" and "Outcry," both of which exceed the ten-minute mark. Rudess also showcases his experimental side: the Tuvan throat singing at the beginning and end of "Bridges in the Sky" is obviously sampled from Omnisphere as are the gothic-like cathedral-sized 'choirs' and string arrangements.

Having recorded the vocals on his own in Canada, James Labrie adds his sonic imprint to some of the tunes much the same way he does on his solo material. Two of the album's ballads, "This is the Life" and "Far from Heaven," both boast majestic piano lines and great melodic segments. There is none of his more aggressive vocalizations present on this disc, though he still exploits his darker tones, as witnessed during the intro of "Lost Not Forgotten," arguably his finest moment on the album. Instead of screaming, he builds tension over several notes. This track also eerily recalls the band's majestic track "Under a Glass Moon," not in terms of melody construction but arrangement. The band adopts a similar approach to developing the piece using plenty of harmonized fretwork atop a powerful theme introduced in the beginning of the song, which climbs throughout the whole piece until the finale.

John Petrucci's playing is surprisingly restrained apart from the whacky instrumental sections the band is known for. Even then, though, his playing takes on a dreamlike quality. Penned by John Myung, "Breaking All Illusions" is possibly his most emotionally draining guitar solo since the reworked "Hollow Years" version. It builds slowly, but has a defined purpose and melodic weight to it at the same time. It seems almost improvised, but due to its climax, also painstakingly composed and well arranged. Petrucci's tone here has more definition which heightens the scope a notch, obviously. Simply wonderful.

Some may argue that, because Mike Portnoy is out of the band, John Myung's tone is audible and the most central aspect of the album. Well, that assessment cannot be further from the truth. Myung still plays much the way he has on the past releases. Apart from the obvious bass lines here and there (check the album opener or "Outcry"), he still utilizes deep bass notes rather than extraneous, protruding lines, and this is for a reason. His bass sits in the back in order to create a deeper guitar sound. Petrucci's tone is heavier because of the bass. Myung's playing has never really been about standing out, not since Falling into Infinity at least. They choose to play in each other's sound in order to create a unique sound, just like flutes and oboes, or violins and violas in an orchestra, play unisons without worrying about "standing out" in the composition. Myung's role within the song is all about establishing additional portals for a tighter rhythmic flow, and he achieves this feat perfectly.

Because he joined the band after the songwriting process, new drummer Mike Mangini is given little room to demonstrate his full talents as a drummer. Gone are Portnoy's in-your-face drum parts that dominate a typical Dream Theater album, and this will undoubtedly please or disappoint fans depending on their preferences. As much as Mangini is to be commended for his technical prowess and skill, the drums are mixed too low in the mix and lack some of the additional flair the songs could benefit from. It would have been great if Mangini had created more extreme dynamics within a groove and accentuated the compositions, but he performs more like a session player replicating the intricate lines both rhythmically and melodically. Rather than directing, he is supporting the melodies. His beat construct is pretty standard, which stems from him coming aboard in the last minute. I look forward to the next album with Mangini behind the kit to see how he'll contribute to the band's music.

Personally, I feel the mix by Andy Wallace is not the band's best. I don't know how much of that can be attributed to Wallace's not having worked with a progressive metal band before (he is known for his work with modern bands like Atreyu, Korn, Avenged Sevenfold, System of a Down, etc.) and I don't understand why the band chose to bring in Wallace when long-time producer Paul Northfield was already available. Also, some songs are mastered too loudly which was not the case on prior Dream Theater albums. Finally, the second track, "Build Me Up, Break Me Down" is atrocious; it is one of the worst Dream Theater songs I have heard. I don't think the blend of industrial sounds, modern-day guitar riffs, gothic-like synths, and Labrie's 'catchy' vocal part works. The band obviously has had other radio-friendly songs in the past, but tracks like "Wither" and "Forsaken" are light years better than this one.

Without doubt, many reviewers will proclaim this album their best since whatever album they like the most, but these claims will always be debatable, as everything is in the ear of the beholder at the end of the day, and Dream Theater certainly has some of the most "demanding" fans on the planet.

» Reader Comments:

Dream Theater: A Dramatic Turn of Events
Posted by Carlos Canales Vega on 2011-12-05 08:13:03
My Score:

Yeah, they proved the doubters wrong.It's one of their best albums ever.The whole album is full of amazing songs with excellent aural richness.The production is flawless.For once, the drums are mixed to proper/normal levels.When Portnoy was around, the drum sound was kinda overwhelming.Rudess is giving more room to shine and Myung more room to breathe.Labrie sings with great confidence and emotion and Petrucci seems rejuvenated.This new album's less heavy than their latest works, which is fine by me.Playing heavy and hard all the time does not equal being great.In other words, with this album, they upped their progressive side and downed their metal side.This album's so good it's addictive! It doesn't get much better than this! Can't wait to hear Mangini on the next album, this time fully incorporated to the compositions.

Dream Theater: A Dramatic Turn of Events
Posted by Ed on 2011-09-13 05:11:57
My Score:

Good album and while I'm not totally sold on every track there is plenty to like and it's certainly their best in a while.

Dream Theater: A Dramatic Turn of Events
Posted by Gino B. on 2011-09-12 11:51:38
My Score:

I am VERY happy to see an excellent review of this new cd because it's well deserved. This is definately one of their best albums. They worked hard on it and it shows, not only in its technical proficiency but in its musicality, as well. The melodies are great, the instrumental passages are outstanding, and the production values are stellar.
Mike Mangini's drumming is super tight and groove laden throughout the album and you can tell that it's just a preview of what's to come in the future.

I have read many reviews on this album and it saddens me to read some of the negative comments about it being "not memorable" or "over-technical". It's nonsense, in my opinion. Dream theater have always been about pushing the envelope and going beyond the boundaries. They have done it since day's their style and it's what I have appreciated about them since their first album....mixing emotion, beauty, and drama.

This is a great album and I am proud of their efforts.

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