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Dream Theater: Black Clouds & Silver Linings (Special Edition)

You have to say one thing for Dream Theater; when they put out an album, they do so with about as many options as the old saying goes, Carter has pills! Not only can you purchase just the CD, there is the Special Edition with a second disc of six cover songs and a third disc of instrumental versions of the original songs with different arrangements on some. Then there is the Deluxe Collector's Edition with all the goodies mentioned plus the album on vinyl LP and a DVD! Not to mention a lithograph and mouse pad.

So let's take a look at what they are offering. For my money the Special Edition is the way to go. With six covers that are all chosen not for their popularity, instead this is one time where they are picked because of the music itself. Two instrumentals, The Dixie Dregs "Odyssey" and King Crimson's "Larks' Tongue In Aspic Part II" are songs that not many bands would be willing to tackle. We are talking about Dream Theater though and they do a masterful job of course. Then add to that a little Rainbow, a cool Queen medley, Iron Maiden and Zebra and you have something that is very hard to find, a cover album that is worth the price!

Dream Theater has always been known for how well they can do covers and this is no exception. They bring the DT touch to songs that were truly great the first time around.

So what do you get new from these guys. The new CD is a six song work that gives you plenty of the expanded epic songs that are a DT mainstay. With four of the six songs falling into the thirteen to nineteen minute category, it's time to sit back and enjoy some soaring Dream Theater that is a much better effort than the last two studio albums they put out. I'm not saying that there is anything wrong with Octavariam and Systematic Chaos but with this disc, I hear much more of the sound that drew me to this band in the first place.

The grandiose song "The Court Of Tuscany" is the highlight of the disc for me. Here you get the full blown Dream Theater treatment as they weave from melodic keyboards to Petrucci's magical guitar work with the flair and musical flow that has become a Dream Theater trademark. The only complaint is I can't figure out why they think the spoken/growl/rap of Mike Portnoy adds anything to their sound. For the most part, I think they would be better served to keep him behind the drums and hide the microphone! This is minor though and does not diminish too much from the dynamics that they create.

This album seems to have combined their darker side ala Train of Thought with the more melodic aspects of the band. The heaviness of the opening track "A Nightmare To Remember" is a perfect example where the eerie keyboards that start the track give way to the gothic feeling crunch of Petrucci's guitar and then the bedlam begins!! Just as you are getting a slight pain from the headbanging, the band slows it down with a terrific melodic passage to give you a rest before they ratchet it up once more.

I cannot find a bad spot on these discs but their version of a power ballad called "Wither" is the spot on the disc where you might duck out for a beverage or take a break if nature calls. It's not a bad song by a long shot but it is one moment where you will say, "Sounds like something I have heard before". Petrucci does add a terrific solo in the middle of the song and there is a calming aspect to this song that makes it appealing, but I almost want to say that this might have been one of the slower parts to a more epic tune plucked out.

The rest of the disc is some of the best music you will hear this year too. Without a doubt, Dream Theater has come back with one of their strongest studio efforts in many years. Much in the way that Metallica returned to their roots on their last disc, DT seems to have found a way to balance what they have been as good at for so many years with something new and as creative an effort as they have done in quite awhile.

The instrumental disc that comes in this package is one that you will find many uses for. I am one that likes to throw on this type of stuff when I am working around the house or yard. The music is as phenomenal as it gets and listening to it without the vocals is just another way to appreciate what these guys are doing. The songs have been arranged a bit differently but you would have to play them side by side with the original recordings to spot the differences in most cases. Hey, maybe you might just want to take this opportunity to see how you can compare with James LaBrie!

This is an easy one. There is no doubt that when you pick this up it will be one of the best set of discs you add to your collection this year. The Dream Theater boys have done it once more and have taken it up a notch! I can't wait for them to try and top this one.

Track listing:

1. A Nightmare To Remember
2. A Rite Of Passage
3. Wither
4. The Shattered Fortress
5. The Best Of Times
6. The Court Of Tuscany

Bonus Disc:

1. Stargazer
2. Tenement Funster/Flick Of The Wrist/Lily Of The Valley
3. Odyssey
4. Take Your Fingers From My Hair
5. Larks Tongues In Aspic Pt. 2
6. To Tame A Land

Instrumental Disc

Track Listing Same As First Disc

Added: November 12th 2009
Reviewer: Scott Ward
Related Link: Band's Official Site
Hits: 8824
Language: english

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» SoT Staff Roundtable Reviews:

Dream Theater: Black Clouds & Silver Linings (Special Edition)
Posted by Keith Hannaleck, SoT Staff Writer on 2009-11-12 09:02:35
My Score:

Dream Theater believes in giving their fans what they want and one of the focuses of their drummer Mike Portnoy is to give back what they have received. That philosophy is felt in equal measures with the rest of the band. What DT fans enjoy most are the epic tracks that offer everything the band has at its disposal. Featuring a literal all star cast at every position, this band knows how to please each other creatively during the recording process and in turn the listeners reap all the benefits when they release a new album.

John Myung (bass), John Petrucci (guitar), Jordan Rudess (keyboards), James LaBrie (vocals) and Mike Portnoy (drums) are conceivably the most unified and talented band currently recording and each member is a key ingredient in the Dream Theater machine. Although I put a lot of focus this time out on Mike, he truly deserves it. He is a thought leader musically, creatively and handles their business smartly. He is the heart and soul of this band and that cannot be denied.

Black Clouds & Silver Linings (Special Edition) was released in early June this year to coincide with Portnoy's brilliantly managed Progressive Nation Tour. Again this was designed to give it back to the universe by offering new bands to the genre some needed ears in a live setting. In a genre so specific with a smaller fan base worldwide (in comparison to rock or pop stars), everyone needs all the help they can get. It all works very well and I have been turned on to some new sounds in the past two years by attending the concerts. If it wasn't for Portnoy's belief in the bands that tour with them, it never would happen.

This is a three disc set, offered in various configurations, to hopefully please all the needs and tastes of their faithful followers and ever growing newcomers. A lot has to be said for a band with nearly 25 years together that is still new to so many listeners; the DT nation is growing daily and this release increased their incredible exponential growth.

The first CD breaks down into six tracks of vintage DT metal and prog. I think with the passing of time it is safe to say that this is already being considered as a classic rendering of the metal-prog genre, giving further authority to the fact that this band has set the gold standard for everyone else to follow. The lead off track "A Nightmare To Remember" comes roaring out of the gate, setting the stage and atmosphere for what is to come. "A Rite of Passage" is a dark and ominous track with a first class video to accompany it. Every aspect of the DT process in regard to delivering their media has continued to get better with each passing year. Portnoy finishes out his story about AA and his battle's with the disease in "The Shattered Fortress" fittingly reviewing some of the other songs that made the story over the years by adding the lyrics in between all the instrumental anarchy. He also offers a touching tribute to his dad, who passed away recently with "The Best of Times." This is one of the more classic rock and pop influenced tunes I have ever heard DT perform and it's a fine song at that. The meaning is very special because of what Mike's father meant to him and the music seems quite fitting for the lyrics. The status quo attacking prog- metal would not work well with the subject matter of this song. '"The Count of Tuscany" is the magnum opus of the recording clocking in at an incredible 19:16, nearly an entire side if it was on a vinyl LP! (The vinyl version is available on the Roadrunner website). This song features a band in sync hitting on all their cylinders; it's like hearing a concert all wrapped up into one track. They are very good at setting the stage and taking you through complex time signatures and changes, offering different musical chapters to go along with the story they are portraying through the music. Let's not forget the ballad-like "Wither" that stands tall in the middle of this session. James LaBrie's voice is outstanding throughout but particularly smooth, succinct and emotionally powerful on this track.

The second disc features some excellent takes on classic rock tracks that had a hand in influencing all the members of the band. These are not the filler cover tunes or throw in bonus tracks you will find on many CDs; these are legitimate solid covers of great songs. Rainbow's "Stargazer" is superb, my favorite out of all six.

Now the ultimate addition to the package is disc three which are all the tracks on disc one without the lyrics. Now all of you James LaBrie wannabes can throw on this CD and sing along. In the same instance, all of the tech freaks and players of instruments will cherish this opportunity to play along or use the tracks to create their own special mixes.

Dream Theater you have given us another classic prog-metal release, except this time it is loaded with all the extras that everyone loves, especially big fans of the band. What is not to like here?

Dream Theater: Black Clouds & Silver Linings (Special Edition)
Posted by Pete Pardo, SoT Staff Writer on 2009-06-25 15:27:01
My Score:

There really is no band out there quite like Dream Theater, who have become one of the most consistent bands on the progressive scene for a long time. Their latest release, Black Clouds & Silver Linings is no exception, another platter of extended songs that push the boundaries of progressive metal, yet as with every Dream Theater CD, always sounds a tad familiar. Let's face it, the boys haven't recreated the wheel here, but as always this is exceptional material as only they can produce. Most people will instantly talk about the epics "A Nightmare to Remember" and "The Count of Tuscany", two real gems of epic, dramatic music, but I'm going to go out on a limb, perhaps for the first time with this band, and focus more on the ballad "Wither" and the tender "The Best of Times", each one with some of the catchiest vocal work done by James LaBrie in many years, and two songs that had me singing along instantly. When was the last time a Dream Theater CD had songs you could sing along to? It's been a while. The last few albums, though quite excellent in my opinion, were more about bombastic metal arrangements and loads of wild solos from all members. Here, the shredding is kept to somewhat of a minimum, and the songs, melodies, and arrangements come to the forefront. Mike Portnoy's continuing saga of his own tale of alcoholism concludes with the tremendous "The Shattered Fortress", complete with musical bits from the other pieces of the musical story that appeared on past releases. Six tracks in total, and a nice mix of metal, prog, and pop, which is what this band has historically done so well. A third CD of instrumental versions of these songs is also included, and though it's an intriguing listen, my guess is most will go back to the vocal versions more often. As has been the case on the last few releases, Portnoy and Petrucci add in the occasional 'tough guy' vocal passage, not quite a growl, bark, or shout, and they really seem out of place in spots. Guys, if you are not going to go all out and drop in a real death metal growl (and the music doesn't really warrant it), then don't bother. As for LaBrie, he sounds better than ever throughout this CD, continuing on as he has over the last couple of years as if someone has lit a fire under his ass.

What of the second CD in the Special Edition set you ask? Well, that is a collection of six cover songs, and thankfully, Dream Theater chose songs that haven't already been done to death by every Tom, Dick, and Harry on the planet. The Queen medley is worth the price of admission alone, but other highlights are a scorching "Odyssey" by the Dixie Dregs (many I'm sure have been waiting for Petrucci to tackle something of Steve Morse's for years!), a powerful rendition of Rainbow's "Stargazer", the Zebra classic "Take Your Fingers From My Hair", and a tight rendition of King Crimson's "Larks Tongues in Aspic". Though "Iron Maiden's "To Tame a Land" is well done, it fails to move like the other songs covered here.

The booklet is nicely illustrated and laid out, though I'm curious whose idea it was to put the digipack together, as the three sleeves for the CDs tend to easily fall out of the pocket that was created for them. I'm going to be a hard ass and deduct a 1/2 star for this alone. Sorry guys!

There you have it, another winner from the legendary Dream Theater. Did we really expect anything else?

» Reader Comments:

Dream Theater: Black Clouds & Silver Linings (Special Edition)
Posted by Jonathan T Swank on 2009-06-28 08:04:32
My Score:

Fantastic. They've returned to what makes this band so special. The hooks are more memorable, the riffs heavy and the melodies are back! And, the biggest surprise for me was how comfortable James sounds on vocals - for the first time since probably Scenes, he doesn't sound strained and tired and out of his element. In fact, I feel this is the best overall CD they have made since Scenes From A Memory. (Although disc 1 of Six Degrees was excellent as well) And while Scenes was essentially perfect, this one only has a few flaws - namely that The Count of Tuscany is just too long with a very boring middles section where the synth is too repetative and doesn't really take the melody anywhere. The other 5 songs are near perfect, if not perfect. Congratulations to Dream Theater for keeping it all together and so expansive for so many years, and especially to Labrie who should get the award for comeback performance of the year. Can't wait to see these guys on tour this summer.

Dream Theater: Black Clouds & Silver Linings (Special Edition)
Posted by ??? on 2009-06-26 09:45:03
My Score:

This Dream Theater record is better than anything they have done in a decade for sure. The lyrics have taken some heat, but their a little better this time around. They had reached an all time low on that comic book tragedy that was C.I.M. Those bogus and sappy anti-war sentiments, etc., almost sunk it for me. If the band was more of a democracy J. M. could again write lyrics. He is just as capable and more sincere than than J.P. and M.P. because he writes to contribute not just to have more gratuitous face time on the disc. I believe that J.L. puts in one of his best vocal performances on this disc. He is using his vibrato again for musical and emotional effect and has cut down on some of the ridiculous slurring that he would employ. Any musical teacher will tell you "that you have listened to the radio far too much" when you slur. I think the fact that the lyrics are a little easier for him to get into than recent past may explain some of it. The rest is just a question of letting his voice go and not try to place every aspect. Those notes will find their own way home if you "hold on loosely." It would be a sin not to mention that J.R. plays some of his most inventive keyboard solos and uses the coolest samples and sounds on B.C.S.L. He really helps bring the disc to a new level with his contributions. He seems to have hit a creative high on this and his timing is excellent with that said. Actually, I think the keyboards and the bass steal the show. J.M. is actually audible and plays many of the unison parts better than J.P. He manages to be smoother, better timed and not so literal. He truly is just a top-shelf bass player.

The production of the disc is certainly not up to audiophile standards. The vocals are ripe with digital hiss that make you hate the letter s and t. The bottom end can be to boomy and wages war in the mix. In interviews Jordan Rudess had explained that the band was going to back down on the faders this time around. Believe me that did not really happen. This release is (for the most part) sonically dead. It blows my mind that a prog band does not fully understand what it is to be prog. If they were not spending so much time doing psycho-graphic studies on musical buying trends and tried reading about musical fidelity the would be WAY better off. The answer is 24 bit recording. No, it cant fit on a regular cd, but that is why the medium must die. If they dont want to use SACD (increases space to over 7 gigs) than music should be recorded on DVD for the headroom. Americans are pretty thick in the head when it comes to this. There have been musical movements that have tried to rectify this in the past. However, "some" of us are hopeful.

The packaging is substandard ( An Opeth deluxe edition copycat) on the 3 cd deluxe edition. I could hardly believe how cheap the cover was. A word to the wise…If you are going to house your cds in cardboard jackets put a protective sleeve in the inside to avoid scratching. Have not the Japanese taught you anything? The artwork that is the cover is excellent, however. Dont need a lesson there. There is another version that goes for 130 bucks and up. Dont buy it! The song stem idea they ripped off from Lamb of God and the rest is nothing but the record industry wanting you to bail them out ! If you give them another chance, they will screw you twice. In this economy there is no doubt that they want you to fund the continuance of their exuberant lifestyle. I think the people should be living good, not the pigs!! Enjoy the upcoming independence day!!!

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