If you read my reviews on a regular base, you know that I've been a Dream Theater (DT) fan from the very first minute. I even cherish their first release When Dream And Day Unite (1989) with singer Charlie Dominici. For me their best albums to date are Images And Words (1992), Awake (1994) and Train Of Thought (2003). When Mike Portnoy left the band in 2010, I thought that it was all over for DT, but they returned with new drummer Mike Mangini and a new album called A Dramatic Turn Of Events (2011). However, this wasn't really the album I was waiting for. Of course it wasn't a bad album, but I sadly missed the input of Mike Portnoy.
Now two years later, DT recorded their twelfth studio album simply called Dream Theater; this album is supposed to be a new beginning for the band. Most of the songs are heavier, more complex and feature a lot more orchestral passages. On the other hand I have to say that it's easier to listen to and I definitely hear more influences from bands like Rush, Yes and even Emerson, Lake & Palmer. As far as the Rush influences are concerned just listen to the song Surrender To Reason which is a kind of tribute to Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart. This is even more obvious in the song The Looking Glass, which I think is based on Limelight, one of my favourite Rush songs ever.
The album opens with False Awaking Suite, an extremely orchestral and over the top arranged track which could be used for any modern science fiction movie. However, for me this piece it too cliché as I heard this already on Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence (2002), but then better! Next is the single The Enemy Inside, which is a very heavy track with guitarist John Petrucci stealing the show with his inventive power solos. This is a classic heavy metal song which could have been taken from Train Of Thought. My favourite piece on this eponymous album would be the instrumental Enigma Machine, which has it all: extreme tempo changes, quiet guitar solos, heavy guitar hooks, bass guitar solos and speedy keyboard solos; this is DT at their best!
The album ends with the kaleidoscopic twenty-two minute epic Illumination Theory, which consists of five parts. Paradoxe De La Lumiere Noire (p.1) is instrumental, symphonic and orchestral from the beginning until the end. Live, Kill, Die (p.2) is classic hard rock and The Embracing Circle (p.3) shows a new, rather boring side of DT as it is almost ambient with lots of rather dull soundscapes. Luckily Petrucci compensates these passages with his fabulous guitar solos in The Pursuit Of Truth (p.4) and Surrender, Trust & Passion (p.5). It all ends with rather boring piano music, DT unworthy.
DT's latest record contains good progressive rock, but it's again not the album I was waiting for. It seems to me that DT without Mike Portnoy isn't really my DT anymore. It looks like they're trying to have a wider appeal with more simple and symphonic songs that directly please. This isn't something that I would like to see happen, but to be clear about it: Dream Theater is not a bad album of course, but I still expect something more. Maybe it's my flaw that I always expect too much from these musicians. They're only humans after all...
***+ Martien Koolen (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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