Dream Theater- A Dramatic Turn of Events
Written on December 31, 2011
This album is much more focused than anything Dream Theater has released in the last 10-years, and as a result, A Dramatic Turn of Events is a complete return to form for the band and a complete triumph.
Anyone who follows Dream Theater knows that there is quite a back-story and some drama surrounding the album, so I’ll cover that first. Mike Portnoy, the band’s drummer, co-founder, and leader left the band before the writing sessions for the album began. This sent shock waves through the Dream Theater fan base and the progressive rock community. Other than the band, I don’t think anyone knows the full story, so I won’t surmise on any unconfirmed facts, but I do want to give Mike Portnoy the credit that he deserves. First of all, he is an absolutely phenomenally drummer. Plus, I really don’t think Dream Theater would have achieved the success they did without Portnoy’s leadership and work ethic. However, therein lies the problem. Portnoy’s work ethic led him to constantly seek out side-projects that took his attention away from Dream Theater, and his leadership qualities led him to become an overly domineering leader, and this is all described in detail in the Dream Theater biography “Lifting Shadows.” So on one hand, you have his attention diverted away from Dream Theater and focused on his side projects, and on the other hand, you have him still trying to lead the band from a far, and this was just a dysfunctional combination. So with Portnoy out of the picture, Dream Theater hired Mike Mangini to replace him, and his resume is extremely impressive.
“He [Mike Mangini] lectured at the Berklee College of Music in Boston and is also known for his work as a session musician. At his height from 2002–2005, Mangini was famous for setting five World’s Fastest Drummer (WFD) records. He also has written two books titled Rhythm Knowledge about his drumming techniques, a practice method for deconstructing and simplifying complex polyrhythms and time signatures.” (Wikipedia)
So, There was a big question leading up to this album. Would Mike Mangini be able to adequately fill Mike Portnoy’s shoes? The answer is yes. Mangini’s style is very similar to Portnoy’s, and personally, I don’t notice any difference in sound or playing. Plus, with Portnoy’s exit, Petrucci, Rudess, and Labrie really stepped up as the new band leaders and they definitely brought some democracy and focus back to the band.
In addition to Mangini holding his own on the drums, Petrucci and Rudess are completely in sync as always, with Rudess’ keys wrapped tightly around Petrucci’s guitar. Myung is in the background as always holding the sound together, and I want to make special mention of Labrie’s vocals, which I think sound better than they have since his debut on “Images and Words” in 1992; he simply sounds outstanding.
Moving on to the songs, it is the best set of compositions that they have put together since 1999’s Scenes from a Memory. The flow of the album is incredible, and I really like how the songs are laid out and structured. The only change that I would make would be to drop “Far from Heaven,” and “Beneath the Surface.” Both songs are ballads, and they just take away from the flow of the album. They are not awful songs, but they just don’t add anything and come across sounding a bit sappy. The good news is that “This is Life,” the other ballad, is excellent, and it is easily their best ballad since “Another Day” from “Images and Words” (Click here to listen to This Is the Life). In addition to the ballads, you have two mid-length tracks: “On the Backs of Angles” and “Build Me Up, Break Me Down.” Although they both clock in under 10-minutes, they both have an epic feel to them that’s been missing from their shorter tracks for at least 10-years.
The rest of the album consists of four full on epic tracks: “Lost Not Forgotten,” “Bridges In The Sky,” “Outcry,” and “Breaking all Illusions.” All four of these tracks are epic in every way, but they are more focused than most recent Dream Theater epics. If these songs had been on previous Dream Theater albums, I think their run times would have been stretched out, which would have diluted their impact. These four tracks are all in the 10-minute range, but they still pack in plenty of signature Dream Theater twists and turns to stay interesting and completely engaging. They are all excellent, and I would go as far as saying that each of these tracks is better than any song from their last four studio albums.
The best of these tracks is “Bridges In The Sky,” the album’s centerpiece. The song starts with some droning sounds and spiritual chanting reminiscent of something off of Yes’ Tales From Topographic Oceans, then the song plunges head first into some killer guitar riffs from Petrucci. The song never let’s up from there, and all players are completely on fire. I also want to point out that this song is certainly Labrie’s shining moment of the album, as his vocals are perfect, as are the lyrics. The main verse is completely mesmerizing, and it is absolutely one of the best lyrical verses of music in Dream Theater’s entire catalog. Here is the main lyrical verse:
“Sun, come shine my way/ may healing waters bury all my pain/ Wind, carry me home/ the fabric of reality is tearing apart/ The piece of me that died/ will return to live again/ And at last the time has come/ to unite again as one/ to the power of the earth I’m calling/ Crossing bridges in the sky/ on a journey to renew my life/ Shaman, take my hand!” (Click here to listen to Bridges In the Sky)
This album really is a complete return to form for the band. I picked up Images and Words shortly after it was released in 1992, and I have purchased every Dream Theater album as they were released, but after Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, they seemed to lose their edge and become very formulaic, but this album certainly shows a re-energized Dream Theater with new energy and spirit. This album will definitely stay in my listening rotation for a while, as it is certainly a landmark release, and it is easily my third favorite Dream Theater album behind Images and Words, and Scenes From A Memory.
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