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Black Clouds & Silver Linings (3 CD Special Edition)

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(157 Reviews)

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Special Edition includes the Black Clouds & Silver Linings CD, plus a CD of 6 cover songs, and a CD of instrumental mixes of the entire Black Clouds & Silver Linings album. ’This album’s a musical and emotional rollercoaster, but most of our albums are,’ Mike Portnoy says of Black Clouds & Silver Linings, Dream Theater’s tenth studio album and second Roadrunner release. Black Clouds & Silver Linings marks another milestone on Dream Theater’s iconoclastic musical journey, which began two and a half decades ago and now encompasses a hugely impressive body of music that’s established the durable progressive metal outfit as a one-of-a-kind creative force with a fiercely devoted international fan base. The new album – produced by band members Mike Portnoy and John Petrucci, who also serve as the group’s main lyricists – offers a vibrant manifestation of the world-class musicianship, vivid lyrical scenarios and ambitious, multi-leveled compositions that have established Dream Theater as a uniquely compelling creative force.

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  • After a relatively disappointing effort (by Dream Theater standards) two years ago with Systematic Chaos, the progressive pioneers return with Black Clouds & Silver Linings, their second studio LP under Roadrunner Records. Apart from the two singles (A Rite Of Passage and Wither), the new release is a monumental collection of epic tracks, those four in particular all being greater than twelve and a half minutes in length, with the monster final track (The Count Of Tuscany) reaching perilously close to the twenty-minute mark. With Black Clouds, Dream Theater has produced what might qualify as their most ambitious work since Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence.

    Tracks:

    1) A Nightmare To Remember (16:11) – This track gets off to a (literally) thunderous start, and is absolutely relentless with frenetic guitar work by Petrucci, thrash-inspired double-bass percussion from Portnoy, and excellent vocal and lyrical work depicting a chaotic and terrifying situation.

    2) A Rite Of Passage (8:36) – The main single, with lyrics inspired by Freemasonry (and other secret societies) and tight, cohesive instrumentals that are at least somewhat evocative of Dream Theater’s classic song “Pull Me Under”.

    3) Wither (5:26) – By far the runt of the litter in terms of length, Wither is also a complete curveball, being more than slightly similar in nature to an 80’s hair metal power ballad. While it seems almost too straightforward compared to its brethren on this album, it is still a song more than capable of standing on its own.

    4) The Shattered Fortress (12:49) – As the final chapter of Mike Portnoy’s “Twelve Step Saga”, The Shattered Fortress not only returns to the blistering nature of The Glass Prison and This Dying Soul (as opposed to Repentance from Systematic Chaos, a rare slow, soft point in the suite), but ends up tying up elements from all of the other songs in the sequence together into one high-amperage compilation. This may be the real treat for die-hard DT fans on this entire album, although it may be more than a bit unapproachable to the newcomer due to its heavy reliance on melodic ideas from previous albums.

    5) The Best Of Times (13:09) – Any critic of the band who claims Dream Theater cannot write an emotionally evocative song would be well served to take a listen to this track, written by Portnoy in memory of his father, who passed away during the making of the album. Slower and softer than most of the material on Black Clouds & Silver Linings, the lilting guitar and touchingly personal lyrics make this a complex, sophisticated, and beautiful composition.

    6) The Count Of Tuscany (19:16) – Lately, what has any self-respecting Dream Theater album been without an epic track to close it out? The Count Of Tuscany, for its nearly twenty minutes, is a deep, labyrinthine track with more twists and turns than many bands have in their entire career, with a fascinating lyrical story to match. It’s telling when a single track can nearly be an album in and of itself, but The Count Of Tuscany, like In The Presence Of Enemies, Octavarium, and Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence before it, certainly is up for the task.

    The Special Edition also includes six cover songs (all of bands that influenced Dream Theater, such as Queen, King Crimson, and Iron Maiden) and instrumentals of the above tracks.

    Overall, while this album may be borderline intimidating to those new to progressive rock in general or Dream Theater in particular, the sum total of the collection results in possibly being one of the band’s top two or three albums of all time.

    Posted on March 15, 2010 - Permalink - Buy Now
  • Reading some other reviews of this album, and of Dream Theater in general, it’s interesting to note that as many rabid followers this band has, they certainly have their detractors. Their fans love them, and their detractors would love nothing than for the band to cease existing. With that being said, I can understand why some simply can’t “get” Dream Theater. Some of their albums and songs tend to be too long and technical, and lack the emotional appeal that supposedly can be found in the mainstream nonsense that is out there. Those with ADD probably shouldn’t bother listening to DT. With that being said, “Black Clouds and Silver Linings” seems to blend both their technical savvy with their instruments and offer some emotional appeal. It’s probably their best offering in quite some time. Since Systematic Chaos (which I thought was decent, but not amazing in comparison to ToT, or Awake) I wondered where they would go next. The biggest difference to me in this album is James Labrie’s vocals. While I am not a huge fan of overly high-pitched vocals, Labrie normally does a good job pulling it off. On BCaSL, his vocals have changed, and have improved, at least in my opinion. This aspect of the new album is probably a negative to most DT fans, but I enjoyed that aspect. Otherwise, the album is a myriad of intense, dark, and dramatic music. Regardless of what DT detractors may think, Dream Theater is one of the pioneers of progressive music(which includes Rush, whom I am not a big fan of) and probably will be around for another ten years.

    Posted on March 15, 2010 - Permalink - Buy Now
  • The new Dream theater album has arrived!
    This album blew my mind, and has become one of my all time fav albums to come out in a very long time. Its also my opinion the strongest Dream Theater album out there with scenes from a memory right besides it. It has everything you’d want from a Dream theater album. Great songwriting, Great musicianship, melodic great vocals!, Crazy solos, Memorable melody’s, Progressive arrangements, and Heavy Crunching riffs!

    1 – A nightmare to remember
    A Nightmare To Remember is the best Dream theater album opener sinse A Glass Prison. This song starts off with a piano intro and than leads into one of the heavyest songs dream theater ever composed. Its a 16 min prog metal journey. Lots of catchy riffs. Lots of double Bass! There is also a mellow section that is really beautiful in this song. it has very catchy vocal melodys. This song is like systematic/Train of Thought meets Scenes from a memory.

    2- a right of passage
    a right of passage is one of the catchiest songs on the album. Its a classic 8 min long prog metal song. Heavy riffs, and a very catchy melodic chorus. there is a great thrash metal sounding solo section in this song! petrucci and rudess rip some killer solos! great high energy song!

    3-Wither
    Wither is your classic heavy metal band’s ballad. Its a catchy mellow rock tune and its a nice breather from the first 2 heavy tracks. a nice classic dt ballad. very images and works meets scenes

    4-the shattered fortress
    Shattered fortress is the last part of mike portnoys AA sage (glass prison, this dying soul, root of all evil, repentance)It brings back a few memorable riffs from those songs played a bit differently. There is also new riffs added too. The solos in this song are all new and fantastic! its a great closing to the AA saga, and its a awesome heavy headbanging prog metal song!

    5-The Best Of Times
    The best of times is a amazing epic song that is dedicated to portnoys Father. it starts out with a piano and violin, and soon enters a acoustic guitar melody. it eventually builds into a High energy prog rock epic! Its very Rush influenced. this song is melodic, and absolutely beautiful! its very classical influenced too. the song fades out with john petruccis guitar solo and it sends shivers down my spine.

    6-The Count Of Tuscany
    The count of Tuscany is a 20 min prog masterpiece, and its now one of my all time favorite dream theater songs overall. The song writing on this song is so great that i can listen to this 20 min song over and over. it starts out with a clean nice guitar melody, and john petrucci opens it up with a melodic great guitar solo. at that moment u know the song is going to be a classic. it builds into a very rush and frank zappa influenced progressive rock section, and soon builds to a heavy midsection with some thrashy riffs. soon it goes into a classic dream theater instrumental section that sounds very scenes from a memory. that soon leads into a beautiful guitar solo. petrucci’s playing is phonemical on this album. The solo is one of his most emotional beautiful solos, and that section leads to a acoustic section. after a few mins distorted guitar and synth strings kick in and we get another great guitar solo, and a very rush sounding outro. the song is amazing! and i think it surpasses a change of seasons

    This is one of Dream theaters finest albums ever i recommend it to any metal, and prog rock fan! This is also a Great Vocal performance by James Labrie! Check out the album ASAP!

    Posted on March 14, 2010 - Permalink - Buy Now
  • Twenty-five years into their career, Dream Theater are sounding more energetic and inspired than they have since 2003’s “Train of Thought.”

    And that’s a good thing, because while most great bands have capsized by that point (just look at the careers of Led Zeppelin, Yes, Metallica, and so on), more is being expected from Dream Theater by the fans and, presumably, the label than ever before. Fortunately, “Black Clouds & Silver Linings” does not disappoint, and actually works as a great starting point for most newcomers.

    “A Nightmare to Remember,” the opening track, is a good example of everything Dream Theater are doing right on this one. It begins with a crash, followed by what is uncontestedly the heaviest introduction in Dream Theater history- it’s the type of Progressive Metal fireworks that we’ve heard before on songs like Honor Thy Father and This Dying Soul. Though the song takes a drastic Pink Floyd inspired turn at the five minute mark, about three minutes later the band quite violently pulls us from the eye of the storm, and delivers the obligatory back-and-forth soloing from Mr. Petrucci and Mr. Rudess, which is followed by a genuinely “creepy” unison, and then some instrumental stuff which calls to mind the type of thing you’d hear at the end of an old silent film- one of those parts that means to say, “it’s over, but there’s still something lurking behind that corner.”

    “Wither,” and “A Rite of Passage” are great songs in their own right, too. Both are the singles, and both are arguably stronger than any singles the band have put out since Pull Me Under.

    The central song on the album is probably the weakest, and that is “The Shattered Fortress.” While the song isn’t bad, it certainly pulls more from the previous songs in the saga than the others have. There’s very little original music here, and while the first half is great, especially James vocals, the rest, barring the outro, is simply forgettable. The whole things sounds like an overture moreso than an actual new installment, which is unfortunate as it’s the last.

    “The Best of Times” and “The Count of Tuscany” serve as a one-two punch at the end; two “classic” style DT fans that are abound to impress even the most skeptical of fans. With its harmonic intro, violent middle section, spherical middle-part and acoustic fade in, it’s bound to draw some comparisons to Yes’ “Gates of Delirium.” Some will object to the latter song’s all-out goofiness, and, alas, this isn’t “Voices,” but it’s definitely Dream Theater having fun at what they do while not taking themselves too seriously. As an epic, it’s easily better than “In The Presence of Enemies,” and I’d say that some fans will even like it better than “Octavarium” and “A Change of Seasons.”

    What else is there to say? Rudess and Petrucci both stand out incredibly here, with Petrucci literally beasting each of the songs with one of the best guitar solos you’ve ever heard. James LaBrie is in top form, as usual, and Mike Portnoy is playing more tastefully than ever. John Myung seems to have been turned up in the mix, also. And, of course, there’s the cover songs, which I haven’t even mentioned yet. The songs, which were released one at a time in the weeks leading up to the album, are for the most part fresh takes on Dream Theater’s classic influences; and though there’s only six of them they still amount to over forty minutes of additional music. Dream Theater cover some relatively obscure stuff like Dixie Dregs and Zebra, their obvious influences like Rainbow and Maiden, and, of course, what has already been described by Queen guitarist Brian May as the “best Queen cover ever.”

    The album sounds better than Systematic Chaos, looks better than Systematic Chaos, and goes by its seventy-plus minutes without any of the predecessor’s drag or boring moments. Of course, there’s some things left to be desired. For example, it’d be nice to see the band take the time to put out another album with a unified lyrical and musical theme again, and one of the albums songs, “The Shattered Fortress,” doesn’t work so well on its own as much as it effectively closes out the five album spanning “12 Step Suite,” but those are hardly gripes that warrant any kind of serious disappointment. The bottom line is that Black Clouds & Silver Linings is the best album Dream Theater have made in a long time, and it’s also a very accessible album that is a good starting point for anyone who wants to know what they’ve been missing out on for the past twenty years. Dream Theater fans should pick it up without hesitation, as well as anybody who likes good rock and metal music that’s also a little bit more.

    I give the album a 90/100; which just barely rounds up to 5 stars.

    Posted on March 14, 2010 - Permalink - Buy Now
  • As a longtime Dream Theater fan, I was very much looking forward to the release of Black Clouds & Silver Linings, especially after feeling just a bit underwhelmed by Systematic Chaos. Not that SC is by any stretch a bad album, but unlike previous DT albums there were elements about it that I simply didn’t enjoy. Unfortunately, those elements return in force for a second tour of duty on BC&SL…

    A couple years ago I bought the Systematic Chaos special edition release that included a DVD featuring the making of the album in the studio with the band. Right away I was a little disappointed by what I saw – Mike Portnoy flipping through a calendar that had all of the “writing” days, all of the “recording” days, and the “end of sessions” marked off and decided in advance. I got the sense that they only permitted so much time for writing each song in the studio, and whatever they had at that point is what got laid down during the “recording days” to follow. Of course, even stock DT material is impressive, but I couldn’t help feeling that they seemingly shortchanged their creative writing process. My understanding is that the band followed the same blueprint for the BC&SL sessions, and I think this is apparent in the end results.

    Dream Theater lyrics are typically a mixed bag – past albums have featured some very strong verses mixed with some weaker lines, but the whole was always more than the sum of its parts. SC was the first Dream Theater album that I thought had consistently weak, if not downright juvenile, lyrics (I defy anyone to tell me that ‘The Dark Eternal Night’ lyrics are written by professional musicians of DT’s talent and capability). Unfortunately, BC&SL continues down this same road at breakneck speed. As I saw in the ‘Making Of SC’ studio DVD, the lyrics were basically penned on the spot in the control room by Petrucci and Portnoy. Whatever happened to spill out on the page at that moment is what was handed to LaBrie to sing. The BC&SL lyrics feel like they were written in much the same way – MP and JP grabbed a pad of paper and a pencil, listened to the demo tracks, jotted down some lines, and recorded them the next day. Music this detailed and intricate really deserves to have refined lyrics that complement and expand the themes of each track. I have a hard time listening to many sections on BC&SL because of the throwaway lyrics, although I can’t help but smile at the thick irony of the ridiculously overdramatic and cliche verses discussing writer’s block on ‘Wither.’

    Additionally, I have to comment on MP’s newfound obsession with staking out his own vocal territory on each and every DT track these days. He is a drummer with fantastic chops (even if he overdoes it on certain parts now and then) but there is really no need to have the snarling growls on almost every track. I don’t feel that it contributes to or improves the music in any way. The 11:20 mark in ‘A Nitemare to Remember’ is all I need to offer as proof that MP should just stick to the occasional background harmony – come on, guys, you are so much better than that! These days I get the sense that MP really does believe anything he touches will turn to musical gold.

    I have listened to BC&SL about a dozen times now, and it just isn’t clicking with me. To my ears there is simply something missing. Much of it sounds recycled and repetitive to me. For example, I know that ‘The Shattered Fortress’ is the completion of MP’s 12-Step Suite, and that each of the other songs have had audible cues from the ones that came before them. However, this just feels like an old and tired concept after several albums now. Did they really need to reprise the deep spoken word gimmick from ‘Repentance’ at the 7:15 mark of ‘Fortress?’ Maybe when they are all pieced together in order as DT has planned to do live, ‘The Shattered Fortress’ will fit in nicely as the epic conclusion to the suite with all of its echoes and allusions back to the previous songs. But as a standalone track on this album it just feels uninspired, like it is there only because it HAS to be there.

    I recognize that many other fans love this album and I think that is totally cool. Everyone listens for and is moved by different things musically, and I am not going to insult anyone by saying something as ridiculous as “this album absolutely sucks!” As a DT fan, I really really WANT to like this album, but for some reason I just can’t. Are the performances incredible? Of course. Can DT weave in and out of myriad different melodies and time signatures and make it sound effortless? Without a doubt. They are performers of exceptional talent and skill, but is that enough to make a great progressive album without creative and inspired songwriting?

    Posted on March 14, 2010 - Permalink - Buy Now