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Black Clouds & Silver Linings

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  • Where can I begin? I’ve been a Dream Theater fan ever since a friend of mine introduced me to “Images and Words.” So I have had the great experience of listening to their music which is, without a doubt,beyond words. For me, “Black Clouds and Silver Linings” evoked undescribeable emotions; the same way “Images and Words” did when I first heard it. From start to finish, there is a roller coaster of feelings when listening to all the selections. I simply cannot put each song in a category of its own. There is just no way!! They grew onto a whole other level of musicianship and lyrical writing that I feel surpasses all the other albums. I was hoping that someday they would write like they did on “Images and Words.” I believe that “Black Clouds…” is that album. It should really be given 10 stars. Beyond Words!!!!!

    Posted on December 22, 2009 - 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!

    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 December 22, 2009 - Permalink - Buy Now
  • Let me start off by saying, I am a die hard Dream Theater fan. I will continue to buy every one of their studio albums, live discs, bootlegs, DVDs, etc. I’ve been a fan ever since Images and Words was released back in 92. However, with each release after Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, I find myself having been slightly let down every time.

    Musically, I think that Petrucci and Myung continue to evolve with each album as they are both in prime form. LaBrie is solid as well. But with Portnoy and Ruddess, it is more of the same. More over the top drum fills, more pompous key solos with that annoying ‘dive bomb’ thing at the end, and more TERRIBLE Portnoy vocals. While I can ignore these things for the most part (Portnoy’s vocals on SDoIT’s ‘Glass Prison’ actually were cool and I could deal with them on occasion) the one thing that really detracts from this album (and every album from ToT on) are the lyrics. It’s a shame really because Petrucci/Portnoy have proven in the past that they can write some amazing lyrics (A Change of Seasons, Voices, etc). But they seem uninspired these days.

    The lyrics are particulary terrible this time around. For all its’ epicness, The Count of Tuscany just comes off really cheesy. It is based on real life events that Petrucci encountered a few years ago. Maybe if I were to hear his story in person, I might get a better sense of why he was so frightened, but the lyrics just come off sounding so overly dramatic. I mean seriously, you listen to the song and think, “really John? So they took you to a castle, told you some ghost stories to give you the heebie jeebies and you really thought you were gonna die????” Gone are the days of I&W, Awake and ACOS. I attribute this to the fact that Portnoy/Petrucci have discouraged Myung from writing lyrics. I have always found his lyrics to be the most thought provoking and the fact that he wrote them prior to writing music really challenged the band to push their limitations. They’ve gotten lazy and as a result they try to fit lame lyrics/melodies into the music and it just comes off sounding cheesy.

    I honestly think that in order to give DT the change it so desperately needs, they really need to have a producer guiding them instead of MP/JP co-producing and just stroking their already over-inflated egos.

    It’s a shame, this could have been one of their best CDs yet had it not been for such poor lyrics.

    Posted on December 22, 2009 - Permalink - Buy Now
  • For the past month, I’ve been counting down the days to the release of Dream Theater’s 10th studio album, Black Clouds & Silver Linings. This Tuesday the CD was released and I have been listening to it nonstop for the past few days. As Dream Theater is my favorite band, I have very high expectations for their music. Despite my high expectations, this album does not disappoint in any way. The album has six tracks ranging from Wither (5:25) to The Count of Tuscany (19:16). As someone who loves long, well-written tracks, I am quite delighted to have 4 tracks longer than 12 minutes.

    A Nightmare To Remember
    The album begins with a peal of thunder and the distant sound of haunting piano melodies. Soon the whole band comes in with a slow and epic opening and then breaks the music down for a more progressive groove. The lyrics tell a very emotion-filled story of agony and pain. After a while, the dark and heavy mood of the music lightens significantly as James Labrie recounts the man’s experience. One part of the song has some very beautiful layered vocal harmonies–some of the most memorable that I have heard in any of Dream Theater’s work. All the transitions are seamless and smooth, the story builds very well, there is lots of musical variety from section to section and there is exceptional use of the various melodic themes and motifs. One section even uses a blastbeat, which is quite unexpected given Portnoy’s usual drumming style.

    A Rite of Passage
    As the album’s single, I listened to this track a lot before the album was released. Singles are often hit-or-miss and so I wasn’t sure what Rite of Passage would sound like in the context of the album. Having listened to the entire album quite a number of times, I am quite happy with how this fits in the rest of the album. This track has a very deliberate pace and excellent use of stereo sound placement. Both John Petrucci and Jordan Rudess pull out all the stops on their respective solos. Petrucci uses the entire range of the guitar and lays down some insanely complicated note flurries. Rudess has fun experimenting with different sounds and uses a really unusually tasty patch for the final part of his solo.

    This track feels like the most unique track on the album. In some ways, the music and lyrics both remind me of a couple tracks on Falling Into Infinity. Wither is definitely one of the most pop-rock flavored songs they have written in quite a while. And yet, rather than sounding generic and ordinary, the execution is actually quite incredible! The mixing definitely brings the bass and keys to the front of the mix and lets the guitar sit in the background a bit more than some of the other tracks. John and Mike sing a few notes of really tasty vocal harmonies during the chorus, which is one of my favorite things about the song. While the song starts with a very mellow and minimalistic sound, it builds and adds some amazing layers, climaxing with a short, yet powerful, guitar solo. The string parts add more depth and power to the song as it grows in intensity. James Labrie really shines with his expressive singing, which clearly stands out throughout the entire song. Despite being a very short track compared to the rest, I have to say that Wither is definitely one of the strongest selections of the album.

    The Shattered Fortress
    Beginning with a driving rhythm guitar line, The Shattered Fortress shifts the album into high-gear and delivers a powerful and rocking track from start to finish. It concludes the Twelve-Step suite that Mike Portnoy has been writing for the last 7 years, which follows the story of his rehabilitation from acoholism. This album and the last four each have one track with 2-3 movements of the suite. Both musically and lyrically, this track concludes the suite with style, heart-felt emotion and incredible musical composition. As the final track, The Shattered Fortress recapitulates and exands on parts from each of the previous tracks, including both musical and lyrical references to The Glass Prison, This Dying Soul, The Root of All Evil and Repentance. With nearly all of the references, The Shattered Fortress changes the melodies and lyrics in such a ways that new meaning is added and even the melodies are modified slightly to give things a new feel. The resulting conglomeration is something that simultaneously feels new and familiar. A brilliant conlusion to a heavy and powerful suite.

    The Best of Times
    Beginning with a very mellow piano part and featuring Jerry Goodman on the violin, this track is really pretty and has an overall happy feel to it. This song was written by Mike Portnoy in memory of his father, who died at the beginning of this year. This song is melodically driven and the melody switches between the guitar and the keyboard, resulting in a very nice blend of sounds. Jordan’s string parts are very written and performed, and I really enjoying hearing such a different sort of sound compared to his usual keyboard parts. The guitar solo near the end of the track is more slow and expressive than most of Petrucci’s solos, although he certainly is unafraid to show off his virtuosity with some classical-inspired licks and some impressive sweep arpeggios and flawless trills.

    The Count of Tuscany
    Weighing in at 19:16, this track is quite a progressive masterpiece. There are a wide range of different sections ranging in sound from mellow guitar arpeggios to complicated progressive riffs. Some parts of the songs are driving and powerful, while others are more expansive and deliberate. On the progressive side, Mike Portnoy lays down some complicated grooves over odd time signatures. John Myung has the opportunity to show off his bass skills with a tricky melodic bass groove in the middle of the song. One section of the piece is very spacious and open, creating a nice period of rest and beauty with some lovely sustained notes on the guitar. The lyrics tell a story of an experience John had, and as such it is very interesting to see how the story progresses and ends. The music follows the lyrics closely in the mood they convey and the emotions they express. The energy builds up somewhat as the song finishes, but doesn’t reach for a high level of intensity, and the album ends with peaceful outdoor nature sounds.

    Taking into account all factors, Black Clouds & Silver Linings is an incredible album. It is brimming full of creativity, with a emphasis on emotion-filled lyrics and compelling storytelling. Though some bands sound very similar from album to album, Dream Theater has crafted a unique sound with Black Clouds & Silver Linings, with music and lyrics that are quite distinct from any of their previous albums and yet are creative and fresh in their own way. Starting out very dark and heavy, this album definitely takes the listener on a musical journey, eventually ending with a happier mood and a very peaceful album outro. During the course of the six tracks, each member of the band has a chance to shine and display their own individual creativity and musical virtuosity. The production is absolutely flawless, as there is never the slightest faux-pas or section where an instrument is too buried in the mix. Each track has it’s own defining moments and all of long tracks bring such an energy that they never feel tedious or repetitious. As a whole, Black Clouds & Silver Linings is a musical delight from beginning to end. I am thoroughly satisfied and look forward to enjoying this amazing album for years to come.

    Posted on December 22, 2009 - Permalink - Buy Now
  • Dream Theater’s 10th studio release finds the band in top form musically. Most of the amazon reviews are correct – this is possibly the best DT album since Scenes from a Memory. It is engaging without being overwhelming (as Scenes is often accused of), fresh without being forced (as Train of Thought is often accused of), and diverse without suffering from incoherency (as was certainly the case with both Octavarium and Systematic Chaos). The arrangements generally avoid the “dueling keyboard and guitar” pitfall that has plagued the last few releases. LaBrie is the only member who doesn’t quite live up to earlier glories here, probably due to the inevitable loss of range that we’ve witnessed with other stratospheric singers like Walsh, Geddy Lee, etc. No matter, his lower range lends itself well to the band’s typically darker sound of late. In some places he sounds downright sinister (as on A Rite of Passage) but it’s much better tempered than many of the aggressive tracks on Train of Thought. In other words, this is a band that is aging well, still growing and experimenting, while retaining the sound that made them unique in a sea of prog-metal and neo-classical metal bands. They still have that spark that always seems to be lacking in other bands such as Symphony X or Iced Earth. And they’ve certainly aged better than many of their influences like Metallica, Megadeth, Yes, or Iron Maiden.

    So why only three stars? On repeated listens, the lyrics are just terrible. Other’s have said it in their reviews and I’ll repeat it here – the lyrics are cringe inducing in places. Objectively they may stand up to their contemporaries or label mates like Slipknot or Trivium, but those bands have insipid lyrics on every possible level. One of the primary things that made DT stand out from the crowd in the early days was the fact that, like most bands of this style, they weren’t singing about dragons and mystical spaceships. The themes were mysterious and even “new-agey” (thanks to original key player Kevin Moore), then went on to deal poetically and intelligently with every imaginable subject from addiction to family conflict, death, the afterlife, re-incarnation, and social issues. It was “thinking man’s metal” not just because of the technical skill of the band, but because they were writing lyrics that were relevant, empathetic, and smart.

    Something changed with Systematic Chaos and continues here, due mostly to John Petrucci’s lyrics. SC was an interesting diversion into Dark Masters, prophecy, vampires, undead pharaoh zombies, ghosts, and other stereotypical prog/death metal fodder. Most of it was good (Dark Eternal Night, Forsaken, etc.). I think most fans took it for what it was, breathed a sigh of relief that it was over, and moved on. If BCASL had more of the same, I wouldn’t be as critical. Unfortunately, most of the lyrics on this album have taken on subject matter that is less interesting, more mundane, and much less smart that what DT fans have come to expect from such excellent lyricists. Again, the bulk of the blame falls to Pettruci (and possibly Portnoy and LaBrie for not sending him back to the closet with a fresh piece of paper). Car wrecks, free-masons, writer’s block, a count who ’scared’ him on a trip to Florence? What’s so painful is that the music behind these lyrics is absolutely phenomenal – I fear I’ll be listening to the instrumental versions more than the normal one, just to avoid the embarrassment of the lyrics. Portnoy’s tribute to his father aside (The Best of Times), it’s very painful to compare most of the themes and lyrics to past gems, or even to Systematic Chaos, which was already the weakest album lyrically thus far. Even the conclusion to the Recovery Suite (The Shattered Fortress) feels tacked on, thrown together, and retreads too much familiar ground, even for a finale (there’s simply no comparison to “One Last Time” from SFAM, or the finale of SDOIT). I’m not sure what’s happening here, but it is disappointing at best, frustrating at worst.

    I wish DT was a band I could listen to for the music only and ignore the rest. Fortunately, these guys are usually “the whole package” – music, lyrics, images, artwork, live shows, attention to detail, great concepts, etc. When another band falls short in one of these areas, I tend to give them a pass. Maybe DT deserves one after 10 albums and 20 years, but it’s difficult to let them off the hook two albums in a row for the same crime when we know how much more they are capable of.

    My recommendation – get the 3 disc set. If you can tolerate the lyrics, good for you. If not, there’s always the instrumental version to tide you over until the next LTE release. Regardless, DT deserves all the respect and awe given them by their fans, and it would take much more than bad lyrics to put me off buying anything they did. I’m just trying to be fair in my review, and hopefully my love and admiration for the guys shines through the criticism (can you tell it pains me to criticize them at all?).

    Posted on December 21, 2009 - Permalink - Buy Now