People hailed the appearance of Jordan Rudess from Liquid Tension Experiment as what DT truly needed. As much as I agreed, some found the resultant concept album “Scenes fromA Memory to be thrown-together and somewhat uncohesive, despite containing some amazing moments. I personally waited to see what the new lineup could accomplish on a traditionalalbum, hoping they would be able to top “Scenes”. Guess what–they did. Some will call this disc (discs!) self-indulgent, long-winded, or bombastic–labels which have been used to caricature progressive rock, and Dream Theater in particular,since time immemorial. All of which I’m sure Mike Portnoy &company would proudly admit to–smiling. Some within DT’s diehard following have accused the band from straying from its progressive metal roots–meaning the epic, image-laden mini-operas present on “Images and Words”. Dream Theater, despite being no less ambitious, long since changed theirdelivery from that pseudo-Maiden drama to a cutting, manicethos more in tune with postmodernity. They do not resemblejust prog-metal anymore as much as they do the Dixie Dregs–a bona-fide anti-commercial collective which, musically speaking, can do pretty much whatever the hell it wants. The seconddisc shows this most especially, with passages that call to mindeverything from Steve Vai to Yes to Queen to Andrew Lloyd Webber to Return to Forever. The first disc shows a DT which, contrary to an Entertainment Weekly charge that they reference no music “since 1976,” is remarkably in step with the times, serving up Pantera-volume thrash on “Glass Prison” to “Disappear”’s brooding, melancholy strains recalling Radiohead to manic-depressive thunder on “The Great Debate” which you’d swear could be Tool. Notwithstanding the extreme length and some of the ridiculously unreal instrumental pyrotechnics which have become Dream Theater’s trademark, all the members of Dream Theater are in better form than in a long time–bassist John Myung is actually audible up in the mix, Jordan Rudess blends neoclassical technique with unbelievable synth patches, James LaBrie actually does someof his best singing since the “Awake” album, but the realsurprises here are John Petrucci and Mike Portnoy. At timesPetrucci is actually coming into his own with a recognizablysymphonic style (I won’t quite say “melodic”) which sees him moving past the Steve Morse/Al DiMeola influences intoa unique sound and style. Portnoy throws out some of his best playing to date, with drumming that easily puts himinto the same league as Bill Bruford or Neil Peart–hiswork on “The Great Debate” is some of the best drummingI’ve heard from him, ever–not to mention an increasinglyimproved tuning and sound quality from his drum kit, backing off from the tinny, poppy production which marred”Scenes from a Memory”. If you love this band (and you do,or you wouldn’t be reading this) then GET this release as ifyour life depended on it. This has to be the best DT album in years, against which only Images and Words or Awake can compare.