Dream Theater - A Dramatic Turn of Events
Roadrunner Records
Progressive Metal
9 songs (01:17:01)
Release year: 2011
Dream Theater, Roadrunner Records
Reviewed by Crash
Major event

Something needed to change. 2009’s Black Clouds and Silver Linings had some great material, but the album as a whole came off as scatterbrained. Mike Portnoy’s obsession with “metalizing” the band had been wearing thin with way more Metallica and Muse influence than any of us were comfortable with. John Petrucci’s riffs were getting more and more familiar while Jordan Rudess and John Myung’s presence seemed barely there. For the first time, Dream Theater seemed to be out of ideas. Then a change did come.

Without Mike Portnoy it is hard to define Dream Theater. More often than not, John Petrucci gets the attention for his virtuoso guitar playing. But behind the scenes, Portnoy was at the reigns. The sound, the presentation, and basically the entire concept for the band since its inception had been at the hand of his obsessive compulsive tendencies. While his grasp needed to let up, the absence of his character and his vision leaves a huge gap to fill. The attempt to cross that bridge is A Dramatic Turn of Events. One of the most anticipated releases of the year, this record could end up making or breaking them.

It kind of does both.

I want to say right away that this is in no way a bad record. Many hard core DT fans will find a lot to love here. A lot of the purists will hate it. But what we have here is a solid album with a lot to complain about. Some flaws are not necessarily the band’s fault. After all, the fact that they found not only a new drummer in Mike Mangini, but wrote, recorded, and released eighty minutes of music in little over a year of Portnoy’s departure is quite a feat. To blame the band for not releasing the best album of their careers would be childish. But other faults, such as the lack of catchy choruses and monotonous noodling can definitely be held against them. In all honesty, I can’t think of a single DT album with less of an identity. Black Clouds may have been unfocused, but it did have a lot of what fans love. Even Falling Into Infinity, the bane of the band’s career is more engaging.

But after the dozen listens I’ve had since the album came out on Tuesday, the songs finally started taking form. There are some really good ones here, many of them giving insight into the future. But that future requires a big leap, too often do the baby steps fail here to impress.

On the Back of Angels is the album’s opener and single, a cool song following the structure of Pull Me Under to a T. (Many of the songs on this album follow the structures of Images and Words songs) While not breaking any new ground, the song got me excited for the album and the back to the basics approach of the record. Build Me Up, Break Me Down even introduces some electronic elements which surprisingly seem to work pretty well. It’s a simpler tune, but with it being really the only opportunity James Labrie gets to do anything interesting, it holds up well.

That’s when it starts to run together. Upon my first listens, I found it very difficult to tell the difference between any of the four big songs on this album. All are past the ten minute mark when they don’t really need to be. With many of the extended instrumental sections, it’d be easy to mistake three minutes for something from A Change of Seasons or In the Name of God. Without Portnoy to steer the ship, the band has gone inward. More than ever, the riffs start to sound the same and the melodies get less memorable. It is a shame that Labrie is left to do little but sing the songs plainly without much going out of his comfort zone. His solo album last year had him doing more interesting stuff. Here, he gives each song the same energy, loud enough to be heard but not with any character or emotion. This dude once sang, “I’m just a poor girl.” and made it convincing. It just does little to nothing for me here. I don’t care what he is singing about. Prog music needs character to sell.

Outcry is the worst offender. The half assed energy brought to this song by everybody never gives it a chance to keep its head above water. It is the only flat out boring song on the record, interrupted by the interchangeable instrumental section. Losing this song would not only help the length and flow of the album, but would accentuate just how much better songs like Bridges in the Sky are.

Luckily, Beneath all Illusions brings it back a bit, even getting a couple catchy melodies and new ideas into the mix. They are simpler than ever before, but it’s a nice way to head the album to a closer. All of the instrumental sections within these songs are good, granted I can’t really imagine Dream Theater doing that badly. After all, long and crazy instrumental sections are what most people think of when they think of DT. But that isn’t what I think about. I think about the places that an album like Six Degrees can take me too or the imagery and songwriting of A Change of Seasons. Crazy instrumentation is a given. I doubt that many people thought that is what the band lost with Portnoy. Like me, the shoes left to fill with what made Dream Theater different from other progressive metal bands. For me it was heart and humanity, something that too many bands forget about. That dp of my brain and heart is what made them my favorite band. On A Dramatic Turn of Events, the tech has been turned up but the gaping hole has been ignored instead of filled .

Now, there are things worth mentioning. From what I understand, Petrucci wrote most of the album by himself with a drum machine. It shows. I can’t really judge Mangini’s performance because one, the songs were not written with him in mind and two, because his drums have been given the Jason Newstead justice treatment. He didn’t have to have Portnoy’s presence, but his drums carry no weight in the mix and come off like what they are, an afterthought. Hopefully he will become a bigger part of the band in the mix and in the songwriting himself rather than being a glorified studio drummer.

The second are the ballads. Dream Theater haven’t written an engaging and convincing ballad since Train of Thought. That fact still holds true. All of them are nice and inoffensive, but when The Answer Lies Within offers more then something is wrong. They fit in nicely with the flow of the album, but they don’t add much in the ways of emotion.

This is for me, the least enjoyable album in the Dream Theater catalogue. But that being said, it accomplishes the goal that they had set out in mind: that they could write good music without Mike Portnoy. They have and they did. The album is good. The real challenge is now going to be to write great music without Mike Portnoy. If John Petrucci steps back and they all take a serious look at how to take this band to new places then perhaps they can write another great record. In that case I see A Dramatic Turn of Events as a stepping stone. If not, then there are too many good prog bands around releasing great material for DT to stay on top. Many people think that the band lost this after Kevin Moore left. Others thought that ToT or Octavarium were to blame. This won’t change your mind, but it at least it will hold up until Opeth and Mastodon later this month.

Killing Songs :
On the Back of Angels, Build Me Up, Break Me Down, Bridges in the Sky
Crash quoted 73 / 100
Aleksie quoted 85 / 100
Other albums by Dream Theater that we have reviewed:
Dream Theater - A View From the Top of the World reviewed by Goat and quoted 70 / 100
Dream Theater - Distance Over Time reviewed by Goat and quoted 82 / 100
Dream Theater - Dream Theater reviewed by Rob and quoted 79 / 100
Dream Theater - Live At Budokan reviewed by Aleksie and quoted no quote
Dream Theater - A Change Of Seasons reviewed by Goat and quoted no quote
To see all 19 reviews click here
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