Dream Theater - Dream Theater
Roadrunner Records
9 songs (68:06)
Release year: 2013
Dream Theater, Roadrunner Records
Reviewed by Rob
Major event

The first thing that I took away from Dream Theater after hearing it first was my complete and utter disbelief at how slow it was the entire way through. Dream Theater's slower songs have always been dodgy territory for them, especially in recent years. To come out with a slower album at this point in their career, in a world full of djent and extreme bands, is admirable and I'm sure moving the focus to melodic simplicity is something they've been wanting to do for a while. It's an interesting angle for them, and a nice step back to previous ways, but there is something about this approach that doesn't quite gel as well as it should.

The self-titled album is the first showcase of how their newest drummer Mike Mangini fits into the band as part of the writing team, but at the risk of sounding ignorant, it might as well be anyone at the drum set. His presence is nowhere near as evident as it was on A Dramatic Turn of Events, but of course this is something that's more testament to the pace of this album rather than Mangini's personality as a drummer. Dream Theater is not a step-up from A Dramatic Turn of Events in terms of power, technical prowess or intensity. It is a retrospective trip back in time to the golden days of Images and Words and Awake, bringing everything back to basics, and alleviating the tension present on previous albums.

The opener False Awakening Suite in all its misleading heaviness is actually one of the best tracks - a promising yet brief lead-in. The rest of the songs start to show their colors after repeated listens, and eventually singing along will become unavoidable. The Looking Glass deserves a special mention for this and it's also the best example of the band harkening back to their older influences, certainly having the capacity to actually be part of the Images and Words track list. Fans who have complained about this lost sound for years will be delighted, but it also means that the 'newness' of these songs must be called into question.

Rather than a bustling composition of creativity, each song is an amalgamation of tried and true ideas, assembled into a neat new package. If you're a Dream Theater fan, the atmosphere and texture of every song will sound very familiar, right down to the details - from the uplifting choruses to the signature indecipherability of the riffs. You can even count on the good old synthesized circus parade by Jordan Rudess or the goofy bass jib-jab by John Myung popping up at the most inappropriate times, as per usual. Their skills combined, as well as the skills of guitar god John Petrucci have previously resulted in amazingly intense instrumentals - flows of energy that feel like they're actually going somewhere. On Dream Theater, some of the wilder parts feel out of place, to the point where the band almost sounds like a parody of themselves. Enigma Machine specifically is a heavy instrumental piece that has a pretty great riff and some cute moments but suffers from an overall inexplicable blandness that I can't quite put my finger on.

As far as the ballads go (and we're talking most of the album here), technically they're all well-written and build up nicely to catchy choruses, before ending in an epic climax. The band has succeeded in their goal to create an album of well-crafted anthems to inspire. For example, the final song Illumination Theory is perfectly paced, has tasteful delivery, introspective and sincere lyrics, solos that blow the mind in just the right way, and melodies that are downright heart-wrenching. On the other hand, the consistent emotiveness required to carry such an overdose of balladry isn't always present. Along for the Ride is an example of where things fall flat in that sense. It is genuinely not a strong song by any means, despite the fact that it's probably the slowest number all round and relies heavily on the impact of its vocal lines. The melodic nature of this album sometimes betrays it because, as beautiful as some of the melodies are, they aren't supported by a real emotional connection. This is partly due to the scattered half-emphasis on technical wizardry, and partly due to the inescapably strange tone of everyone's favorite hit-and-miss vocalist, James LaBrie.

To be fair, this man can sing his heart out. He is the absolute star of the show and gives his all on Dream Theater. It's their first album in a long time where he actually stands out as the focal point of the group. The songs rely on him to kick it up a notch and most of the memorable moments are memorable because of him, but if you're one of the many music lovers who simply can't stand his voice, then that doesn't mean much.

A large percentage of fans are already calling this the best album since whatever your preferred Dream Theater magnum opus is. If a subtle, retro-sounding, feel-good album of classic progressive rock anthems is what floats your boat then you may very well find Dream Theater's best music ever in this release. If you long for the days of the relentless, mind-bending weirdness of Fatal Tragedy, Endless Sacrifice or even Outcry then nothing on Dream Theater will get so much as a tickle out of you. If they had taken more time to fine-tune it rather than heaving it out in the space of under two years (another constant habit of theirs) I am certain that these ambitiously toned-down songs could have become timeless. The self-titled album is substantial and well-intended but regretfully, it does possess the power to bore, and that's something that shouldn't ever be possible to say about the music that this supernaturally talented band is capable of creating.

Killing Songs :
False Awakening Suite, The Looking Glass, Behind the Veil, Illumination Theory
Rob quoted 79 / 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 - Live At Budokan reviewed by Aleksie and quoted no quote
Dream Theater - A Dramatic Turn of Events reviewed by Crash and quoted 73 / 100
Dream Theater - A Change Of Seasons reviewed by Goat and quoted no quote
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