Released: 2011, Roadrunner
I don't know how we missed this one earlier in September 2011. Dream Theater are the undisputed reigning Kings of Prog Metal after all! In his book Mean Deviation, Jeff Wagner had some insightful comments on the nature of the definition of the word 'progressive' and how it applies to Metal in general and more specifically the whole sub- genre that can be easily typified by pioneers Dream Theater and the hundreds of bands influenced by them. Are they progressive (the adjective) or Capital 'P' Progressive (the noun)? A bit of both I suspect.
No matter, because like clockwork the leaders return, and perhaps this time with a bit more fanfare and excitement due to the highly publicized and semi-acrimonious departure of founding member, Portnoy. The Prog world was on its toes as people predicted and speculated who would retake the drum throne.
As a sidebar (for what it is worth) immediately after they announced the departure of Portnoy I commented to my buddy Dave that they should get Mike Mangini. I wasn't surprised when they announced the short-list that he was on the list; it already confirmed what I knew (in my mind anyway) that he would be the new drummer. Of course, no one will believe me (or care) except my buddy Dave, however it's nice to have this smug (and probably undeserved) sense of self-satisfaction, knowing I called it first. Kinda like when you pick the winning team early in the season and no else believes you. Anyway, 'my guy' got the call so I, like many others, was very curious to hear the new album, A DRAMATIC TURN OF EVENTS, the clever title being a comment about the bands lineup change.
To be honest, in terms of drumming, you can't tell the difference. Sounds odd but when you replace one of the world's best drummers with one of the world's best drummers in a highly structured and organized band like Dream Theater, of course he is going to do the job. Mangini fits the band like a glove although I must admit it is a bit of a downwardly-mobile career move since his glory days in Annihilator....kidding, kidding...
Dream Theater is in this odd position of moving from being a 'failure' by the large-scale music industry standards (in terms of physical sales) to being this massive success story, again, by the large-scale music industry standards in terms of physical sales. A DRAMATIC TURN OF EVENTS had opening week sales of 36, 000 which made #8 (in the US, their homeland) on the Billboard charts.
Suddenly, the band is a Top 10 chart hit but it's the same 36, 000 fans, prog-dudes like you and me, who have bought the physical copies all along! In fact, the band sells fewer copies than the Atlantic years but because the scale that determines success in the industry (aka sales) has changed, the perception is that the band is more popular than ever before! Perception becomes reality and the band is riding a high, despite the fact they have been sitting at the 36,000 zone for the past four albums, or roughly a decade.
What does all that mean about the album? Well, it's a Dream Theater album. Critics might say 'formula', and fans (like me) counter that criticism with 'signature style', but truth be told they haven't done anything radically different than the past several albums. This is album number 11 and very few bands (less than 1%) in the music industry ever make it that far, do they must be doing something right to please us, the core fan base who have been there since 'Pull Me Under' rocked our little worlds 20 years ago.
Back to the physical sales thing, the fans buy the real deal and the CD’s are always well done and A DRAMATIC TURN OF EVENTS is no exception. It has the aforementioned clever title, the familiar logo, and once again Hugh Syme gets the nod for the artwork the 3rd time in a row. Good lyrics and immaculate production by Petrucci, the 7th time in a row… all is well in the universe. No changes, no surprises. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.
Music…music…music…if you have read this far into this super, long-winded review I suppose I should talk about music. What could I possibly say about this album that hasn’t already been said in a more eloquent fashion by the dozens and dozens of great reviews on the internet written by fans for more knowledgeable and passionate than I? Not much. Hell, there are at least 18 reviews of this album on Metal-Archives alone! I like the song ‘Lost Not Forgotten’ the best, the album ends on a ballad, which annoys me. I feel that a band should always end on a high note and leave ‘em wanting more, which fundamentally goes against the prog mantra of ‘Less is not more. More is more.’ James voice is still great, the solos rip, the lyrics are deep, and the opening 1.5 minutes of ‘Bridges In The Sky’ are absolutely brilliant, the band experimenting with an orchestral, choral, soundtrack-ish thing that I would like to hear them do more of. The album has the fast song, the slow song, the show-off song and I’ll let you figure out which is which. The sticker on the front says, “Dream Theater return stronger than ever with their most powerful album yet…” that sums it up nicely, although I felt the same about every album, maybe since FALLING INTO INFINITY, back in 1997. This band is pretty much indestructible and I don’t think they have ever written a bad song.
What’s next for Dream Theater? Well if history repeats itself, the band will follow the lead of Rush and Iron Maiden (and their own pattern) and release some sort of Double Live CD/DVD set documenting the tour. Will I really need a 6th Double Live Dream Theater CD in my collection? Probably not. But I’ll buy it anyway.