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Dream Theater


Reviewed by : David Perri
Rating : 8.0

Though fan friendly in ways that most bands probably couldn't conceive of, musically speaking DREAM THEATER hasn't exactly been synonymous with the words 'humble' or 'humility' over the course of its career. OK, yes, let's admit that the exaggerated-ness of the entire Dream Theater endeavor is in large part due to the band's chosen form: prog is about showing everyone that you're a better and more inhuman musician than anyone else, and embedded in that excess is no doubt the holistic and overwhelming insecurity that fuels the entire look-at-me-and-the-time-signatures-I-can-play-in ethos. But that's another conversation for another time.

In 2013, Dream Theater has seemingly stepped out of its ivory tower (an ivory tower no doubt complete with libraries featuring the collected works of AYN RAND) and has, literally, looked around its environs and taken stock of what's happening at the stakeholder and grassroots level. And, hey, Dream Theater has found that it's inspired a legion of prog bands, except this time prog means the sleeve tattoos and stretched earlobes of early 20-somethings, an improbable demographic that has wholly embraced the djent of PERIPHERY (via MESHUGGAH, of course) and the downtuned overzealousness of BORN OF OSIRIS. Lest you think that this scribe is off in some dream (no pun) world making wild connections where none actually exist, witness John Petrucci admitting that the aforementioned Periphery and the skinny-jeans sporting musos in ANIMALS AS LEADERS inspired some of the writing of this latest, self-titled Dream Theater record. And while it's commendable that Petrucci has acknowledged the work of the kids he inspired so heavily, it's also strange and quite surreal to have a leader find inspiration in his flock: throughout entire sections of this new Dream Theater LP, one gets the sense that the old guys are trying to fit in with the stretched ear brigade (witness first single 'The Enemy Inside'). That said, Dream Theater hasn't abandoned its identity and sense of self, and this record is by no means a mid-life crisis: Petrucci and his troops still rightfully dabble in Moving Pictures RUSH-isms during 'The Looking Glass' and this album both begins and ends with four part suites that are sure to get any true prog fans salivating in sync to anything but 4/4. Also impressive here is the fact that James Labrie turns in the most restrained performance of Dream Theater's catalogue and, in that vein, much of the heaviness and darkness of Train Of Thought seems to have reappeared, though not with the same venom and edge that made that record so renowned. Notable as well is the fact that Jordan Rudess' keys unbelievably have a symphonic black metal (!) flavour for much of this album, though the circus-style solos continue to unfortunately make their wildly inappropriate appearances here, much to everyone with a set of ears' chagrin.

Two decades later it's clear that Dream Theater will never write another record with the visceral effectiveness, personal tribulation and authenticity of Awake, but 2013 has surprisingly been graced with a Dream Theater album that is self-assured enough to pay tribute to a new generation of progressive bands while also retaining what has made Petrucci/Labrie/Myung/Rudess/Mangini unique and successful in both creative and financial terms. Now two records in without popular ex-leader Mike Portnoy and Dream Theater has conceived and recorded what is probably its best album of the last decade; one can only imagine the flair and panache that will result from the inevitable reunion in a few years.