I’m going to say this now- if you’ve never been a fan of Dream Theater then this latest offering, a self-titled album, (affectionately referred to as DT12 by fans) probably won’t convert you. However, if you are a fan, chances are that you will appreciate this album.
The album opens with False Awakening Suite, a sweeping instrumental that sets the album’s tone. Despite being the shortest song of the album, it’s one of the strongest; more recent Dream Theater albums have been criticised for being long for the sake of long. Thankfully, this opening seems to put this criticism to rest.
The first single of the album, The Enemy Inside, covers the ever cheerful subject of post-traumatic stress disorder. The chorus and verses are incredibly catchy, and will translate well to a concert setting. I personally feel that James LaBrie’s vocals are more suited to softer tracks, however he pulls off the heavy style without losing any of the emotion required for such a sensitive subject. The real highlight of this song is the instrumental section, which provides the chaotic changes in timing, sound and tone that Dream Theater are known for.
The Looking Glass is reminiscent of their earlier works, which in turn, is reminiscent of classic prog bands such as Rush. Despite the catchy opening riff, repeated throughout the song, it remains sadly forgettable. The vocals are mixed very low, but this gives the bassist, John Myung, a chance to shine, a rare occurrence in their more recent albums.
The Enigma Machine picks up where The Looking Glass left off, with an eerie set of keys before launching into one of the best instrumentals of their career. Flipping between steady riffs, soaring keys, and magnificent playing by drumming legend Mike Mangini, this is a song that fails to disappoint.
The Bigger Picture gives keyboardist Jordan Rudess a chance to shine with a beautiful piano section once you pass the heavy opening. However, this beautiful acoustic moment jarringly flips back to the heavy tone set by the previous songs. Soft instrumentals give way to heavier moments throughout the song- Now this may sound chaotic, but this is par of the course for the band.
Behind the Veil probably has one of the best openings of any song on the album, soft, unnerving, and well paced. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the rest of the song. The heavy, albeit impressive riffs of John Petrucci just don’t live up to the eerie tone set by the song’s first minute. It tries, but the forced vocals of the heavy sections and overall uninspired composition leave something to be desired.
Surrender to Reason is a song that features sections that are simply sublime, only to be let down again. There are some wonderful acoustic moments, some magnificent vocal highlights, and the solo isn’t half bad either. However, some of the choral effects employed are nothing if not off putting, and as a whole it feels quite tacked together.
Along for the Ride is one of the most ‘ballady’ songs on the album, emulating one of the best songs from the previous album. However, where said song was successful, this one fails. Seemingly copying it right down to the what appears to be iPad solo, this was one of the most disappointing songs on the album.
The final track, Illumination Theory is this album’s so-called epic. Sadly, however, it seems like a misguided jumble of excellent ideas for better, shorter songs. This completely negates the work of the album’s opener in dispelling the criticism of ‘long for the sake of being long’. My favourite moment of the song hits at about 7 minutes in, a gentle transition into one of the most beautiful orchestral pieces I have heard a progressive based band put out in a long time. Sadly, it just doesn’t fit with the rest of the song, seemingly thrown in to merely add length.
Overall, this isn’t Dream Theater’s best offering, however, if you’re a fan of the band you can look at it in a different light. Each song has sections that seem to reference a different moment in their career, emulating the vibes of every album to date. I can understand why they chose this album, the 12th of their career, to be self titled. This is an album for the fans, not for newcomers.
by Alice Bell