Posted by: Rites of Patches | June 16, 2009

Metal Reviews by Patches: DREAM THEATER – Black Clouds & Silver Linings

Black Clouds & Silver Linings
is progressive metal band Dream Theater’s newest entry and follow-up to their solid, but uninspiring Systematic Chaos. Although DT’s 10th studio album won’t be released until June 23rd, the songs are currently floating around in enough places (youtube, etc.) for one and all to get a 128 kbps sneak preview.

Whether you think progressive metal is the intellectual pinnacle of music or elitist pretentious garbage, it is difficult to deny Dream Theater their rightful place at the top of the prog-metal mountain. If you are one of the former, you have hit the jackpot. If you are one of the latter, fuck you. No, seriously, I don’t like you. Anyway…

In 2007, Dream Theater released their 9th studio album, Systematic Chaos. I’ve enjoyed Dream Theater’s music since an friend (and by friend I mean d-bag at whose house I was hanging out) introduced me to Scenes from a Memory. Systematic Chaos wasn’t bad by any means. It was technically precise with sweeping time signature shifts and dynamic arrangements, but it felt like an album of Dream Theater filler; still excellent, but less than I expected from the band that defines a genre.

In Black Clouds & Silver Linings, Dream Theater adds to their catalog of technically expert, workmanlike songs. They’re not going to add any new fans with this album, but fans of progressive metal will find nothing to complain about, unless that’s what they do for fun. The internet is filled with those people. (Whistles loudly and looks around)

Without going into a massive, song by song review, I found nearly every track on the album to be above average, even by Dream Theater’s standards. The album kicks off with “A Nightmare to Remember.” Only Dream Theater would start an album with a 16 minute opus, but the song never drags, ebbing and flowing with meaty guitar riffs, blazing solos, and haunting melodies all the way up to the climatic blast beats from Mike Portnoy at the end of the song.

This is followed up by the 8 ½ minute “A Rite of Passage,” which was pared down three minutes to become the first single from the album. The song feels huge, imbued with plenty of bombast, harmonized refrains, and a killer guitar solo from Mike Petrucci. The assault is halted for a moment to deliver “Whither,” a cute little ballad reminiscent of “Vacant” from Train of Thought. “The Shattered Fortress” follows, concluding Portnoy’s epic, hour-long Twelve-Step Suite that began on Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence. “Fortress” again revisits and reinvents motifs, riffs, and themes from “The Glass Prison,” “This Dying Soul,” and “The Root of All Evil,” this time injecting a wicked keyboard solo into the familiar riffing.

The final two songs are monsters. “The Best of Times” is probably the weakest track on the album, as well as the track which will make fans of Images and Words the most happy.  The lyrics, a tribute to Portnoy’s father, are straight from the heart, but from the heart of someone without the master lyricist’s touch. Or maybe I’ve just been spoiled by Hurt. Who knows? “The Count of Tuscany” is the closing track, effectively serving as a microcosm of the entire band. It’s a sweeping twenty-minute barnburner containing more time signature and tempo changes than most bands do in their career. The song is spectacular, opening with heavy riffs peppered by Jordan Rudess’ keyboard before falling into a David Gilmour-esque guitar interlude, culminating into a final flurry of guitar notes and soaring vocals from James LaBrie.

Hey, remember that time when I said “Without going into a massive, song by song review…?” Yeah, I lied. That’s how much I enjoyed this album. Although Black Clouds & Silver Linings clocks in at 75 minutes (SIX SONGS!), the album flows so well it seems like 30. The album is a perfect mixture of heavy and soft, progressive and accessible, light and dark. With solid lyrics, breathtaking technical precision, and epic arrangements, Black Clouds & Silver Linings is an early front-runner for album of the year and a must-listen for those who demand more than brain-dead power chords from their metal.


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