July 2, 2009

Album Review: Dream Theater's Black Clouds and Silver Linings

First and foremost, I must tell you that Dream Theater is my all-time favorite band. I've been a fan of theirs for about fifteen years now. They have released ten studio albums, only one of which I did not like (and neither did the band. They recorded it because their label wanted them to make a hit record, and the band almost broke up because of it. But they told the label that from then on they wanted complete control over their music, and the label agreed). Four of their albums I would give a rating of ten: 1992's Images and Words, 1999's Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From a Memory, and 2007's Systematic Chaos, which topped my list of the best albums of 2007. Those of you who can count are probably confused by now. Hang on, I'm getting to it...

This year sees the release of DT's tenth studio album, Black Clouds and Silver Linings. The band has been good long before this album, but there's something different this time around. There's a richness and complexity to the music that make this album Dream Theater's best.

The song list is short: only six songs. But they make the most of it. The album is 75 minutes long, with the shortest song ("Whither") being 5:25, and the longest ("The Count of Tuscany") being 19:16. The only other song less than ten minutes long ("A Rite of Passage") clocks in at just under nine minutes. Not to say these songs are boring. Not at all. Dream Theater is adept at writing epics (the song "Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence," from the album of the same name, is 42 minutes, but broken up into eight parts), and the four on this album constitute some of their best songs.

DT has always been one of the most talented bands ever. The individual musicianship is amazing. But on this album they step up their game, with one exception. Jordan Rudess, the band's third keyboard player, kind of stays in the shadows. Instead of the keyboard solos you would find on other albums, he sets the mood for the songs. It works well. John Myung and his awesome bass playing are also in top form. Mike Portnoy, possibly the greatest drummer to ever play, sounds better than he ever has. In my opinion, John Petrucci is the greatest living guitar player. So when I say he sounds better in the song "The Best of Times" than he ever has, you know where I'm coming from. The one exception is singer James LaBrie. He seems to have lost the upper range to his vocals. This isn't unexpected, as most singers do as they get older. He's still one of the best singers in heavy metal, but he's not as good as he once was.

As mentioned, the last Dream Theater album topped my list of best albums for that year. I can't imagine an album knocking this one off the number one spot.

Ranking: 10/10

Watch the video for the first single, "A Rite of Passage"

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