Drummer Mike Mangini was in the band for 2011‘s A Dramatic Turn Of Events, but this is the first album where he’s been involved in the process from the beginning. Instead of interpreting drum parts that were already written, he participated in the compositions. In addition, I’m sure he felt more comfortable in the studio this time around, and his performance on the album is top-notch.
Like on any Dream Theater album, you know you’re going to get complex arrangements, extended instrumental breaks and flawless musicianship. On tracks like the first single “The Enemy Inside,” they deliver that along with catchy hooks and memorable melodies. The whole album is much more streamlined than their previous release, which had five songs clocking in a more than 8 minutes. Dream Theater has one, and it’s a doozy, which we’ll get to in a minute.
The band made an interesting choice by including two instrumentals in the first four songs. The opener “False Awakening Suite” is fairly brief, but they really get their prog on with “Enigma Machine,” which has a lot of great guitar work from John Petrucci and a spiffy bass run or two from John Myung. Dream Theater’s instrumentals are anything but filler, which is why this placement doesn’t break the album’s momentum.
James LaBrie’s vocal performance is strong throughout, but he really shines on “The Bigger Picture.” He shows a wide variety of textures and emotions, from quiet and subtle to full-on belting it out.
There are cinematic elements all over the album, but “Behind The Veil” with its two plus minute intro and heart-tugging chorus, is especially so. The crunchy guitars and atmospheric strings blend well, a testament to Petrucci’s painstaking production skills.
The album wraps up with the massive “Illumination Theory,” a five part opus that clocks in at over 22 minutes. It’s an ambitious song, but it has so many ebbs and flows and shifts that it rarely drags before coming to an understated end.
At this point of their career, Dream Theater aren’t making any drastic changes to their sound and there aren’t any big surprises, but their execution is flawless. I really enjoyed Dream Theater, and fans of the band should, too. It’s challenging and interesting, but also memorable and accessible.
(released September 24, 2013 on Roadrunner Records)