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Review: Dream Theater - Black Clouds and Silver Linings
Dream Theater
Black Clouds and Silver Linings

Label: Roadrunner Records
Year released: 2009
Duration: 75:22
Tracks: 6
Genre: Progressive Metal

Rating: 4/5

Review online: September 13, 2009
Reviewed by: MetalMike
Readers Rating
Black Clouds and Silver Linings

Rated 3.8/5 (76.05%) (81 Votes)

Color me surprised. I thought I knew all about Dream Theater, having been around when the debut, When Dream and Day Unite, was released back in 1989. They were (and are) the epitome of Progressive Metal with all the funky chord progressions and jarring time changes that implies. Every Progressive Metal band since has had to deal with the inevitable comparison to DT. And on top of that, I believed them to be boring. All that complexity made them snobs, writing songs that required an undergraduate degree in musical theory just to understand. Nothing they'd released, from the debut on, had resonated with me in any way. Even seeing them live, where I could see the immense talent of the individuals, did nothing to sway me to their cause.

And then I heard Black Clouds and Silver Linings. I don't know what inspired me to pick it up, but I couldn't be more thankful that I did. This album is so much better than I expected (or hoped). The guitar of John Petrucci swings like a pendulum between heavy and aggressive and simple and melodic. His lead work is sublime, never overshadowing the rest of the song. I'm reminded of Thomas Youngblood's work on Kamelot's The Black Halo. Singer James LaBrie employs harsher vocals that offset his normal clean style in a way that emphasizes the emotional aspects of the songs. The rest of the band is made up of expert musicians, capped by drummer Mike Portnoy. If you've never seen the man play, you owe it to yourself to do so. No human being should be able to play like he does. Who knows maybe he went down to the crossroads like Robert Johnson, and made his own deal with the devil?

Now you might wonder why, after all the praise I've heaped on Black Clouds and Silver Linings thus far, I've only given it 4 out of 5. From an emotional standpoint, the album is a wild roller coaster ride. From the aftermath of an automobile accident on "A Nightmare to Remember" to bittersweet reminiscences of the life of Portnoy's late father on "The Best of Times" you get strapped in and you aren't allowed off until the songs are over. "The Best of Times" also features a guitar riff that could have come directly from Rush's Permanent Waves album. All the performances are tight and the production shines like a polished gem. There are, however, a couple of songs that didn't work for me. "A Rite of Passage" is an OK story of Freemasonry, but the song is seriously derailed by a calliope-organ-on-crack keyboard solo. "Wither," the shortest song on the album, sounds like an attempt at mainstream radio, and it falls flat. The rest of the songs range from 8 minutes to a whopping 19 minutes ("The Count of Tuscany") and that means you need to dedicate a solid chunk of time to wrap your head around them.

I was completely and pleasantly surprised by Black Clouds and Silver Linings. It is a surprisingly easy listen while at the same time retaining the intricate songwriting expected of Dream Theater. I am sure this album will divide fans as have many of DT's past releases with some praising a new masterpiece and others lamenting a glorious past that gets further away with each new release. I am firmly in the former camp and highly recommend Black Clouds and Silver Linings.

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