15 March 2014

Dream Theater - A Dramatic Turn Of Events


This has been billed as one of Dream Theater's not so well received albums, the average mark that this East Coast band by their lofty standards hadn't received since their pre-James LaBrie days. In truth, reviewers like Popmatters weren't too kind, saying that "A couple of strong songs does not an album make." On the flip side of the coin, Rock Sins thought it " A enormously positive start for Dream Theater in the post Portnoy era." Speaking of which, A Dramatic Turn Of Events would also be their first without one of the finest and most blessed gifted drummers in Mike Portnoy, having recently left citing exhaustion and various side projects. Actually, my gut instinct is that he had pinned his hopes on becoming the new permanent batonista for Avenged Sevenfold, and when it didn't work out, he decided to return to The 'Theater, only to find that his seat had already been filled in by the equally dexterous and energetic Mike Mangini.

Even so, Portnoy's departure from the group wasn't easy for them, having been a founder member back in the mid 1980s, Jordan Rudess the keyboard player admitted that he was genuinely upset and having viewed him as family for over ten years. Nevertheless, with a handful of riffs and demos to hand, John Petrucci, multi-talented shredder and chief songwriter, brought together a number of tunes with recorded drum machine backups to set the foundations for this album. The sleeve is also a noteworthy item, with a circus act on a unicycle balancing on a dangerously fraying tightrope above the clouds with the band logo emblazoned on an airliner's tailfin. The artwork is credited to a one Hugh Syme, a Canadian who's etched album covers right across the musical spectrum. A couple of examples include Iron Maiden's The X - Factor, and Rush's offering, Clockwork Angels.

The general theme of this record is focused on social and political observations at the time, the Arab Spring Riots in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt for example, and it's certainly suggesting that in Build Me Up, Break Me Down. The Petrucci riffwork sounds very original, and Rudess's keyboards sound do play a good co-starring role, however the drum machines are a tad heavily used and Mangini doesn't play too big a role as a result, save for the once all out assault on his toms. Still, it's an enjoyable tune, not too spectacular but agreeable. And my first impression is that vocalist James LaBrie is underemployed in it along with opening track On The Backs Of Angel, which has a whiff of Deep Purple about it. The intensity of the music collectively hasn't so far reached me yet. Thankfully, the balance is redressed before too long with Lost Not Forgotten, interesting guitars here, they're almost machine gunning the streets, and the stickwork from Mangini is too finding its stride now. Interesting to hear Rudess's oddly Rick Wakeman styled tinkling of the ivories however but its pace belies the ten minute track. It feels half as long given its numerous jumps from one bridge to another.


This Is The Life is more geared towards LaBrie on this occasion, with its David Gilmour-esque easy played fret work although the lyrics are a little flat. Don't get me wrong, Petrucci IS a proficient lyricist but not one of his stronger showings, at least if you're a fan of Floyd's Wish You Were Here, then you're bound to love this. Next track up, it's Bridges In The Sky, first couple of minutes it has an ecclesiastical boy choir tying some notes with what sounds like a deep croaking toad stuck in a 'B' note! Sounds like The Muppets' saxophonist Zoot gone for the lowest key possible. It's not around for long as I really can't get my head round the thinking but very entertaining constant switches in the beat by the same token, and it's starting to get to get more metal-based and more true to form. Somewhere in the track, there's some Jon Lord type Hammond too in the breaks and as a whole, The 'Theater have an interesting song building methodology.

Now, onto Outcry, which is more rocky than the usual metal Theater fans are accustomed to, and heavily reliant on the odd electronic snippet or two in the first half of the song. It feels possibly the most lightweight song of the album, but then comes a twist. The duelling of strings v. keys start a somewhat melodic riot musically, ably supported by deft drumming which lasts a good deal of the eleven minute track. Getting away from these epic lengthy narratives now with Far From Heaven, with just piano and LaBrie opening his soul. But forgettable and I'm afraid disappointing. Thankfully, Prog Rock order is restored with the Yes inspiring Breaking All Illusions, yet another lengthy number but strangely addictive with a flurry of spoken quotes from Lebanese and possibly enlightened poet Khalil Gibran. Final track is Beneath The Surface, back to the LaBrie/classical strings arrangement and a better showing than Far From Heaven.

For the majority of Progressive Metal fans, I have an inclining that they'll not be too enamoured by the premise that it's not a heavyweight, and maybe it was written on a whim during the personnel changes. And a couple of tracks I admit I'm not endeared with them, they really needed a bit more bite and certainly more sharpening of the edges. I was also expecting a bit more vocal input from LaBrie although he plays a bigger part in their live performances. Ok, so their normally high standards had slipped a touch, but if this was ever Dream Theater's worst ever showing, it's not to say we should ever overlook this album A Dramatic Turn Of Events. It's still a decently concerted effort given the upheavals they undertook. As the slightly adjusted saying goes, "Adopt, adapt and improve..."

7 out of ten. This is good and well worth a check.
Best Track : Bridges In The Sky

Buy A Dramatic Turn Of Events here on Amazon
Listen to the album here on Spotify
There's also a link here on Deezer
Follow Dream Theater's activities here on their Official Website

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