The new album Dream Theater released by year-end is very difficult to describe. Is it a puzzle, a homage or maybe a conceptual album with a consistent literary and musical thread? These three questions, of course, need an answer.
The story is the second part of the track "Metropolis part I" of their album "Images and words". This song is an excellent and classic Dream Theater emblematic piece of which certain fragments have been developed in "Scenes from a memory" to create a story that flows through the entire album: a man begins to have visions about the life of a girl. Determined to understand those visions, he discovers that the young girl was murdered in 1928 trapped in a love trio. Thanks to his search, he finds his own self and thinks that somebody else will live his life in the future, in the same way that he has lived that of the poor Victoria now resting in heaven.
Two things are clear. First, the group has changed and although their unique style, between hard and pyrotechnic, is maintained, its power has been diluted. No, they have not become softer, but rather the softest fragments enter now in an abrupt way. The responsible for this change is undoubtedly the new keyboard player, Jordan Rudess. In the track record of this experimented musician it is worth highlighting his presence in Dixie Dregs -pomp group a la Kansas - a project with Rod Morgenstein -also of D. Dregs- and his collaboration with Liquid Tensión Experiment parts 1 and 2. Here he interacts with the Theater people: Mike Portnoy and John Petrucci (drummer and guitarist respectively). The bald semi-god Tony Levin was also in this project.
Technically Rudess is an exceptional keyboard player although his compositions are too innocent, transparent, smoothed and soft we can not deny that when D.T. play heavy they are really so, and not Yes - to adjust perfectly to Dream Theater. He offers naive harmonies and his solos are quick but too linear, And somewhat forced and party-like (those trumpets...). Lastly, -sorry, Mr. Rudess-, the sequencers sound is too cold.
It is also worth highlighting that I find too many "homage's" to classic symphonic -and not so symphonic- groups. It is not difficult, in fact it is too easy, to recognizeKansas, Frank Zappa, U.K. (in the introduction of "The dance of eternity" we only find lacking an electric violin). They also remind of U2 ("Through her eyes") or Spin Doctors, and mainly of Pink Floyd. It seems that the album has sprouted from The Wall recently. This is the albums main defect:- Dream Theater plays at times in a masterful way, amidst orchestrations, whispers, dialogues and acoustic guitars a la "The final cut", spiced with kilograms of flavors from "The wall". Examples: "Fatal tragedy", "The spirit carries on", the ending fragment of "Finally free". As I have already explained, at times, during these long passages (the songs average on eight minutes each), the usual excellency of Dream Theater flourishes.
The pieces of this puzzle vary between overbearing sounds -as in "Fatal tragedy" in which Pink Floyd disguised as Judas Priest sustain the piece -; pure heavy metal -as the hard-core of "Beyond his life" (this song is an amazing mix of styles including acoustic sounds); ballads and lyrical fragments, as the vocal melodies of "One last time" and even some gospel ("Finally free").
The best: those long instrumental fragments of all kinds, speeds and colors that Dream Theater has always excelled at. Harmonies complicated with jazz tension, with complexity residing in an aggressive rhythm section that not only blows but also plays all kind of changes: syncopation, amalgams, polyrhythm, varied rhythmic accents, fusion type breaks, etc. The key feature of Dream Theater has always been that to follow the rhythm, either you need seven feet or to have well tuned ears or to know plenty of music (possibly also having a great patience).
The best track is "Home". 80% based on Frygyan harmonies - flamenco, Arab, Hindu music and of course heavy metal -, it is marvelous. The piece develops around an arabesque melody plenty of strength in which sitars and tables fit in, to which they add an adaptation and well laid out arrangement of melodies from the original "Metropolis". An exceptional introduction, instrumental development and conclusion. This is the Dream Theater I love.
The musicians play amazingly. More than ever, the leaders and at the same time producers, are Mike Portnoy and John Petrucci. Possibly they even take too much of a leading role. Sometimes, they hide John Myung's bass, and not so unfortunately, the keyboard of Rudess. James Labrie's voice is as always my point of disagreement with D.T. Not denying he sings well, he keeps showing an excess in his vocal registry that sometimes escapes from control. If he decided to sing clearly when bursting his diaphragm, we would be extremely grateful. In this album Labrie becomes quite of an actor and uses more feminine voices when playing the girls role, more aggressive at the time of the murder, etc. John Petrucci keeps his usual good taste, sound and virtuosity, nothing new. Finally, we should not forget the Michael Jordan of drummers. Ladies and gentlemen, Mike Portnoy is a beast, an animal of incredible quality and exacerbated virtuosity. Apparently his ego is almost as big as his instrumental quality but we do not care as long as he plays music as this one. Only an example: the ending fragment of "Finally free" is a disemboweling riff that repeats and repeats to create the appropriate scenario for Portnoy. If he made more atrocities with his drums he could generate energy enough to fuel a thermal power plant. What a drummer! What a right hand!. What did his mother feed him with?!
Dream Theater continues experiencing with its style even at the cost of changing keyboardists, and we hope they change this one soon. Seriously, Jordan Rudess has contributed little to a group that has aimed to publish a conceptual album. In between their heaviness they were already enough progressive and they didn't need this album to clarify it. Werent there still some sediments of their strong personality, we could say that this is album is not theirs. We will keep waiting.