It’s been almost impossible to avoid hearing about Dream Theater this past year if you’ve been exposed to metal in any way. The news of founding member and drummer Mike Portnoy’s departure from the band was one of the bigger pieces of news for the genre in 2010, leaving many of the band’s diehard fans wondering what would happen next. Well, after a slew of obnoxious updates from the band’s lawyer and hours of unnecessary and self-indulgent tryout videos, the prog-metal titans picked Mike Mangini (of Steve Vai and Annihilator fame). Quite the dramatic turn of events indeed. If only the band’s eleventh full-length could live up to its name.
A Dramatic Turn of Events, while being touted as a progressive metal album, does very little to truly progress Dream Theater’s well-established sound. While at a first glance the album certainly doesn’t sound like their previous release, Black Clouds and Silver Linings, it’s hard to find any ideas in the album’s eighty minutes that are truly new or groundbreaking. John Petrucci and Jordan Rudess continue to solo and duel like there’s no tomorrow, John Myung continues to lay in the cut far more than he should, and James LaBrie continues to be the poor man’s Russell Allen. The album’s opener, “On the Backs of Angels” is certainly one of the best Dream Theater songs I’ve heard in some time. It’s only hindered by the fact that it’s too similar to the Rush-meets-Maiden sound established on the band’s 1999 magnum opus, Scenes from a Memory. Listeners will also be reintroduced to the chuggier riffs of Train of Thought in tracks like “Build Me Up, Break Me Down” and “Bridges in the Sky”. A Dramatic Turn of Events seems much more restrained than on more recent Dream Theater outings, but there’s just too much re-hashing of decade-old ideas that only the most loyal of fans should be able to differentiate from. The only moment I was genuinely surprised by a new idea is during the intro of "Bridges in the Sky". Any listener should be instantly surprised by what appears to be a vocal cross between Tuvan throat singing and Andre the Giant taking a shit.
Dream Theater fans worldwide have surely been waiting to see how Mike Mangini would fill the massive shoes (or gratuitously large drum set) that Mike Portnoy left. While I’ve always been a fan of Mangini’s drumming and exuberant playing style, there’s a lot left to be desired here. While there’s your typical mile-long-tom fills and time-signature intensive arrangements, very little of it really sticks out. Mangini delivers a damn solid pocket performance, but little more. I never thought I’d live to see the day where I wanted a member of Dream Theater to play out more, but there’s a first time for everything. Instead of a more balanced performance from all five band members, we’re left with The Petrucci and Rudess Show (which I guess makes sense, considering the majority of the album was their material). Things can get downright absurd and wanky in tracks like “Outcry” and “Lost Not Forgotten”. Seriously, it makes The Devin Townsend Project’s “Deconstruction” almost sound reasonable. While the album does try to balance the technicality with more accessible and traditional songs like “Far From Heaven” and “Beneath the Surface”, it ends up only making things worse. A Dramatic Turn of Events boasts a whopping three ballads, none of which are particularly appealing unless you’re really, really into Journey cover bands.
In conclusion, Dream Theater is still a band. Nothing more, nothing less. Those who care about them will continue to care, while haters will most certainly continue to hate. I personally find myself right in-between. While A Dramatic Turn of Events is entertaining for its first few listens, only “On the Backs of Angels” seems like it can take its place as a staple in the band’s setlist. The album just needs a serious trimming of fat, as eighty minutes of Dream Theater is more than anyone needs. Don’t judge an album by its title. The dramatic turn of events happened to Dream Theater over a year ago.
Rating – 5.5/10