’s “Black Clouds
Linings” is comprised of three CDs. This review covers CD number one.
As with all things Dream Theater
, what makes them great can sometimes also be their greatest fault. A great analogy of this point would be stand up comedian Dennis Miller. No one questions his intelligence or his ability to write a joke, but if a joke is too smartly written the audience won’t get it and thus the joke won’t work. The solution, therefore, is not so much to dumb down the material but to choose a reference the audience can understand and relate to. Instead of Confucius, try Yoda, see? Dream Theater
is without question masters at what they do, and no one questions that, but at their worst they have been guilty of playing over the heads of their audience before. Only when they pull back their complex nature will their audience fully appreciate their creation, and with their 2009 release “Black Clouds
Linings” they have done just that.
Of the six songs, four of them are double digit minutes long with a fifth song clocking in at over eight. As protracted as they are, though, the songs feel shorter and the two main reasons for this is 1) the reduced number of movements within each piece and 2) the simplification of the main and secondary themes within each movement. What that means by Dream Theater
’s definition of simple is that of those said themes they are longer, repetitive, pronounced, and dominant. “A Rite
of Passage”, the eight minute song, greatly illustrates this with only two main riffs – one for the verses and one for the chorus, and the order of which they are played is straightforward and traditional with an ABABACAB format (the C being the solo section) – so simple, and yet so highly effective and memorable. “A Night
to Remember” is over sixteen minutes long but with only four movements. “The Count of Tuscany”, the opus of the album at more than nineteen minutes, has also only four movements. Only “Wither
” has one movement, and at less than six minutes, that could be the single of the album!
By no means is it to say that the band’s masterful playing skills are hidden or diminished here. The stratospheric heights of lead guitarist John Petrucci
’s virtuosity are very much prevalent, but it’s contained in the solo and instrumental sections of the compositions. The solo from the third movement in “A Night
to Remember” is simply sick with virtually every kind of technical skill making a proud showing. Keyboardist Jordan Rudess
is just as impressive especially with his solo additions mimicking the electric guitar as his main synthesizer sound. As for drummer Mike Portnoy, his best work may be found on “The Best of Times” – an emotional piece both happy and said with a well defined, long noted main theme that doubles as a backdrop so that his playing is the featured part.
The overall sound of the album also follows under the same central philosophy. “Black Clouds
Linings” is a litany of heavy rhythms. It’s less progressive and more metal. With the exception of the balladesque “Wither
” all of the songs are anchored with heavy guitar lines (rhythm and bass) that both stay longer and carry the tune without multi track accompaniments. Again
, this falls under the same scaling back principle of not having every sound all the time and being complex for complexity sake. Only “The Best of Times” has a violin. The piano is only used twice (“A Nightmare
to Remember” and “The Best of Times”). Even the opus “The Count of Tuscany” with its many parts, variations, and theme changes will only slightly use acoustic guitar, mystical keys, and yes -chimes.
Perhaps the only other noteworthy aspect of “Black Clouds
Linings” worth mentioning is the vocals. There appears on a couple of songs some lines sung with a coarse, throaty style so different from lead singer James LaBrie
’s typical pitch that it may be possible it’s from another vocalist. Whether or not those lines are sung by someone else isn’t really important but what is, though, is the result. It’s an added dimension that yields a most positive result.
is arguably the greatest progressive metal band ever but that doesn’t always guarantee a great album every time they put one out. As with all art, a connection must be made with the audience first before it’s place can be ascertained. With “Black Clouds
Linings” Dream Theater
has made a very accessible record. Because of that, their genius is very easily recognized and as a result it is a masterpiece and one of the very best metal albums to come out in 2009.