Given their somewhat turbulent recent history, the continued productivity and enduring creative peaks which Dream Theater consistently scale is a laudable joy. With life sans drummer extraordinaire Mike Portnoy as artistically fertile and prolific as any period since the band’s inception nearly thirty years ago, this self-titled effort, the twelfth in their catalogue, gives rise to the notion that these progressive titans have more than enough left in the tank to outstrip the up-and-comers snapping at their heels. Perhaps not a little down to the fact that Dream Theater seem to have aped some influence from the minors.
Opening with the instrumental flurry that is ‘False Awakening Suite’, it may seem business as usual as some overwrought keyboardisms and metallic crunch beckon, yet the reality here is a streamlined and concise Dream Theater, honing their craft for a, whilst not exactly punchy, cogent set of nine flawlessly executed tracks.
Indeed, from the modern technical intensity of ‘The Enemy Inside’, ‘The Looking Glass’‘s Rush-esque melodic bounce and the towering balladry of ‘The Bigger Picture’, it’s difficult to see where long time devotees could not be taken in by ‘Dream Theater’‘s odyssey through every facet of the band’s past. There’s an en vogue weightiness here, a certain heft to John Petrucci‘s six string refrains, which calls to mind some of the more dexterous state of the art metallers, yet it’s encapsulated seamlessly into the ever present tuneless that the band retain at their core.
Twenty two minute closer, ‘Illumination Theory’, is undeniably the jewel in the crown here. Split into five separate suites (in a very Dream Theater move), the track is a thunderous lesson in dynamics, shifting from lofty guitar leads, imperial soundscapes and muscular rhythmic violence, all the while underpinned by some utterly colossal vocal hooks. It’s thrilling across the board, and what’s most impressive here is how the New York quintet can remain wholly engaging over such a spell of time with their master of all trades approach.
This self-titled effort will certainly not be converting any progressive cynics, yet nor does it need to. Dream Theater have proved time and again that they’re able to haul in legions of new fanatics with not just prodigious musicianship, but a constant eye on current trends and fresh influences. With the ideas well seemingly still brimming over, remaining on top of their game doesn’t look too strenuous for these deserving veterans.
Written by Tony Bliss