When Dream Theater announced that their new album would be self-titled, and revealed the album art as nothing more than a solitary image of their symbol in what is a rather bland cover, fears that the creativity had gone from the engine room looked to be more than just rumours.
However, it isn’t all doom and gloom, at least not yet. Their last album, 2011’s A Dramatic Turn of Events saw Mike Mangini debut behind the vast DT drum kit in the big big shoes of Mike Portnoy: the band’s organisational heart and soul, lyricist, producer, leader and founding member. The quality on …Turn of Events was noticeably weaker and so now with Mangini contributing his first songwriter credits, have Dream Theater moved on from that troubled past?
The answer to that is yes. It is mercifully much better than their previous effort, and with The Enemy Inside the chorus hook has finally returned. As if knowing they had to turn the doubters, the songwriting of behemoth proportions they have spent 20 years building a career from is once again at its highest.
The elevating, upbeat swings of The Looking Glass could have come from their early ‘90s classic output on Images And Words, whilst The Enigma Machine is a rollicking instrumental boasting riffs and lead guitar lines so ball-busting it will have a new generation of young teenage guitar prodigies breaking their little fingers to reach for those ever-distant arpeggios.
But it’s when the 22 minute closing suite that is Illumination Theory kicks in that you remember why Dream Theater made it so big in the first place. Guitarist John Petrucci and Keyboardist Jordan Rudess are most definitely the powerhouse duo behind the songwriting now, moving from the unsettling dissonance of proto-gothic orchestral flourishes to the jaw-breaking guitars that bear down upon you like an apocalyptic avalanche, no stone is left unturned if you’ll pardon the pun.
Dream Theater is a good record. It by no means reaches the lofty heights of Scenes From A Memory, their classic album from 1999, but then the band only cracked the big time in 2007, a lengthy 8 years after their creative peak. For prog fans who love the virtuosity, the variety of styles, James LaBrie’s uplifting vocals, Petrucci’s guitar wizardry, Rudess’ otherworldly synths and a developed sense of songwriting and musicianship it will feel like they never made a bad album. And that is perhaps the most important thing any Dream Theater fan wants to feel these days…