CD REVIEW: Dream Theater – A Dramatic Turn Of Events

You remember the episode of Futurama when Professor Farnsworth genetically engineered a bunch of albino shouting gorillas to loudly proclaim his love for Mom from the rooftops?

Or that time on American Dad that Roger discovered Chocodiles? (“By the way, Hayley, oh my God, these Chocodiles, these Chocodiles, Hayley, oh my God, these Chocodiles, oh my God!”)

Or the time Homer Simpson tried the limited edition Ribwich and went all Requiem For A Dream on us?

That’s kinda how I feel about the new Dream Theater album.

This was never going to be an easy album for Dream Theater. Sure, they’ve endured member departures before (Charlie Dominici, Kevin Moore, Derek Sherinian), but nobody ever – ever – thought Mike Portnoy would leave the band. The appointment of Mike Mangini (Extreme, Steve Vai) to the drum chair met with the instant approval of the vast, vast majority of Dream Theater fans. Their approval was validated by the release of the track “On The Backs Of Angels” and a series of European live appearances over the last few months. But what of the full album? Well as you can guess from my aforementioned reaction, it’s something pretty special.

Imagine that the Dream Theater of Images & Words broke up right after that album came out, took a couple of decades off, then got back together with a few different members. That’s sort of what A Dramatic Turn Of Events sounds like. I say ‘sort of’ because there are also elements of other Dream Theater eras here – the warmth of Scenes From A Memory, the clear mix of Falling Into Infinity – but the sense of adventurousness, of kitchen-sinkedness, and of passion for musical experimentation is very much akin to that 1992 classic. Hell, there are even parts where Jordan Rudess’s keyboard sound and approach recall original member Kevin Moore’s work to an almost eerie degree. I’m not sure if that is by design or if it’s just that those sounds and parts were the best foil for the riffage, but either way, there it is. Meanwhile, John Petrucci’s guitar sounds big and warm, while John Myung’s bass is always very hearable. James LaBrie mostly holds back on the aggressive metal voice that characterised his work on albums like Awake and Train Of Thought and his brilliant Static Impulse solo album, and the vocal production features various doublings and effects used for texture and colour.

And then there’s Mangini.

Just like Mike Portnoy before him, Mike Mangini is the perfect drummer for Dream Theater – although unlike Portnoy, Mangini seems to fit into a slightly different corner of the groove compared to Portnoy. While his predecessor seemed to like playing behind the beat while orchestrating unique and very composition-y drum parts in their own right – Mangini’s playing is more tightly bound to the rest of the band. There are several points where you can hear him basically assign a different instrument to each limb, then play a part that accentuates each of them in a different way. It’s intriguing because there are times where his playing blends in so well that it doesn’t draw attention to itself, but when you do zero in on it, you discover some pretty incredible stuff going on .

The material here is generally more hooky than the material of the last decade or so. Whereas recent albums have leaned towards more metal, A Dramatic Turn Of Events holds back on the aggression until it’s absolutely called for. In its place is more keyboard orchestration, more melody, more intricacy and more lightness. The first track released, “On The Backs Of Angels,” is indicative of only part of the album’s personality. It doesn’t hint at the melodicism of “Build Me Up, Break Me Down” or the all-out progressive tour de force of “Lost, Not Forgotten” or “Outcry.” It doesn’t clue you in to the huge “Bridges In The Sky” chorus – an album highlight which was cleverly left off the short preview of the song released recently. Nor does it give away the dynamics of “Breaking All Illusions,” where Dream Theater brings it right down in a similar but deeper manner to “Trial Of Tears” from Falling Into Infinity.

There were many ways Dream Theater could have gone with this album. Their more metal-based direction of the past decade could have carried them through another album, but A Dramatic Turn Of Events really feels like the right choice. Dream Theater is a progressive rock band again, who use elements of many different musical styles – including metal – in getting their point across. Petrucci and particularly Rudess sound more at home and perhaps more fulfilled creatively on this material than they have in a long, long time. And the fans are gonna love it.

A Dramatic Turn Of Events is released on September 9 in Australia and September 13 in the US, via Roadrunner. Read my interview with John Petrucci here.

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12 Replies to “CD REVIEW: Dream Theater – A Dramatic Turn Of Events”

  1. this by far is the best review i’ve read, coming from a musician. other reviews are just crap, saying that this CD is boring. Well, sorry for them but i think they can’t comprehend the brutal musicality of the album. Dramatic Turn is the best album DT has ever produced. I liked how you said that they jump from IMAGES and WORDS and warp to this album, coz frankly speaking, OCTAVARIUM and TRAIN OF THOUGHTS are the worst of their albums. I have to ask forgiveness for my ignorance though, after Portnoy departed I told myself that DT will die, but damn, i forgot about Mike Mangini. I was a fan of him since his Vai days. Now, DT is very much alive, but i’m more excited with their next album with Mangini’s input, now, that would be mind blowing.

  2. Thanks for the great review. I was able to “get my hands” on the entire album about 10 days ago and have given it at least 10 listens through in various ways, car, headphones etc. I have to say I do believe this is the best PROGRESSIVE album they have put out since Scenes. It’s a great mix of of Images and Scenes. Mangini’s presence is a different color in the scene but an incredible one. He is understated in that he assists in making the band sound like on HUGE instrument as opposed to Dream Theater featuring the ego maniac Portnoy hogging up the keyboard and bass space. Sorry…just my opinion…I could be wrong. Plus, no more songs about 12 steps and personal BS with Portnoy gone. I wish him the best but he chose this move and we ALL live and die by the decision that we make. All the elements that made me fall in love with this band are back. The releases for about the last 10 years were spotty for me. Shredscapes, burying the bass and keyboards in the mix have been the norm for far too long with DT. They are a band after their true fans hearts with this one. Thanks guys! Welcome back!

  3. yes, based on the band’s members individual interview, especially James, he said that they are now back being AS A BAND. This is the DT that we all want, a well balanced album, with songs that could blow your mind and songs that could make you relax and reflex.

  4. I agree with your review. Honest, yet realistic. Noone ever dreamed the Mike Portnoy will even think of leaving DT. The day came and we all were sad. But hope lived on and another Mike was brought home, and gave us a great album and a great music-in which Drums isn’t the only focus!
    The days of MP are over and DT are finally free! Everyone who watches behind the scenes knew that MP was controlling in a non-democratic way. For god’s sakes he sang! A singing drummer! Come on!
    Anyway, this album is a 10 out of 10. You want slow, you got it, you want melodies, you got it, you want soul-music you got it all.

  5. Great review, and the one that I was hoping this album would garner! Due to as much *my* musical changes as the direction DT decided to go on from “Train Of Thought” and beyond (no, I’m not a fan of them doing a “Classic Metal” album, heading in a Roadrunner-esque “Muse Metal” for the last two, and Portnoy’s “vocals”. Double on the last one ;) both my Better-Half and myself moved from what was our favorite band, EVAR! (We met in MP’s Forum 12 years ago – yup, *that* couple – and I have Majesty Ink for crying out loud.) This wasn’t an easy or wanted decision, but we simply found ourselves with less and less in common musically with the band that had been so huge in our lives both singularly and as a couple and generally moved onto bands that we found more interest in (Opeth for her, Mike Keneally/Bryan Beller for me & Porcupine Tree for both) but hoped for the day that whatever forces in the band that were leading them farther & farther down would change. Thankfully it appears as if that has finally has happened – the first single was a GOOD slap in the face, the videos of Mangini’s live playing in Europe were stunning, and now reviews like yours are coming out.

    …now just keep reviewing more Basses, and you’ll have an everyday reader! :D

  6. Hey, thanks a lot! I’ve got an Opeth interview coming up soon, by the way.
    Oh and there are more bass reviews coming soon, as well as reviews of some cool bass amps by Ampeg, Hartke and MarkBass. :)

  7. I like the way you linked this album to IAW in a very positive way.
    The production and the songs themselves are really easy to get into, but then again I’m an experienced DT listener after being a fan for almost 22 years.
    Great review!

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