DREAM THEATER — Black Clouds & Silver Linings (review)

DREAM THEATER — Black Clouds & Silver Linings album cover Album · 2009 · Progressive Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
4.5/5 ·
Little did they know it at the time, but this would be the last album that Dream Theater would record with Mike Portnoy at the drum stool. (It's lucky, then, that it includes The Shattered Fortress, the end of his Twelve Step Suite - would have been a bit awkward if he'd had to get that out on a Transatlantic album or something.)

If the band had any hint that a change was brewing, however, there's no sign of it here - if anything this is business as usual, with ballad Wither's five-and-a-bit minutes amounting to the only sub-epic song on here - everything else is over 8 minutes long, and 4 of the six songs here are over 12 minutes long.

As it stands, Wither ends up offering a bit of a breathing space of the running order, coming as it does between two heavier pieces (A Nightmare To Remember in particular taking the band further towards extreme metal territory they've ever gone) and The Shattered Fortress, which picks the ferocity back up with its intro. This is perhaps the most straight-ahead epic of the album; Portnoy himself has said that in retrospect, he found he'd written himself into a bit of a corner with the Twelve Step Suite, and with hindsight he might have instead just one song covering all twelve steps back when the band were making Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence. It's not that I think it's outright bad - but perhaps because it's trying to maintain a thematic and musical link to material spread over the previous four albums, it doesn't quite feel fresh.

The Best of Times, by comparison, lets things pick up, with a beautiful, restrained opening giving way into a light and positive-sounding song, a real breath of fresh air after the band had spent not only much of this album but a fair chunk of previous recent albums looking at darker material. It reminds me almost of a tribute to Rush circa Permanent Waves or Moving Pictures in some respects. The album closes off with The Count of Tuscany, a foreboding narrative about a strange encounter overseas which presents perhaps the album's most classically proggy sections.

Overall, I can't quite give the album full marks, but it is another impressive entry in the Dream Theater discography; if Portnoy never works with the band again, he can at least be proud of going out on a high note.
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