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 ·
Conor Fynes
'Black Clouds & Silver Linings' - Dream Theater (8/10)

While Dream Theater is arguably my favourite band, I've found myself at least a little dissapointed by alot of the material they have released over the past decade. With the release of 'Systematic Chaos,' I was practically assured that the golden days of this band had long gone; and were condemned to releasing comparably mediocre material for the rest of their career.

I find myself fortunately mistaken.

What I found with 'Black Clouds & Silver Linings' is something that I can say as being the best thing Dream Theater has done ever since their double disc opus 'Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence.' With four of the six songs on the album exceeding ten minutes, this is definately a return to progressive form for the band. After the failed experiments 'Train Of Thought' and the excellent (but critically disdained) record preceeding this one, this is, in a sort of way, Dream Theater's equivalent of Metallica's 'Death Magnetic' in the sense that it's such a nice suprise to see the band retracing their steps back to where they work best. I mean, it's not such a bad thing that the band was trying out new things, but the direction they were taking simply was not working. It's a damn good thing they figured that out in time for their 10th studio release.

The only low point for the album is the overdrawn and very tame 'A Rite Of Passage' which frankly bores me, with the exception of a cool solo section. With the exception of this small black spot, the rest of the album is filled with some pretty inspired material.

'A Nightmare To Remember' for example, was the first song on the album that I fell in love with (ironically, it is in fact; the first track on the album.) It is a very dark song, and really shows a heavier side of Dream Theater without being overly raw or corny (IE: 'The Dark Eternal Night.) At 16 minutes long, it was a bit daunting to have an opening song of that length, but it certainly doesn't dissapoint. It's an emotional rollercoaster; shifting between a plethora of moods. The middle section of the song was exceptionally moving, and during the chorus ('lost in this wonderful misery...') I found myself at the brink of tears. It's that beautiful!

The song that should have been the primary single is the ballad 'Wither.' I like to think of it as a much better, moving version of the 'Octavarium' track, 'The Answer Lies Within.' Using a rather mundane lyrical topic as 'writer's block,' you wouldn't expect a song that can really trigger emotions. A charming suprise, and one of the best ballads they've ever done, losing only to 'Wait For Sleep' and 'Disappear.'

'The Shattered Fortress' is a very hard hitting, heavy track. Personally, I love it. It takes all of my favourite parts of the past four songs in the '12-Step Suite' and compiles them into an epic finale that's certainly worthy of topping of an 8 year project. However, my only concern with this piece is that for many people, this will be their first foray into Dream Theater. By listening to this without the background of having listened to each of the previous songs, they will find this very choppy and disjointed; a fair warning to anyone not already familiar with the band.

'The Best Of Times' was without a doubt, the most emotionally powerful song for me. It is also the most honest, sincere song the band has ever done, despite being three times the length of the average song. The song's topic revolves around the death of Mike Portnoy's father (who, on a side note, was the man who came up with the band's name.) Listening to the song, it's clear that Portnoy really loved his father; he really puts his heart on the line. Things build up to a gorgeous solo at the hands of John Petrucci; which easily refutes any of the non-believers who think the man plays without soul or passion. 'The Best Of Times' is my favourite track on this album. A Dream Theater classic.

Now we come to the monster track; the song that everyone is calling the next great Dream Theater epic. Hmm... I am torn about this song. 'The Count Of Tuscany' is a very epic, great song, to be quite sure, but it is wounded by one thing. The instrumentation is fantastic, and leads up to a perfect musical finale... So what would be wrong with it?

...the lyrics, to be quite awfully certain.

The lyrics of 'The Count Of Tuscany' are probably some of the most hilarious the band has ever done, which is saying quite a bit (after the band's galavanting with 'dark masters' and 'dark eternal nights' after the previous album.) The epic's concept essentially revolves around the narrator taking a car ride with an Italian noble and going to his estate, then going to his basement and feeling scared.... The Count talks about wine, and soldiers, and then the narrator feels very uneasy about his surroundings and the Count. He thinks he is going to die and then... wait! No, that was a big mistake. The Count of Tuscany doesn't want to kill him! According to the song, Tuscans just naturally act cryptic and pseudo- murderous.

And then the song ends. The lyrics are honestly hilarious, and it's beyond comedy to listen to Mike Portnoy growl in a very hardcore manner about drinking 'fine vintages of wines.' As a result, I much prefer to listen to the instrumental version of the song (having bought the 3- disc Special Edition.) If you can look past the lyrics however, 'The Count Of Tuscany' (while not being quite as good as 'A Change Of Seasons') is an amazing track.

'Black Clouds & Silver Linings' is the best work they have done in almost a decade. Despite it's flaws, it works very well, and there are some monumental tracks on here. A very good album to represent the band's talent and strength. One of the best albums of the year.
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