Dream Theater used to be so ingrained with the idea of Mike Portnoy that to have an album that doesn’t incorporate any of his ideas seems strange. However, that’s exactly what they’ve done and they’ve only gone and made it a self-titled release. With Mike Mangini in from the start this is the album that will represent exactly where a Portnoyless Dream Theater will be going in the future and their fans will be desperate for them to smash it out of the park.
Unsurprisingly, this album opens big with instrumental track “False Awakening Suite” sounding like it is more suited to appearing in a video game or a movie as it meanders it’s way into your brain, it has to be said that at times it does border on the daft. First song proper “The Enemy Inside” comes in and initially blows that away as it brings in the metal and makes us aware that Dream Theater are very much aware of the djent movement threatening their prog metal ways. However, when the chorus comes in it begins to change a bit. As despite the fact there is still a lot of complex musicianship going on it could be taken straight from a pop song. On the surface this is actually an incredibly accessible pop song that occasionally sidles into the ridiculous but still brings to mind the idea of stadiums singing it back at the band.
It’s in that switch between the complex and the simple that this album has it’s biggest issues. On tracks like “The Enemy Inside” and “Along For the Ride” this is almost pure pop as it pushes big choruses and huge melody alongside great musicianship. Yet they still include tracks like “Enigma Machine” which feels like the moment the guitarist breaks out into a solo at a gig. You can appreciate he is very talented and you kind of enjoy it. But after a couple of minutes you kind of wish he would just start playing a song again. Dream Theater don’t seem to know whether they are a big melodic rock band with some prog and metal influences. Or a big progressive metal band with some melodic rock influences. And at the end of the day that is what hurts this album the most.
Despite this there is a lot to get your teeth into here. Whether it be the Pink Floyd influenced “The Bigger Picture” or the sprawling 22 minute epic “Illumination Theory”, which is really several songs condensed into one, it is clear that Dream Theater are not dead yet. However, there is a feeling that this band is at a cross roads and don’t quite know what their next step it and until they figure out exactly what they want to be they are going struggle to live up to their past standards.
For Fans of: Pink Floyd, Muse
Choice cuts – “The Bigger Picture”, “The Enemy Inside”