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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Dream Theater

Black Clouds & Silver Linings

Review by Gary Hill

This is such a great album. It does a great job of merging the common ground between the thrashier side of modern Dream Theater and the more melodic elements. It has a number of great epic pieces. All in all, this one comes highly recommended in the Dream Theater catalog – at least by me.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2014  Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
A Nightmare to Remember

This powers in both symphonic and metallic. There is a real Gothic metal element at play here. As this works forward it really screams out with a metallic fury. The vocal line is a powerhouse. The guitar that drives, it and punctuates the vocal sections, though, is also on fire. There are melodic progressive rock movements to balance it all out. There is a dramatic instrumental section around the four minute mark. It’s much mellower. Vocals come in over a similarly more sedate movement. It continues to evolve through melodic progressive rock sounds. It gets quite powerful and soaring as it continues. Eventually it launches out into a killer instrumental section. There is some scorching guitar soloing. Then we get equally incendiary keyboard soloing. The guitar soloing returns after that section. As the instrumental section continues it is more about interplay. Then we’re brought back into some seriously metallic territory. There are some extreme metal vocals brought into the mix as it continues. The next instrumental section has some seriously classical elements. Then we’re brought into more thrash-like territory from there. A drop back to a keyboard based, classically inspired section occurs. Next, it’s back into thrashing metal. Melodic prog takes over as the vocals return. From there, all the various concepts of the song, metal, symphonic prog and more seem to merge. The instrumental section continues driving it forward. Changes continue to ensue. There’s a climax after the fourteen minute mark and then mellower sounds take it to the end.

A Rite of Passage
This comes in with a melodic jam that, if it resolved differently, could be mistaken for fusion. That gives way to a more powered up metal movement. The first vocal section is set in this more metal sound. Then it works out to more melodic modern progressive rock from there. As the cut continues that more melodic progressive rock elements is combined with more metallic sounds. It’s quite a satisfying and compelling combination of sounds. After another instrumental section based on that concept, it shifts to pure thrash metal for a time. There is some intense soloing (both guitar and keyboard) over this segment. It gets tempered to slightly less metallic via some of that keyboard work. After the instrumental section we’re brought back into more melodic progressive rock for the return of the vocals. The closing instrumental section combines metallic elements with more pure prog. It is really trademark Dream Theater.
Wither
This starts in a mellower motif. It’s dramatic and a little dark as the vocals join. It’s just quite balladic. The cut is definitely much more melodic, but there is some crunch at times on the guitar. It’s essentially a power ballad. It’s again, instantly identifiable as Dream Theater. There are instrumental moments later in the song that actually make me think of Queen.
The Shattered Fortress
This is a multi-part suite of epic proportions. It starts with a massive riff driven movement that’s part metal and part symphonic progressive rock. It works through some variants and changes before shifting to some serious thrash metal. The vocals temper it more toward metallic prog, but the spoken vocals that run counterpoint at first, lend more metal to the mix. This is a real powerhouse as it continues. It’s quite symphonic, but also very metal. The next vocal section really screams out with metallic fury. It eventually resolves to more melodic territory. Then it twists to more thrashy jamming. The keyboard soloing that comes over the top lends and almost fusion element. It continues to shift and evolve. Then it drops way down to a mellow movement. There are spoken, extremely deep (processed) vocals a lot like early Rush The sung vocals join bringing it into more pure progressive rock territory. This movement is awesome and has some great keyboard sounds. Eventually we’re brought back out through a series of shifts into a powerhouse jam. It’s definitely metallic, but also equally definitely, progressive rock. After a powerhouse vocal section we’re taken into another killer instrumental movement that combines prog and metal quite nicely. That section sort of moves to chaos and then drops away, leaving mellow atmosphere to end.
The Best of Times
Over thirteen minutes in length, this is another epic. It begins with very classical styled piano. As it works forward other layers of keyboards are added to the mix. Then a violin plays across the top of that. After a time, acoustic guitar joins to weave pretty and intricate lines of sound. After that section runs through it powers up into a harder rocking movement that definitely feels like Rush. As it continues that Rush element is still present, but tempered with more mainstream progressive rock. The vocals bring the pure Dream Theater reference points. The melodic progressive rock elements that continue to evolve here definitely earn comparisons to Rush, even though they are decidedly DT. Eventually, this resolves out to a mellower movement to continue. It continues with a definite balladic approach, but powers up a bit at times for effect. As it grows from there it works to more rocking, but still decidedly melodic, progressive rock. I love the melodic guitar solo that comes over the top later. This instrumental section takes the cut through a long ride before it ends the piece. It’s a powerful symphonic prog movement and makes for a satisfying conclusion.
The Count of Tuscany
Here we get another epic piece at nearly 20 minutes in length. The opening of this is a guitar solo. At first, it’s just acoustic. Then electric guitar joins. After that, it explodes out into a powerhouse jam that sounds a lot like something Rush might do. It continues to grow and evolve, though and other progressive rock trappings appear. It’s over four minutes before the vocals come in, feeling almost angry. The cut continues to shift and evolve from there, combining metal and progressive rock quite well. They take us through quite a few shifts and changes along the road. At times it turns more metal. At times it’s more pure progressive rock. It turns to a very melodic and mellow resolution after a while. That section holds it for quite a while. Then, it works to an acoustic guitar based movement to continue. Vocals come in over the top of that to move the piece forward. The arrangement gets more developed as it moves onward. Eventually the cut shifts towards harder rocking sounds with some crunch added to the mix. It becomes incredibly powerful and positive as it continues. Atmospherics and sound effects end it.
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