Dream Theater is best known as being the godfathers of progressive metal. They have a following unlike most other progressive metal groups: a legion of die hard fans that champion their flawless production, thought provoking lyrics, eloquent orchestration and virtuoso musicianship.
Rarely does Dream Theater ever push the envelope into top 40 material, taking risks that their purist fans may not appreciate. However with the new self-titled album ‘Dream Theater’, they take that risk, drawing inspiration from such renowned names as Rush among others to create one of their more radio friendly efforts.
The first track, “False Awakening Suite”, serves as a movie trailer of sorts, by setting the tone for the rest of the CD; essentially this piece is a two-and-a-half minute long composition that features the well-known guitar style of John Petrucci. This transitions into the almost thrash intro of “The Enemy Inside”, but the introduction lasts long enough for their trademark keys to take over.
Plenty of traditional Dream Theater themes are expressed in this song, while a lot of introspection and double bass drum run through its core, with play between the keyboards and classical guitar as the song concludes. “The Looking Glass” follows, which pays homage to Rush: solid, 70s inspired guitar riffs, very upbeat and easy on the ears enough to earn radio airplay.
Not surprisingly, John Myung’s bass is much more pronounced, and so are the keyboards, giving it a Rush-like quality. “Enigma Machine” brings the listener back to their instrumental roots they are synonymous with: jumping time signatures from movement to movement, bringing in more of Myung’s bass and peppering it with drum fills. However in the next track, “The Bigger Picture”, it’s James LaBrie who does what he’s most famous for: delivering storytelling, soul-searching vocals. The song is pure introspection and retrospection, circling around with the piano and guitar.
“Behind the Veil” moves into cinematic territory, with birds, horns, church bells and the like. Despite the presence of the keyboards, the guitar makes itself known, both dark and distorted, which leads into more aggressive vocals from LaBrie, transitioning into a request of absolution from LaBrie himself. “Surrender to Reason” once again channels Rush, with Peart-influenced drums following Lee’s keyboard lead. It is the first track where acoustic guitar makes an appearance, even though it’s still classic Petrucci.
There are choral vocals also, with Myung backing up Petrucci’s experimental guitar. Later, LaBrie concludes with a plea to a higher power. “Along For the Ride” is what Dream Theater is most famous for: examining the human condition and its place in the world. The mood of the song is uplifting, and that positive energy emanates through Petrucci’s guitar. The entire song expresses hope, especially with the Styx-esque keyboard arrangements.
The closer is “Illumination Theory” a 22:15 minute long opus that yearns for the days of “Change of Seasons”. This is truly a composition: a mix of blues rock guitar, LaBrie questioning the universe, an early dawn interlude followed by strings, and more of Petrucci’s guitar that follows right back into LaBrie’s questioning vocals. At around the 18:00 minute mark, the song starts to crescendo, adding the bells and drums back in, and finishes with a haunting piano transition.
With their new self-titled album, Dream Theater doesn’t shy away from using the elements that the fans love, but they use them in ways a fan or critic might not expect, which makes it that much more provocative for the listener.