I don’t normally do this. My standard procedure is three full spins of any album I’m reviewing before I write word one. Well, not today. I am halfway through my second listening of Dream Theater’s brand new self-titled opus, due out September 24 via Roadrunner Records and I just couldn’t help myself. I haven’t been this excited about a Dream Theater record since 1999’s Scenes From a Memory. And that’s not a knock against the guys as musicians, or anything, there’s no denying the virtuosity. The albums that I heard since then just did not resonate with me at all, so I kind of tuned out for a while. Well, I am pleased to announce that Dream Theater is back with the Mother of All Vengeances on this one!
Instrumental opener “False Awakening Suite” sets the bar high from the very beginning, and the rest of this album consistently meets, if not exceeds it. Leadoff single “The Enemy Inside” has the band in full attack mode, John Petrucci’s guitar leading the way and cutting glass, especially on his solo. Mike Mangini, finally fully vested in the writing process, unleashes rhythmic hell, not just here, but throughout the album. And he does it without OVER-doing it. Amazing drummer!!
My runaway favorite, “The Looking Glass” is next, and has a distinct 1980-’81 Rush sound to it. James LaBrie is singing with a conviction I haven’t heard from him in a long time, and it’s a refreshing sound from a band who many, myself included, thought was getting a little too self-indulgent (I better stop before there’s an angry pitch fork and torch-carrying prog-mob at my door!). Nice to see they can just put out a great rock song. For the first time in years we get a fantastic instrumental right after a great sing-along track from the boys in “Enigma Machine”. First thing I noticed is how well keyboardist Jordan Rudess and Petrucci play off of each other. The second thing I noticed is just how phenomenal Rudess is. John Myung’s larger-than-life bass makes its presence known fully on this song, too, and once again, Petrucci is soloing as if his life depends on it. I hate to sound cliché, but everyone sounds inspired on this one.
“The Bigger Picture” is a beautifully written ballad that starts off with Rudess and LaBrie before everyone joins them around two minutes in, putting the “power” in front of the word ballad. This is the second-longest track on the album at 7:41, but it sure doesn’t feel long, and the last two minutes are too difficult to describe, such is the sheer majesty (get it?) of it. “Behind the Veil” is a gritty, heavy song reminiscent of the Awake album from ’94, and certainly wouldn’t be out of place there. I love it when this band just rocks out, they sound like they’re enjoying themselves, and Rudess and Petrucci’s solos are incendiary here. The Rush sound returns for “Surrender To Reason”, another favorite track. But it’s served with a side of ELP, too, to glorious results. The instrumental breaks are top-notch, and the sweeping choruses only add to the greatness.
“Along For the Ride” pays homage to Images and Words-era Dream Theater and Rudess’ odd choice of keyboard tone for his solo is exactly what makes the song perfect. Well, that and LaBrie’s magnificent vocal delivery. I was in love with this one as soon as they made it available for listening, to be honest. And now we come to…The Epic. The 22-and-a-half minute epic that closes out this record, “Illumination Theory”, a story told in five parts. I’m not going to list them here because I can’t do EVERYTHING for you guys. Suffice to say this is everything a Dream Theater fan both old and new could possibly want. It is 22 minutes of mind-blowing greatness, musically and vocally, with LaBrie doing some of the best singing of his career, and a fitting way to end an album that is sure to be on many a Top 10 list this year. I know, I know, I’m gushing. But I can’t help it. It’s THAT good.
(Side note: as I was typing this up, Mini-Amps came into my office and proceeded to rock out for the ENTIRE album. I think that’s a seal of approval, no?)
STANDOUT TRACKS: ALL OF THEM