Dream Theater: Black Clouds & Silver Linings

By: Dennis Cook

Progressive rock gets slagged a great deal for its baroque excesses and boyish overblown-ness fueled by hyper-technical playing. But, some folks like their water deep, choppy with portent and rippled with beefy riffage and powerful instrumental waves, and there's not many alive doing it better than Dream Theater, who seem especially fired up on their tenth studio album, Black Clouds & Silver Linings (released June 23 on Roadrunner Records). Their latest melds wonderfully arty tempo shifts and exploratory passages with shiny metal teeth, like much of their catalog, but the whole enterprise has a cohesiveness and bite that makes this a standout in their long career (they're rapidly moving in on their 25th anniversary).

Guitarist John Petrucci (also the band's primary lyricist and co-producer of Black Clouds) rides a fine line between the brainy soaring of say Yes' Steve Howe and Anthrax's Scott Ian here, producing a seemingly endless torrent of six-string pleasure sure to get red blooded lads everywhere strumming air. Reaching for "higher states" and moving through shattered ruins, Dream Theater doesn't shy away from the innate BIGNESS of prog nor shrink from the gnarly jaggedness of modern metal, and though some past efforts have leaned too far into one or another camp, Black Clouds hits the perfect balance. This is serious musico heaven, the sort of rock that jazz-fusion guys are drawn to, but don't worry because the muscle car driving, three-quarter sleeve concert tee wearing crowd is ably served, too. Personally, I like all the impolite noise (often courtesy of keyboardist Jordan Rudess) and more pronounced groove of many new tracks. And there's a signature brooding, ballsy ballad in "Wither," which is classic Dream Theater, as Journey romantic and power chord-y as all get out (and possibly the reason some ladies dig these cats, too). There's some of the same sensitive whiff in the opening section of "The Best of Times," but their willingness to go wherever the music takes them, welcoming the heavy and the heartfelt with equal warmth, is the mark of a band comfortable in their own skin.

This far into a band's journey isn't when one expects one of their strongest albums, but Dream Theater – with this release and their successful "Progressive Nation" annual tours (this year with Zappa Plays Zappa, more info here) – appears to be on a serious roll. This is as smart and well played as metal and hard rock gets, an album just humming with live possibilities and headphone trips waiting to happen.

The album will be released as a single CD, Deluxe Collector's Edition Box Set, double vinyl LP and a reasonably priced 3-disc Special Edition with instrumental mixes and cover songs including King Crimson's "Larks' Tongues in Aspic Part II" and Rainbow's "Stargazer."

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[Published on: 6/23/09]

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