Here is the most comprehensive track-by-track review that you will find anywhere in the entire world for the latest Dream Theater album, Black Clouds & Silver Linings.
Track 1: “A Nightmare To Remember”
What better way to begin a record with the words “Black Clouds” in the title than to include a disturbingly haunting intro on the first number — think stormy earth like the opening to “Black Sabbath” combined with the spooky keyboards of Jordan Rudess that would make the Crypt keeper grin. After 1:42 of the opening horror show, John Petrucci shifts gears with a heavy riff for James LaBrie’s vocal entrance. Mike Portnoy’s double bass drum playing during the first movement is as fast and devastating as ever.
The highlight of “A Nightmare To Remember” is the clean interlude at 4:56 which might as well be a different track altogether. At this point, you will be walking on the clouds in arpeggio heaven. The lyrical melody combined with the progressive groove in this section is purely exhilarating.
Petrucci’s solo (8:33) is infused with the blues before heading off to Shredsville USA with the keyboards. Towards the end of the instrumental break the dark side of the tune, the side heard in the intro, is brought back to life with an intense and demonized vocal performance that has been consistent with recent Dream Theater releases. This dark tone carries the song to its ending, cuing the creepy keyboards as the album transitions into the glorious intro of the second track and first single, “A Rite of Passage.”
Track 2: “A Rite of Passage”
The progressive metal gods released “A Rite of Passage,” the first single from Black Clouds about a month ago. The eight and a half minute epic-single opens with John Myung’s sinister bass riff that cements the foundation for the song, before unleashing the fierce guitars of John Petrucci and Mike Portnoy’s face pummeling drum accents. It becomes clear at this moment that “A Rite of Passage” is the most straight forward headbanger the band has offered their loyal followers since 2007’s “The Dark Eternal Night,” however this one’s better.
In addition to triumphant riffs, the tune is marked with haunting licks [4:33] and an early 80’s thrash influence [4:56]. Old school fans will rejoice the sections that contain the signature — and sometimes awkward because they are so advanced — rhythmic patterns and the duel solo section between Petrucci’s guitar and Jordan Rudess’ keyboards [5:23]. James Labrie’s vocals have consistently grown stronger with every album producing a more aggressive edge since the release of Images & Words in 1992. Pump your fist in the air, honor thy talent, and greet the ongoing brutality that Dream Theater has come to embrace as of late.
Track 3: “Wither”
The shortest track of the album, and most radio-friendly, begins with an acoustic riff on the same path of Sixx A.M.’s “Life is Beautiful” before shifting into a more technical piece. The vocal melody of the chorus combined with the backing vocal harmonies are the catchiest on the record thus far. “Wither” represents a detente of the album’s dark tension; you can feel that the silver lining is going to rear itself soon. Petrucci’s guitar solo is very brief but offers shades of Brian May (”Bohemian Rhapsody”). This is the best radio-ready ballad Dream Theater has offered since “The Silent Man.”
Track 4: “The Shattered Fortress”
“The Shattered Fortress” is the fifth and final track of the Twelve-Step Suite, which began with “The Glass Prison” from 2006’s Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence. Opening with aggressive riffs and fierce pounding, a thunderous groove laced with a Mid-Eastern tone is molded from thin air. A demonic and unnecessary vocal accent begins each line of the first verse and predictable lyrics fill the bridge (”look in the mirror, what is that you see, the shattered fortress…”).
Following a strong keyboard ditty by Rudess, the song transitions into a pretty mellow ballad until a strange narrative from a voice that sounds like an artificial Michael Clarke Duncan (The Green Mile) or Ving Rhames (Pulp Fiction); it gets in the way of LaBrie’s brilliant vocal performance.
There are many headbangable moments throughout the track especially during the intro, after the first chorus (3:30), after the second chorus (5:23), and pre-guitar/keyboard solo (9:20). Petrucci blazes through the guitar solo while demonstrating his tight control and action of the wah-wah pedal.
In the final minute of the song, the Twelve-Step Suite is brought to its end via the intro to “The Glass Prison” and fades into the tone of “The Root of all Evil.” “The Shattered Fortress” is a good compliment to the “Black Cloud” theme of the album despite its hokey moments; remove the “scary guy” voices and this is another excellent track
Track 5: “The Best of Times”
On “The Best of Times,” Rudess delivers the prettiest keyboard intro heard on any Dream Theater song to date. The acoustic accompaniment that Petrucci offers is a slower phrased version of the beginning lead to “Hollow Years” from 1997’s Falling Into Infinity; that is until an eruption of soul and a burst of speed, in the style of a classic Rush track, fades in towards the first verse.
“The Best of Times” takes on an uplifting spirit in orchestration and lyricical composition (”I’ll always remember, those are the best of times”) compared to the previous songs of the album. The glorious “Hollow Years” riff and theme can be heard once again in the instrumental mid section (6:12).
Labrie belts out many feel-good lines (”Thank you for the inspiration, thank you for the smiles”) while Myung’s bass and Portnoy’s thunder holds down the fort. The final guitar solo carries the song to its ending; it is safe to say that true fans will love every bar of it because it is reminicisient of Petrucci’s legendary “Hollow Years” solo from Live at the Budokan. Now that the song is over, I am going to go out and do something good for someone.
Track 6: “The Count of Tuscany”
The final track continues the silver lined journey that the second half of the album takes on. Petrucci opens with a beautiful acoustic intro with a soothing lead layered on top. Several bars before the full band enters, the guitar frolics with clean natural harmonics. Soon, Rudess keyboards and Petrucci’s leads [2:18] erupt off of each other in a magical yet mysterious manner.
At 3:20 the song begins the pounding and progressive heaviness that DT tends to display before the main verses enter. There is a fairly complex rhythm pattern that LaBrie lays his voice over. The scary guy voice returns with the pre-chorus lyric “let me introduce…” Honestly, I have not been a fan of this style throughout the record. The one place where the scary voice works well is during the choruses of this track, more specifically the beginning that contains the accented “I.” Additionally, the chorus contains one of the catchiest vocal melodies on Black Clouds.
There is an interesting Nintendo-type sound [7:07] produced by the guitar which you would expect to hear on a DragonForce song; it sounds like Mario is about to warp through a pipe on Level 1-2. As always, the second and third verses loosely follow the format of verse one, another DT trademark, before the pre-chorus scary guy bridge and chorus.
A powerful rhythm display [9:23] takes form before the main instrumental section. Petrucci then delivers a melodic solo about a minute later, before the song turns into the waiting line of Space Mountain in Disney World; the celestial space tones and volume swells are always a sure-fire way to extend a progressive rock song by several minutes, and more importantly a proper way to close a progressive album.
The final movement of the song and record begins with a Tuscan inspired acoustic strumming pattern while LaBrie questions the ending, in a format not too far from a late 90’s emo-punk tune. However, this band is far too talented for that thought to last more than four seconds. After nearly 20 minutes, the song comes to its close with catchy “woah-oh’s” and soft atmospheric sounds; a winning combo –Meds
Dream Theater is James LaBrie (Vocals), John Petrucci (Guitars/Vocals), John Myung (Bass), Jordan Rudess (Keyboards/Continuum), & Mike Portnoy (Drums/Percussion/Vocals).