Dream Theater’s Black Clouds & Silver Linings = WIN

Here it is up front – I am a BIG fan of Dream Theater.

I should also disclose that I have had the incredible fortune to go backstage and meet keyboardist Jordan Rudess, as well as guitarist John Petrucci after a Liquid Tension Experiment show last June.

Jordan Rudess is an incredibly nice guy.
Jordan Rudess is an incredibly nice guy.

I tell you this not to brag, but to let you know that my judgment might be a little skewed. I haven’t read any other reviews of this album, so I have no idea if anyone else agrees with my take on the progressive metal band’s tenth studio album, Black Clouds & Silver Linings.

It’s far and away my favorite album since their 1999 album, Metropolis Part 2: Scenes from a Memory. I have probably listened to the album about five times in the last two days and I cannot get enough of it… which is good because I wasn’t crazy about their last effort, Systematic Chaos.

If you are unfamiliar with Dream Theater, their music runs from menacing metal to spacey soaring ballads. This is highlighted by their “Best of” album which consists of two disks; one light, the other, dark.

Even the cover art is cool!
Even the cover art is cool!

Here’s the breakdown:

  1. A Nightmare to Remember (16:10) – The opening track has serious balls. It has a great crunchy metal melody that brings a slightly evil grin to my face every time I hear it. The first time I listened to this song it sucked me in to the point where I sat in my car for seven minutes in a parking lot, so the song could play through as I didn’t want to interrupt it.
  2. A Right of Passage (8:35) – I’ve been listening to this song since they gave it away free on their web site in early May. This is the heaviest song on the album, and it took a few listens for it to grow on me, but it really did win me over. Once you get into it, this one is quite catchy.
  3. Wither (5:25) – This marks a turning point in the album where it becomes much more mellow. This track in particular is a quiet, melodic ballad. It is probably the least catchy on the album, but it is still an incredible track. When a song like this is the “weakest” on the album, you know the band has done something special.
  4. The Shattered Fortress (12:49) – I’m not sure what the story is behind this song, but it seems like a journey through the last few Dream Theater albums. It is unique yet incredibly familiar.
  5. The Best of Times (13:07) – This epic song about a father and son is so heartwarming and beautiful. Any Dream Theater fan will smile when they hear the ticking clock at the beginning of the song. I felt like the clock ticked back to Scenes from a Memory throughout the entire song. John Petrucci’s guitar is stunning. There aren’t many guitarists who can make me feel such powerful emotions with a solo. Even fewer where I can listen to the same solo over and over again, and always feel the same way.  This song is perfect. If you only listen to one song from this album, let it be this one. On a side note – I can’t remember the last time I heard a song about a kid and his parents that had no angst.
  6. The Count of Tuscany (19:16) – This 19 minute prog metal odyssey captures the essence of Dream Theater. It’s long, but it uses it’s length wisely. There are a number of very different movements that flow logically and never feel rushed. The solo swapping between Rudess and Petrucci is a ton of fun.

I used to be very tough on vocalist James LeBrie (a lot of fans are). I always wished I could get copies of Dream Theater albums that had the vocals edited out so that I could just enjoy the instrumentals. About a year ago I reversed my stance on LeBrie. I now think he is the perfect vocalist for the band, and cannot imagine anyone else at his microphone. His voice is unique and the guy has tremendous range. That being said, my wish was granted anyway. The three disk special edition of Dark Clouds & Silver Linings comes with an all instrumental copy of the album. The album is still wonderful without the vocals, but it doesn’t really improve it one bit. Long live James LeBrie.

The musicianship on this album is mind blowing. Drummer Mike Portnoy is like a ninja. He is insanely fast, and you never know which head he will strike on his gigantic drum kit. I have yet to see a drummer impress me as much as Portnoy.

Mike Portnoy drum kit

Bassist John Myung is the silent workhorse. He adds such depth to the music.

Jordan Rudess & John Petrucci rock. They play like they sold their soul at the crossroad. Both men blast out so many notes, yet they make it look effortless and always imbue their music with emotion. It’s really something special.

The final disk in the special edition has six cover songs on it. They are all good, but not a single one stands out when compared to the actual album.

My recommendation is to purchase the standard, single disk edition unless you are a die-hard fan… or you don’t like James LeBrie.

4 thoughts on “Dream Theater’s Black Clouds & Silver Linings = WIN

  1. Hey man nice review.

    I got the album yesterday and have so far only listened to it once. I agree with you – it is SO much better than Systematic Chaos, but I didn’t really like how The Shattered Fortress brought nothing new. It was essentially every part of the AA suite put into one song, which is fine, but I would have liked some newer material for the finale… Maybe I just need to listen to it a little more… haha

  2. Nice review!

    Yeah, this album kicks major butt! Probably the best since Train of Thought.
    I also wrote a review which you can read here;

    Shattered Fortress is the final song Mike wrote regarding AA. I see a special CD coming soon from Mike.

    The backstage thing was very cool. We once paid the price and visited with them in S.F. after they played the Train of Thought gig. I think it was the same concert that Live in Budukan was recorded from. Probably the best DT show I’ve ever seen!!!

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