It seems as though new music is being released profusely, losing more and more vigor as it continues. Mainstream hits appear to follow the same structure, making them predictable and allowing them to fade into the background without a true message. However, a thrilling top-10 hit on the Billboard 200 has the possibility to reverse the regression.
The progressive music icon Dream Theater has produced the greatest album I have heard in a long time. Filled with the very best of prog and its roots, the self-titled album is a prime cut of odd time signatures and key changes, solid song structure, soaring leads and a 22-minute epic.
The album pumps listeners for the ride to come with “False Awakening Suite,” which the band describes as its “intro music” song. It opens with a rhythmic introduction and synths before the guitar moves into a melodically driven transition that preps the song for bouncing, heavy riffs. This complements the lead single, “The Enemy Inside,” a radio-friendly, metal-driven track that deals with post-traumatic stress disorder. This is the first album in which Mike Mangini, who has claimed five drumming world records, played a substantial role in composing music with the band. He sounds his best on “The Enemy Inside” and shuts up all nonbelievers.
“The Looking Glass” has Rush, an influence of the band, written all over the main riff, bringing the sounds of ’80s prog to the present, while the instrumental “Enigma Machine” gorgeously moves the album along. All the band members shine. After an eruption of a heavy build-up, guitarist John Petrucci and keyboardist Jordan Rudess rip out an interplay of melodic shredding that will melt your face off, and bassist John Myung and Mangini keep it all together with tight rhythms.
“The Bigger Picture” and “Behind the Veil” are the album’s arena rock ballads in which singer James LaBrie sounds his best. The keys in “The Bigger Picture” lead the way for an acoustic underlay as they build up to a soaring chorus, and the latter mentioned song sports blistering riffs and leads. Petrucci’s best soloing comes in “Surrender to Reason,” a feel-good suite that starts with a melodic synth intro that leads to a beautiful 12-string guitar and vocal verse, only to be followed by a crunchy riff.
Before unleashing the epic piece, “Illumination Theory,” “Along For the Ride,” a straightforward, philosophical, radio-ready ballad, cools down the atmosphere. Rudess demonstrates a keyboard solo that sounds like a tribute to the great Emerson, Lake and Palmer.
The coup de grâce musters up through an uplifting symphony synth into a rhythmic suite of distorted guitars as LaBrie asks listeners to strongly stand behind their beliefs. The middle section is the most awaited part, since it is an enthralling instance in which the band’s composed orchestral symphony sounds as if it were taken out of the climatic, emotional scene of a more-than-memorable movie soundtrack (see “Requiem For a Dream”). The epic ends as gracefully as it starts, with a little “Easter Egg” that one must wait an extra 30 seconds of anxious silence for.
John H. Coudriet is a sophomore at Amherst High School.