A Dramatic Turn of Events
Since founder member Mike Portnoy decided to up sticks and leave Dream Theater, there’s been two side stories to go along with the whole debacle – firstly, the remaining members long drawn out and highly publicised search for their new drummer – eventually settling on former Annihilator/Extreme sticksman Mike Mangini – while Portnoy still continues to try and hog the spotlight, filling in for Avenged Sevenfold before they too ditched him. The amount of spotlight that Portnoy seems to be trying to obtain is a little hard to digest. I’d rather he kept quiet rather than becoming something of a sideshow – particularly in light of the recent development in which he apparently issued a notice of summons on his former band mates over the use of the band’s name.
That drummer mystery aside, Dream Theater have otherwise got on the with job in hand of making their first album without their Portnoy, conjuring up ‘A Dramatic Turn of Events’. The first thing I would note about this record is that – personally at least – Portnoy isn’t missed. Anyone who doubted Mangini’s skills before will surely be shushed as he at least matches Portnoy’s standard throughout. As a whole, Dream Theater are still Dream Theater, progressive, complex and dynamic as ever, and while ‘A Dramatic Turn of Events’ isn’t going to be held as their greatest achievement, it’s still very much business as usual, and business right now is pretty damn good.
Most of you will already be familiar with ‘On the Backs of Angels’, the lead single from the album and most likely to join the DT setlist. Much like recent past singles (e.g. A Rite of Passage’), it sticks out as a lead single material right away. Not too long or drawn out, even nearing nine minutes, it reins in the urge to go over the top and benefits as a result. However, the album really picks up a notch or two once ‘This Is The Life’ comes into play, as the respective members show numerous technical flashes of brilliance that have trademarked Dream Theater’s career over the years.
‘Bridges In The Sky’ ratches up another count on the ‘epic’ scale, replete with some tribal bellow to open and close the song, cracking Petrucci riff, and ridiculous showmanship from Petrucci and keyboardist/synth man Jordan Rudess. And then yet more of the same skillful musicianship on ‘Outcry’, featuring a huge technically innovative midsection and a perfect balance been Mangini’s thudding beat and the greater overall sense of melody. Of course, ridiculous showmanship could be taken as a good or bad thing, depending on your perspective of Dream Theater, but that’s what makes them stand out in one form or another.
Four of the album’s ten tracks clock in past the ten-minute mark, and if that midsection isn’t grandiose enough for you, ‘Breaking The Illusions’ certainly will be; coming across as a bit of a ballad at first, before heading into a stop start section highlighting Rudess on various keys, and then yet more duelling by Petrucci and Rudess – eventually plunging into a suitably epic orchestral finish.
I can still pick at one or two facets of the album, and ironically it’s the less than ambitious tracks – ‘Build Me Up and Break Me Down’ is reminiscent of the track ‘Caught in a Web’ from ‘Train of Thought’, and is relatively structured and short compared to the rest of the album. There’s nothing wrong with its melodicism but it’s a little forgettable. The ballads on the album (‘Far From Heaven’, ‘Beneath The Surface’) aren’t bad by any stretch break up the action sufficiently enough, allowing room to breathe. But they didn’t do anything for me other than that. The constant duelling of guitars and keys risk the album becoming the Petrucci and Rudess show, although more often than not they get the balance just right.
It doesn’t stand out as vibrantly as other DT albums either – twenty-six years in, that’s perhaps to be expected, but the previous album ‘Black Clouds and Silver Linings’ was a true monster in terms of progressiveness and ambition, something I feel lacks a little here. Ironically, that’s most likely down to Portnoy – but that’s nothing against Mangini, who I must again state at least matches Portnoy for ability.
Those concerns aside, this is still a damn good album and the more progressive elements here show why Dream Theater are masters of their craft. ‘A Dramatic Turn of Events’ may well take a few listens to fully appreciate it, but any fears DT fans may have had about since the departure of Portnoy have been truly swept aside. It’s a bold new chapter for Dream Theater and there’s plenty within this release for them to build upon.