Dream Theater have steadily achieved a startlingly sublime synthesis of soaring and unmistakable melody, progressive instrumentation and aggressive heaviness unrivaled within hard rock music. The legacy established throughout their virtuosic career of astounding aesthetic alchemy has made their very moniker synonymous with the power of talent, ability and momentum when brilliantly forged together.
As the world around them unravels, unfurls and transitions toward an uncertain destiny economically, militarily, spiritually and politically, Dream Theater refashioned a way forward from the molten hot iron of their own internal transition to create the career-defining album A Dramatic Turn of Events. It’s an evocative collection of fully-realized soundscapes that stands alongside landmark Dream Theater albums like Images and Words and Scenes from a Memory with an even greater prestige, ambition and cunning.
Over twenty-five years since their formation, Dream Theater continue to cultivate, curate and protect their status as worldwide niche tastemakers on their eleventh studio album, which was produced by the band’s own John Petrucci and mixed by hi-fidelity magician Andy Wallace (Nirvana, Prince, System Of A Down).
“I’m ecstatic with the way the album came out,” proclaims James LaBrie, whose lead vocals are instantly recognizable as one of the strongest elements of the well-established Dream Theater sound. “It’s the album we had to make. I think we’ve once again touched on what in the earlier years gave us our originality and our identity. We infused definitive styles that were predominant in our music: the progressive end and the metal end, with the melodic element pretty high up on the list of priorities.”
It is an album born out of transition, crafted with studied persistence and possessed by newfound freedom and free-flowing invigoration. A Dramatic Turn of Events strikes the perfect balance between Dream Theater’s intimate history with all that is heavy, progressive and melodic with each element fully realized. Longtime fans of the band intrigued by the speediness of the notes on display from Dream Theater have much to study on the new album, while fans of melodic hooks will find equal pleasure within the songs.
Perhaps most excitingly, as always, the progressive and the heavy compliment one another without the risk of one overshadowing the other. Dream Theater knew they wanted the album to be both heavy and melodic (musically and vocally) and with that determination of vision they obtained that goal. It’s the natural culmination of a rightfully celebrated career that has endeared them to millions of fans.
Lead guitarist Petrucci and bassist John Myung have a relationship dating all the way back to middle school. Kindred spirits united by their shared devotion to constant study and rehearsal on their respective instruments, they formed the nucleus of what would become Dream Theater with a fellow student at the Berklee College of Music named Mike Portnoy. The second Dream Theater album, Images and Words, introduced the world to LaBrie while achieving gold status and heavy MTV rotation for “Pull Me Under.”
The band took a step toward its modern lineup with the addition of keyboardist Jordan Rudess, who made his recorded debut on their sixth album, Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory. Thanks to fan embraced releases like the dark Train of Thought (2003) and the much more diverse Octavarium (2005), Dream Theater has sold well over ten million albums worldwide, including over two million in the United States.
Dream Theater found themselves at a career crossroads following the departure of longtime drummer, co-producer and unofficial spokesman Portnoy. But the addition of Mike Mangini (the result of a search and audition process documented in a highly-viewed YouTube series) and the remaining members rededication to each other and their band has resulted in a creative resurgence overall. The personalities and individual talents possessed by Dream Theater behind the scenes were strengthened by adversity, with each rising to the challenge individually and collectively as Dream Theater pushed forward.
“When I came upon the title A Dramatic Turn of Events, it really spoke to me as so perfect to what the content of the album is in general,” Petrucci explains. “Most of the songs deal with some kind of major change, whether in one person’s life or the lives of many on a grand scale. Whether it be uprising that’s happening now in the Middle East or some even in history or some incredible spiritual or personal journey that somebody went on that they had to go through to get somewhere else and become a better person.
“That theme of metamorphosis was really constant throughout the lyrics,” he continues, noting the obvious change within Dream Theater as well. “Not on purpose, maybe subconsciously, because of what was happening to us, that album title just fit so perfectly. ‘White elephant’ or not, it was perfect.”
The positive recharge within the re-calibrated group played into the dismissal of an angrier side they had previously experimented with. “Dream Theater has always had a basis of metal mixed with prog, that’s who the players are at the core, [but] over recent years we were going into the arena of being growly,” Rudess points out. “We withdrew from that a little bit. We thought about who we are – the remaining forces in the band – our personalities and where we were coming from. The music remains heavy, of course.”
“There’s as much metal as there’s been in the past,” he continues. “We also focused in. When we got progressive and instrumental, we took it an extra step. We’ve gotten a little crazier than we’ve done before. There are some tunes like “Outcry” which is such an example of us going full tilt and turning on the progressive maximum. We had fun. The instrumental madness really comes through on that.”
Which isn’t to say the new Dream Theater is all about the blur of fast-paced notes they are often (rightly) credited with popularizing within the genre, because they also love great melodies. “I always tell young musicians that having a good technique is not about playing fast, it’s about playing slow,” Rudess clarifies. “If you say someone has really great technique it’s because anything they have in their musical mind can come through the mechanism that they’re using. JP can express a beautiful melody lyric melody line as well as anyone else. That to me is a really good technique – It’s not always about 64th notes.”
A Dramatic Turn of Events is the perfect representation of Dream Theater for 2011 and beyond. There’s the progressive elements, deeply serious lyrical topics (“I often joke with JP about how he can’t just write straight loves songs,” notes Rudess), strong ballads, some wacky fun and no shortage of heaviness.
“This is a top three Dream Theater album for me,” LaBrie states. “There’s just something about this album that I think really touches on some of the elements on our music that really made this band shine as far back as 1992 when we released Images and Words. I think that put us on a level that was hard to ignore. I think this album solidifies that. We’re still the band we’ve always been. We’re keeping it contemporary and taking it to a whole new level. With all the body of work, this album proves we’re continuing to better ourselves and continuing to write the material we think is the best material we’ve ever written.”
Petrucci concurs. “The mood the songs have, the infectious nature and depth of the music, the depth of the subject matter, I think it’s going to be something of a shining light amongst a few others in our catalog for years to come. You always hope people enjoy it, you can’t predict, but I have a strong feeling that this is going to be something that our fans, and even new fans relate to on a different level.”
“We’re just having a great time on the road. Everything has really come together,” Petrucci concludes. “To deal with the departing of one band member to finding a new one that fits in like a glove, making a great record and finally be out on tour and playing in front of people has been unbelievable. Everyone has been incredibly accepting, gracious and wonderful. I look out every night and see hands up in the air and smiles. We had a definite mission that we were on from the moments before we walked into the studio with our whole tour and upcoming album. I feel great about it. I feel like we’re in a really great headspace.”