The second album without Portnoy in tow feels a little odd to be the self-titled Dream Theater release, as Portnoy provided much to band in terms of lyrical content, as some of you are surely aware. Nevertheless, it’s an album that definitely sees the band with new found strength and well… prog. Yes, there’s always been that sense of prog in the band, but this album actually feels like it’s communicating on all the right levels insofar as progressive music is concerned. After the unnecessary “False Awakening Suite” comes in, “The Enemy Inside” actually treats us to a profound musical performance, as well as a memorable chorus from Labrie. Ruddess’s keyboards really seem to stand out on this one, bringing something to the band that we’ve needed to hear for years now, and we all knew that he’d be the one man who could put the keyboards firmly back in their place again. Petrucci still lights up the sky as always, so there’s no shortage of guitar antics to be found. Yet what really made this one click for me was the new skinsman Mike Mangini, oddly enough. His work on the kit gave the track the meat that it needed to truly show off and provide the thunder for the rain. “Looking Glass” took me heavily aback, but in the most pleasant of ways. It’s certain that Dream Theater are pulling from their Rush and Yes stockpile, actually performing a song that sounds like it could be a modernized touch on the heyday of ’60s progressive rock. “Enigma Machine” brings back memories of the band’s real instrumental prowess, when Labrie wasn’t the star of the show; as the guitars blaze down the track at three-hundred miles an hour with the keyboards barely keeping up. There’s a slight pit stop along the way, but no doubt in my mind that this fast paced instrumental is one of the best that I’ve heard from the band in ages. If classic Dream Theater had been dug up, brushed off and given a facelift; it might just sound something like this.
“The Bigger Picture 7:40” is a gigantic ballad in all honesty, but despite all of its grandeur (and Petrucci’s memorable solo) it’s one of the only tracks that felt a little overblown. I understand that you’re trying to make the soundtrack for the next ASPCA commercial guys, but this might just be overdoing it. “Behind The Veil” starts out with an almost silent presence, but it definitely sounds like a power ballad with a modern haircut and a dip in nu-metal riffs. If nothing else, I’m reminded a lot of Queensryche and that’s to be expected. “Surrender To Reason” continues that Queensryche influence, making for a track that sounds like an operatic ballad with bits of the theatrical. If not for the guitar and keyboard getting along so well at the playground, this could’ve been quite a bland ballad. Yet I feel that the chorus does a palpable job and certainly works in their favor. “Along For The Ride” introduces us to another mellow track, only later given a dash of pepper from the guitars, drums and keyboards a bit later on. The keyboards definitely have the blue ribbon for this performance, as the Theremin-like noises launched from Ruddess’s beautiful noise machine prove most effective. This leads us into our final piece, “Illumination Theory,” which is a grand scheme of a track, clocking in a little over twenty-two minutes in length. It is the signature Dream Theater closer, from what is supposed to be the signature Dream Theater album. As one might expect, the instrumental sections of the track flourish the most, proving that the vocals weren’t really necessary for the piece. Although you’ll still hear Labrie on this monolith, he becomes almost a third wheel to the macroscopic amount of instrumental grandeur that is unleashed on this impressive closer. Apparently, an instrumental version of the disc is also included in a special edition version, so I recommend getting that so that you can hear the album the way it should have been. Much as I love Labrie, the band was able to overpower him on this record; giving new life and energy to an act that has since written around him.
Dream Theater’s self-titled release is definitely not going to replace Awake, Scenes From A Memory or Images And Words, but it’s a step in the right direction, proving that Portnoy’s replacement is not just another studio musician, but the right man for the job. It also proves that Petrucci hasn’t slowed down with age and that keyboardist Jordan Ruddess is one of the best things that Dream Theater ever had going for them. It’s good to see him back and running at full steam on this album. For a band who has already peaked, this is a good sign that they might just be able to climb that mountain once again with another release. Though if the light were to go out tomorrow, it’s certain that this would be a great swansong in which to end the band’s longtime legacy. (Eric May)