Some may deem them uncreative, but self-titled albums often have interesting purposes in a band’s discography. Unless it is released as a group’s debut, a self-titled album usually suggests a dramatic change of direction or serves as a statement of their core tenets. Like A Dramatic Turn Of Events before it, Dream Theater’s twelfth studio effort and second with drummer Mike Mangini aims to be your quintessential Dream Theater album but has a few elements that set it apart from that particular release.
While the appropriately symphonic “False Awakening Suite” and lead single “The Enemy Within” initially hint at a heavier, more theatrical direction, the bulk of Dream Theater is actually driven by the tropes that defined efforts such as Octavarium and Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence. The influence of other bands is back on their sleeves as “The Looking Glass” and “Surrender to Reason” channel the pep of early 80s Rush while “The Bigger Picture” and “Along For The Ride” serves as the token ballads. Elsewhere, “Enigma Machine” is the first instrumental to be seen since the Train Of Thought days and “Illumination Theory” is another one of the band’s beloved twenty-minute epics.
The musicians also offer their typical virtuosities though the dynamic seems to be shaken up a bit. John Petrucci’s guitars and Jordan Rudess’s effects continue to assert their dominance and the drums have integrated well enough, but bassist John Myung appears to be the album’s standout contributor as his performance is his most energetic since Falling Into Infinity. On the flip side, James LaBrie’s vocal performance will continue to divide listeners though there are a few signs of slippage that even the most dedicated of fanboys will notice. He still works well with the material but the cringe-worthy wails during the climaxes of “Illumination Theory” threaten to derail an otherwise solid closer.
But for an album that features shorter song lengths and a less than seventy minute run time, it is strange to note that its biggest flaw is a lack of true catchiness. Detractors have always been quick to identify Dream Theater as a band only capable of endless wanking and cornier lyrics, but they have known how to craft a good chorus and have many a grand riff in their repertoire. A few tracks like “The Bigger Picture” and “Behind The Veil” do come close to reaching this point, but most of the songs are rather interchangeable despite the album’s variety. They’re still good enough but aren’t as memorable as usual.
Overall, Dream Theater’s self-titled venture is a solid release that mixes good songs with a looming threat of stagnancy. It might not be a bad idea for the band to consider recharging their batteries in the near future, but a return to a heavier sound or even entertaining the idea of another concept album could make for an equally satisfying remedy. There is still some enjoyment to be found here but it’d be best to get the new albums by Queensryche and Fates Warning if you want to hear the old prog metal elite at its best.
“False Awakening Suite”
“The Enemy Inside”
“The Bigger Picture”
“Behind the Veil”