Dream Theater - 2009 Black Clouds And Sliver Linings


ARTIST: Dream Theater
ALBUM: Black Clouds And Sliver Linings
LABEL: Roadrunner Records
SERIAL: RR 7883-5
YEAR: 2009


LINEUP: James LaBrie - vocals * John Petrucci - guitars * Jordan Rudess - keyboards * Mike Portnoy - drums * John Myung - bass

TRACK LISTING: 01 A Nightmare To Remember * 02 A Rite Of Passage * 03 Wither * 04 The Shattered Fortress * 05 The Best Of Times * 06 The Count Of Tuscany

RATING: image


Ah, memories. This was the first album to come out after I'd become a Dream Theater fan, and the impression I got beforehand, from the lead single to the usually hyped Mike Portnoy saying that 'it sounds like the tenth album of Dream Theater', was that it would not sound so promising.

When I finished my first listen, my conclusion was that, unlike albums which are for the heart, or for the ears, 'Black Clouds' was an album for the brain. And I'm still sticking to that impression.

The Songs

The album opens with a bloated multi-sectioned epic (drink every time you think of the word 'bloated' during this album and you'll probably end up drunk out of your mind) 'A Nightmare To Remember', which a vocal minority of Dream Theater fans has scrutinized ruthlessly.

John Petrucci's recently formed habit to write lyrics that are a little too literal was showing like a wine stain on a white cotton shirt (more on that later), and while the song managed to save itself during the ambient 'Beautiful Agony' section, Mike Portnoy's faux growling verse was a little too much to swallow even for us fans of growling.

Interestingly, a less heavy solution was proposed for this section included James LaBrie singing some haunting lines in the background, but Mike Portnoy overruled it on account of James' voice 'softening everything up'.

Instead, an interesting, heavier solution where full on death metal growling would be used was also proposed, but this one was declined by John Petrucci (if memory serves me well, and rest assured I know my Dream Theater trivia), so a compromise was reached.

'A Rite Of Passage' continues the tradition established on the previous album - that a single must be a chunk of Metallica worship - but this one is actually cool to groove to, until Jordan Rudess showed up and played a solo on something completely un-musical, called the Bebot. I'm all in favor of him using all the toys he can get, but this one? Never again.

'Wither' is a straightforward ballad, soothing to the ear, and the best part of it are its lyrics - the only lyrics John Petrucci came up with on this album that I actually liked, which is entertaining because they are about writer's break and the insecurities that come with it.

'The Shattered Fortress' is the end to Portnoy's 12-step-suite about his overcoming of substance addiction, and it is not very interesting due to the fact it consists of parts of previous songs from the saga, with not a lot of new parts added in, but in terms of the saga itself, it's a satisfying book end.

'The Best Of Times' is a tricky song to give an objective opinion to, if you're aware of the fact Mike demoed it and played it for his father on his deathbed - the emotional impact of it becomes too great. The fact it contains one of the best Petrucci solos also does it a world of good.

'The Count Of Tuscany' is a lovely epic, very flowing and grandiosely beautiful, in a way which was painfully lacking throughout the album.

In fact, it's so good not even the sometimes hilariously literal lyrics which tell the story of Petrucci's bizarre adventure in Tuscany which involves a count and his supposedly cannibal brother and the line 'all the finest wines improve with age' did not spoil it.

LaBrie's deadpan delivery elevates the song to a delightful status, although I can't help but wonder how did the lyrics pass the band's usual scrutiny?

In Summary

The album shoots itself in the leg by having only six long songs on it - if you don't like even a single one of them, that's a hefty chunk of material.

However, while the album as a whole can only get a passing grade with me, I do play my favourite sections and songs with great regularity, and I know a lot of fans who consider it a worthy purchase for this very reason.

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