Dream Theater
A Dramatic Turn of Events

Correlation does not equal causation, but I’m going to say what everyone is thinking anyway: that Mike Portnoy’s departure from Dream Theater has let the band take a big, deep breath of fresh air.

Now look, we can’t fault the guy for wanting to experiment over the years. Dream Theater is a progressive metal band, after all. Tinkering and exploration are written into their musical DNA. However, after too many albums of Muse worship, forced hardcore shouts, dour epics about alcoholism, and oh yeah, that rapping business on Train of Thought – all of which seemed to come from Portnoy’s restlessness – I was already cushioning myself for more lukewarm disappointment. And not that Dream Theater has ever put out a bad album, but aside from a few tracks here and there (three of which are on Six Degrees of Separation), none of their 00’s albums have truly set me on fire the way that Images and Words, Awake and Scenes from a Memory did in the ’90s.

Until A Dramatic Turn of Events, which I am happy to say, is the best album the band has put out in over a decade.

It’s electrifying, packed with soaring melodies, dazzling prog freak-outs, and a much-missed lightness of spirit. And the most amazing thing? Remind yourself that this is a band of guys in their mid-to-late 40s, playing at the top of their game, and as tight and as crisp and as daring as they sounded back in 1992.

Case in point, album highlight “Breaking All Illusions.” It’s got everything I want from Dream Theater. Epic length that feels like you’re being taken on an immersive journey. Soulful ballad-style melodies, courtesy of James LaBrie, who hasn’t sounded this genuinely impassioned in a long time. And at its core, a jaw-dropping 7+ minute prog odyssey that truly lets each member shine.

Jordan Rudess goes berserk on this track (and others), unleashing torrents of fanciful keyboards (everything from early ’70s classic rock to late ’70s disco funk) that interplay in perfect lockstep with newcomer Mike Mangini’s complex-yet-effortless drumming and John Petrucci and John Myung’s double-helix guitar and bass attack. And speaking of Petrucci, he lets out one of the most gorgeous solos he’s ever played towards the end of the track – a rich, bluesy lament that would make David Gilmour weep. “Breaking All Illusions” comes near the end of the album, and already some folks are comparing it to Images and Words’ stunning epic “Learning to Live.” I’d say that’s a fair assessment, but you’ll catch a lot of Scenes from a Memory in the verses and chorus as well – particularly the borderline-Broadway melodic peaks (I say that in a good way) from “Home” and “Through Her Eyes.” But that’s just one great moment out of many on the album.

Lead single and album opener “On the Backs of Angels” is a moodier affair, but it soars in its own right, and it’s nowhere near as frustratingly sullen as much of the material on Systematic Chaos. And tell me that intro doesn’t remind you of the beginning from “Pull Me Under” – the song that initially hooked me on this band, almost twenty years ago. Next, “Build Me Up, Break Me Down” starts with some questionable nu-metal riffage and programmed beats, but the song more than redeems itself with a big, anthemic chorus, and it winds up being another favorite.

Then there’s “Lost Not Forgotten”- another track I also think is one of their best in ages. After a cascading, classical piano intro by Rudess, the band breaks into another unhinged spazz attack, each member seeming to spiral off in different directions and playing at the edge of control – and yet the entire passage seems pristinely composed. Stripped-down strut/chug (a smart move in dynamics) takes over before the song crests into a propulsive, hammering, and most importantly, memorable chorus. And then yet another longer prog interlude is unleashed – whimsical, scampering and endlessly fascinating.

And there are more of those prog whirlwinds to come – an Eastern-sounding one in the middle of Tibetan-themed “Bridges in the Sky” (with yet another great anthemic chorus), and an even weirder one during “Outcry,” where Rudess seems to be channeling Sonic the Hedgehog at times (the soundtrack and hedgehog both). So yeah, if you wanted some dizzying progressive fireworks from Dream Theater, there’s a ridiculous amount of it on this album. And for those of you that love the ballads , there are a few of them too. Both “This is the Life” and “Beneath the Surface” are lovely and honest and appropriately restrained, although “Far from Heaven” was a bit too overwrought for my tastes.

As you can probably tell, I really enjoyed being able to write up a glowing Dream Theater review. This album is just an exhilarating joy to listen to, and you really get the sense that the band felt the same way when writing and recording it. The album just delivers dividends of sheer progressive metal pleasure with every listen, and it’s basically made me fall in love with the band all over again – something I haven’t felt from these guys in awhile. And if that sounds just a tad Dramatic, well then I guess that’s appropriate.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jordan Itkowitz
September 15th, 2011


  1. Commented by: Clauricaune

    Spot-on review. This was an amazing surprise, the best thing they’ve done since Scenes from a Memory.

  2. Commented by: AARONIUS

    I gotta say as a huge DT fan I was not even interested in this one after all the drama between these guys, sadly it really just made me sick. Then I saw the video for the “Angels” song and it really did remind me of their earlier stuff. Now this review has me curious. (except for the David Gilmour reference- Pink Floyd sucks….HARD. The less time DT spends trying to ape them, the better off they are).

  3. Commented by: gabaghoul

    lol there’s no Pink Floyd worship on the album, I mentioned Gilmour solely for his guitar tone and playing.

  4. Commented by: Storm King

    Best album since SFAM, easily.

    Mike Portnoy had been strangling Dream Theater-the last straw for me being when he tried to do death metal vocals on “A Nightmare to Remember” instead of just getting someone who could actually DO that. I was sick to death of my favorite band sounding like Muse, sick to death of Portnoy’s near endless AA suite and songs about whatever condition he thinks he had. Dream Theater needed Portnoy to leave, because with him, they would have never made this album. It’s purely a joy to listen to, from start to finish. Dream Theater isn’t sounding like Muse, or Opeth, or Metallica, or whatever band was just in Portnoy’s CD player-they sound like fucking Dream Theater. And that’s the most important thing about this album.

  5. Commented by: duhguy

    worst band ever.when the f did this band sound like muse? never maybe? i give all their lp’s a chance,they all suck.time to grow up kids.

  6. Commented by: Nick Taxidermy

    dammit, duhguy beat me to the post where Dream Theater gets trashed.

    Dream Theater are a buncha goofs. they make music for basement-dwelling virgins. no thanks.

  7. Commented by: gabaghoul

    doucheguy – go back and listen to Octavarium.

    Nick – basement-dwelling virgins eh? guess I don’t need a wife and a mortgage payment after all!

  8. Commented by: Cynicgods

    ICS Vortex and Opeth both disappoint me (mild disappointments but disappointments nonetheless)while Dream Theater and Anthrax release some of the best material of their career.

    You are a strange one, 2011. A strange one indeed.

  9. Commented by: Kromatix

    If Kevin Moore comes back and they get rid of James LaBrie I will give them a listen.

    I&W was good, Awake was amazing. Everything I have heard after that has been extremely boring. Just prog noodling nonsense with bad vocals.

  10. Commented by: Blackwater Park

    Cynicgods +1

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