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A Dramatic Turn Of Events is, for my part, a very strong album. It may not be the best album DT has released, but it is clear that it’s created by people who have found great inspiration in the events that transpired last year. Turmoil in your life has always proven to be a good source for creativity, and it’s no different here. It sounds fresh and interesting, yet it still retains certain DT trademarks so that there is never a doubt which band you’re listening to. They’ve gone out of their way to create an album which combines «old» DT and «new» DT, and still having room to include stuff that breaks new ground for DT as a band. Instrument- and performancewise it’s a very interesting album as well, as there’s a lot of «new» and interesting sounds from the bandmembers – Jordan is playing a lot more piano and organ voices than on previous DT albums, and there are a lot of interesting lead voices as well from him. More subdued and yet masterfully played, with tons of emotion. James’ vocals are much more similar to the type he has done in his solo albums, and I for one velcome that change (I’ve always preferred James solo over the latter DT albums).
The music is much more balanced this time around, with 4 big prog metal tracks, one more generic pop metal rocker and three quite different ballads. I’ve always loved all these three aspects of Dream Theater (prog, metal and pop), and found them to be equally important for me, so I really enjoy the balance, and the way they’ve spread the songs on the album makes it flow very well together. The big prog metal pieces are not the typical DT «epic» format we’ve become accustomed to over the latter years, the breadth in the music is much more varied, and we traverse genres constantly. You’ll find tons of sections with insane dissonant fusion chords and solo, you’ll find bluesrocky-type guitar solos, you’ll find neo-classical guitar solos, you’ll find instrumental parts that match the complexity of dance of eternity, and at the same time you’ll find soothing, emotional parts, often following eachother. But it’s tastefully thought out, and works really well, and it never feels flashy. On earlier albums I often got the sense that they went complex for the sake of being complex, or fast for the sake of being fast, but I’ve not gotten that feeling at all on this album. They let the music breathe, and there’s a lot of ambience and emotion spread around. Obviously you’ll also find some reuse here, and you’ll be scratching your head from time to time thinking «didn’t this sound familiar», but it’s only for soundbites lasting a second or two, and it feels much more like it’s referencing their older material than just laziness – that is, it feels right in the context of the music and it flows well.
John Myung also gets to shine on this album, there’s a bunch of small bass solos spread around in the longer prog songs, and several parts is driven purely by him (with keys and guitar providing more ambience than riffs), and the groove he displays is refreshing from the previous albums where he sort of resorted to copying JP a lot (which was pretty boring to say the least).
The real star of the album is of course Mike Mangini, who does an incredible job with the material he’s been given. It’s so complex and artistic, yet with so much groove and subtlety that it kinda flies by without you even noticing how good he actually is, until you start paying attention to what he’s doing and you try to work it out with the limbs you have. My brain is certainly not wired to keep playing so many seperate rhythms at the same time with different limbs… He fills the noisescape wonderfully, and it feels completely natural the way he embellishes what’s going on in the music. I truly feel that DT has made the correct choice for a drummer…
The ballads are also great composed tracks, and for my part the content of the lyrics are as important as the music itself when it comes to ballads. Ballads are about portraying emotion, and I consider these to be very successful. They obviously reflect the album title to some degree, and certainly harks back to certain tracks from previous DT albums dealing with life and living it, and interacting with other people (misunderstood, disappear, wither, etc).
Yes, I may be a DT fanboy, and I was enthusiastic about SC and BCSL as well when they came out (although I did point out several flaws in both reviews – and I still like the albums, they’re just not my favorites), but I have to admit that comparing this album to those two is unfair – it’s a completely different league altogether. This feels more like the Dream Theater of SFAM/SDOIT period, or even 90s DT at times, and it’s an album that more than sufficiently proves that DT is going to more than survive the events of last year. This is a reinvigorated DT, a DT with a passion and a purpose. As I started with, it’s not the best thing since sliced bread, but it’s still a very strong and interesting album that even after several listens is strong and interesting and never feels boring.