“Black Clouds & Silver Linings” (Deluxe Edition) by Dream Theater

Artist: Dream Theater
Title: “Black Clouds & Silver Linings” (Deluxe Edition)
Label: Roadrunner Records
Release Date: 6/23/2009
Genre: Progressive Metal
Rating: 4.5/5

For their tenth studio album and second on the Roadrunner Records label, the mighty Progressive Metal giant that is Dream Theater show no sign of slowing down with their latest release “Black Clouds & Silver Linings”. For the release like many of its predecessors, they continue the trend of offering fans a number of different types to buy which include a standard jewel case edition, a super premium release with a DVD that offers video clips of them recording the album and a deluxe edition that comes with three CD’s. We opted for the 3 CD version as it seemed to offer more bang for the buck and this one finds the full new album, a second CD of interesting covers as interpreted by the band along with a third disc that presents instrumental tracks of the first CD. The massive scope of the piece finds me needing to break them down one by one and we begin with the primary focus – the bands stunning new recording “Black Clouds & Silver Linings”.

CD1: The first thing the fans will realize about “Black Clouds & Silver Linings” is how heavy it starts off and while it does follow a number of common DT themes in terms of sound is how tight and fresh the overall delivery is. The album runs only six tracks but as expected there are a couple of lengthy ones such as opener “A Nightmare To Remember”. This one sets up the framework of the story on the album and is rather intense at times. Running at sixteen minutes we find full on Progressive styling crashing head on into Thrash Metal territory and then back to Prog. Whew. Mike Portnoy also delivers some growling vocals in dark contrast to LaBrie’s notes. Petrucci wrote this one about a car accident that he had been involved in as a youth which makes this a very personal tune. I will state that its very well written. It’s been noted about how catchy the tune “Wither” is and like many have said this is probably the most commercially accessible song the band has offered us in awhile. Yes “Pull Me Under” is a signature/staple track and “Silent Man” very commercial, but this one could totally find itself spinning on any number of stations that cater to Rock. It’s so catchy that the listener will find themselves singing along after only one listen. “The Shattered Fortress” was one of my favorites based on the excellent keyboards of Jordan Rudess and how it changed pace a few times and had a very solemn vibe during its 3rd ¼. “The Best Of Times” also comes drawn from experience and deal with Portnoy’s loss of his father to cancer. The powerful lyrics hit home as he extols the values of family with both admiration and humble respect. “The Count Of Tuscany” will probably be the clear favorite in the run of songs based on the overall epic nature of the track. It runs for almost twenty minutes and thankfully while very long it does not bore the listener. There are so many different feels to this one that make it require a number of listens for one to properly sink their teeth into it. It’s apparently written about a true encounter that Petrucci had in Tuscany at one time in his life. Musically I found this one not only to be very deep but also one that called to mind a lot of the bands own influences as it rumbled out of the speakers. I felt some tastes of their earlier years along with hints of Dregs, Zappa and even Yes. It makes sense since DT has long been a band that wears their influences on their sleeves. A truly extraordinary composition and the perfect closer to an equally satisfying album listen.

CD2: The Covers: “Stargazer”, “Tenement Funster/Flick Of The Wrist/Lily Of The Valley”, “Odyssey”, “Take Your Fingers From My Hair”, “Larks Tongues In Aspic”, To Tame A Land” – I’ve been a fan of the way that Dream Theater offered up covers since I first heard them do it on the “Change Of Seasons” EP that they released back in 1995 so with that in mind I was looking forward to the inclusions on the bonus CD with “BC&SL”. They start off with a cool version of Deep Purple’s “Stargazer” that gives us LaBrie in his best Ronnie James Dio and this is followed by a very interesting Queen medley. They don’t use the expected hits from the Queen repertoire that made this a cool part of the CD at the end of the day. It was nice to see them offering up some Dixie Dregs and King Crimson for both “Odyssey” and “Larks Tongues In Aspic” as these instrumentals are sure to please their most ardent Progressive Rock followers based on how well they execute them. “To Tame A Land” is the bands Iron Maiden offering and one that perplexed me since it is not the most popular tune from that bands catalog and yet it is still done well enough to be complimented. I had to admit that I was not 100% crazy about the vocals of LaBrie on the Zebra tune “Take Your Fingers From My Hair”. This is a tune that I have long had as a personal favorite and while this is musically done to the top notch level I just had a hard time accepting it with James’ tone. I would love to see them do this one live of course and still highly recommend that fans of DT look into the stunning debut CD from Zebra. When this CD had run its course I had wished that they gave us a few more songs because you know that the band can pound out this stuff with their eyes closed. Of course the reality of licensing fees made me not hold it against them for too long.

CD3: The Instrumental Mixes: The third disc in the special deluxe edition package is instrumental mixes of the first CD and gives any of those fans that wonder what the band might sound like without the vocals of James LaBrie a pretty defined example. The track listing is the same as the first CD but there are some slight arrangement changes to a couple of the tracks. This kind of disc for someone like me is only the kind of thing that I would play once in a blue moon. If you are a singer with a voice that is worth hearing by the outside world you might want to put this to good use and figure out a way to add yourself to it. Such a thing can help you land a promising gig or perhaps even this one should LaBrie decide to retire. We found Nightwish doing something similar with their “Dark Passion Play” CD by offering up a “music only” disc on one of the special editions. Such a bonus is purely a limited audience appeal kind of inclusion but I do stress that the up and coming singers out there use them to their advantage. Let’s keep the heavy genre moving forward because if you can cut the mustard there are surely going to be folks who want to hear what you offer. After having the CD for some two weeks I can only say that I played this particular disc once and that was to load it on my music player.

The deluxe edition package was my major gripe about this release based on it being a very flimsy digipak that when opened allowed for the three individual discs to come sliding out and everywhere. Depending on where you are bringing this release that could be a small problem as they risk being damaged. The albums all have their own sleeves but they are bland in design with one side having a drawing while the opposite side simply noting “1”, “2” or “3”. There is a cool booklet that offers up lyrics, artwork and a couple of cool photos but the damned thing is affixed to the package and this is a major pet peeve of mine. I am old school I admit and I love to peruse the booklet on its own while the album plays as opposed to having to hold the whole package to do the same thing. In the end there are a number of choices that the buyer can make and they can even purchase the whole thing digitally via the conventional legal means. In any case this was a great album and should highly entertain the bands existing and new fans very much. They are currently on their “Progressive Nation” tour that finds Zappa Plays Zappa, Big Elf and Scale The Summit opening up. Be sure to catch that tour when it reaches your area.

Track Listing:
1. A Nightmare To Remember
2. A Rite Of Passage
3. Wither
4. The Shattered Fortress
5. The Best Of Times
6. The Count Of Tuscany

Official Website: http://www.dreamtheater.net

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