My review of the album: (Originally posted on MP.com)
Disclaimer: I am not a fanboy and love every thing DT has every done (I admit that I don't get and hate Space Dye Vest).
Let's start with what's not there:
1. Jordan's over the top wankery with a solo that goes nowhere and a sound that is reminiscent of my childhood and video games.
2. The familiar formula of trading off solos and then ending with a unison. (In other words, the LTE formula they clung to far to long).
3. Songs that should have ended a minute or two earlier. I love Dark Eternal Night, but come one; the last riff is not that awesome to play it over and over again like the 80's groups that would sing the chorus 50 times before ending the song.
4. Sections that sorely stick out, and don't really serve the song (I'll comment about the strings in IT).
5. Finally, there are no awkward fills, or things that just don't belong or could have been more thought out.
OK, what is there:
1. Jordan is absolutely beautiful! The sounds he chose are great; his solos have a lot of feeling while having less notes. I remember reading about how some were tired of his really strong finishes on scales that end up in the high notes and played with his ring and pinky finger. That's gone. (I really think he reads those criticisms, because I have noticed with each album he has changed).
But, what is the best? What you almost don't hear. His strings and synth sounds behind JP are so inspirational, fill the space beautifully, and help to create the epic sound.
Notable Highlights: the solo in AFTR at around the 3 minute mark: cool patch and great feeling in the solo. It fits the song.
2. I think it is safe to say they have completely moved from that formula (and arguably have several albums ago, but we still had the trading solos and unison formula). These songs are tightly structured, well thought-out, and I can tell great care was put into even the smallest of transitions.
But, it goes even deeper, because listening to the songs with headphones with great clarity, you hear layer after layer of sounds from JP's guitars to JLB's echoed lines.
Notable Highlights: IL 12:20 to 13:06: Mangini doubles JR the entire section note for note; the Rush like anthem in LG: JR's strings are so great in the background; In BtV at the 4:56 part right after the unison: JP continues to play rhythm and JR comes over top with a sweet part that isn't in unison, but it plays off the prior unison part.
3. This one is almost to a fault. I think TLG ends too soon. I would have loved to hear the Rush like anthem jammed a few more times, but there is a plus side to this: it leaves you wanting more...I can't get enough of it, which is a good thing! They do jam to the main riff at the end of BtV, so maybe that's why they didn't on the song right before it.
4. This one can be argued both ways, because it is very subjective, but consider the unison section I spoke of in BtV at the 4:56 mark. It goes right into a cool solo: it's not too long, and again leaves me wanting more, because it is so cool.
Notable Highlights: I love the first track (I really dig symphonic rock), and unlike the length of the overture of 6DoIT that drags on and on, and soon as you think it is resolved, they go again. They end that piece (FAS) beautifully IMO.
5. I love Mike Portnoy, but he could have some awkward moments here and there. I don't think that's a big secret. Mangini does not here IMO. His play is so smooth and the parts that drummers notice are stunning: he is what another person elsewhere: one of the best drummers the world has known. I can also tell the thought he puts into each section: he is mirroring or in unison, or supporting another instrument in unique ways the entire album.
Oh, and another realization I had with him: he uses the double bass as another tom for fills, just like you do with your hands on the snare and toms, only he uses his feet! Notable Highlight: the fill he does at the 14:46 mark is so cool and it's all double bass!
1. The solos are not just about shredding. There are wonderful solos throughout by both JR and JP, and yes there are some shred fests, but I've noticed that the solo either does the whole time, or returns to the theme of the song.
2. The riffs underneath the verses and choruses are some of the best IMO. One example I love is the riff at the 1:36 mark of StR. Those are all over the place in the album.
3. There is not one weak song IMO. I've never been a big fan of their "ballads" (except These Walls if that is indeed a ballad). However, AFtR is a great song to me. So, this is actually the first DT album where I have sincerely loved each song! I know that doesn't mean anything to anyone else, but it's what makes this album so great to me.
4. There are so many catchy chorus lines, riffs, and solos! I'm humming something from the album all day when I'm not listening to it. That's not a usual trait of DT for me.
I'm going to say it: this album is E-P-I-C from the first note to the last. Dare I say (and yes I will, because who cares if I'm wrong) this will in time become considered DT's best album. Yep, just best album...not "since this album or these albums" just best period! I know I will probably eat those words, but I'm calling my shot.
I mean seriously: it doesn't get much more epic then the ending of IT from 17:25 till then end with the beautiful piano and delayed guitar. Now, I don't know why, nor do I particularly care for the long break between the end and the "epilogue", but I kinda see it this way: they started with a thematic, almost movie-like intro song (does anyone get the Tim Burton vibe near the end?), and then the rolling credits are like the piano and guitar at the very end.
And with that, I'll let that magical, heavenly "epilogue" play on...