I was wondering what notes those were, lol. Have been too lazy to open my piano app on teh iPhone to find out :P Fyi LaBrie also sang an A5 in the live version of Lines in the Sand that was on Chaos in Motion.
Random side note...I think I might be the only person on the planet that loves Systematic Chaos...it was one of my first albums, so that Could be the reason why, but I'm pretty sure it's not, since after having all their other albums also, I still love all the tracks on Systematic Chaos. How can you not think Ministry of Lost Souls is absolutely incredible? :P Just my opinion though.
Ok...I have a Lot of different things to say about the album, and this post will probably be All over the place, lol. You've had your fair warning.
First thing I'm going to mention is that thing that Thiago-what's-his-face got posted on Blabbermouth with Portnoy's stupid comments. I will admit that when I first heard On the Backs of Angels, I did in fact think that it sounded like it was supposed to be "the Pull Me Under of the new album." I didn't necessarily think it sounded like it at all, though. And currently I think that Breaking All Illusions sounds very much parallel to Learning to Live. So I give at least some credence to his theory. But Portnoy was out of line with what he said. Anyway, that's not super related to my review of the album haha.
Ok, so On the Backs of Angels...as a single, I wasn't a particularly big fan of the song. It was fine, sounded good, I liked Mangini's drumming...but as many other people said, it just sounded like DT were too reserved, like they were trying too hard to sound like themselves. But I liked it alright. However, upon first listen of the album as a whole, even before I had heard the second track right after OTBOA, it just felt like an entirely new perspective on the song. It now "makes sense" to me, and I love it a lot more.
Build Me Up, Break Me Down....Ok, the first thing I have to say is WTF is up with LaBrie's screams in the chorus?? Jesus. Ridiculous. Was not expecting that....I feel like this song is basically a verrry straightforward heavy rock song. There (for the most part) aren't any strange meter changes, so it's not particularly progressive, and the riffs are definitely not metal, just upbeat heavy rock, at least to me. However, with that in mind, it's a pretty good rock song. Perhaps one of my least favorite songs on the album currently, but I really like all of them so that doesn't put it very low :)
Lost Not Forgotten is currently my favorite track of the album. I LOVE love love the piano intro, Jordan Rudess has that ebb and flow of the timing DOWN....it's perfect. Beautiful. And the whole rest of the band's intro is amazing too! I love when the rest of the band comes in, and it gets super funky and weird, and then it's like BAM HEAVY! Lol. That chugging riff is incredible in context of the song. I love the double bass rhythms Mangini is playing during the chorus and such too. Not much else to say about this song, just that I really really love the intro and the overall mood of the entire song.
This is the Life. This is very good imho as far as DT power-ballad-esque songs go. I do enjoy the end-ish part when LaBrie takes the chorus up in his higher range, it sounds epic. However, I agree with what I've read some other people saying, that he just sings with too much damn breathy air when he tries to sing soft! It isn't proper technique. :/ It does take away from the song a little bit for me in the beginning, but I've always listened to the instruments more than his voice usually, so it's not Too much of a deal. Also the outro with just Petrucci and Mangini playing the little snare rhythms is Excellent.
Bridges in the Sky....Hmm. I certainly like the intro with the "shaman" ^_^ Oh and I LOVE that at the end of the song you hear the shaman one last time and realize that he was singing the tonic! It is clever and fun for me, haha. The use of the choir in the beginning is very powerful too...dark choir sounds are some of my favorite. The entering guitar riff is sick. Sort of like BMUBMD in that it seems more heavy rock than prog metal, but almost immediately after the rest of the band comes in with Petrucci, it feels more like that classic DT prog metal sound I know and love ^_^ One thing, though...in the chorus, I think it was a VERY odd choice to have LaBrie's melody go major Only in the second line of the lyrics, and stay minor in the rest....it's very weird to my ear. I may yet come to terms with it though. I can't decide if I like it or not lol. I do really like that the end of the song turns uplifting, in contrast to the super dark beginning. This song to me is the turning point of the album, beginning to bring the listener to that happy end, as opposed to a dark one.
Outcry is the famed "track 6." I had been looking forward to this track probably more than any of the other ones, and the reason is that almost every band member talked about it specifically in some interview or another. And all of them said that this was the track with the crazy shit happening in the instrumental section, etc etc. Crazy instrumentals have ALWAYS been my favorite part of Dream Theater's sound. I do think it's an outstanding track, however I must admit that when thinking about the album and this song in particular, I don't particularly remember it for its instrumental section. I probably just haven't listened to it enough yet, but I just feel like it hasn't left a lasting impression on me as I was hoping. Still a great track though. I do think the chorus is fairly epic and has that sort of sad-but-still-uplifting sort of atmosphere to it, though. Oh yeah, JR's classical piano solo in the instrumental section (I'm listening to all the tracks as I review them, haha). It's pretty epic. But I think it is just a teeeeeny bit too soft in the mix. And I guess I really enjoy when the whole band starts playing with Petrucci's soaring solo as if it's about to go back to the main line with vocals, but then they go back into some gnarly riffs right afterward instead. Unexpected change is one of my favorite tools that a composer can use.
Far From Heaven. This is the ballad of the album. The real ballad, that is. Once again, I think LaBrie's voice is too breathy when he's singing softly...but whatever. The message in this song is pretty powerful, I think. I enjoy it. For what it is, I think it's one of the best DT "softies" lol. I agree with what people have said, in the past DT have sort of stumbled over songs like this, but they nailed it pretty well with this track. Although....I won't lie, at the end of the song I feel like it builds up as if something huge is going to happen, and then...well, it basically ends right afterward, with no sort of arrival, in my opinion. That is its only flaw to me, although I do think the ending is quite beautiful.
Breaking All Illusions.....Ok, well as I said earlier, I think this track parallels Learning to Live. Which doesn't surprise me that much I suppose, since it is Myung's song of the album. The parallels I've noticed so far are that it starts out with a funky time signature riff with keyboards, and then the rest of the band comes in, though it happens more quickly in BAI than LTL, I think. And then, right after the first chorus ends, we hear a quirky little keyboard riff happening for a bit and then there's a full band moment and then a nice piano melody happening (basic description...). This occurs shortly after the 5 minute mark I believe...in LTL this nearly EXACT same thing happens after the first chorus, but occurs around 4:40 or little after. Go listen. It's true. Lol. It doesn't bother me though. Ok, yes, I will say it...The chorus ROCKS! It's super uplifting, and the lyrics in this song make you feel great inside, lol. Of course, being a parallel to LTL, I miss LaBrie's F#...-sigh- oh well. The transition out of Petrucci's big solo in the instrumental section to the more upbeat section immediately afterward is pretty shibby, I like it. I can hear in that upbeat section too, how the beat is going to bring us back around to the chorus eventually, and I really love that connection. It's extremely intelligent. So yes, this is a good track. One of my favorites.
Beneath the Surface is the "other" ballad on the album...haha. I didn't label this one as "the ballad" of the album because I feel like it isn't functioning that way, it's more functioning as an addendum to the album as a whole to give the listener a sense of finality. It does that Exceptionally well, in my opinion. First I will say, I LOVE LaBrie's singing at the end! He sounds amazing! And that is the only time I will say he sounds truly amazing on this album. Now I will say, I feel like this song, like Far From Heaven, had a huge build up to no kind of arrival. I really wanted the full band to come blast me away to infinity right at the end, and imo that would have been the best ending to this epic album they could have done. The way Count Of Tuscany did for BC&SL...*epic* But I do think this was a very beautiful way to end the album. It is the most beautiful on the whole album. And I love Rudess's solo. I think it fits perfectly, and doesn't sound funky to me. However, here's my problem with the no arrival thing....we have JR's solo, with strings backing it, then when JL comes back in, there are harmonies, with strings...it all starts sounding more and more epic...and on the first listen, when right after that, it was just JL singing quietly, I was about to be extremely disappointed, but then his voice is like "LAAAAAAAAAAAA" hahaha and I was like "oh ok that's good then." So I guess that is the arrival of the song, but I feel like the backing instruments did not swell enough to match the epicness of his voice to end the album on an intense high note. *shrug* That's just me.
Ok, now for my overall positives and negatives for the album as a whole:
I agree strongly with what I read somewhere that JR has discovered the perfect balance between his style and Moore's style. I noticed after my first listen that there were very strong atmospheric ideas on this album, which gave it a much huger impact than it would've had without them. Definitely a positive.
I think Mangini's drumming is wonderful! I, being a previous MP fanboy, am probably now definitely a "Genie" fanboy! haha. He is so precise in his timing and technique, it's absolutely incredible. However, I Do feel like he's slightly buried in the mix throughout the album. But I'm fairly certain that I only feel that way because I was such a huge fan of MP and his drums were ALWAYS somewhere on top of the mix, and I just love hearing the drums because I play drums, lol. Also, even though I am very pleased with MM as the new drummer, I almost want to say I was kind of underwhelmed by his drumming on the album. But at the same time I can think of many things he did on it that were epic to me. So I'm not sure if I'm actually underwhelmed because of, for example, the fact that Petrucci wrote the initial drum parts, or just because Mangini is SO precise that anything epic he does doesn't even sound difficult, lol. I am somewhat certain that it could be the latter. Positive.
James LaBrie...yes, he does sound good on this album. And yes, I do like the vocal lines a lot, sometimes much more than the lines DT was writing back in the early nineties, and I'm assuming that's because LaBrie had more influence on the writing of them this time around, though he has steadily been gaining in that role the past 10 years anyway. BUT--and this is a big but for me...I have secretly internally been becoming disappointed with him ever since I heard OTBOA and watched vids of the most recent shows. I thought he sounded fabulous on BC&SL, and I saw them on that tour and thought he sounded better than ever live in the show! I really thought he was finally figuring out how to move his voice properly with good technique, similar to I&W days. And then I read interviews with him where he talked about how he recorded the vocals for this album, in his own studio in Canada with his friend who "knows his voice really well" and helped him achieve exactly what he wanted to with it. I thought that was good at first, since in my view he was already drastically improving as of late. But when I heard the vocals on OTBOA, I got sort of worried because they sounded like his vocals on his latest solo albums, Elements of Persuasion and Static Impulse. Now, I'm not saying those are crappy albums, I'm just saying that his vocal technique on them isn't my favorite. His voice doesn't soar along the higher notes and it's not "lilting" as it used to be. Then I saw the first videos posted on youtube of their live concerts. Then I got really worried, because the first concert, to be blunt, he sang like crap. *Prepares for flaming* At the second show he sang better, and I thought it was just that he was super nervous or hadn't gotten into the swing of things yet or whatever. But as I've been watching videos of all those concerts they did recently, I really am starting to lose faith in James LaBrie. I feel like he doesn't even try to hit the high notes in the old material anymore, it's like he gets to the note and gives up before he even comes close to reaching it. And he has been singing OTBOA's chorus out of tune almost every show! That top note sounds horrendous sometimes....And I just have to wonder if he's getting the wrong kind of influence. Because I read stuff where JP was saying how he "gets goosebumps at the way James sings that part" in one of the ballads, and I feel like they don't know how he really should be singing. I think that the only point on the album where his voice shines like it should is at the end of Beneath The Surface, as I said before. Now, I'm sure tons of you are going to hate on me, and I probably sound like a stuck up prick right now...and I'm sort of being that way, I guess. I am a musician in the process of getting my Bachelor's in Music Performance, so I believe at least to a certain extent I know what I'm talking about. But I know I'm going to seem like an asshole. I'm just trying to relate my own opinions based on my own experiences in this review. I apologize for any assholery, lol.
One more thing about the album as a whole though...When I think about all the tracks, I feel like none of the solos stand out to me, or sometimes I don't even feel like there Were that many solos on the album at all! I know that there are, but I think I'm actually becoming desensitized to DT's epicness. I'm pretty sure that that is no fault of the creativity or musicianship of the band, and that I just have heard their material so much that it would take some miracle song to make me go WOW at a solo. But I dunno. Lol. I'll have to update my review of the album after I've listened to it like fifty more times haha. Can't think of anything else to add at the moment....Oh, other than the fact that I can't decide how much I like Mangini's style as a fit for DT. His timing is impeccable, and very precise. But as Petrucci has said, he does play almost at the very end of each beat, he has a very deep groove. And MP was almost Always at the very front of the beats. Generally in upbeat rock music and the likes, the drummer wants to be at the front of the beats, to make the music drive and push forward more. Mangini is extremely precise, but I do feel like maybe his placement in each beat prevents some of the tracks from feeling that forward push that they should have. Also, I kind of got the feeling that his feet can't move anywhere near as fast as they once were able to before his knee injury because there were no extended totally epic double bass sections. But that could also be because JP wrote the drum parts and didn't want any sections with just heavy super fast double bass, like MP wanted more and more in recent years. I guess I'll have to wait to find out on the next album! Which I can't wait for, btw. :D Ok. My review is officially done. Phew.