This album is one of the rare albums that added nothing new to the sound and universe of DREAM THEATER. They have tried it all: Soft and dreamy Progressive Rock pearls like on "Images And Words", complex conceptual structures like on "Scenes From A Memory", very dark Heavy and Thrash Metal epics like on "Train Of Thought", silent and orchestral Progressive Metal like on "Octavarium" and rather modern stuff like on "Systematic Chaos". Now, "Black Clouds And Silver Linings" reunites all of this in a single whole album, leaves us the unnecessary and watering parts and simply presents the stunning quintessence of the band's philosophy. To keep it simple, this album is far away from being original or surprising but it is simply the most consistent and in my opinion best album this band has ever made. If you are a newbie and interested in the band's works you should take this album as an introduction and a greatest hits compilation at the same time.
"A Nightmare To Remember" is a very dark and atmospheric killer that opens the album on a very depressive mood that sends shivers down my spine. The nightmare is immediately present and this song makes you living it in all its high paced emotions and rare moments of tranquility. It is maybe the most addicting and intensive song the band has ever written and is a voyage to the core of your deep hidden emotions. This is better than cinema and the sixteen minutes pass extremely fast so don't be afraid to begin the album by watching the track's running time. You will highly appreciate every minute of this epic masterpiece that mixes styles from the dark "Train Of Thought" with the epic mood of an "Octavarium".
"A Rite Of Passage" is the addicting single that comes along with oriental and very atmospheric keyboard and guitar sounds and a highly addicting and epic chorus. This song is like an "Innocence Faded" meets "As I Am" meets "Constant Motion" but still has a very unique approach with its Oriental influences that remind me of "Home". Useless to say that the guitar and keyboard solos are fast, melodic, addictive, diversified and well executed.
"Wither" is the ballad of the album and this time it is a rather dark and atmospheric song and not a commercial piece of kitsch. This very melancholic and dreamy song reminds me of "Surrounded", "Vacant" or "Forsaken". James LaBrie is doing an excellent job and his voice perfectly harmonizes with the dark but soft melodies.
"The Shattered Fortress" is the last part of Mike Portnoy's famous Twelve-step Suite or Alcoholics Anonymous Suite. This songs reunites passages from all other four songs before ("The Glass Prison", "This Dying Soul", "The Root Of All Evil", "Repentance") and adds a couple of few new melodies. Some people may say that this song only repeats the previous tracks but I would rather say that this song is a perfect conclusion and résumé to the whole topic and makes us voyage on the waves of space and time forwards and backwards to remind a let us live again what we have heard before. I see this track as a grand finale to a unique and highly interesting suite and experience in the universe of the Progressive Metal music.
"The Best Of Times" is dedicated to Mike Portnoy's father that died soon before the release of this album. His son had still found the moment to play this song to his dying father with his own vocals. This version is even more intense and touching than the actual album version with James LaBrie on the vocals. The lyrics are very insightful and interesting. Musically, this song has a strong Progressive Rock touch and reminds a lot of GENESIS and especially RUSH. The guitar leads and harmonies have a strong late seventies or early eighties touch and this song might also please to people that normally rather avoid DREAM THEATER because it really has a different approach that has nothing to do with Metal but with pure Rock music.
"The count of Tuscany" is a stunning and epic piece that tells us a disturbing and weird story. Musically, the song takes its power out of its tranquility and reminds me of the silent moments of a "Octavarium" or "Space-Dye West". This song is mysteriously floating through wind and wuthering and is really addicting and relaxing. I would give KING CRIMSON's "In The Court Of The Crimson King" or GENESIS' "Wind And Wuthering" as references to this sound. The track also has some nightmare passages like this album opener and a strong chorus but really focuses on an eerie and quiet atmosphere where especially the keyboards do an amazing job. This song is a perfect and calm album closer without being an ordinary ballad. Together with "A Nightmare To Remember", this track is my favourite one of this record and in the top five of my favourite DREAM THEATER tracks of all times.
All in all, this is an intense, atmospheric and diversified masterpiece and a perfect last album for Mike Portnoy that has parted ways with the band now and who left with two extremely strong tracks to finish his epic Twelve-step suite and to honour his own father. I think that this is the opus magnum, the masterpiece, the maximum that this band is able to do. But I am ready to see and listen what they are working on for the near future and if they try out something new or try to copy and follow the compilation sound of this grand résumé. To keep it short: Get this record if you love atmospheric music and if you are ready to take your time to get addicted and hypnotized by music to be ready for a voyage of the grandest kind.
(Online January 30, 2012)