Thrilled to present @jimmybing’s review of the new Dream Theater release – A Dramatic Turn of Events

Dream Theater is iconic, even outside the Progressive rock world.  Now they attempt to carry on without their founding member, drummer extraordinaire Mike Portnoy.

It’s an honor to present James Bingham‘s review of the new record, aptly titled ‘A Dramatic Turn of Events’, which comes out tomorrow.  Once you read the review, you’ll understand why I’m so pleased to be presenting Mr. Bingham’s considerable insight and wit.  Whether you are a long time fan of DT who remains skeptical about the new release, or you are simply someone who appreciates great music, or even if you just like a good story, I urge you to read on.     And, without further ado:

Dream Theater has got something to prove. They – and a million other bands – will swear up and down that everything they do they do for the fans. And while that’s true to an extent, “A Dramatic Turn of Events” (and how dramatic they’ve been) has got to be about more. With the departure of Mike Portnoy – who’s arguably been running the band for some time now – Dream Theater has got to prove that it can hang tough, that it’s not going disappear into the ether along with Betamax, the new Coke and other obscurities people only reference in reviews like this.

So the gauntlet’s been laid down. Actually, it was laid down a year ago when Portnoy first announced he was leaving the band. Well, the album is finally upon us and now it’s time for some straight talk. Dream Theater delivered the goods. And not only that, they’ve delivered their strongest album since “Scenes from a Memory,” more than a decade ago. And the haters – true to their name – are going to hate that. “The band’s lost its soul! Portnoy was a founding member!” they scream, conveniently ignoring the fact that John Petrucci and John Myung are also founding members, and that James LaBrie’s been in the band for so long he might as well be grouped with the rest of them. Portnoy may have been the most active with the fans, but that doesn’t mean he was single-handedly writing the music.

But after only a single listen of this new album, it’s obvious he was pushing it very hard in a certain direction. And now that he’s gone, the band has returned to a fuller, warmer sound. It’s something that’s been missing for quite a while, and it’s not until you hear it again that you realize how much you missed it. There’s a lot to look out for, so I’d like to hit the highlights, what stuck out most to me in my first few listens.

The album opens with the new single “On the Backs of Angels,” which any fan worth their salt has listened to already, so we’ll skip ahead to the next track, “Build Me Up, Break Me Down.” If any track could be said to bridge the gap between the old Dream Theater and the new, this is it. With its electronic drumbeat intro and screaming chorus, this may be the album’s most “mainstream” track, although the sound is very distinctly Dream Theater. There’s a really great orchestral backup that builds to an eerie outro and the sound of galloping horses.

This is the beginning of “Lost Not Forgotten,” and the first time the band really comes together and shines. It kind of took me by surprise, because when I listened to the minute-long clip that was released a few weeks back, it sounded more like “Black Clouds & Silver Linings” than anything else; something a lot like “A Nightmare to Remember,” which is to say same old same old. And while the chorus is very driving, it picks you up and carries you along with it. The only word I can think of to describe it would be “soaring.” The song’s also got a very proggy breakdown in the middle – think the very best bits of “Octavarium” and “Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence” – before picking up that chorus again and taking us out.

Things slow down a bit with “This is the Life.” This song, “Far From Heaven” and “Beneath the Surface” I felt were all very much of a piece. Actually, you can separate the entire album between its down- and up-tempo tracks. And it seems like there’s just the right number of each. I think these slower songs will appeal to those who haven’t been too impressed with the band’s work in that arena these past few albums.

“Bridges in the Sky” goes slightly Tool in the beginning with a weird shaman-who-swallowed-a- didgeridoo-chanting intro. Dream Theater’s been writing music for close to 30 years that stylistically has all been very similar, so I won’t begrudge them going off the reservation a bit and doing something so weird. This song is kind of a microcosm for the entire album, in that it strikes just the right balance between hard and soft. We’ve got the driving double bass and hard guitar rhythms, which seamlessly move into these beautiful choruses.

“Outcry” is definitely ADTOE’s beat-you-over-the-head technical masterpiece, a song that’s really got it all. Syncopated rhythms. Crazy solos. You notice this with the lyrical sections throughout the entire album, but I think it’s especially true here: LaBrie’s solo projects have definitely rubbed off. There’s a very strong Leonardo vibe here, although this album possesses a warmth that album didn’t (which isn’t to say I didn’t dig it). As for the music, there’s so much crazy switching off between Petrucci, Rudess and Mangini that I can’t wait to see them pull this one off live.

For my money, “Breaking All Illusions” is the winner; this album’s “Learning to Live.” It’s also the first song John Myung has written lyrics to since “Fatal Tragedy” on “Scenes.” While “Lost Not Forgotten” and “Outcry” showcase some darker flavors, “Breaking All Illusions” hits the lighter side. There’s some great back and forth between the guitars and keyboards. The entire song has got a very strong YES and Marillion vibe, but it never feels like it’s wearing these inspirations on its sleeve. The whole things ends in typical DT fashion, very epic, lots of pounding drums. This particular song feels more like the end of a soundtrack than a rock album. But there’s still more to come.

The band has done something here they haven’t done since “Awake.” They reel things in and end the album with the much lighter “Beneath the Surface.” This one is like a ballad plus some with Jordan’s Moogy solo in the middle, a reminder that these guys take different musical styles and make them their own. It was kind of the perfect note to go out on, and displayed a quiet confidence that we really haven’t seen in a while.

So they did it. If we’re looking at the band post-“Scenes,” I loved “Octavarium,” but I LOVED this album. It’s bigger, it’s fuller, it takes the band in a new direction while paying homage to the old school Dream Theater we’ve all been eulogizing these past few years. And none of that is a knock against Mike Portnoy. He’s a great drummer, and with DT he accomplished great things. They made great music together and we’ll always have that. But I think it had just gotten to a point where he was holding them back. And if “A Dramatic Turn of Events” is the album they put out after he leaves, I wish he had left after “Octavarium.” It’s something I never thought I’d hear myself say, but as the saying goes the proof is in the pudding. Dream Theater’s epic, proggy pudding. We’ve heard them say for years that they thought the band’s best years were ahead of them, but we never really believed it. But after this, I have a feeling they may be right.

James blogs at, and you can follow him at

Did Portnoy just pull a Morse on Rosh Hashana?


Mike Portnoy yesterday announced that he is leaving Dream Theater, the band he founded a quarter of a century ago. Dream Theater not only created a prodigious recorded legacy, but also brought Progressive Rock to a new level of respectability. Literally hundreds of bands from every corner of the globe owe their sound and their success to Dream Theater. The trail blazed by Portnoy and his exceptionally talented bandmates camouflaged the Prog by wrapping it in the attitude and aggression of Heavy Metal. With such heavy riffs and forceful vocals, the masses were perfectly willing to accept odd time signatures and extended compositions that required Roman numerals to mark the divisions.

And while each member of the band is truly a virtuoso (particularly Jordan Rudess on keys and John Petrucci on guitar), it was Portnoy’s drumming that brought the band’s success to another level. At the live show, audience members are treated to a drum kit the size of a school bus. But Portnoy does not stop with the standard double bass attack. He has a unique ability to bring the mathematical perfection of artists like Bill Bruford and Neil Peart to the visceral thunder of John Bonham and Keith Moon. As anyone who has seen him play can attest, the combination is nothing short of explosive.

Another of Portnoy’s influences is Phil Collins. Portnoy may not pursue the latter’s taste for soft rock and adult contemporary song-stylings, but in the 80’s there was no harder working man in music. While fronting Genesis to the height of their popularity, Collins also stormed the top of the charts with his solo career, played on and produced countless albums, and even toured with other artists as a sideman. All at the same time.

Over the past ten years, since Dream Theater has really established its foothold as a successful and self-sustaining musical enterprise, Portnoy has matched (and perhaps surpassed) Collins’ amazing run thirty years ago. Lately, this has culminated in a collaboration with Avenged Sevenfold which included recording a record and touring in support. Before that, Portnoy reunited with the pure progressive super group Transatlantic, to both record an album and do a tour. He has played on several albums by fellow Transatlantic artist Neal Morse. He has fronted instrumental projects and recorded instructional videos. He has probably recorded as much or more in his extracurricular activities as he has with Dream Theater.

Neal Morse is an extraordinarily gifted songwriter, singer and keyboard player. He founded a band with his brother called Spock’s Beard, which released its first album in 1995. Spock’s Beard was, and continues to be, a truly progressive Rock band. There was no mistaking this outfit with Genesis of the 70’s or Marillion of the 80’s. This may have been the same art form, but it had truly progressed. And one of the Beard’s contributions to that ongoing progression was a more aggressive guitar sound, almost veering into the realm of metal at times. Spock’s Beard worked hard, recording and touring without mercy. The result was a legion of fans and enough commercial success for the gig to be self-sustaining.

Morse is seven years older than Portnoy but the two have become great friends and natural musical collaborators. They share an ESP that elevates the music they make together. In 2002, Morse shocked the prog world by not just leaving Spock’s Beard but asserting that his relationship with the Lord and Jesus Christ was the reason. While this has made many a prog fan uncomfortable, Portnoy rushed to the defense of his friend and the two created and extraordinary work of music simply called “?” in 2005. There are a slew of guests, including the venerable Steve Hackett, but at the record’s heart and soul is the beautiful communication shared by these gifted artists.

And now Portnoy has left his band, on the eve of Rosh Hashana, no less. Is there a religious awakening coming down the pike for Portnoy? Will we next see him sporting payis and teffilin? I don’t think so. It is more likely that this is similar to Peter Gabriel’s departure from Genesis in 1975, when he stated he was searching for the unexpected. Portnoy is ready to get off the merry-go-round that Dream Theater has become. It seems a shame, because he, unlike Gabriel in Genesis, has always had so much leeway to do independent projects, but it is clear that is now not enough.

I don’t like Spock’s Beard as much now, even though they’ve done an amazing job of staying together, maximizing their output and staying relevant. I hope Dream Theater can follow suit. But just as Neal Morse’s solo output since his departure represents the best music he has ever created, so I hope that, whatever comes next for Portnoy will eclipse all of his past achievements.

Odds and ends – music, friends, family, fun


Special thanks to el Sturg and his lovely wife for hosting me in the DC metro area.  Senor Sturj and I ventured into the wilds of Columbia, MD for Progressive Nation 2009.  We got treated to Zappa Plays Zappa, Dream Theater, and even a little Queensryche.  It was a great night of music with a dear friend, but I’ll need some time to digest the whole deal.  In short, the Zappa set was brilliant, satisfying and very much what I expected.  It was a treat to see such extraordinary music played so brilliantly.  Dream Theater, quite simply, was an onslaught.  Portnoy might be the best in the business behind the drums.  I’ve seen him before, but not with HIS band.  This show was loud, abnoxious, mighty and awesome.  Like I said, more on that later.

I also received a huge supplement to my music collection via Mr. and Mrs. Sturg.  With the former, I have an opportunity to hear every single show Mahavishnu played between 1972 and 1974.  Friday night, Saturday night, Sunday night, etc, etc.  That is a deep collection.  From the later, I got to continue my education in sounds from around the world, as the Mrs. has traveled widely, speaks fluent Spanish and supplemented her considerable music collection accordingly.  I was only able to scratch the surface while being treated to pancakes and fresh fruit this morning, but I still managed to collect many gigs.  It was a good haul; just how good, will take some time to fully realize.

Friday night (still in Philly), my friend Joe had the sense to push me to Johnny Brenda’s, where I always love what I see.  In this case, it turned out top be a band I had already seen, but in a much worse venue.  I previously reflected on these events over at Fretbuzz, so there’s that.

On Thursday we wrapped up a great visit with my dear sister and her hell-ish beast-like offspring amazingly sweet and hilariously funny kids.  Dorothy has some great shots posted at her .mac sight.  I’ve got a few things to add, although most of my stills are from the Bat Mitzvah.  This video (warning: unedited!!) gives a good feel of how things progressed:

With today’s 7-3 drubbing at the hands of the Gigantos, the Phillies have now dropped a disturbing number of games on this seven-game west coast trip.  I wouldn’t worry so much, seeing as their lead in the atrocious NL East is still pretty comfortable, but they will undoubtedly have to play San Francisco and/or LA when playoff time comes, provided they get there.

I guess the last thing worth mentioning is the insane joy I’ve been getting from following Brent Spiner (Star Trek: TNG’s Data; yes, that Brent Spiner) on Twitter.  He has clearly elevated the art form.

AND, last but not least, the new Beardfish record Destined Solitaire is yet another work of genius.  Great music, lyrics, cover art, everything.  More on that later too.