Personnel: James LaBrie (vocals); John Petrucci (guitar); Yelena Khaimova, Yevgeniy Mansurov, Misha Gutenberg, Larisa Vollis (violin); Aleksandr Anisimov, Noah Wallace (viola); Valeriya Sholokhova, Anastasia Golenisheva (cello); Jordan Rudess (keyboards); Mike Mangini (drums).
Audio Mixer: Richard Chycki.
Recording information: Cove City Sound Studios, Glen Cove, NY.
Illustrator: Hugh Syme.
Photographer: Larry DiMarzio.
Though Dream Theater recruited drummer Mike Mangini to replace Mike Portnoy on 2011's A Dramatic Turn of Events, his drum parts had all been scripted before the change, leading to the rather stilted feeling of the album. This self-titled offering, the band's 12th album overall, marks the first time Mangini was involved in the writing and creative decision making from the jump and it shows. Produced by guitarist John Petrucci and recorded and mixed by Richard Chycki, this is one of the more dynamic, far-reaching albums in DT's catalog. Opener "False Awakening Suite" is a brief but cinematic near-instrumental with twinned guitars and keyboards riffs from Petrucci and keyboardist Jordan Rudess, all underscored by a string section and layered choral vocals by James LaBrie. The band's harder edges are displayed immediately after in "The Enemy Inside," with Mangini's fast, syncopated tom-tom and heavy drumming charging through the labyrinthine changes, as prog and death metal join in an unholy alliance; LaBrie is in command, atop it all. "The Looking Glass" is an obvious tribute to Rush, particularly the big arena anthems like "Spirit of Radio" and "Free Will" in its crunchy intro. It moves beyond that into something darker and more intricate with numerous time changes and interludes, yet always returns to the hook. These three tracks make for a fantastic opening trifecta, but the rest doesn't disappoint either. The driving, labyrinthine instrumental "Enigma Machine" features some of Petrucci's finest playing on the album, while "Behind the Veil" reveals itself slowly, emerging from lithe, whispering keyboard lines to engage explosive drumming and punishing guitar riffs and varied, thrumming bass parts from John Myung. All efforts lead to the five-part, 22-minute closer "Illumination Theory." Though it borrows a riff from "The Enemy Inside," inspiring its first instrumental section, it moves afield quickly. This is Dream Theater at its most creative. Rudess' keyboard playing comes right out of Frank Zappa in several sections, but particularly in "Live, Die Kill." There is an atmospheric interlude in the second instrumental part "The Embracing Circle." In the fourth section, "The Pursuit of Truth," Rudess, Petrucci, and Myung exchange fours, sixes, and eights in syncopated time signatures as Mangini prods them with explosive fills and elephantine rolls between verses. To finish, the music becomes positively majestic (? la Queen) in the final section "The Pursuit of Truth," whispering to a close with acoustic piano, strings, and a single-line guitar melody. Dream Theater is one of the quintet's big ones; it holds inside it everything a fan could want, yet also expands the reach of American prog metal. ~ Thom Jurek