Review by Mike@
El Opinador Compulsivo
UPDATE : Linked by The Ytse Times, thanks !
UPDATE : Traducido al español por The Shaman's Blog, gracias !!
UPDATE : Linked at reddit.com, thanks !
UPDATE : Music video of On The Back Of Angels, here !
I'll start this review with my "play by play" impressions, as I recorded them while listening the album in one sitting for the first time (I had listened to some songs separately before).
The album opens with "On The Back of Angels", with a great intro and a complex transition to the main riff. LaBrie is in top form, delivering some "political" lyrics :
We spiral towards disaster,
survival fading faster.
Riding out the wave,
content to feed off the machine.
Bleeding us to death,
the new American dream.
You’re blinded by your hunger,
beware… your days are numbered.
Then another segue into the chorus, an interesting hard-rock bridge, and an exquisite Rudess piano interlude, with Mangini holding the fort and a great Petrucci solo (brief and restrained, as I like JP the most). 8/10
"Build Me Up, Break Me Down" opens with some scratching and background guitars exploding into a classic DT riff. LaBrie sings "over the phone". Theme is pretty heavy, I'd like to see James howling this live ! Astounding work of Myung and Mangini in the background. Unusual loops and scratching on the bridge, followed by a short, classical Petrucci solo. Chorus with Labrie at 110% and a climatic Rudess outro. 8/10
"Lost Not Forgotten", Jordan drafts in the piano and the band explodes on the main theme. Mangini is on fire, propelling a short and very complex dialogue between the four players. One of the best choruses I heard from DT. Then a bridge with LaBrie on the high register (a recurrence over the album). Chorus and a syncopated conversation between the four, leading to a fast, lyrical Petrucci solo, then to a new riff supporting some exploration by Rudess, clearly influenced by Keith Emerson (another recurrence). Extended chorus with additional lyrics (typical DT) and closing with the initial motif. 9/10
A powerful intro on "This Is The Life" leads to the piano and a very lyrical Labrie, with verses punctuated by a moving guitar and synth motif. Second verse with a great vocal harmony, then a powerful bridge supported by Rudess on what sounds like a Mellotron, and a great Petrucci solo takes the tune to the higher register, where James feels very confident throughout the whole album. The main motif repeats and closes with acoustic guitar. 9/10
"Bridges in the Sky" begins with tribal percussion and a Tuvan Throat Singer, leading to a beautiful and eerie female chorus. This combination reminded me of a fantastic album called "Fly, Fly, My Sadness", by a Tuvan singers group from Mongolia (Huun-Huur-Tu) and the Bulgarian female chorus Angelite. We've posted about that exquisite album some time ago here. The effect is superb and develops a beautiful atmosphere, which is promptly SMASHED by a FREAKING METAL STEAMROLLER driven by Petrucci, Myung and Mangini, and helped by Rudess they demolish everything on their way. Over a complex and powerful riff, LaBrie delivers on a dark tone (my favorite). The chorus slows the pace for a while, but later they return fast, with a different structure and more synths.
"Bridges In The Sky" score excerpt (not really)
After a lyrical bridge, LaBrie invokes the shaman and the band begins an EPIC instrumental. Impossible changes lead to an unleashed Petrucci on his wah-wah. More Rudess (or is it Emerson again ?), more bizarre changes, back to the chorus and the bridge with the eponymous lyrics (btw the original name for the tune was "The Shaman's Trance"). Again the STEAMROLLER, more mellotron, and an excellent Mangini. The song closes with the solitary Tuvan singer. 10/10, only because this score scale doesn't go to 11.
"Outcry" begins with an hypnotical rhythm and samples around a celeste sound, leading to a devastatingly powerful intro with mellotron, a great riff with layers of guitars and synths. LaBrie is awesome describing the horrors of battle. Then a beautiful, almost whispered interlude and a crescendo leading to the chorus. Second verse on a similar structure, and then the band launches an intrumental with arabic influences on a syncopated base at maximum speed. Petrucci and Rudess trade lightning-fast scales, and the song moves in a direction reminding me of "The Dance Of Eternity" and also "A Change Of Seasons" in some sections, really epic. Petrucci leads to a climax and then emerges a beautiful piano theme. Labrie sings over this melody, and the tune gains strength as James calls for "resistance". The final verse dissapointed me a little, like it doesn't fit well with the rest of the song. However, the finale is Octavarium-like, so it all evens out. 9/10
"Far From Heaven", a simple, touching ballad. LaBrie on his gentle, melancholic side, helped just by Rudess on piano and synth. Nice, direct lyrics about the pressures of a relationship. A tune for holding high your cellphone or cigarette lighter during the show. 8/10
"Breaking All Illusions" has a complex riff right from the gates. Mangini delivers awesomely. A very interesting melody, then a soft base by Myung and LaBrie leads, with a recorded voice speaking in the backround (which I couldn't identify). Great slow chorus, then another syncopated riff, more powerful than the first verse, Another chorus with great vocals lead to a SUPERHUMAN interlude with breaks in different styles, and then they lower the pace for a very lyrical Petrucci solo. After a short break he's back, this time sounding almost like Santana, in one of the best solos I've heard of him. Then he is unleashed and the band helps him for a while, leading to a new complex riff led by Rudess, with a more traditional prog-rock style. LaBrie returns for the chorus and the finale, which reminded me of Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence ('nuff said). 10/10
Falling water drops on a lake inside a cavern, mark the beginning of "Beneath The Surface", with a synth and Petrucci's acoustic delivering an AMAZING ballad. LaBrie sings about being on different times on a relationship, and the lyrics are sad and beautiful. Another tune for holding your cellphone up in the air.
Until one day you stopped caring
and began to forget why you tried to be so close
and you dissapear into the darkness
and the darkness turned to pain
and never went away
until all that remained
deep beneath the surface.
Then Jordan delivers a beautiful, simple solo on what sounds like the Moog used by Keith Emerson on "Lucky Man" (1973). Then LaBrie sings the final verse on the high register (kinda reminded me of Tommy Shaw from Styx). He sounds confident, powerful, and touching. A perfect ending for the album. 10/10.
Well... this is definitely a fantastic record, overall 9/10. The band is in top form, they keep innovating and exploring new avenues of sound, without losing touch with their prog-metal roots. Those who were freaking out about losing Mike Portnoy's powerhouse drumming, now can relax. Mangini is outstanding, in his own personal way.
HOWEVER, one thing that I missed, is the dark, metal streak permeating every DT album with Portnoy at the kit. Perhaps is in the drumming or maybe in the background vocals MP provided, but here in ADTOE that streak is only present in "Bridges in the Sky", incidentally the best track for me. I believe this is the only track that sounds like Portnoy is still at the kit. Anyway, that's just me, your mileage may vary.
Granted, ADTOE is not a classic masterpiece like Octavarium, Six Degrees, or Scenes from a Memory. But the band is still adjusting after Portnoy's departure, finding their new "degrees of freedom"... and this album is definitely a big step in the right direction. Can't wait to watch them live playing this material, and also can't wait for the NEXT album :)