OK, so while the new, self-titled DT record doesn't officially hit the streets until Tuesday (or I believe Monday in the UK) there are sites that are (with the band's permission) streaming it and of course and as always... it is widely being pirated as well.
And also as always, any new DT record brings out wildly different opinions on its merits, or the lack thereof. Honestly, this band has the most difficult-to-please/seemingly-never-happy fans on the planet and for everyone of them is a total "they-can-do-no-wrong" fanboy, so it's hard to gauge one of their records on fan responses. LOL
Personally, I reside somewhere in between those 2 camps and therefore I like to think I am more objective than many are about the band. I also try to measure each new record for what it is and not for what it is not. In other words, I don't secretly wish for each record to be a remake of "Images and Words". Much like with Rush, I don't care about capturing past glories, as much as I want to take the next ride and see where it leads.
So... with my bona fides well and truly established, let's proceed. Excelsior!
The opening 2 minute plus instrumental "False Awakening Suite" is simply fantastic and unlike anything they've done before. If only it were a few minutes longer! I suppose the closest thing to it might be the overture section of the 6DOIT suite, but this song is much darker and more cinematic sounding. Great piece!
The first "real" song is "The Enemy Inside" and it is a pretty good indication of much of what is to follow... musically fantastic, but a little lacking in the "catchy vocal melody" department. The choruses are not quite as immediate as the last record, which I thought was a masterpiece, but honestly... I don't really listen to DT for that anyway. For me, it has always been about the incredible technical proficiency first and this record has no shortage of that. The melodies will come with repeat listenings. In any event, it may take a few listens to sink in, but "The Enemy Inside" is a great track! The middle instrumental section is amazing!
Next up we have "The Looking Glass", which is kind of Rush's "Limelight" meets something off "Images And Words" and it works really well. Kind of laid back during the verses, a formula they repeat on a number of the new songs. Anyway... very nice track.
The 2nd instrumental "Enigma Machine" follows and features some absolutely mind-melting playing, but then what would you expect for a DT instrumental. Mike Mangini's drumming is, as it is on the whole record, remarkable here and John Petrucci's soloing is simply extraordinary. And Jordan Rudess? I think he's possibly from another planet. LOL
That brings us to "The BIgger Picture", a little more adventurous than "The Looking Glass", but also has little hints of Rush at times and some mellower verse sections. Petrucci's solo is a bit more subdued and melodic on this one and it is done to great effect. The song also features a nice outro section. A good track, but a bit of a grower
"Behind The Veil" is next and starts with a bit of an ambient opening, before launching into something that also sounds a bit "Images and Words"-ish. Another grower track that begins to pay off with repeated spins.
"Surrender To Reason" is one my initial standouts. Again it has little hints of "Moving Pictures" era Rush to it, before breaking down to an acoustic guitar driven first verse, with some really interesting chord changes. From there it goes into territory both familiar and not familiar. A short middle break that goes from a really pretty guitar melody into a section that almost has a little gothic feel it. Kind of a weird transition, but I love it. The next guitar solo has a very Alex Lifeson tone to it, before leading to a nice, melodic vocal outro refrain. Great track!
The we have "Along For The Ride", the requisite ballad. Probably my least favorite track, but a decent one nonetheless. A very Keith Emerson-like keyboard solo in the middle.
That finally brings us to the record closing epic... the 22 minute long "Illumination Theory". This will, like most everything they seemingly do, divide the fan base. Personally, I think it is an incredible piece of music, but it does have some elements that some DT fans struggle with, like a lengthy (about 4 minutes long) ambient keyboard/string section in the middle. The more metal-based fans probably won't have the patience for it, but what Jordan is doing here is absolutely stunning. It reminds me a little of the "Soon" section of Yes' "Gates Of Delirium", but with some prettier (if that is even possible) chord changes. It's beautiful and unlike anything you've heard on a DT record previously. Coming out of this is one of the stronger vocal sections on the record and one of the more powerful sections on the record, followed by a somewhat ELP inspired instrumental break and an otherworldly solo exchange between Petrucci and Rudess and finally a nice, melodic vocal outro. Perhaps not the best of their epic length tracks, but pretty close in my book. Again... there will be those that love it and those who will find reason to hate it.
On the whole, I'm not sure yet if I like it as much as "A Dramatic Turn Of Events", although I might get there, but it definitely has some moments that reach as high as they ever have, some new ground that gets covered and no songs that I would feel the need to skip, so what more could you want?
Out of 10, and for the moment, I'll score it a 9.