Well, this is the one all the little prog nerds have been waiting on with baited breath: the reunion of Mike Portnoy and John Petrucci. Would they be able to recapture their past Dream Theater/Liquid Tension chemistry or have the years apart and acrimonious split dampened their creative teamwork? The album is finally here and we have some answers.
First, it’s nice to hear them together again. Dream Theater just hasn’t been the same entity since Portnoy left the fold. I think there is a very solid argument to be made that Portnoy is the glue or foundation that helps reign in the excesses of Petrucci (and Ruddess for that matter). Dream Theater has just been a rudderless ship without him
Second, this is kind of a weird album. First off, they’ve split it into the main album LTE 3 and then included a second disc entitled “A Night at the Improv” which is comprised of a bunch of excerpts of their jam sessions that took place in the lead-up to recording the new album. You would think this second disc would be just overindulgent bullshit thrown on to sell a “special edition”. Usually, that’s the case with these additional discs. However, in this case, I’ve got to say: I think the bonus material may actually be stronger than the album proper.
The main album is fine. It feels like they have tried to recapture the magic of the first Liquid Tension album in both musical feel and in the structure of the songs. Album opener, Hypersonic, is a blistering technical virtuosity barn-burner right in the vein of prior album openers, Acid Rain and Paradigm Shift. You’ve got a Portnoy/Levin odd bass/drum duet in “Chris and Kevin’s Amazing Odyssey”. You’ve got an overly melodramatic Petrucci/Ruddess composition. However, they do make the ill-fated decision to include their take on “Rhapsody in Blue”, the George Gershwin composition. For those of you my age, this tune simply bring memories of a United Airlines commercial. This ends up being a 13+ minutes snoozefest. Just a terrible inclusion on the album and it just brings the album flow to a screeching halt. No one likes United Airlines and their skies have not been friendly for some time now.
All in all, it’s fairly straightforward prog shit that is good, but never really reaches the high points of the first two Liquid Tension material. That being said, it is still light years ahead of anything Dream Theater has done post-Portnoy. The highlight of this album is closer “Key to the Imagination” which is the most forward thinking and innovative track on the album. Just a great riff and feel. It is complex without being showy or over-the-top. Seriously, I think if they had paired this last track with the songs included on the bonus disc, they would have had a much stronger album.
So, what’s up with the bonus disc and why do I like it so much? I’m not entirely sure, but it is just a much more enjoyable listen than the album proper. It’s like they were in a more relaxed mood during these sessions and the songs just seem to flow together more. It doesn’t feel like prog metal done by numbers and it doesn’t feel like virtuosity for virtuosity’s sake. So many of the tunes on the album proper feel like they are trying to check all of the boxes to get nominated for best guitarist/drummer/keyboardist in the various music rags. Sure, it’s impressive, but it all feels like we’ve heard it before. The bonus disc doesn’t feel this way. It just feels like musicians completely on the same wavelength and exploring where the vibe takes them. It’s an inspiring listen.
So, verdict: Happy to hear Portnoy and Petrucci together again. Really wish Mike Mangini would just step down from Dream Theater for the good of the entity so they can bring Portnoy back to where he belongs. Album is decent and the bonus disc pushes the entire thing to a higher rating than it deserves on its own.
4 flip flops out of 5