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Dream Theater - 'A Dramatic Turn Of Events' (roadrunner) 3.5/5

More prog metal now, and this times it's Massachusetts outfit Dream Theater who enter the spotlight with A Dramatic Turn of Events, their eleventh studio opus and the first since the departure of their long term sticksman Mike Portnoy.

Now Dream Theater fans, and there are a lot of them, will find nothing out of the ordinary on offer here. There are nine tracks, all but two weigh in at 7 minutes plus, four are ten minute plus epics and all are typical DT fayre. Slick, complex, perfectly penned, performed and produced. All the hallmark sounds are here as well, opener On The Backs of Angels is your standard Maiden meets Fish era Marillion type of thing, Build Me Up Break Me Down has  touch of the Queensryches about it (old Queensryche, not the sad ghost of a band they are now), Lost Not Forgotten features a tasteful piano intro from Jordon Rudess before launching to some fairly self indulgent widdling interposed around a Megadeth influenced riff; This Is the Life has a bit of Hogarth era Marillion simpers about it with a solo from John Petrucci that is pure Steve Rothery... and so it continues.

Now I can't help feeling that I've heard it all before. As good as this album is, it's still the same sort of stuff Dream Theater have been serving us up for the past few albums, and whilst I have no problems in bands sticking to their tried and trusted formulas, when your dealing with musicians of this caliber I can't help but feel there is a wee bit of laurel resting going on here. Don't get me wrong, there are parts of this album that are just brilliant. Take the first couple of minutes of Bridges in the Sky with its huge choral sound, or the instrumental section in the middle of Outcry, with its complex interplay of rhythms, or Nektaresque conclusion to Breaking All Illusions as just three examples.

But we are talking sections of tracks here rather than full songs. I just can't put my finger on what it is, but I just don't get a wow factor here, not one that lasts anyway. Maybe it's cos Dream Theater have been at the top of the prog metal tree for years, they have always been a band I've admired greatly and their albums have never failed to blow me away before; but recent releases from the likes of Opeth, Spires and especially Arch / Matheos have hit me with a bigger punch and left me with a bigger buzz than this album does.

Apparently Mr Portnoy left because he felt the band should take a bit of time out and refresh themselves before they started going stale, the rest of the band disagreed and so he left, and after living with album for a while I can't help but feel that Mr Portnoy is being proved right.

For hardcore DT fans only

for fans of...Queensyrche, Fates Warning, Awake, Opeth etc...

Opeth - 'Heritage' (roadrunner records) 4.5/5

Swedish outfit Opeth have been around for over 20 years now, and time can change a band, but time has changed few bands as much as it has changed Opeth. With only vocalist Mikael Åkerfeldt surviving since the bands formation, they have evolved from a full on death metal outfit via various forms of metal and progressive metal until at last they have arrived with Heritage, an album that can only be described as full blown prog rock, with the metalisms reduced to almost non-existence.

Now this isn't necessarily a bad thing, for although my inner metalhead feels a little let down, my inner hippy is chuffed to bit's with whats on offer on this Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree) produced opus.Opening with the title track, (in effect a short 2 minute piano piece) it soon cuts into The Devils Orchard a cracking little track that manages to blend a riff that sounds a little like 'Pictures At An Exhibition' era Emerson Lake and Palmer. Then we have I Feel The Dark that starts off sounding a bit Jethro Tull before moving into King Crimson and Van der Graaf Generator territory. In fact the whole album is dripping classic progressive rockisms. Tracks like Slither and Haxprocess explore the same territory Pallas and Pendragon have been probing on recent albums, whilst other, such as Famine and The Lines in My Hand are in the Focus, Nektar and Eloy vein. There are snatches of Yes, Genesis, Porcupine Tree, Twelfth Night, PFM, and the rest in the mix, but yet at the same time it manages never to sound generic or dated. What's more there isn't a death grunt vocal or blast beat drum pattern to be seen.

The performances are first rate, especially the guitar work of Fredrik Åkesson, who manages to do pull off the expected Andy Latimer-U-Like soaring solos and the Steve Howesque twiddly bits with a perfection few can muster. And on the closing instrumental Marrow Of The Earth, his playing can only be described as sublime.

Now I can see this album not impressing many of their older fans who preferred their death and progressive metal stuff, but equally I can see many hardcore progressive rock fans embracing this new sound. Especially in light of the wave of hippy-trippy-away-with-the-fairies female fronted neo-folk stuff that so often gets passed off as prog these day.

This is a good album, a brave album and one that Opeth should be proud of producing. Buy it Now!!

For fans of... Pallas, Pendragon, Porcupine Tree, Camel etc...

The Devil Wears Prada - 'Dead Throne' (roadrunner) 4.5/5

It's metalcore time again, but this time its Ohio Christcore outfit The Devil Wears Prada who are in the spotlight with 'Dead throne'. their fourth full length album.

Gotta say from the off, that this is a good record, and is better than most of the Brit metalcore that's around at them moment. It could be that TDWP are four albums into their career and so have had chance to polish their sound and delivery, it could be that with major label backing they have bigger recording budgets, it could be that keyboardist James Baney gives them a dimension most other hard and metalcore acts lack. Whatever the reason Dead Throne is a very impressive and accessible record.

Kicking off with the title track, we get some great pound and bludgeon with those delicious keyboards giving the whole thing a real epic feel, and so it continues for the next couple of tracks. The clean and dirty vocal interplay between Jeremy DePoyster and Mike Hranica is some of the best I've ever come across and even in the shouty grunty bits, you can still hear the lyrics, which no doubt will make their fellow christians very happy indeed. OK they do get a wee bit preachy in places 'I saw the light of God, walk in the light of God' etc. But I'm a great believer in free speech and freedom of faith, and TDWP have got just as much right to sing about God as Behemoth have to sing about the Devil, it don't stop me or any one else digging the music big time, and after all I suppose even angels like to form a circle pit from time to time.

Highlights include My Question with its huge stacked vocal chorus, the drifty and almost trippy Kansas with some delightful clean guitar work, Chicago with its epic build up from almost nothing to a huge wall of brutal sound, the relentless thrash out of Constance and darkly epic of Pretenders. Hell, white-metal, has come a long long way since the days of Stryper, and music in general is all the better for it.

Basically this is a great album and all wanna be metalcore outfits world wide should pay close attention, this is how it should be done. Very Highly Recommended.

For Fans of.... The Bled, Dillinger Escape Plan, Malefice, Screaming Eyes and God.