The 12 Steps According to Dream Theater
|2009 - August|
On June 23rd the New York-based progressive metal quintet Dream Theater released their tenth studio album entitled Black Clouds & Silver Linings. It features the fifth and final installment of a series of songs that chronicle a personal recovery experience through working the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. As a longtime fan of this extremely talented rock music group, I anxiously awaited the release of this record to complete the musical 12 Steps Suite according to Dream Theater drummer and lyricist Mike Portnoy.
In 2002 Dream Theater released their sixth studio album entitled Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence. I bought a copy, popped it into the CD player, and the first song entitled “The Glass Prison” began to play. The first three words sung were “Cunning, Baffling, Powerful.” I did a double-take. Not only did I listen closer and hear many more of the familiar slogans and statements associated with AA, but I opened the CD booklet and read the lyrics. The song covered Steps 1-3 and printed right there on the page after the lyrics was “Dedicated to Bill W. and all of his friends.” That same statement appears on the next four albums .
This is certainly not the first music artist or group to acknowledge addiction and recovery, but I don’t think anyone else has gone to the extent they have, devoting 57 plus minutes of music specifically to the subject of the 12 Steps. Each step represented in the five song titles carries the “Re” theme from Recovery throughout. They are 1) The Glass Prison: I. Reflection / II. Restoration / III. Revelation, (from Six Degrees…), 2) This Dying Soul: IV. Reflections of Reality (Revisited) / V. Release, (from Train of Thought), 3) The Root of All Evil: VI. Ready / VII. Remove, (from Octavarium), 4) Repentance: VIII. Regret / IX. Restitution, (from Systematic Chaos), 5) The Shattered Fortress: X. Restraint / XI. Receive / XII. Responsible (from Black Clouds…).
Both musically and lyrically this suite of songs is satisfying and entertaining, with the fifth song from their new album reprising all of the musical themes from the other songs in the 12 Step Suite. The uninitiated should be prepared for a sonic assault, as these songs are on the heavy side. The lone exception is the poignant and reflective “Repentance,” which is complete with a recital of the Twelve Promises. In fact, along with the drummer, that song features eleven other well-known musicians and vocalists as guests, each reciting an amends over the music.
Regardless of your musical preferences, it is refreshing to have a popular music group focus on a recovery theme. Dream Theater started down this musical recovery path some seven years ago. Since then, the TV shows Intervention and The Cleaner have surfaced, drawing needed attention to alcoholism and addiction. And now the final chapter in this Dream Theater suite of songs has been released at a time when even more news of entertainment personalities succumbing to the cunning, baffling and powerful disease of addiction emerges. Maybe some unsuspecting soul will hear these songs for the first time and accept an invitation out of their own glass prison.
Dream Theater plays an in-your-face style of progressive rock—heavy yet melodic, complex at times, somewhat cerebral, but always engaging. They are their own band with their own sound, but for the sake of comparison let’s describe them as Metallica meets Rush with a bit of Genesis and Pink Floyd thrown in. Their lead singer James LaBrie has, in my opinion, one of the finest voices and vocal ranges in rock music. They are all exceptional musicians, most of who attended and met at Berklee College of Music in Boston in the mid-80s. Dream Theater released its first album in 1988 and has sold over 8 millions records worldwide. Learn more about the band at their website www.dreamtheater.net or Wikipedia.
Note: As much as I like this band, you may not be ready for five full albums worth of Dream Theater. Unfortunately, you cannot download these five songs individually from iTunes. The more technically among you can probably find them and purchase them from another music download site. All five songs in the 12 Steps Suite fit neatly onto a single CD and rumor has it that the band plans to release them together on a future live CD or as a download album.
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