Well, if you didn’t catch the drift, this offering of Bite-size Prog does indeed present a sampling of my opinions on the newest Dream Theater album. We’re probably all sick of hearing about it by now so, if you’re not interested, don’t worry, I’m not either; I’d just check out Tugs’ release below, as it seemed to hit the sweet spot. Happy listening!

Tugs – Europa Minor
There must be something good in the water this year. Just look at the albums coming out of Italy: Maschera di Cera, Coscienza di Zeno, Not a Good Sign, and now a brilliant release from Tugs. Just in case you’re unfamiliar with this Livorno based band, her’e their weird story. These guys actually formed in 1978, split up in the early 80’s, never recording an album during that time. Now it’s 2013 and they deliver a record of immense quality, much of which was written years ago. If you’re a fan of Italian prog you will be immediately enchanted by Tugs’ ultra-nuanced folky arrangements, organic sonic palette, and a sense of melody that rivals that of RPI greats.

Virtually every track on the album is fantastic. The constant trend is a core of folk influences mixed with a classic RPI approach to vocals and melodies. Tracks such as “Waterloo” and “La Corte” deliver convincing celtic-inspired prog with additional detail that remind me of another recent great Italian band with their memorable vocal lines and epic flute: Il Bacio della Medusa. The Jethro Tull folk/medieval influences are especially clear in songs like the “La Brigata dei Dottori” while the balladesque “Pietroburgo” absolutely rocked my mind with its phenomenal use of piano, violin, mandolin, and playful analog leads, making it one of the highlights of the albums. From here the album certain doesn’t die down. “Il pianto” offers a frantic intro that isn’t afraid to be in your face and heavy, while “I bambini d’inverno” is pure magic, offering an arrangement which is artfully layered and meticulously arranged, accompanied by well-executed vocals that drive the piece along nicely.

Could Italy be seeing the new 1973 with all the magnificent releases it’s put out this year? That’s up for debate, but from where I’m sitting it looks like Tugs’ just added to the list of albums that I’ll likely be playing for years to come.

Stream the new Tugs for a limited time on Progstreaming!: http://www.progstreaming.com/_wb/pages/play-album.php?activeAlbum=00481%20-%20Tugs%20-%20Europa%20Minor

Violent Silence – A Broken Truce
Violent Silence was a bit of a surprise, one of those bands that takes me a couple of listens to get into, not because of music that is not accessible (their tunes are very approachable), but for some reason I didn’t appreciate it as much the first time. Once I got into it though, I found Violent Silence to be a group with a familiar yet interesting compositional direction that emphasizes the use of simple themes and melodies and moves the tracks along with clear and powerful vocals. Being an album of just four songs, I couldn’t help but love the format of lengthy pieces that really let the ideas breathe and develop on their own without being in a rush to squeeze in a formulaic number of verses and choruses. The opener, “Prism Path” is a great example of this, particularly as you start to reach the last few minutes of the piece where the band makes use of subtle repetition, growing dynamics, striking vocals, and the reintroduction of an earlier theme to round off the song. Fans of neo-prog or 90’s revival ala’ Morse or TFK should dig this.

Stream the new Violent Silence for a limited time on Progstreaming!: http://www.progstreaming.com/_wb/pages/play-album.php?activeAlbum=00480%20-%20Violent%20Silence%20-%20A%20Broken%20Truce

Dream Theater – Dream Theater
Dream Theater: perhaps one of the most hated and loved bands in the prog community. A new release from this band that has arguably had the biggest influence on the prog metal community is always up for discussion. Finding myself to be a mild fan, and often a harsh critic of the band, I certainly was intrigued to see what all the post-Portnoy drama would conclude with, what type of album they would make with Mangini fully behind the drum-kit from day one of songwriting.

Well, in the end, I must say I was pretty underwhelmed by the album, which certainly has all the old Dream Theater trademarks, but doesn’t seem to really tread any new ground and is often plagued with bad transitions. The album kicks it off with “False Awakening Suite,” a decent intro which comes off as a sort of heavier version of the 6 Degrees Overture crossed over with a bit of Symphony X. The single, “The Enemy Inside” shows an aggressive and metal approach with a bit more orchestral bombast than the band traditionally employs, while “Looking Glass” is clearly a Rush fanboy track, although it is decently well done; I admit that Petrucci’s solo on this track is brilliant–incorporating dynamic phrasing through a variety of techniques and pairing them with enjoyable melodies. “The Enigma Machine” ends up being a bit of a bland instrumental that incorporates a few redeeming heavy/melodic moments, while “The Bigger Picture” comes off as mostly sappy. “Behind the Veil” starts off with a subtle but powerful intro that uses lots of great synths and a glorious choir sound, but when the guitars come in it feels like they randomly slapped a new song that didn’t mesh with the intro. If you’re into the classic fast, doubled classic DT instrumental madness, there is a bit of that awesomeness on this track though. “Along for the Ride” is perhaps the best arranged piece on the album, but the level of corny ballad on this one is so extreme that I’ll certainly skip it in the future. Finally, the epic, “Illumination Theory” closes off the album. In comparison to other epics it is a bit weak, featuring the good (fun rhythms, majestic symphonic sections), the bad (the transitions between sections often break down), and the ugly (Labrie’s vocals are an absolute nightmare on this one and he nearly ruins it). If you’re into classic pieces like “The Dance of Eternity” though, you’ll certainly be blown away by the insanely technical awesome instrumental section after the ambient middle section; Mangini absolutely kills it on drums, followed by some great soloing from JP, and then there’s even a bit of vocal redemption by Labrie that is most uplifting.

Clearly the last paragraph didn’t have a lot of positive things to say about the album. But like I said, what we get is about usual from DT with just a little more mess, a little less cohesion between sections, and the same generic ol’ same ol’ DT sound. Bonus though: if you’re a bass player you’ll finally get to hear John Myung in the mix, which is quite fun indeed.

Stream the new Dream Theater for a limited time on Rolling Stone!: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/dream-theater-channel-prog-metal-in-dream-theater-premiere-20130916