at Vallhall Arena, Oslo, Norway, January 26, 2012

Photo by Kristian Singh-Nergård

There’s been a lot of turmoil surrounding the legendary Progressive Metal band Dream Theater the last 16 months since co-founder and drummer Mike Portnoy left. In the aftermath, the band hired drummer extraordinaire Mike Mangini (Annihilator, Extreme, Steve Vai) and recorded their 11th studio album, A Dramatic Turn of Events. Whether related or not, only approximately 3500 people showed up to see the show, a much smaller number than what’s been the case on their previous tours.

The reason might have something to do with the fact that on previous tours Dream Theater’s concerts have been held at the Oslo Spektrum. But, as this concert took place the same time as Disney On Ice were in town, Dream Theater was referred to Vallhall Arena. Though the name would suggest that this would be the perfect place for a Metal concert, the acoustics aren’t fit for bands like Dream Theater. Technical music of Dream Theater’s kind, where so much is happening at the same time, demands great sound, not good or sufficient, and this arena came short on that account. Also, the stage looked small inside the enormous hall … not that the band seemed to mind as they performed with the professionalism you’ve come to expect from a band that’s been around for more than 20 years.

The band entered the stage to the sound of “Dream Is Collapsing,” a song composed by Hans Zimmer for the soundtrack to the 2010 movie Inception. They opened with “Bridges In The Sky” from their latest studio effort. Sound-wise the drums were too dominating while the guitar sound was muddy, but halfway through the opening song the sound improved significantly, and though it never became top notch it was sufficient.

A Dramatic Turn Of Events was heavily represented in the setlist, and 6 of the 9 songs on the album were played. The two previous albums, Black Clouds & Silver Linings and Systematic Chaos were omitted entirely from the setlist. Instead they had brushed the dust off some great songs from the past like “6:00” from 1994’s Awake, “Surrounded” from 1992’s Images And Words, and even “A Fortune in Lies” from their 1989 debut album When Day And Dream Unite. Also welcomed by the crowds were heavy songs like “War Inside My Head / The Test That Stumped Them All” off 2002’s Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence and “The Root Of All Evil” off 2005’s Octavarium.

Amidst all the technical and heavy songs they also took the time to slow things down with a two-song acoustic set consisting of “The Silent Man” off Awake and “Beneath The Surface” from their latest effort.

The lyrics to the song “Outcry” is about rising against oppression, and during this song that very theme was the subject for videos playing on the three cubical screens behind the band, and the crowd could see videos from the Egyptian revolution in 2011. The screens were used throughout the set, showing things like parts of the newly released video for “Build Me Up, Break Me Down”, an animated version of keyboardist Jordan Rudess, surrounded by a keyboard shaped as a hexagon, seemingly synchronized so that the little wizard played the same notes that Rudess played, pictures of money (mostly Euros, which was likely a comment on the current financial crisis in the European Union), etc.

It’s obvious that the sheer presence of drummer Mangini has brought something new to the band, not only musically, but they seem to enjoy themselves more on stage now than earlier. Portnoy took a lot of space on the stage, not only physically, but now the band seems more in balance with themselves. Technically, Mangini may very well be a much better drummer than Portnoy — something he proved with an amazing drum solo spot. The most impressive part was beyond doubt when he started playing drums whirls as fast as he could with his hands; then lifting one hand and keeping the same pace with only one hand. There is a reason why he has set five World’s Fastest Drummer (WFD) records in his career.

Vocalist James LaBrie was great for most parts, though he missed a few notes on some of the older songs in the set. He’s vocal style has always been heavily debated, but no matter what you think of him he is the weakest link in this band. At least at this concert. Many of the songs have incredibly technically challenging instrumental parts, which shows the excellent musicianship of the individuals, but it also shows how incredibly tight the band is as they played mind-blowing parts in unison. Especially impressive are the amazing unison solos by Rudess and guitarist John Petrucci. There aren’t many musicians in the world that can do what they do.

All in all it was a great concert, even though some songs off Train Of Thought would have been great. Dream Theater is beyond a doubt among the best Progressive Metal bands in the world, and their musical and technical skills are top notch. Despite the questionable sound and arena, they showed that they’re better than ever.

Setlist: Bridges in the Sky / 6:00 / Build Me Up, Break Me Down / Surrounded / The Root of All Evil / Drum Solo / A Fortune in Lies / Outcry / The Silent Man / Beneath the Surface / On the Backs of Angels / War Inside My Head / The Test That Stumped Them All / The Spirit Carries On / Breaking All Illusions
Encore: Pull Me Under


  • Kristian Singh-Nergård

    Kristian is one of the partners at Metal Express Radio. He is Metal Express Radio's Marketing and Communications Manager, and on occasions also reviewer and photographer. Based out of Oslo, Norway, Kristian is a bass player and owner of the independent record label Pug-Nose Records. He has been a proud member of the Metal Express Radio crew since 2006.

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