The progressive rock genre is rife with irony, for many of its bands do not "progress" very much at all. Meanwhile, the bands that [i]have[/i] evolved and stepped out in new directions (Rush, Genesis, Marillion) were often labeled as sell-outs, and received backlash from fans on a strict diet of long, epic songs and complex musical arrangements.
Dream Theater, in their 20+ years together have usually managed to straddle that line, occasionally stretching their musical and melodic boundaries without defying their progressive rock and heavy metal roots. Unfortunately, they seem to be stuck in a rut. 2003's ultra-heavy [i]Train of Thought[/i] was the last time they've released anything truly fresh, and it seems they've been on auto-pilot ever since. While [i]Black Clouds & Silver Linings[/i] is certainly stronger than their previous two albums, it still sounds like a band going through the motions.
With four out of the six songs clocking in at 12 minutes or more, the highlights (and there are a fair amount) are not entire songs but rather [i]sections[/i] of songs - songs that begin strong are bound to either overstay their welcome or go off in a new direction and lose your interest, while others may get off to a weak start but reward you later on. Elsewhere, songs that would have otherwise been strong all the way through get bogged down in the middle by sprawling solo sections, that probably should have been saved for when the band plays these songs live. Having self-produced their albums for the last 10 years, it's probably time for the band to consider working with outside producers again, in the interest of bringing new ideas to the table and shaking things up a bit.
If you are a Dream Theater fan, there's just enough flashes of musical brilliance here to remind you why you liked this band in the first place, but also plenty to suggest that, creatively speaking, they're running out of steam.