A Dramatic Turn of Events is the eleventh studio album by American progressive metal band Dream Theater, released worldwide on September 12, 2011 and in the United States on September 13 through Roadrunner Records. It is the band's first recording to feature drummer Mike Mangini following the departure of founding member Mike Portnoy in September 2010. The album was written, recorded, mixed, and mastered between January and June 2011 at Cove City Sound Studios in Long Island, New York. It was produced by John Petrucci and mixed by Andy Wallace. Two singles, "On the Backs of Angels" and "Build Me Up, Break Me Down", were released in promotion of the album.
For A Dramatic Turn of Events, Dream Theater underwent a self-proclaimed musical change, reevaluating and restructuring themselves. The album has drawn stylistic comparisons to two of the band's past albums, Images and Words (1992) and Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory (1999). Many songs on the album were written with a specific purpose in mind as Petrucci, one of the album's primary composers, felt a sense of responsibility to fans following Portnoy's departure. The album's title was derived from its recurring lyrical themes of dramatic changes in history that have affected people's lives, including contemporary uprisings such as the Libyan Civil War.
A commercial success, A Dramatic Turn of Events moved 36,000 units in the United States in its debut week, charting at number eight on the US Billboard 200. The album received mixed reviews from critics, but nonetheless earned Dream Theater their first-ever Grammy nomination (for "On the Backs of Angels"). From July 2011 until September 2012, the band supported the album on the A Dramatic Turn of Events Tour.
On September 8, 2010, Mike Portnoy announced that he would be leaving Dream Theater, citing better relationships in other projects, burnout, and his desire for a break as reasons. Elaborating on the situation for MusicRadar, John Petrucci revealed that originally, Portnoy did not want to leave the band; he only wanted to take a five-year break. Only after the rest of the band rejected his proposal did Portnoy decide to quit.
Petrucci has called Portnoy's departure one of the hardest things Dream Theater have had to face, and speaking of when he first heard the news, Jordan Rudess recounted, "You know, just to give you an idea of how deep this was to lose him, how difficult it was... after we got off the phone with him... I literally sat on the steps of my studio and cried. This is a guy who's a friend of mine, who we all love and admire. We didn't want to see it come crashing down."
A little more than a month after Portnoy's departure, Dream Theater began auditioning for a new drummer in New York City. The drummers invited to audition were Mike Mangini, Derek Roddy, Thomas Lang, Virgil Donati, Marco Minnemann, Aquiles Priester, and Peter Wildoer. In April 2011, the band announced that Mangini was the drummer selected via a three part YouTube documentary series called The Spirit Carries On.
Shortly after Mangini joined Dream Theater, Portnoy e-mailed the band asking to rejoin, but his attempt was rebuffed. Reflecting on his arrival to the band, Mangini told Noisecreep, "As I see it, as I look back, I really think what happened was that this band kind of started over. They were in a new place as they looked for a drummer, and I when got the news, after the shock wore off, I knew what I wanted to do – which was just basically come in and try to support where they wanted to go. They had a vision, they had great ideas, and I just wanted to help them achieve those things."
On January 3, 2011, Dream Theater entered Cove City Sound Studios to begin working on a new album. Although John Petrucci brought in demos, riffs, and songs from home, the album was mostly written in the studio. Writing was completed on March 2 and done without Mike Mangini. The band made demos for all the songs with drums already programmed, then sent them to Mangini who learned the parts and "added his own stuff." Reflecting on the writing process for Rock Your Life, Jordan Rudess explained that the band's approach was more open to his keyboards than in the past, and that after Mike Portnoy's departure, he and Petrucci "became, like, free." James LaBrie and John Myung each contributed more to the writing than they had in recent years.
On April 14, LaBrie began tracking vocals and the album's mixing and mastering by Andy Wallace were finished by June 28. LaBrie recorded all the album's vocals in Canada with Richard Chycki. Originally, LaBrie planned to only record the album's first two songs away from New York City, but after flying there to finish the remainder of the vocals, decided to go back to Canada because "it just didn't feel right."
Jordan Rudess has said that, for A Dramatic Turn of Events, the band underwent a musical change, re-evaluating and restructuring "who we are and what we do." Speaking in an interview for Der Spiegel and Roadrunner Germany, John Petrucci mentioned that the album "tells a story... not literally but emotionally" and likened the experience to a "roller coaster ride." In that same interview, James LaBrie emphasized that the album was melodically driven.
In his review of A Dramatic Turn of Events, Rich Wilson – author of the official Dream Theater biography Lifting Shadows – described the album's material as veering toward progressive rock and being "spiritually reminiscent" of past albums like Images and Words (1992) and Scenes from a Memory (1999). In a post on his forum, Mike Portnoy took these comparisons a step further, suggesting that the new songs were "desperate attempts to re-write the past".
In composing A Dramatic Turn of Events, Petrucci admitted to feeling a sense of responsibility to fans following Portnoy's departure. He also explained that the majority of the songs on the album were written to prove to people that everything was grounded and intact with the band. Opener "On the Backs of Angels" was designed to reflect Dream Theater's signature sound, the heavy "Build Me Up, Break Me Down" was written far into the making of the album to serve as a contrast to its progressive elements, "Outcry" was intended to be the anthem of the album, and "Breaking All Illusions" was used as an epic piece that would not bind the band to conventional songwriting arrangements. The final song written for the album was the ballad "Beneath the Surface", which is also the album's closing track. Petrucci wrote the song himself, demoed and recorded it, and then presented it to the band, who were open to including it on the album.
Amidst speculation that A Dramatic Turn of Events' title was a vague reference to Portnoy's departure, Petrucci stressed that it is in no way a reference to anyone; rather, the title references the album's recurring themes of dramatic changes in history that have affected peoples' lives. All of the album's lyrics were written by Petrucci except for "Far from Heaven", written by LaBrie, and "Breaking All Illusions", co-written with John Myung.
A Dramatic Turn of Events' title, track listing, and United States release date were revealed on June 8, 2011. Its cover art, designed by longtime collaborator Hugh Syme, was revealed several days later. On June 29, "On the Backs of Angels" was released as the album's first single. Leading up to the release of the album, Dream Theater teased various one-minute long snippets of new songs, including "Breaking All Illusions", "Beneath the Surface", and "This Is the Life". On September 14, a music video for "On the Backs of Angels" was released. On January 26, 2012, the band premiered a lyric video for their upcoming single, "Build Me Up, Break Me Down", on Loudwire.
A Dramatic Turn of Events was released worldwide on September 12, 2011 and in the United States on September 13, debuting at number one in some countries and attaining the eighth position on the US Billboard 200, Dream Theater's second top ten debut position on that chart after their previous album, 2009's Black Clouds & Silver Linings, which debuted at No. 6. Alongside the standard edition of the album, a special edition and deluxe collector's edition were also made available for purchase. The special edition featured different packaging and a bonus DVD containing The Spirit Carries On documentary, while the deluxe collector's edition featured, among other bonus items, instrumental versions of all songs.
A Dramatic Turn of Events has received mixed reviews. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream publications, the album holds an average score of 55, based on six reviews. Rich Wilson called it "fresh and frankly stunning"; however, he warned that the album was not immediately gratifying and that it required several listens to fully appreciate. Critics were generally complimentary of Mike Mangini's performance, with Drumhead elaborating, "[he] demonstrates the physical prowess and agility of a racehorse, stretching to play at the top of his talents and reining himself in to allow his bandmates to do the same."
In a negative review for Popmatters, Chris Conaton expressed disappointment in the album's predictability, noting, "At this point it’s pretty clear that the band is comfortably ensconced in their lifestyle and content to just keep doing things the way they have been for years." In a lukewarm review for AllMusic, Thom Jurek observed, "there is something here for virtually every fan -- or detractor -- to grab hold of." Sputnikmusic criticized Mangini's drum parts, describing them as "bland", as well as the decision to include three ballads, but ultimately gave the album an overall positive review.
A Dramatic Turn of Events has received several accolades. In their year-end wrap up for 2011, Burrn! awarded the album with their Best Album, Best Front Cover, Best Guitarist, and Best Keyboardist honors. At the 2012 Grammy Awards, "On the Backs of Angels" was nominated for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance, representing the Dream Theater's first-ever Grammy nomination.
Dream Theater began their tour in support of A Dramatic Turn of Events on July 4, 2011 in Rome, Italy. The second leg of the tour took place in North America, where the band headlined with Trivium. After a short break to conclude 2011, the band returned to Europe with Periphery, then to North America with Crimson Projekct before heading to South America for the final leg of the tour. On August 19 and 20, they filmed two shows at Luna Park in Buenos Aires, Argentina for a live Blu-ray release.
All titles, writing credits, and song lengths taken from the A Dramatic Turn of Events liner notes. All lyrics written by John Petrucci except where noted.
All credits taken from the A Dramatic Turn of Events liner notes.