With the departure of Mike Portnoy and a dramatic search for a drummer, Mike Mangini has emerged as not only a formidable replacement but also a driving force in a complete change of sound and focus of the band.
As many sites will review the musical qualities of the album, let us look at the mix and production.
This album was again recorded by Paul Northfield. Mr. Northfield has a pretty impressive rock, metal and progressive discography working with the likes of Rush, Alice Cooper, Queensryche and Ozzy Osbourne. Engineering and mixing Dream Theater’s last two albums; for ADTOE he was only recording engineer. This album was mixed by Andy Wallace
Producer: John Petrucci
Recorded at Cove City Sound Studios, Glen Cove, NY
Assistant Engineer: Joe Maniscalco
Vocals recorded at Mixland, Midhurst, Canada
Recorded by Richard Chychi
Album Mixed by Andy Wallace
Mixed at Soundtrack Studios, NYC
ProTools engineer, Paul Suarez
Mastered by Ted Jensen at Sterling Sound, NYC
Spatial Texture/Timbre in Environments
The first thing we need to explore is spatial texture within the album. Jordan Rudess’ use of synth pad patches and samples create three distinct environments on three different tracks, Track 1: On the Backs of Angels, Track 3: Lost Not Forgotten and Track 6: Outcry set the tone of the album.
On track 1, the use of Rudess’s iOS app Morphwiz is clearly distinguishable with scalar glissandos in the opening 30 seconds of the piece. Using a patch designed around sine waves provides smooth texture opposing the percussive/alien backdrop. Morphwiz also provides a nice counterpoint to the percussive guitar that enters later in the intro.
In track 3, the texture is a bit more granular. The start of the song starts with a wind and horse sample which then is disrupted by piano playing in minor, to which then the full band comes in with guitars in parallel counterpoint. The granularity comes with the higher frequency samples picked for the intro and also the tone and texture chosen for the guitars primarily. They have a bit more high-mid presence thus accentuating lower harmonics, which fight with each other during parallel scale runs.
Track 6 has the most interesting synthesized environment where there is a low pad defining the rear and front of the mix sound stage and the verbed-out shaker panning hard left and right in rhythm defines the left and right boundaries. This then fits in nicely with the percussive synth patch, samples and glockenspiel patch.
Sound Stage and Stereo Location
Guitars vs Keys:
The guitars pretty much sit mid width of the of the stereo spectrum and trade off center position when leading. The guitars also do a great job of defining the front portion of the sound stage consistently.
The synthesizers do the most defining of the sound stage boundaries but are a bit more difficult to gauge left to right accurately since most of the boundary definition patches are pads with lots of movement. These do however give an interesting perspective the to the rear of the stage. Since there is lots of movement and space in the synths, it gives a very expansive rear of stage image which is often lost or imposingly distant. This creates a great feeling of tension which helps push some of the emotions and feeling of the content of the music.
Overall we can see that the drums are reinforcing the definition of the boundaries of the sound stage but only on massive drum fills. Most of the album was mixed in audience perspective. The drums do sit well in the mix however odd and interesting things happen with the hi-hat when choral patches are played by Rudess. Could it be some errant frequency masking?
Overall Mix and Timbre Observations
The guitars are the usual Petrucci shredding; nothing new except now he pays much more attention to tone overall and his timbral counterpoint with Rudess’s keys and synths.
What is MUCH more noticeable is the overall use of chorus and string patches giving the overall theme of the album a more cinematic feel rather than a gothic feel than their previous album “Black Clouds, Silver Linings”
Comparing mixes to the previous 2 albums (Systematic Chaos and Black Clouds Silver Linings) is how further back the drums sit in the mix. The drums sit in a distance closer to “far” than “near” when referring to the Moylan critical listening scale.