Liquid Tension Experiment – LTE3 Review

Mister Michael Portnoy has been busy this year. Along with his two-album, three-disc,1 and a bajillion second-long album, he’s back with a couple of his Dream Theater cronies (John Petrucci and Jordan Rudess). Though the new Transatlantic behemoth didn’t excite me, the new Liquid Tension Experiment release did. Believe it or not, it’s been roughly twenty-two years since the band’s last full-length. I know that LTE isn’t for everyone but it’s hard to deny the impressive instrumentation. Bringing acclaimed bassist Tony Levin on board took a potential this-is-just-DreamTheater-without-James-LaBrie outfit, and made it mostly original. Sure, you can’t take the DT out of John Petrucci but, even then, it’s nice to hear the instruments without LaBrie’s voice. The 1998 debut is actually an exciting instrumental album, opening with the awesome back-to-back-to-back trio “Paradigm Shift,” “Osmosis,” and “Kindred Spirits.” The exciting part is that LTE3 keeps a lot of the debut’s energy, and avoids the staleness of LTE2. I know, I know… that’s an unpopular opinion, but it’s true.

Like LTE1, this new release kicks off with the same urgency. Opener “Hypersonic” is exactly as its name suggests. “Paradigm Shift” might still be a better song, but this new opener is tons of fun. It’s a good feeling, and the same one I had when I first heard the debut. Closer “Key to the Imagination” is equally as rounded. It showcases the heavy guitars, fretboard frenzies, classic Dream Theater melodies, and key/guitar solo work. But the song closest to DT-without-LaBrie is middle-child “The Passage of Time.” It’s an up-and-down number that throws piano sections off the crushing combination of Petrucci and Portnoy. It’s an awesome piece that alternately ascends and descends with each passing minute before the atmosphere builds to a mighty climax.

But, the album isn’t without its slower moments and straight-up improvisations. Of the slower tracks, the calming “Shades of Hope” is the best. While “Liquid Evolution” is an interesting, reverberating ’80s movie soundtrack, “Shades of Hope” is a clever combination of a DT Black Clouds & Silver Linings ballad and the piano-led section of Eric Clapton‘s “Layla.” It’s a gentle, beautiful intermission piece. But as far as show-off moments go, the improvisational “Chris & Kevin’s Amazing Odyssey” takes the cake. As a Part II to the debut’s uninspiring “Chris & Kevin’s Excellent Adventure,” this new number has a bit more substance. It’s also where Levin gets his time to shine. I wouldn’t say it’s an actual song, but it has far more structure than its Part I counterpart.

That said, the highlight of the entire album is the band’s rendition of George Gershwin‘s “Rhapsody in Blue.” As far as I can tell, they’ve been performing this song live since 2009. And, for good reason, it stuck. With a single guitarist, bassist, drummer, and keyboardist, the result is epic and phenomenal. You can search the interwebz for a variety of performances of the song. Some start with Levin on bass, and other times, he’s playing his Chapman stick. For this official studio recording, the band gets going together. Petrucci’s clever work with those unmistakable leads is the highlight of the piece. But there’s so much to digest in this one song, I’ve listened to its thirteen-minute length on repeat.

Again, I know many people disagree, but LTE2 was not the swan song the band deserved. The things it lacked were many of the same things that made the debut great. But, with some of the DT turmoil set aside, the Petrucci/Portnoy/Rudess trio finally came together to release something I’m happy with if this is to be their last. All three come together better than they did on the last couple of Dream Theater releases featuring Portnoy. And to drag Levin back into the mix makes it that much sweeter. The band picks up right where they left off, and that’s rather impressive. There’s a good amount of DT riffs on this new record, but it’s nice to hear Petrucci and Portnoy back together. Yeah, Mikey has had a big year. But it’s not because of Transatlantic. It’s because of LTE3.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 320 kb/s mp3
Label: InsideOut Music
Websites: liquidtensionexperiment.bandcamp.com2 |
Releases Worldwide: April 16th, 2021

Show 2 footnotes

  1. Actually, I think the release of the ultimate addition makes it three albums and four discs, but who’s counting?
  2. Just the previous material. Also the worst fucking page header ever.
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