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Dream Theater: Systematic Chaos

By Newsferatu, Writer
Saturday, June 30, 2007 @ 10:53 AM

On Roadrunner

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Reviewed by “oatmeal_poet”

I waited for what seemed like an eternity for the new album by Dream Theater, Systematic Chaos to be released, but now I have my copy.

I've only gotten to hear it a few times in its entirety thus far, and I am highly impressed with it. And while it's true for fans of Progressive Metal that Dream Theater has never disappointed with a release, many who are ignorant of the legacy of this band certainly would never feel this way. This band is an acquired taste, and those who don't have an ear for the art of complexity may feel the art form is simply "blasting random notes around", when in fact this record (as well as each preceding Dream Theater record) wouldn't be possible without each and every previous release. Dream Theater's catalogue is a unique architecture, and often their current orchestration leads back to something they've already accomplished but to greater effect than before.

Systematic Chaos is certainly no exception to this architectural style, as it clearly reflects pieces of each of the band's previous eight full-length releases, and their epic EP, A Change of Seasons. Also, the band has chosen to pay homage to their heavier influences such as Biohazard and Metallica, and more Progressive influences such as Pink Floyd and Rush.

The album opens with In the Presence of Enemies - Part I, which is a direct tribute to Rush. This song is split up between the first and last track of the album, which in my opinion, is a great way to bookend the album. And this track gets your attention immediately and tells you that you're about to hear something from this band that you've never heard before.

The next track is Forsaken, which really is a personal favorite of mine. I love the strong vocal harmonies, and anyone who says this band lacks emotion in their music, really needs to hear James LaBrie's vocal track. This song is a bitter tragedy, but it's so damn good. There is a few musical interludes which harken back to the Images & Words album's Wait for Sleep and Learning to Live, which were pure joy for me.

The third track is Constant Motion, which is the leadoff single for the album. This is very Metallica inspired during the main chunk of the song, but there are parts which recall Fates Warning's Monument. This song is pretty good, and it's fairly obvious why it was chosen as a single, as it's fairly straightforward and not overly chaotic. It also has a very good hook, which will get stuck in your head quite easily. You've been warned.

The fourth track, The Dark Eternal Night, is my absolute favorite on the album, hands down. (But that could change at any time given that this is an amazing album from beginning to end!!) This is a very heavy, groove-oriented track that should earn the respect of metal heads everywhere. This song is all over the place, and visits a variety of time signatures and hosts a plethora of musical style changes. Drummer Mike Portnoy is really coming into his own as a vocalist here, as he sings a lot of dual leads with James Labrie. John Petrucci, Jordan Rudess and John Myung show a lot of dexterity and tight ensemble performance during this track, which have become a staple of Dream Theater's signature sound.

The fifth track is the Pink Floyd inspired Repentance, which is the fourth entry in the infamous Bill W. Saga, and fits in seamlessly with previous tracks The Glass Prison, This Dying Soul, and The Root of All Evil. Throughout the duration of this track, Dream Theater prove again that not only are they masters at creating heavy songs, but mellow pieces as well. Their approach to orchestration, particularly over this long songwriting process is both unique and thought provoking. One of the things I really love about this track is the crowd of celebrity guest voices talking in the background about their regrets, including Steve Vai, David Ellefson, Chris Jericho, and Joe Satriani.

The sixth track on this album is Prophets of War, which deals directly with the issues in the global community. This track features guest voices of some lucky fans who got to come into the studio and sing some back-up vocals. This song is quirky and fun, and should be an interesting audience participation moment at the concert.

The seventh song is The Ministry of Lost Souls, which is the chilling story of somebody who died while saving the life of somebody else, and the guilt the living has over the dead. This song is amazing, and is probably one of the most emotional things the band has ever done. This song simply rips my heartstrings out. And this song features some of James LaBrie's finest vocal work to date, very complex and emotional.

The album concludes with In the Presence of Enemies - Part II. This is a song that most metal heads will just absolutely love, as it's very strong both musically and lyrically. I just don't want to spoil too much of this for you, but it's nothing short of astounding.

All in all, Systematic Chaos is easily a fun and challenging listen. Take the time to invest in this album and hear for yourself, what limits Progressive Metal can be pushed to. I don't know where I would rank this album in the overall scope of Dream Theater records, as each are their own individual artistic statement, and the fan community is divided over this issue as it is, but I will go as far as to say this album is in their top four, with the other contenders being Images & Words, Metropolis Part 2, and Train of Thought. Systematic Chaos is certainly a powerful beginning to the band's next 20 years in action, and if this is indeed a new beginning, I can't wait to see what's coming next.

As a note, the Special Edition is well worth the extra few bucks you're going to spend on it, disc 2 is a DVD which includes the 90 minute documentary on how the album was made, but even more impressively, the 5.1 mix of the album is mind-blowing, especially on tracks like Repentance and Prophets of War. It's made to feel as if you're part of the album.

**** ½

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