Album Reviews

Issue 2007-031: Dream Theater - Systematic Chaos - Round Table Review

Round Table Review

Dream Theater - Systematic Chaos
Dream Theater – Systematic Chaos
Country of Origin:USA
Record Label:Roadrunner Records
Catalogue #:Regular Edn: RR79922
Limited Edn: RR79928
Year of Release:2007
Info:Dream Theater
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: In The Presence Of Enemies Pt 1 [i. Prelude, ii. Resurrection] (9.00) , Forsaken (5.35), Constant Motion (6.55), The Dark Eternal Night (8.53), Repentance [viii. Regret, ix. Restitution] (10.43), Prophets Of War (6.00), The Ministry Of Lost Souls (14.57), In The Presence Of Enemies Pt 2 [iii. Heretic, iv. Slaughter Of The Damned, v. The Reckoning, vi. Salvation] (16.38)

Bonus DVD: Full album in 5.1 Dolby Surround, Chaos In Progress documentary (90.50)

Martien Koolen's Review

Dream Theater’s last album Octavarium was a real disappointment for me as the heavy prog metal style from Train Of Thought was replaced by more melodic “mainstream” rock. It is an album that I still consider to be the “weakest” DT release since Falling Into Infinity (1997). The reason I rather “disliked” Octavarium was due to the fact that two songs rather irritated me, namely The Answer Lies Within and I Walk Beside You, which I still consider to be DT “unworthy” songs, just like You Not Me and Hollow Years from Falling Into Infinity. Their new release however is much better and much heavier as it is also an imaginative and epic album that will turn the heads of the fans, like yours truly, that disliked Octavarium.

Systematic Chaos opens with the amazing In The Presence Of Enemies Part 1, featuring a brilliant instrumental part called Prelude, filled with gooseflesh guitar passages, followed by Resurrection, packed with typical DT riffs, hooks and melodies. This is an amazing opening song which is followed by the most “mainstream” like rock track called Forsaken. It is a power ballad like track with rather emotional vocals, great grooves and again a sparkling guitar solo by John. Then DT really goes heavy with the Metallica-like Constant Motion with killer vocals by James and some really brutal riffs. Especially the instrumental middle part with different rhythms, pounding drums and speedy keys and guitar solos is extremely heavy; not suitable for wimps!

Just as you think that it cannot get heavier the band starts with the Pantera-like The Dark Eternal Night full of distorted vocals like you have never heard before in a DT song. The catchy guitar riff makes you want to bang your head forever, a really brutal track. Repentance is another of Mike’s AA songs, namely part 8 and 9. The opening line – "Hello mirror, so glad to see you my friend it’s been a while...", and melody is taken from This Dying Soul off Train Of Thought and the rest of Part 8 called Regret is pure prog metal mania with heavenly solo work from John. Restitution, Part 9 features a couple of guest voices like e.g. Jon Anderson, Daniel Gildenlow, Steve Hogarth, Neal Morse and Satch, apologizing for their addictions in life. John Myung’s bass line sets the tone for that part; however the last 4 minutes are a bit too much of the same... Prophets Of War features lyrics by James and it is about the war in Iraq. It is a super prog metal track with astonishing vocals and even some dance oriented influences. The Ministry Of Lost Souls is one of my favourites from this album, an epic of about 15 minutes giving you all the things you want to hear in a DT song. Melody, catchy chorus, amazing rhythm changes, fantastic guitar solos and lots more. A song that you really cannot get enough of, especially John’s guitar solo at the end is breathtaking.

Then, as finale you get the second part of In The Presence Of Enemies Part 2; and this one really rocks your ground. This is DT at its best with fantasy based lyrics again from John P. Especially the instrumental The Reckoning (Part 5) is sheer musical insanity. Salvation is the bombastic end of this masterpiece. This CD is prog metal at its best and I am really looking forward to hearing the new DT epic In The Presence Of Enemies Part 2 played in one take, being 25 minutes in prog metal heaven……

If your wallet allows it you should get the limited edition with the DVD featuring a 90 minutes documentary by Mike called “Chaos In Progress – the making of Systematic Chaos”. Enjoy and see you all on Fields of rock where DT will be kicking some ass!!!

By the way, this is probably the first time ever that I give two albums in one year a perfect 10!!

Tom De Val's Review

Dream Theater are unquestionably one of – if not the – elite prog-metal bands and, if they didn’t exactly invent the prog metal genre, they’ve certainly done more than most to keep this style of music in the spotlight – along with spawning a host of imitators, most of whom have been left scrambling in their wake. Yet since the new millennium Dream Theater have shown distinct signs of mortality, having run into the age old problem that a band does when they’ve created what many would call their magnum opus, in their case the sublime Metropolis Part II: Scenes From A Memory. Whilst it would be rather harsh to call the follow-up Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence an exercise in treading water (I think it’s a pretty good album!), it didn’t exactly make it any clearer where the band were heading in the longer term. The more metallic Train Of Thought was a more single-minded and focussed effort, yet got distinctly mixed reactions from their fan-base (as an aside, I’m always amazed at how many fans of this very-much prog metal-orientated band actually seem to dislike, and know very little about, heavy metal!). In my opinion, this resulted in the band back-peddling and trying to come up with an album that would satisfy fans rather than themselves (although I’m sure they would disagree with me on that one!). The end product, Octavarium, whilst being well received by many (including those DPRP reviewers who participated in that album’s RTR) was, to me, a rather dissatisfying listen which, whilst certainly containing some good material, had too many misfires and simply didn’t hang together particularly well.

So what to expect next? Armed with a new deal with Roadrunner Records (and if you’d told me that would happen a few years ago, I’d have laughed in your face), the band potentially have a whole new audience to aim at. Would they go for the heavy option again, perhaps chucking in some references to more modern metal that more youthful converts might pick up on? Would they continue down the more traditional progressive route as outlined by the title track on their last album? Or would they attempt another career-defining album along the lines of Scenes… or 1992’s breakthrough effort Images And Words? Well… the answer’s probably a bit of all of these. Anyhow, this is one of those albums that’s difficult to describe briefly, so let’s go track by track…

The first five minutes or so of In The Presence Of Enemies Part 1 could almost serve as the band’s calling card for newcomers – an all-instrumental ‘overture’ style workout, it has all the qualities (and many familiar moments) which fans would expect to hear from the band – swirling synths, bombastic guitar solo’s, tight riffs and all sorts of rhythmic chopping and changing, showcasing both the technical and melodic skills of the four instrumentalists. A nicely clipped guitar riff ushers in James LaBrie’s first contribution, a studied half-sung, half-spoken vocal, before the song increases in atmosphere and builds something of a head of steam, although it perhaps never truly gets going – but then it is effectively a prelude for the lengthier second part anyway…

An Exorcist-style creepy keyboard intro heralds in the big fat riff which kicks off Forsaken, before the song pulls back a little for the initial verse, exploding in a majestic, symphonic chorus, with LaBrie’s vocals multi-tracked for that big stadium-ready sound. It’s a good, rather than brilliant, track, and also the most conventional on the album - therefore probably representing Roadrunner’s best bet of getting the band some Pull Me Under-style chart success.

Memories of the direction Dream Theater were pursuing on Train Of Thought come flooding back with Constant Motion, with the Metallica influence riding high – the main riff sounds like a cast-off from …And Justice For All, whilst LaBrie sounds more like James Hetfield than Hetfield himself does these days. In truth its not a great song, the chorus is OK rather than anything special, with the odd record scratching sound behind it proving rather irritating, and the lengthy instrumental section seems detached from the main song, and includes lots of that over-the-top soloing from John Petrucci that threatened to derail Train Of Thought. This song also illustrates beyond doubt that Mike Portnoy should not be allowed behind the microphone in anything other than backing capacity – his vocal contributions are pretty poor.

The Dark Eternal Night sees Dream Theater keeping the metal flag flying; this time the lead riff bears some resemblance to that of Pantera’s Five Minutes Alone. DT purists will almost certainly be unimpressed by the opening vocal contributions – distorted shouting from LaBrie and Portnoy – although LaBrie gets to deliver some clean vocals on the fairly catchy chorus. Once again a crazy instrumental section disrupts the flow somewhat, with Rudess pulling out his ragtime keyboards for what sounds like a retread of (the Scenes… track) Dance Of Eternity – not exactly in keeping with the song’s heavy feel! Petrucci once again goes wildly OTT shortly after, but things do at least end on a high, with a crunchy mid-tempo riff and wailing guitars on the fade-out.

A change of mood and pace occurs with Repentance, a continuation of Mike Portnoy’s AA-inspired saga (after The Glass Prison, This Dying Soul and The Root Of All Evil). The gentle guitar intro sees the main melody of This Dying Soul utilised, although this is a far more reflective, mellow piece – in fact there’s an almost psychedelic, spacey feel at play, courtesy of the keyboard sounds used by Rudess here, and the echoey effects that are periodically used on LaBrie’s vocals. LaBrie is impressively restrained on this track, as is Petrucci, who contributes some tasteful, almost Gilmour-esque licks. The Pink Floyd connection is furthered when you take in the fact that the melody sometimes wanders into Brain Damage territory, and that the song includes a barrage of spoken anecdotes (by various musical pals of Portnoy and co – you’ll have fun spotting who says what!). It’s a strong, atmospheric piece, but unfortunately drags on for at least three minutes too long – not the first time the band forget when its time to stop the tapes rolling…

Dream Theater continue with the Muse fixation first evident on the Octavarium track Never Enough on Prophets Of War, a high tempo, almost disco-driven track which is part Take A Bow, part Supermassive Black Hole and (oddly enough) part Never Enough. Once again LaBrie goes for his best Matt Bellamy impression, but comes up almost painfully short when going for those falsetto notes. Not a bad track per se, but I still don’t think this style suits Dream Theater – when I want to listen to Muse I’ll stick on Absolution or Black Holes And Revelations, thanks guys.

Next track The Ministry Of Lost Souls is much more like it, going back to the grandiose, symphonic style the band have mastered over the years. After an orchestral-style intro the early stages of the song occupy a balladic territory similar in style to Through These Eyes, gradually building in intensity through each respective verse, and exploding in a bombastic chorus. Petrucci executes a good, relatively subdued solo, following the main melody line rather than attempting to cover as many different notes as possible in a given time frame. The instrumental section in the middle of the song is top-notch – a tight, gritty almost martial guitar riff snakes along, over which Rudess produces some very proggy (and this time appropriate) keyboard work. Even Petrucci’s highly technical solo’s seem to fit here, and the way this section segues back into the main body of the song is expertly executed. Petrucci fires off some fine melodic solo’s to end this piece on a high. Undoubtedly the album’s highlight.

The album closes with the concluding part of In The Presence Of Enemies. A lengthy atmospheric opening slowly builds as LaBrie intones his (rather portentous) lines in a purposely world-weary voice – pretty effective, although the ‘dark master’ stuff LaBrie comes up with on the chorus takes some stomaching… as does some of the ‘narration’. The song picks up as massed chants lead into a more up-tempo section with powerful riffing and effective call-and-response vocals. The almost-inevitable lengthy instrumental section kicks off well, with some classy (if heard-before) melodies, but becomes rather repetitive and drags on for too long. Thankfully Rudess’ parping keyboards ushers in the main melody again – thankfully it’s a pretty good one, so the album can at least end on something of a high.

Well, having written all that, its’ still quite difficult to come to a concrete conclusion on this album. In my opinion it is definitely an improvement on Octavarium, but is it on a par with the best of their nineties output (Images and Words, Awake, Scenes…)? Well, no, not really. There is some great material here – The Ministry Of Lost Souls, the majority of Repentance, parts of In The Presence Of Enemies – but also a number of below-par tracks – Constant Motion, The Dark Eternal Night and Prophets Of War. In addition, the band still seem a little confused as to their direction – I’m all for variety in an album, but Muse and Pantera aren’t necessarily comfortable bed-fellows on a Dream Theater album…

On the plus side, the production is one of the best the band have come up with since going down the self-produced route, and they certainly sound like the fire in their bellies evident on Train Of Thought yet mostly conspicuous by its absence on Octavarium has returned. In addition, the fact that Dream Theater now have the marketing nous of Roadrunner records behind them should mean that their profile increases significantly with this album, and there’s enough strong points on Systematic Chaos to suggest that there’s another classic album in them yet. This isn’t it though.

Bart Jan van der Vorst's Review

After their eighth album Octavarium Dream Theater found themselves without a record label. Their contract with Elektra/Warner had expired, and not entirely happy with the label's backing the past decade, the band felt they needed to take their chances with a different label instead. That label became the much smaller, but far more Metal-minded Roadrunner.

Enjoying the same or more artistic freedom than they had with their previous label, ensured the quality of the music stayed the same, yet the fans will probably very happy with the special edition of the album. Following the good tradition Roadrunner already presented to us with Porcupine Tree earlier this year, the special edition comes with a bonus DVD with the entire album in 5.1 surround, as well as a 90-minute making of documentary.

Their previous two albums had had a pretty much a pre-conceived idea of direction; metal for Train Of Thought, more progressive/symphonic for Octavarium. Systematic Chaos is more in the vein of the album before those, Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence, as it contains both heavy (indeed some very heavy) stuff, as well as a couple of mellower tracks. In my opinion the best Dream Theater songs are the ones where the band plays heavy but LaBrie keeps his voice toned down. Fortunately many of the songs on this album (Forsaken, Prophets of War, Ministry Of Lost Souls, In The Presence of Enemies) fall in this category. That is not to say the album doesn't rock, no way. Fans of Metallica of old will rejoice when hearing Constant Motion, which is best described as an ode to that band, with LaBrie doing his best Hetfield impersonation and the rest of the band delivering some of the dirtiest licks they've ever done on a Dream Theater album.

The Dark Eternal Night is even heavier that that and leans more on Sepultura style bands. It features heavily distorted vocals by both LaBrie and Portnoy and the music has a nauseating double bass-drum running all through the song. The mid-section is standard Dream Theater instrumental with many tempo changes superfast solos.

Repentance, the slowest song on the album will serve as a resting point in this one-hour saga once it's finished (the next Dream Theater album is set to feature the last three steps of the 12-steps program) and is best described as Opeth meets Porcupine Tree meets Alan Parsons Project (I dare not say Pink Floyd).

The first part is a mellow ballad, featuring one of the most beautiful guitar solos John Petrucci has ever played. The second half is instrumental with long drawn vocal chords (there's the Alan Parsons reference) over which spoken confessions and apologies can be heard by many friends of the band, most of which played or recorded with the band at some point in their career. Among these Yes' Jon Anderson, Marillion's Steve Hogarth and Porcupine Tree's Steven Wilson, but also Petrucci's G3 buddies Steve Vai and Joe Satriani.

The odd song on the album is also my current favourite: Prophets Of War. Dream Theater continues to show their love for Muse, and after Never Enough on Octavarium this is their second tribute to/rip-off of the famed UK trio. Especially the arpeggio keyboards and guitar-riffs are very much centered on Muse, and the second verse has similar seventies disco-style backing vocals to those Muse often uses. Nonetheless there is enough Dream Theater in the song to keep it a tribute, rather than a piece of plagiarism. The second half of the track contains a great chant by 50-odd lucky fans who were invited to the studio to record a sort of protest rally that was incorporated into the song. This will be great to do at live shows.

The second-longest track on the album, The Ministry of Lost Souls is very close to their previous album, and can best be compared with Sacrificed Songs. The main song is a very symphonic ballad which turns into fairly standard Dream Theater instrumental fare halfway through.

In The Presence of Enemies is a long 25-minute track which is spread out over two tracks at the beginning and ending of the album. The band have already stated that this split is purely for the track order (not wanting to end another album with a 25-minute epic) and the song will be performed as one at gigs. The first part is largely instrumental, with an overture which introduces themes that later reoccur. Part 2 starts with a very Pink Floyd like bass-intro. (think Careful With That Axe Eugene), but it quickly turns into more standard Dream Theater style. Myung aficionados will be pleased to learn that his bass is very high up in the mix in this particular track though. It follows the same structure of the previous track, with a ballad-type first half, and then a long instrumental mid-section which sounds awfully similar to the instrumental section we just heard in the previous track. It ends with a great recurring of the main theme, this time played on mini-Moog, followed by a massive ending.

The lyrics on the new album are all very dark and gloomy. Especially John Petrucci (who wrote In The Presence Of Enemies, Forsaken, Dark Eternal Light and Ministry of Lost Souls) seems to have been going through a very dark and gloomy phase, with his lyrics about death and destruction. In an interview on the accompanying DVD he assures us that this is all based on fantasy though, telling of monsters and vampires, and bear no reference to his personal thoughts. This is the complete opposite of the lyrics by James LaBrie and Mike Portnoy: LaBrie's Prophets of War is questioning the integrity of a government backed by a weapons industry while Portnoy brings the most personal lyrics to the album. Constant Motion is about his tendency to be involved with tons of different things at once, while Repentance is the fourth and penultimate part in his AA saga (after The Glass Prison, This Dying Soul and The Root Of All Evil on the previous three albums).

The self-indulgent nature of the music has been the topic of virtually every review of every Dream Theater album and on this album too there are moments where it is simply too much. Worse though is the impression that the band is repeating themselves. Especially Jordan Rudess seems to have a hard time to come up with new sounds and leads from his keyboard and many of his solo spots sound like something he has already done before on one of the previous three albums. Furthermore a few of the instrumental parts seem very forced, unnecessary and formulaic. First time I put the CD in my played and In The Presence of Enemies Part 1 started I thought it sounded like a Dream Theater rip-off rather than Dream Theater. The instrumental bits in the last two tracks sound awfully similar. If you'd heard only part of a solo from either one you would have a hard time telling from which song it was.

I will still give the album a big fat DPRP recommended tag though, for the simple reason that there is still lots to be enjoyed on the album. It just makes me wonder what kind of killer album Dream Theater could create if they'd stopped showing off every five minutes and just focused on the music.

The bonus DVD contains a 5.1 Surround mix of the entire album, which unfortunately is not as exciting as you'd expect. The vocals and drums have mostly been crammed through the centre speaker, which makes the mix sound awfully unbalanced. Portnoy's bass drum is so loud that my (well above average) speaker system was not able to cope with it and I had to opt for the far superior sounding stereo mix instead. The making of documentary on the other hand is a very insightful gem. It documents the process of recording a Dream Theater album (unfortunately there is hardly any footage from the writing process) and features candid interviews with Mike Portnoy, James LaBrie and John Petrucci.

In conclusion, this is once again a great album by these prog metal pioneers. There are some negative comments in this review, but nitpicking on Dream Theater's music is easy. The technical wankery has brought the band as many fans as haters, and despite some wankery fatigue setting in after nine Dream Theater studio albums, this is definitely one of the better Dream Theater albums. Better or at least on par with Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence.

Dave Baird's Review

Dream Theater releases generate more debate than any other prog band I know and it always seems that one man's meat is very often another's poison. It's no different for reviewers either and the variable directions that each CD takes means you never really know what they're going to do next. On one hand it can be acknowledged that the band are talented and mature enough that they can change direction at will, on the other it has led to some patchy albums and a certain polarization of the fan-base. What one can't deny is that Dream Theater are probably the most prominent prog metal band on the planet, they sell a surprisingly large number of CD's, influence a lot of upcoming artists and fill large arenas world-wide.

This particular reviewer isn't a big fan of the commercial side of Dream Theater and has the opinion that Train Of Thought was an excellent album but admits that it was a little bit over-the-top, missing some texture and finesse that have become trademarks of the band (probably worth mentioning that I don't care for Metallica either). Likewise, I wasn't overly impressed with Octavarium and Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence finding them far too commercial in places and experimental in others, although both had some interesting moments, particularly the title-track on Octavarium and the Disappear/Vacant duo.

The album kicks off with In The Presence Of Enemies Part 1 and right-off the bat you've a strong indication of the rest of the CD. The opening two minutes are tight, technical and melodic before launching into a delightful guitar-led section lasting another two minutes which sets the main theme (used mostly in Part 2). This finds Petrucci at his very best - more melody, less shred and a killer tone, fluid playing and plenty of trademark arpeggio sweeps. Heavier chords follow along with the first vocals underpinned by some very audible bass work and some typically cheesy Rudess keyboard sounds - really, Jordan is arguably the most accomplished player in the whole of the rock world but he needs some coaching on his keyboard sounds from time to time. All that aside it's a good opening track.

Forsaken is the shortest and most commercial/mainstream track on the CD but it's OK, especially in the chorus where, for once, Jordan uses some very nice sounding strings. Labrie's singing is great although it might be a challenge for him to reproduce this one live but if he does the very catchy chorus will go down a storm. Constant Motion starts with a very Change Of Seasons-ish instrumental before lapsing into a somewhat mediocre Metallica sounding track. There's some respite with another instrumental section on the four minute mark with some Arabic-scaled shredding from Petrucci but it doesn't totally redeem the piece and it's the most forgettable track on the whole CD.

Dream Theater with sword and sorcery lyrics? That's a first I think but on the face if it, The Dark Eternal Night appears to be just that! Of course this could just be my misinterpretation and perhaps there's just a lot of metaphor on offer but I think not. This is a very technical track which is very apparent from the start - heavy complex riffing guitar and syncopated bass chords jostle for attention with some very busy drumming. We then have the vocal part for a couple of minutes which is mostly sang with distortion. I wouldn't call this metal though, it's far more technical prog which becomes more evident once the singing stops and we launch into a mind-bending instrumental section. This is by far the most technical piece the band has recorded since The Dance Of Eternity - and to be fair it's quite reminiscent of this with its constant and almost random time and pace changes, the honky-tonk piano interludes and a off-kilter, almost jazzy, discordant feel. This is Dream Theater at their very best, a real tour-de-force, a rollercoaster ride of a piece. I like it very much indeed although it's quite tiring to listen to at the same time and requires full concentration to appreciate. This will be a real treat to see live and will no-doubt be added into the Instrumedley in the years to come. Perhaps disappointingly there's a return to the vocal chorus and surprisingly the piece fades-out, another 2 minutes of music mayhem would have been a more fitting end to this piece.

Repentance is the continuation of Mike Portnoy's musical exploration of the Alcoholics Anonymous 12 steps to recovery (meaning we have 8 yet to go???!) and opens up sounding very familiar picking up the mellow riff, tune and lyric from the track This Dying Soul from Train Of Thought. The piece slowly develops this riff and tune keeping the gentle pace throughout. There's some great vocal harmonies before a super guitar solo at the halfway point after which the track becomes a little experimental with a lot of sampled voices expressing regret at times they've let people down. I'm sure I recognise some of the people speaking, not members of Dream Theater but perhaps people from other bands close to by? Then we get a bombastic section with fat "aaaahhhhh" vocals underpinned by strummed acoustic and hmmmmm, Mellotron :-) There's some nice distorted bass happening here too as well as some Moog sounds as the track builds to a crescendo. This is quite an unusual piece but works really well.

Like Never Enough from Octavarium, Prophets Of War is very reminiscent of Muse although it is altogether more interesting than the aforementioned track, having more variation and texture plus a better melody and subject matter. It's one that will divide the fans though and I could take it or leave it to be honest and I'm happy it's the second shortest track on the CD.

This leaves us a full half hour to go and just two tracks to fill that space! The Ministry Of Lost Souls grabs the first half of this time and it's an absolute gem. The opening five minutes remind me very much of Disappear and Vacant both musically and lyrically as all three tracks deal with the death of someone close. As the ballad builds we are treated to the main guitar theme at the 3 minute 20 mark - this is a very simple but very beautiful tune and sticks in your head the moment you hear it for the first time. Sounds like it is being played with a bottleneck, I can't quite envisage that from Petrucci for some reason. During the next verse we also have some very Opethesque heavily sustained guitar played underneath the verse, again this is very simple but very effective. The track then builds up into a fast instrumental section that has Scenes From A Memory written all over it before a climb-down into a vocal refrain and the chorus. They could have easily ended the song at this point, perhaps this would even have been logical but no, there's more - the final two minutes is that wonderful guitar theme played over and with some gentle elaboration. If you're not whistling this all the next day then there's something wrong with you, go see a doctor. The next track on the CD by and one of the best tracks Dream Theater have recorded in my opinion, top stuff, will certainly be in the DPRP Top 10 for 2007, mark my words!

Which brings us last, but not least to In The Presence Of Enemies Part 2. Dream Theater have the habit of closing their albums with strong tracks and this is no exception. Picking up on themes introduced in the opening track of the album, Part 1, the song starts gently with atmospheric bass and keyboards, gentle vocals and more of that Opeth style sustain guitar. Lyrically the track seems to be about a person under the influence of some entity, cult leader, god or just monsters from the id perhaps, it's difficult to say which. Like many of the tracks on the CD the song builds up with a very strong bass line taking the lead in the succeeding verses while the full band kicks-in for the choruses. Stylistically this sounds a lot like the Awake period, the brooding bass, gentle but attacking vocals and ambient keys are counter pointed by attacking and precise guitar riffing and busy drums. we then get a heavier vocal section with Metallica overtones before the inevitable instrumental madness begins. This instrumental is particularly interesting as it really takes one back to the famous section in Metropolis Part 1 as well as evoking A Change Of Seasons and Awake once again - I'm sure the band have made a conscious effort to do this to please the fans and it really sounds great. A return to the vocals provides a bombastic, grandiose ending as well as the conclusion of the story with the main character escaping from thrall. It's another superb track and will go down well.

So OK, we have a few weaker tracks but none of them are awful as such, I suspect the band are trying to satisfy everyone at once by giving at least a taster of styles from the last two albums. In general though the music really is very good indeed and the contributions of each band member is first-class, they've managed to be overall more sympathetic to the music rather than swamping it with overblown solos, the music has space to breathe and develop. This is not to say that the playing is soft, it is most certainly not, the playing is for the most intense and deeply technical at a level that other bands could never hope to achieve. I'd give a special mention to James LaBrie - he's had a lot of stick from the fans over the years but for me he just gets better and better and he excels throughout. Credit must also be given to the production which also allows the music to shine throughout and never overwhelms. As an added plus, you can hear John Myungs bass clearly which is a rare pleasure.

Calling Systematic Chaos a return to form, would perhaps be too strong a statement, because they never exactly released anything bad, but this is surely their best release since Scenes From A Memory and will also rank up there with Images & Words and Awake. Time, as they say, flies and it feels like only yesterday that I was seeing this fresh-faced band for the first time on MTV playing Take The Time, in fact it was 1993. Dream Theater have come a long way over the intervening years and have grown bigger than perhaps anyone could have predicted, with releases like this, long may that rise continue.


MARTIEN KOOLEN : 10 out of 10
TOM DE VAL : 7 out of 10
BART JAN VAN DER VORST : 8.5 out of 10
DAVE BAIRD : 9.5/10 out of 10 (would be a perfect 10 but for the three sloppy tracks)

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