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Dream Theater - Systematic Chaos Review

by Eric Smith

I hate instrumental wanking in music. This is why I cannot stand most progressive metal of this day and age. There, I said it.

With that now in the open, I first heard Dream Theater back in my senior year of high school. My best friend, Michael, let me listen to the song "The Glass Prison" off of their album Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence. Those 14 minutes of sheer musical expression, and lyrics displaying a trait that can only be described as "cerebral", changed me for the better. I had never heard a band so musically challenging, yet could write such a cohesive song (notice I said "song") at the same time.

I realized soon after hearing that feast for the ears that I must check out the rest of their discography. Little did I know that Dream Theater had so much diversity between all of their records, each one of them imbedded with an undeniably unique atmosphere totally different from the others. 1992's Images and Words had avant-garde, Shakespearean dreamscapes where you could literally taste the moonlight shining upon the starlight skies of a faraway world, where romance and idealism are traits to nourish. 1997's Falling into Infinity, sonically, at times resembled a person contemplating his life right next to a seashore illuminated only by a sunset. 2003's Train of Thought was Dream Theater's first true foray into the darkness of the human soul, and was their heaviest album so far….. And was certainly one of my best friends that I could go to during my times of horrible depression during high school.

Now it is 2007, and one only knows what the progressive metal masters have in store for us. Enter Systematic Chaos, Dream Theater's ninth studio album, could best be described as a mix of Images and Words and Train of Thought.

Sonically, this is a very dark, gothic album blended together with crunching guitars not unlike what you might hear on a Pantera record. Dream Theater always does their part to remain relevant and modern in today's metal scene, and they always come out shining bright. This sounds like music done by young men with the vigorous energy of a thousand burning suns….. But alas it is not.

Lyrically is where things get interesting. Dream Theater has always either gone for the more mystically-oriented poeticisms ("Under a Glass Moon") or straight-to-the-gristle realistic issues (stem cell research, mental issues, alcoholism). This album finds the fantastic quintet exploring such issues as Vampires, ancient monstrous beings, and interactions from the "other side". It is a refreshing change of pace for the band, and the occult-esque theme mixed with the beautiful, gothic-tinged keyboards and synthesizers and crushingly heavy riffage, makes for a very interesting (and different) ride indeed.

The album is not without faults, however. Dream Theater can occasionally get a bit too caught up in their operatic bombast, and end up inducing more snores than they do fist-pumping anthems or somber moments; however for the lengths that these songs run, these instances are very rare. Also, James LaBrie's voice does not show the range that he has given us on other albums, such as 1994's Awake. This does not detract too much from the music given to us, though, as most of the album is of a melancholy nature, and thus high-pitched falsetto vocals would not be conducive for the atmosphere in question.

No doubt about it, though, this is another winner from everyone's favorite Berkley dropouts. If you like progressive metal, or are a fan of Dream Theater in general, there is no reason why this album should not be in your collection.

But don't get me started on Symphony X….. Please….. Make the hurting stop…..

Dream Theater's Systematic Chaos
1. In the Presence of Enemies, Pt. 1
2. Forsaken
3. Constant Motion
4. The Dark Eternal Night
5. Repentance
6. Prophets of War
7. The Ministry of Lost Souls
8. In the Presence of Enemies, Pt. 2

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Dream Theater - Systematic Chaos


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