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Dream Theater - Systematic Chaos CD (album) cover


Dream Theater


Progressive Metal

3.30 | 1703 ratings

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4 stars Another Dream Theater album, another controversy. Are they plagiarists? Are they kings of prog metal? Are they all washed up?

My answer is, none of the above. While not being a big fan of prog metal, I do like some of it now and then. And ever since 6 Degrees, I've had a fondness for Dream Theater. Sure, they are not the most innovative of bands. They don't try crazy experiments and they are not on the cutting edge of prog. But they are all fantastically skilled musicians who put a great deal of thought and effort into each release. Do the people who used to like them and don't anymore really expect them to drastically change what they are doing? Or do they want them to create Images and Words over and over and over again? I honestly don't know. But for my taste, this album is pretty darn good.

Lets get one thing out of the way right now though. The lyrics that Petrucci has written on this album are at best, laughable, and at worst completely terrible. I've never thought he was a great lyricist to begin with, but at least his lyrics were not completely silly like they are here. I'm not really sure what he was going for with the lyrics for the big epic In The Presence Of Enemies, but whatever it was it was a mistake and a failure. Oh well, on the whole Dream Theater never was much for lyrics anyway (except the very rare Myung lyrics.......he should really write ALL their lyrics........though Portnoys are not too bad most of the time either). I could also do without the spoken word parts and the shouting, chanting bits, but that is a minor complaint (let Labrie do ALL the vocals from now on though guys......please, please, please...........he is after all, the only one who can actually sing and he is quite good at it).

Labrie is great on this album. Lots of power, passion, dynamics in his singing. I used to hate his singing, but the last couple of albums have really changed my mind about that. I guess his vocal training has really paid off.

The others are just as proficient and skilled as usual. Which leads me to what I really like, the intense and complex instrumental parts. Some have stated that these seem to have no relation to the songs and are pointless. Initially, that was my impression as well, even though I like them. But after several listens I think they are no more pointless than the ones on Images and Words, Awake, Scenes, etc. I find myself smiling during all of them. The songs themselves are pretty much a summation of what DT has done up to this point. In the case of Forsaken not such a great thing for me, but in the case of In The Presence of Enemies a very good thing. Constant Motion is a Metallica song I think. Or, at least, tries very hard to be one. Since Metallica has long since stopped writing anything anywhere near this good, I have no problem with this and kind of like this one. It is the only one where other vocals actually seem to enhance it a bit. Some Slayer influence in there as well, especially in the solos. The Dark Eternal Night is another good heavy song with some good instrumental parts, but I'm getting a bit wearied by the metal onslaught at this point. Which is why Repentance is so perfect at this point of the album. It's pretty repetitive, and probably could have been a couple of minutes shorter, but it's so amazing to actually hear DT playing with restraint that I can't help but like it. Prophets of War features the best lyrics of the album, which is nice since I really didn't like Labrie's lyrics on the last album. This one seems to be yet another Muse inspired song, though for the life of me I can't really understand the accusations of plagiarism (I've only heard two Muse albums, so maybe I'm missing something but neither this or the song on the last album sound very much like any Muse song I've heard......though the influence is quite obvious). Ministry Of Lost Souls is the kind of song that makes DT fans cream themselves. And for good reason. A very lovely symphonic vocal section leads into a long, intense and complex instrumental section which eventually resolves perfectly back into the opening section for a dramatic ending after the final vocals. A great song, and probably one of my favorites by DT in a while. The final track, the second half of In The Presence Of Enemies, is also outstanding. Quite dynamic with a great instrumental section toward the end. If not for the cheesy lyrics and sometimes cheesy chanting and spoken word, this would be a real masterpiece as well. Still, the epic as a whole is great and probably their best to date. The last couple (6 Degrees and Octavarium) I have trouble thinking of as prog metal epics because there isn't a whole lot of "metal" in them. This one is definitely a prog metal epic. Personally, I think they should have opened the album with the entire thing and ended with Ministry, but what the heck, it works just fine the way they did it.

So this is not the most innovate and exciting thing DT have ever done. So what? It's still a really good album with some really good pieces of music on it. Not perfect by any means, but probably my overall favorite so far. I didn't much like this band when they were new and cutting edge back in the early 90's. The vocals were unbearable to me, and I felt their influences were too obvious and they tried too hard. Here they are perhaps a bit too professional and habitual, but it's all done so well and with such skill and precision I can't help but enjoy it. This may not be in my top 10 this year, and the band as a whole may not rank that high with me, but I have a great deal of respect for them and what they have done. And I really do like this album for what it is; a prog metal album by a seminal prog metal band doing what they do best. So, my rating is really a 3.5, as this is not going to be an excellent addition to just any prog music collection. But if you like prog metal, it's certainly worth hearing. If your like me, and only like occasional prog metal, you could do far worse than this album. And DT fans..........well, you already have it. For the sake of the archives, and for the fact that this is so far the most enjoyable DT album for me as a whole, I'll go ahead and round that 3.5 up to a 4. Your millage may vary.

infandous | 4/5 |


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