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Dream Theater - Train of Thought CD (album) cover

TRAIN OF THOUGHT

Dream Theater

 

Progressive Metal

3.60 | 1857 ratings

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TheOutlawXanadu
2 stars The Dream Theater album that most divides the opinions of fans is undoubtedly Train of Thought. The record was released to mixed critical and commercial acclaim in 2003, and its quality is still a hot point of debate between the band's supporters today. Mike Portnoy and Jordan Rudess have both gone on record as stating that the reason for this split between their fanbase was the album's one-sidedness (it's a pure sledge of progressive metal), but, in my opinion, this is not the case.

The real reason why Train of Thought is ranked so inconsistently inside of the Dream Theater fanbase is because its quality greatly varies in accordance with how one chooses to judge it. Judged as a whole, the album is a mess. The songs are too long, boasting too many irrelevant sections, too many keyboard-guitar duels and too much failed experimentation (rapping). Judged part-by-part, the record is quite good. It's home to many of the band's best melodies and riffs, and features some of their best ideas ever.

One of the weakest aspects of the album is its production. As if the compositions weren't heavy enough already, Mike Portnoy and John Petrucci decided that just in case we didn't realize it, they'd turn the guitars and drums way up in the mix and drown out all the other instruments in the process. In addition, the guitars are horribly downtuned and Jordan Rudess doesn't seem to be doing much more than doubling over JP's riff work. Every band member sounds out of his element to a degree, and it makes the record seem artificial and hollow.

Train of Thought is also notable for being the beginning of James LaBrie's downfall with Dream Theater (his solo work is still splendid). It is ironic that, after giving LaBrie an ultimatum to get his act together and become a better vocalist after the Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence world tour, Dream Theater chose to start giving him lesser material to perform. It doesn't matter that LaBrie isn't hitting high notes; it matters that he's being given generic vocal melodies to sing and that he isn't being required to execute his vocals with the force and assertiveness that he is capable of.

On the rare occasions that LaBrie is given chances to shine, he steals the show, as is the case with the album's closer, "In the Name of God". Certain segments of the song are phenomenal. Its chorus is one of the best choruses in the DT cannon and its outro is one of the best stretches of music the band has ever produced. James is also very good during the opening minutes of "This Dying Soul", which starts out great but ends poorly.

Some of the songwriting choices that are made over the course of the album's running length are pitiful. "Endless Sacrifice", in particular, is the most awkwardly disjointed song in the band's discography. On top of that, it is home to one of the most mind-numbingly boring instrumental sections I've ever heard (four minutes of JP and JR playing as fast as they can and trying to out-shred one another before concluding things with an obligatory unison solo). "Stream of Consciousness", an instrumental, has an excruciatingly dull stretch half-way through where the band stops and re-starts everything twice, perhaps with the goal of building up momentum, but, instead, all they do is draw out what would've been a stellar tune.

Not only are some of the songwriting choices bad, but some of the lyrical directions that the band takes are even worse. I'm all for fun, balls-to-the-wall metal, but that doesn't excuse penmanship of this low quality. Many times, the respective lyricist doesn't sound as tough or forceful as intended; instead, he sounds angsty and immature. As an example, "As I Am" sees John Petrucci telling the listener (and Queensr˙che) that "You cannot touch/The way I/Play/Or tell me what to say" and that he's "Fucked/Feels like I'm stuck/Lost in a sea of mediocrity". There is an abundance of laughable lines like these on the record, and they greatly detract from the overall listening experience.

As a whole, Train of Thought is too long, fat-riddled and poorly written to keep my interest. It's a boring listen, one that is almost saved on numerous occasions by its individual moments of spectacle, but never entirely. Had the disc been produced and mixed better, and been judiciously edited, I might have liked it more, but as it is, it's one of Dream Theater's worst releases to date.

© Kevin Martell (TheOutlawXanadu)

TheOutlawXanadu | 2/5 |

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