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Dream Theater - Metropolis Part 2 - Scenes from a Memory CD (album) cover


Dream Theater


Progressive Metal

4.30 | 3095 ratings

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Conor Fynes
Prog Reviewer
5 stars 'Scenes From A Memory' - Dream Theater (97/100)

"My questioning mind has helped me to find the meaning in my life again." Dream Theater's greatest chapter is a reminder that masterpieces tend to be greater than the sum of their parts. Taking Scenes from a Memory on a song-by-song basis doesn't scream perfection the way it does when the album is approached as a whole. It's tough to think about this album, let alone review it, without thinking about the major role it had in my life at a relatively early stage. Along with Crimson Glory's Transcendence and Yngwie Malmsteen's Rising Force, this was one of the albums that facilitated my conversion to metal at the age of 11. As it happens, I remember the day that the CD finally came in the mail. It was the day I was supposed to attend my graduation ceremony for elementary school. When I noticed that the package had arrived in the mail, I made a point of finding a way to stay home just so I could listen to the record all day. I can still remember laying down on my bed, reading through the booklet and obsessing over each and every track on the album. I felt like my mind was being opened to a new world. That's not the sort of memory you get to make every day.

Now, over half a lifetime later, it's still one of those few age-old albums I still put on at least semi-regularly. In the thirteen years since I first heard it, my tastes have obviously changed quite a bit, but I think there's always a certain part of me that reverts back to that childlike sense of wonder whenever I put on Scenes from a Memory. Does that make a difficult album to review? Honestly, even if the material is so familiar to me, the rare blend of depth and feeling on this record makes it easy to become excited about it all over again. Although I have strong feelings towards almost all of Dream Theater's albums (most good, some bad), Scenes from a Memory was always the one that stood out the most as a masterpiece. Images & Words can seem a bit airy and neo-proggish for my tastes at times, while Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, great as it is, lacks the pristine consistency of this one. That said, I'm not sure it would be the easiest of their albums to recommend. As I said at the beginning, Scenes from a Memory is best when taken as a whole. It offers the best of itself when the listener completely invests in it. Fortunately I had a lot of spare time in my younger days and the spins of this album hit double digits by the second day of owning it.

For detractors, Dream Theater tend to be dismissed for their supposed dryness and wankery. Although I obviously see where they're coming from, I don't think that playing x number of notes was ever the thing that possibly held them back at times. To the contrary, it was often their attempts to be emotional and melodic that risked the biggest eye rolling from yours truly. Where albums like The Astonishing opted far too much for the feeling, and Train of Thought was too wanky, Scenes from a Memory offered the near-perfect mix of melodic beauty and mind-bending finesse. Each of their two sides helped to validate the existence of the other. On their own, the ballads on this album (specifically "Through Her Eyes" and "The Spirit Carries On") might have felt hammy, did they not act as a heartfelt reprieve from the proggy fireworks. Take the urgent monster "Beyond This Life" for instance (incidentally the first DT track I ever heard), on the one hand it's a frantic piece of prog-thrash and keyboard solos galore. On the other, it has light melodic sections that you could wave a lighter to. Without the balance between the two, each of these ideas may have felt less startling than they do.

Scenes from a Memory's perfect sense of flow brings each one of the songs to another level. I think a large part of this strong structure has the album's concept to thank for it. The implications on psychology and spirituality this album offers could deserve their own essays. Suffice to say, the multi-faceted (and arguably open-ended) concept behind the album breathes a lot of thought-provoking depth into already engaging music. The idea of looking into one's past lives, only to have the events of past lives come to bear on your current incarnation is something that really got under my skin when I was younger, and it has much of that same effect now. I've never relied on Dream Theater for strong lyrics, and I suppose some of the lyrical decisions here could raise a cynical brow, but the way the story is told feels organic and consistently clever. Scenes from a Memory was one of the very few concept records I've heard (alongside Operation Mindcrime) that managed to be incredibly in-depth and complex while still being easy-to-follow as a listener. To date, this is still the go-to standard by which I judge all over concept albums. Even the masters of the 1970s never felt quite so coherent as this.

I guess if I were to be nitpicky about Scenes from a Memory, I'd certainly bring up the feeling that certain songs tower over others. Especially hearing it now as a cynical adult, the instrumental bite of "Fatal Tragedy" and "The Dance of Eternity" appeal to me loads more than the potentially cloying "Through Her Eyes" and the AOR power balladry of "One Last Time". With that said, all of the ingredients here are painted in such a way that they benefit the larger scope. A truly comprehensive journey is not without its softer notes. If anything about Scenes from a Memory really hurt Dream Theater in the long run, it's that they never seemed to be able to bring their vision to the same heights again. Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence may have been the closest, but that's an album I never seem to be able to have a single, stable opinion about. And if their self-titled shitpile and The Astonishing tell accurately, it's very unlikely we'll see another slice of perfection like this from them again. For all it is worth, I am so, so glad I heard Scenes from a Memory so early on in life. It's never going to be an album I'm ever more than a few months away from hearing. If it hasn't begun to wear out for me yet, I can't imagine it ever will.

Conor Fynes | 5/5 |


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