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Dream Theater - Train Of Thought CD (album) cover

TRAIN OF THOUGHT

Dream Theater

 

Progressive Metal

3.57 | 1350 ratings

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FloydWright
Prog Reviewer
4 stars Undoubtedly, this album has left many old fans of DREAM THEATER wondering what got into the system of their beloved band and hoping that it would never happen again. For others, however, I suspect Train of Thought would be the perfect way to enjoy this band without the kinds of excesses that plagued Scenes from a Memory, which I, contrary to popular opinion, had to give a 2-star review to, in large part due to a complete lack of discipline and cohesion in the songwriting. As for Train of Thought, the cover art hints quite directly at what you're getting into.

I can see where this album would be difficult for some of the more hardcore DT fans...in fact, I would suggest that unless you consider yourself a metalhead or at least a fan of heavy metal, don't approach this: you will walk away with this with a raging headache and an hour wasted. However, if you aren't bothered by the ferocity of bands like OPETH, the rapid-fire pace of SYMPHONY X, or a gritty, grungy production reminiscent of the nu-metal band Killswitch Engage, this may be the album for you. I'm not going to call it perfect...while at this point it's the 2nd-favorite DT album in my collection behind Awake, I'll acknowledge it's not the most prog of their works, nor their absolute best songwriting that I've heard so far. And yes...there is a nu-metalish feel to it in places. Yet rather than detracting from the album, I truly feel that it's made it better. One of DREAM THEATER's biggest problems of late (in my opinion) has been a tendency to overindulge in the soloing and producing slow, meandering, aimless songs that seem to be trying way too hard to "be prog". If you're a hardcore proghead, perhaps that is what you want--but I am most concerned with good music than with what "genre" it is.

As I said in my review of Awake, I do not have any of the problems with JAMES LaBRIE's voice that many people seem to have...not even when he gets into his most nasally abrasive screaming. In fact...I know this will be hard to believe for many, but I actually consider some of those moments among his best--like "Lie". I was pleased to see a return (somewhat) to that style, though I admit I wished for something a bit edgier at some times. However, I did find some rather fascinating new mixing techniques on his vocals, and a new sound to his harmonies, that made up for this. I'll admit some of those harmonies sound a bit like something Godsmack might do, at times. But again...I don't mind. I'd rather have the very best music in a popular style than have failed prog.

"As I Am" sets the tone right away--this is not going to be like any other DREAM THEATER album thus far, and as such, this song is probably the most "pop-metal" on the entire album. After rising from a gentle, ethereal tone, PETRUCCI unleashes a brutal, feedback-laced guitar riff that suggests darkness even beyond that explored on Awake. MIKE PORTNOY's drumming is quite aggressive...although I don't like the way the drums are mixed; there's far too much treble, as opposed to a deeper sound as found with SYMPHONY X, and sometimes the sound does annoy me a bit. Otherwise, the production is (in my opinion) quite good. Even JORDAN RUDESS sounds decent here; his keyboards seem more to supplement the song than to eat up needless time. I think this may in fact be one of the reasons Train of Thought succeeds where Scenes from a Memory does not.

In "This Dying Soul", I really gain an appreciation for PETRUCCI's newfound (or newly rediscovered?) technique which helps somewhat to make up for the excessive treble to the drums, and I also appreciate the slightly Middle Eastern tone that runs through parts of the song. Unfortunately, the end does reveal a bit of a weakness in PORTNOY's technique itself...someone like JASON RULLO could have handled that outro in a more interesting way. However, I do have to give credit where it's due...while this is a long song, it doesn't bore me in the way of some recent DREAM THEATER works.

"Endless Sacrifice" opens up soft, and alternates between soft and heavy...in fact, I'm a bit reminded of SYMPHONY X tunes like "The Accolade" and "A Winter's Dream", especially when the synth choir and strings comes in. I particularly like the guitar riff in the chorus, with its short burst of feedback contrasting against the deep bass tone. The second half of the song, I'll admit, almost makes me want to take back my comments against PORTNOY; the rhythm is quite interesting here. RUDESS takes the floor for the second section of the song and demonstrates his renowned technical prowess as well as a love for all sorts of odd synth effects (not all of which I particularly like); unfortunately, this is the one song where the soloing threatens to run on too long- -going on for a good four minutes. At least the song keeps moving along at a moderately fast clip, which mitigates the effect; even if you're not as interested in the solo, the main riff can be entertaining to follow.

"Honor Thy Father" is easily the most unremittingly brutal offering on this album both lyrically and musically, and is probably my favorite track on Train of Thought...even though it goes a bit "rap" in places! Even when the music isn't as harsh, the biting tone of MIKE PORTNOY's words certainly qualifies as "heavy", as they rail on in telling off a destructive dad. Oh boy does it ever let loose after the words "Don't cross the crooked step!" and as PETRUCCI and PORTNOY hammer away, the dialogue is incredible to listen to...and the synth backing seems fittingly in the background--although RUDESS will never be as understated as the fantastic KEVIN MOORE (and what a loss to DT it was when he left!).

"Vacant" and "Stream of Consciousness" should probably be treated as one single song, although I think that "Vacant" is probably the better of the two...I have to admit, I'm a sucker for the gorgeous cello solo and RUDESS' arrangement (here he probably has his best moment of the entire album), and while JAMES LaBRIE's lyrics are simplistic, they work in this setting. But more than anything, cellist EUGENE FRIESEN makes "Vacant" what it is. Fans of AYREON will probably find the singing on this track the most familiar in style to them. As for "Stream of Consciousness", this is probably the most important test of this "lean, mean" version of DREAM THEATER + RUDESS: can they sustain a ten-minute instrumental without boring the listener? From the opening, anyway, it's clear they've got a catchy riff that should hold interest. I'm a bit reminded of parts of "Erotomania". Amazingly, as I reach 8 of 10 minutes, when the initial riff returns--I reflect and realize that no, I am not bored. Then comes some very beautiful Hammond organ in the background that I wish RUDESS would do more of. It's only at the 9-minute mark where I start to feel a little bit antsy in anticipation of the next track. By DREAM THEATER standards, this isn't bad...I'd say that overall, only 1 minute needs to be cut from varying parts of the song (though not from the very beginning, end, or Hammond sections).

"In the Name of God" is perhaps the most interesting lyrical moment on the album...and at first it might seem like DREAM THEATER is following in the steps of some popular metal bands and trying to score points by taking a cheap shot at religion. But that really isn't the case, if you look more closely. The kind of religion being talked about is in fact a "doomsday cult"...the likes of the Branch Davidians in America (David Koresh's sect) or Aum Shinrikyo of Japan (which released nerve gas in the Tokyo subway)--or perhaps it was Al-Qaeda that provoked JOHN PETRUCCI to write these angry lyrics. It poses some very pointed, disturbing questions about these incidents and the implications they have for more moderate religious believers...but, I don't think this is a blanket condemnation of all religion. Rather, I think these are questions everyone ought to consider when making a choice about what they believe. The music is appropriately haunting--and the ending of the album, surprisingly enough to me, is made truly excellent by a chilling piano outro from RUDESS.

Ultimately, I think this is one of the best DREAM THEATER works I've heard thus far. Maybe it's not the proggiest...perhaps it's even one of their least prog...but they really have created some fine metal here, and even found a way to put JORDAN RUDESS' fantastic keyboarding skills to good use without going completely over the top and creating an overblown, meandering mess. Even in spite of the flaws of PORTNOY and RUDESS, which would probably make it more of a 3.5 than anything, this album still manages to make 4 stars in my book.

FloydWright | 4/5 |

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