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Dream Theater - Metropolis Part 2 - Scenes From A Memory CD (album) cover

METROPOLIS PART 2 - SCENES FROM A MEMORY

Dream Theater

 

Progressive Metal

4.30 | 2840 ratings

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Frankingsteins
4 stars Dream Theater's 1992 album Images and Words pioneered the progressive metal genre and remains for many the band's best work, finding a perfect balance between the band's influences in prog rock and metal. The album's most technically impressive song 'Metropolis part 1' was finally followed up seven years later with the most ambitious Dream Theater release yet, 1999's Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From a Memory.

Scenes From a Memory is the band's only concept album, an inevitable release for experimental progressive musicians that became something of a cliché for seventies rock acts. Dream Theater's influences are extensive, but are most popularly cited as prog and classic rock acts such as Rush and Queen on the one hand; 80s metal bands like Metallica and Iron Maiden on the other. Inspiration is a lot easier to pin down on this impressive and ambitious release, the introspective storyline owing to Genesis' The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, structural elements and ballads sounding distinctively Pink Floyd (Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall particularly) and the whole character driven prog metal experience furthering the work of Queensr˙che eleven years earlier with Operation: Mindcrime, the single most important influence here.

Reduced to theatrical-trailer-type synopsis, the album deals with a murder mystery from a character's past life that is explored and solved through regression hypnosis. Songs and passages alternate between Nicholas' actions in 1999 and his latent memories and dreams of the city in 1928. Expanding on 'Metropolis Part 1' must have proved slightly problematic due to that song's fairly arbitrary and indecipherable lyrics, which were in fact only added at the last minute due to the record company's wish to avoid an instrumental track, but the band do an admirable job. There are elements of mystery as the story develops, especially by code-naming the two brothers 'The Miracle' and 'The Sleeper' respectively, but unlike Genesis' The Lamb, there isn't a great deal open to interpretation.

Dream Theater had earlier proved their integrity with their 25-minute epic song 'A Change of Seasons,' released specially in 1997, and Scenes From a Memory displays the same ability and effectiveness at crafting an extended musical piece that remains consistent, recognisable and strong. The twelve songs on here can all stand alone outside the context of the album, despite the repeated melodies and musical themes throughout.

Displaying admirable prog pomposity, the 70 minute album is divided dramatically into Acts and Scenes:

Act 1 1. Scene One: Regression (2:06) 2. Scene Two: I. Overture 1928 (3:37) 3. II. Strange Deja Vu (5:13) 4. Scene Three: I. Through My Words (1:02) 5. II. Fatal Tragedy (6:49) 6. Scene Four: Beyond This Life (11:22) 7. Scene Five: Through Her Eyes (5:29) Act 2 8. Scene Six: Home (12:53) 9. Scene Seven: I. The Dance of Eternity (6:13) 10. II. One Last Time (3:47) 11. Scene Eight: The Spirit Carries On (6:38) 12. Scene Nine: Finally Free (12:00)

Scenes From a Memory may seem like overkill to some Dream Theater fans, but in truth the band's restraint and sharp focus makes this album far better than it could have been. There are very, very few simple 'filler' tracks, as may be found in albums where the storyline takes precedence over the music: even the obligatory opening track, featuring a hypnotic clock ticking and spoken word vocals, soon becomes a pleasant 'Pigs on the Wing' style acoustic introduction. The later 'Through My Words' is the only song here that couldn't really stand alone, but works as a great introduction to the next.

In contrast to criticism that this album is 'too prog,' it is also often criticised for being 'too metal.' The band has alternated between heavier and lighter eras throughout their career, but Scenes From a Memory is perhaps their thrashiest offering. 'Beyond This Life,' the most well-known song here, is driven by hard and fast riffs and there are many occasions when the band break into an extensive jam: 'Fatal Tragedy,' the strongest and most diverse song on the album, ends with a relentless instrumental section that is a worthy successor to Megadeth's 'Hangar 18.' The bizarre instrumental 'The Dance of Eternity' epitomises the slating of this album and as such is a fascinating experience, whatever the listener thinks of it: incorporating all of the musical themes of 'Metropolis part 1' on instruments as diverse as a honky-tonk piano synth, you'd have to be a little crazy to consider this fun extravaganza a true work of genius.

As a cohesive work, the music on this album is all roughly similar. There are slow, soft songs and loud, speedy anthems but nothing that breaks the eerie melancholy gloom of the concept. 'The Spirit Carries On' stands out somewhat in its optimism, and the band make a final intelligent choice in following up with the shattering 'Finally Free,' something of a self-contained third Act (at least that would be the case if this were a film) that turns the limited story on its head. This song combines the best elements of the album that have preceded it and features some acting work to provide easy fodder for critics of the CD (not to mention the opportunity to appropriate the title 'Finally Free' as an expression of relief that the album is finally over).

Scenes From a Memory isn't an easy album to appreciate, but once the listener gets past the oppressive idea of a concept, it should be enjoyed by fans of rock and metal. The album can't be seen as wholly original, owing debts all over the place, seeming especially like a superior version of Operation: Mindcrime that avoids the cheesy and false 'suburban cyperpunk' thing and restrains over-elaborate excess. All of Dream Theater's albums sound admirably distinct and different from each other, but this is doubtless the band at their most focused and creative, and as such deserves a listen by all fans. This isn't my personal favourite album, primarily because the lengthy playing time means the similarity in sound and return of riffs become a little grating and outstayed, but there are very few weak songs. Images and Words remains their most original and enjoyable release, but fans of the band's darker metal side may prefer Awake or Train of Thought. In any case, those put off by Scenes From a Memory should avoid the band's subsequent release, Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, with its pointlessly long running time and failed grandeur.

Dream Theater predictably toured Metropolis Pt. 2 in its entirety after its release, recorded on the Metropolis 2000: Live Scenes From New York DVD which adds a little to the experience through its use of live action, slightly amateurish footage. Thankfully, Scenes From a Memory is an album that can stand alone perfectly well AS an album: many Pink Floyd fans had to watch Alan Parker's version of The Wall to fully understand and appreciate what Roger Waters had been getting at, but there is little hidden in Dream Theater's interesting and ultimately optimistic tale of Depression-era fratricide. The thinking person's thrash metal.

Frankingsteins | 4/5 |

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