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Dream Theater - Systematic Chaos CD (album) cover


Dream Theater


Progressive Metal

3.33 | 1899 ratings

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4 stars Train of Thought and Octavarium were very different albums. Train of Thought is the heavier record the band has ever released. Almost every song on that CD is heavy and fast, as the band adopted a more metallic sound, showing some nu-metal influences too (check out Honor Thy Father or This Dying Soul). This record divided their fanbase and also attracted other type of fans.With Octavarium, Dream Theater tried to create a softer record; while the heaviness is still there (Panic Attack), the other songs are more rock influenced than metal influenced (big examples of that are The Answer Lies Within and I Walk Beside You, this last one sounding like a very commercial and extremely pop-ish tune). This record pleased the sector of their fanbase that loved their progressive rock side and pissed off the one that loved their metal side.

With this, I also conclude that Dream Theater is a band that is very concerned about the critics it receives; if you look to their catalog you'll see that, for example, after the critics they received for making Falling into Infinity, a radio-friendly album, they released an ultra-progressive, over-the-top, super pompous concept album (Metropolis Pt.2 Scenes From a Memory, an album that I have already reviewed too)... After releasing the heavy Train of Thought and thanks to all the critics they received because of the new sound they've adopted, the band changed (yet again!) their direction, releasing the soft (and extremely inconsistent, as I've already said) Octavarium.

With Systematic Chaos, Dream Theater tried to please all their fanbase and to avoid all that type of critics. As a result, this record is the union of all the different sides of the band: the soft one (The Ministry of Lost Souls, Repentance), the heavy one (The Dark Eternal Night, Constant Motion) and even the commercial one (Forsaken). But did this mix of characteristics result in a good album? In my opinion, yes. Systematic Chaos is more focused than ToT and one million times better and more solid than its predecessor, the inconsistent Octavarium. Just listen to the first part of In the Presence of Enemies. The first keyboard riff, the excellent drumming, the emotional guitar solo, the breakdown, the vocals: excellent! This song blows away everything the band has ever done on their last two albums (hey, everything but Octavarium's title track, which is one of the best Theater songs, if not the best).

This tune also reveals that Jordan Rudess is back. On ToT and Octavarium, the sound of his keyboard was buried in the mix and barely noticeable. The production of Systematic Chaos is the best Dream Theater has ever had as all the instruments sound great (err... well, actually, I still can't hear Myung). That is one of the reasons why this album is so good; in fact, nowadays, the production is one of the most important components of the record. Anyways, the keyboard shines a lot on this piece.

However, this record isn't flawless and you will painfully notice that, about 10 minutes into it. Yes, the lyrics absolutely suck. Dream Theater never were a proficient band, lyrics-wise. They are very well known for their amazing playing talents, but the lyrics aren't one of their strong points. Anyways, on Systematic Chaos they absolutely bite the dust with them. I mean, I don't know what they were thinking, as they talk about vampires and samurais and monsters. Sure that many metal bands out there write songs about that kind of subjects, but, sometimes, they blend perfectly well with the music (check out King Diamond, with the huge amount of concept albums, based on that kind of things). Hell, the lyrics of this record would even sound great in a power metal band but, hey, Dream Theater is a progressive band, they HAVE to choose something better to write about! Meh, nevermind, let's move on...

Well, the drumming... Mike Portnoy really shines on this record. In ToT he showed his more aggressive side, on Octavarium he made the worst performance of his career (mainly because he took a simpler approach, which is a bad thing by my books) and on this record he returns to his old style, delivering some complex and creative patterns. The fills on In the Presence of the Enemies are amazing and on Constant Motion, during the guitar solo, he plays a very, very interesting pattern, that becomes faster and faster (in fact, that pattern is very reminiscent of the one he played on the breakdown of Awake's Erotomania). Just go to his myspace page and listen to the isolated drum track of Constant Motion and tell me that he isn't one of the best drummers of his generation. A pretty good performance.

Anyways, after the decent Forsaken, the most commercial songs of the album, there are two very good tracks: Constant Motion and The Dark Eternal Night. Both are aggressive songs, reminiscent of the Train of Thought period, and where John Petrucci delivers a fine performance.

In fact, he knows how to compose a crushing guitar riff and a mellow one (if you want a crushing one listen to The Dark Eternal Night, and if you want a mellow one search for Repentance)and he proves it yet again on Systematic Chaos. After the shred-fest of Train of Thought and the mediocrity of Octavarium, he delivers again some good solos (a fine example is the one on the first part of ITPOE, which is, as I've already said, very emotional and heartfelt). His playing can be very technical at times (no one can deny that!), but still tasteful and interesting. As you can see, guitar-wise this piece is also pretty good.

The next tune is Repentance, which manages to be another highlight, sinces its not very much in "Dream Theater vein"; in fact, this songs wouldn't sound out of place on a Opeth record , from the main riff to the soft drumming a la Martin Lopez. The piano lines are beautiful and James LaBrie sounds amazing, singing emotionally and proving that he still is a very good vocalist. After the bluesy guitar solo (it reminds a lot of the one on Opeth's Windowpane), we have a strange section, where many people start to talk about regret (wait, people talking about regret... I have already heard a similar section on Train of Thought's Honor Thy Father; it's incredible how this album shares a lot of similarities with others). However, it actually sounds nice. After a melodic choir, the song ends. Solid tune.

Before concluding, another reference to a particular song, this time the closer, In the Presence of Enemies pt.2, which shares MANY similitudes with other past songs of the band. One fill, that is repeated throughout it, which consists of Mike Portnoy hitting the snare, accompanied with a strange keyboard line, is the exact same fill repeated many times on Octavarium. The other big similar thing is on the last part of the song, when there is a keyboard riff played alone. On the last two Dream Theater epics (Octavarium and In the Name of God) they also used that idea. But ok, at least they are ripping off some ideas from THEIR own albums, so it isn't so bad. In fact, this rip-offs mark presence in almost every Dream Theater record.

So, James LaBrie is undoubtedly the man of the album; he is in a fantastic shape. I personally love his vocal performance on the soft parts, but he also sounds great on the heavier ones. The monster of the drums a.k.a. Mike Portnoy is as great as he ever was, but I'm beginning to hate his excessive authority and leadership within the band. If you have the DVD that accompanies this record, you got to see how he is always giving his opinions to the other band members, trying them to accept all his ideas and all. That's a pretty annoying attitude and the fact that he absolutely dominates the music video of Constant Motion doesn't help either (just watch it... 90% of the times, the cameras show him drumming - he may be quite good, but the other musicians also belong to the band, this is not a solo project!). He also penned many of the gorgeous (the irony!) lyrics, which proves that he is far from a flawless lyricist too. So, Mike, better stick to the drums and forget about the rest, huh? John Petrucci delivers, as I've already said, a solid performance, and doesn't destroy the songs with lengthy solos (like on Train of Thought) nor with the absence of them. Rudess doesn't solo so frequently too (which is a good, good thing) and about Myung... well, forget about him, because you won't hear the bass at all.

Concluding, this record is very, very good. Dream Theater definitely returned and there aren't so many bands out there that after twenty years of work still can deliver good CDs like this. Forget Prophets of War and the lyrics and here you get a very consistent record, full of good ideas and thirty times better than the last two Dream Theater albums. Systematic Chaos is also a very varied record; sure the songs are all progressive, but the existence of many heavy and soft sections make the album much more varied and less boring. Not a masterpiece, though, but a very enjoyable album.

Best Moments of the CD: -the beginning and solo of ITPOE. -the breakdown on Constant Motion. -the ending of the record, when you think Portnoy will destroy his cymbals to mark the end of Systematic Chaos... You get a surprise.

Absolutely recommended, in fact this is the most solid and consistent album of the band. It doesn't contain the best songs the band ever penned though, but as a whole it sounds great. Good work Dream Theater, let's see if your next record will top this (I hope so, at least!).

Nhorf | 4/5 |


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