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Systematic Chaos

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Progressive rock masters Dream Theater return in full force with their ninth studio album Systematic Chaos. The album features heavy riffs, soaring melodies, and intricate arrangements. Dream Theater appeases its loyal fans but also reaches out to all rock fans with hook-laden hits like ”Constant Motion,” ”Forsaken,” and ”The Dark Eternal Night.”

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  • Another classic release from Dream Theater. Nothing particularly fancy about this release that makes it a “huge” development of their sound or what not, but they amped up the hooks and melodies and built them into their technical progressive metal sound to make for an album that’s both uber-catchy and intellectually stimulating. Great stuff!

    1. In the Presence of Enemies 9.5/10
    2. Forsaken 9/10
    3. Constant Motion 9/10
    4. The Dark Eternal Night 9/10
    5. Repentence 7.5/10
    6. Prophets of War 8/10
    7. Ministry of Lost Souls 7.5/10
    8. In the Presence of Enemies Part II 8.5/10

    Best Tracks: In the Presence of Enemies Pts. I and II, Forsaken, Constant Motion

    Posted on January 23, 2010 - Permalink - Buy Now
  • I have been a DT fan since around 1998, and was familiar with Images And Words, Awake, A Change of Seasons, and Falling Into Infinity before Scenes From A Memory came out… So I know the differences in their body of work pretty well. To me all of their albums have something to offer, perhaps some a little more intense than others, but they all have a very unique tinge to them. When Scenes and 6 Degrees came out, I knew DT’s career was hitting it’s stride. When Train of Thought came out, it was neat to hear them try something slightly different, with more basic-structured songs while still beating you up with those head-shaking “how’d they do that?” moments… Then came the gorgeous Octavarium which hinted at a much more complex and exciting road ahead… But nothing could have prepared me for Systematic Chaos.

    I am stunned at the heart and soul put into this album. It’s very fast, very tight, and so well-paced that it’s all over before you can even comprehend what just hit you. I must say this has got to be their most powerful statement since Scenes and 6 Degrees… That said, you’ll hear past influences of DT albums (most notably the ridiculously awesome time signatures from Scenes From A Memory), along with the typical likes of Pink Floyd, Zappa, Rush, Megadeath, even a little bit of Queen-like vocal layering which fits perfectly… Except on a scale of which only DT can manage to achieve.

    The main theme (In The Presence of Enemies, Pt.1) pulls you in quickly and challenges your ears while laying the backdrop for the rest of the album. The slower pieces on this album are equally as entrancing, with unpredictable chord shifts and just the right amount of emotion and ambience. The album climaxes during the unbelievable instrumental on the last track (In The Presence of Enemies, Pt. 2) with such a masterful genius of a sound, you need to hear it to believe it.

    This album really does seem to have it all. They’re working together awesomely, using the same formula they did back in late 1999 and I am very pleased with the result. Even non-prog fans MUST respect the insanity that is Systematic Chaos.

    Posted on January 22, 2010 - Permalink - Buy Now
  • A solid effort from DT this time around, and it’s wonderful to see the support of a good record label behind them. Definitely worth getting the special edition for the documentary and packaging. The music…well, as with every album since SDOIT it’s a mixed bag. Despite Portnoy’s insistence that this would be a heavy, modern, ballsy album, it simply isn’t.

    ToT was a determined move in those directions, competing with the likes of Disturbed and Tool while maintaining the classic DT prog sound. On this disc however, The first four songs are heavy and aggressive, but not any more so than an your average track from Awake or ToT (though much more aggressive than anything on Octavarium). The album slows WAY down about mid-way through with ‘Repentance’, ‘Prophets of Doom’ (a bizzare metal/techno song??), and ‘Ministry of Lost Souls.’ This triple punch of slower/mellow tunes really lets the air out of the whole experience and ultimately prevents it from living up to Portnoy’s promises. Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t bad songs, but they simply aren’t as strong as they should be in light of the earlier tunes (Constant Motion and Dark Eternal Night in particular), and they seem to bog the whole album down a bit.

    It’s also hard to imagine most DT fans not taking issue with some of the lyrics on this album. DT has been long known for introspective, well-crafted, mature themes. I’m not sure if DT is trying to fit in with some of their new label mates, or simply got lazy, but some of the lyrics (especially on the sprawling ‘In the Presence of Enemies) are plain bad if not embarrassing. Petrucci has stated that he wrote a lot of fictional lyrics for this disc, but I thought he meant something along the lines of ‘Pull Me Under’ or ‘Metropolis’. Apparently he meant ‘1982 Iron Maiden B-sides’. Constant references to the ‘Dark Master’, vampires, ancient pharoahs are awkward and seem juvenille for a band that delivered such stunning works as the ‘Scenes from a Memory’ concept album, and songs such as ‘Sacrificed Sons’ or ‘Take Away My Pain’. The usually sobering vocals of LaBrie are almost comical as he sings “Dark Master – I will not serve youuuuuahhh!!!” Cringe-worthy to say the least. It reminded me of an SNL skit where Hetfield and Dickenson duel it out for the sake of melodrama. Not sure what was going on here. I’m all for something new and different, but the lyrics are just bad. No offense to Petrucci (one of my favorite lyricists), but it just doesn’t work in the context of DT.

    Overall I can’t complain much. DT’s worst effort is still better than most swill on the market today, but they’ve delivered so brilliantly in the past that it seems impossible for them to improve. I’ll enjoy this one just as much as the others and anticipate what they do next.

    Posted on January 22, 2010 - Permalink - Buy Now
  • DT’s new release is a solid disc-filled, 78-minute, journey that should please most fans and shows they still are on top of their game. Their intense musicianship and enduring passion to create great tunes and give it their all shines through on this disc, however, the lyrics still are their weakest link. Although they break no new ground in their musical styling, Portnoy’s vocals, that used to make me cringe because of the sour notes he hit, have improved, or maybe I’m just getting used to them.

    My least favorite tracks on “Systematic Chaos” are the last few minutes of “Repentance” with the dialog babble in the background, and I’m not a fan of the industrial-techno-disco-sounding riff on “Prophets of War”. Otherwise, this disc is killer, the engineering and artwork are amazing, and this probably will be the best prog-metal release of the year.

    The special edition DVD is a must and includes a behind the scenes “making of” feature and a 5.1 mix of the album. The 90-minute documentary is good and Portnoy’s personality rules the film, but it’s odd that John Myung didn’t say anything through the entire feature. Was this how he wanted it? Some of his thoughts on the album would have been a treat. The 5.1 mix is awesome – full, thick, spacious and you can even hear the bass guitar, so get rid of the earbuds, buy a decent surround system, and crank it up!

    Posted on January 22, 2010 - Permalink - Buy Now
  • I always find it interesting to read the reviews after Dream Theater releases an album. In short, you never get any type of consensus from the fans. If they release a heavier album, half the fans want it to be more orchestral and moody. If they release a melodic album, half the fans want something heavier. If they play too fast, some people want them to slow it down. Playing too slow, on the other hand, causes the speed demons to turn their heads. Too much keyboard – not enough keyboard. Too much Portnoy, too much Petrucci. Not enough Petrucci, not enough Rudess. Bring back Kevin – and on, and on, and on, and on. Honestly, it’s tiring.

    But, you know what – behind it all is an army of hard core fans (mostly, dare I guess, musicians themselves who, by all measurements are always the harshest critics) who, whether they know it or not, are giving this band the highest form of praise you can ever give: In a word, VIRTUOSITY. These guys can spread themselves across such a wide range of styles that they have, along the way, picked up fans of all shapes, sizes, and musical tastes. So the fact that Dream Theater can never please them all at once is a testament to their artistic range, their musical talent, and, yes, their virtuosity.

    Should I tell you about Systematic Chaos? Well, if you haven’t guessed it yet, I loved this album. I am a fan of their more melodic works like Scenes From A Memory and the second disc of Six Degrees and, yes, even of the oft slammed Space-Dye Vest. That’s not to say that Train of Thought doesn’t have a coveted place in my collection. But I just happen to like the “catchier” albums a little more. So where does this one fit? Well, quite honestly, right in the middle. Every song has it’s own set of big brass ones. But mixed in between are the signature catchy hooks that made this band so famous. I’ve seen many comparisons to many of their different albums in the various reviews, but the closest I could come is somewhere between Six Degrees and Octavarium – probably closer to the former than the latter.

    I do have a few specific comments regarding the songs:

    1. In The Presence Of Enemies Part I is a great opener featuring fast, high-energy riffs and the beginnings of a structured epic. The problem is that it doesn’t go anywhere (clearly because it was recorded as one song with the closer). In any case, it’s a good enough tease for the album that follows.

    2. Forsaken is the catchy single. It is, in my opinion, the most listenable song on the album from the standpoint of wanting to hear it over and over again.

    3. Constant Motion is, by far, my least favorite song on the album – mostly because it is a total rip-off of Metallica. They do it well, but this is not at all an original song. Dream Theater falls into this trap every so often, but never so obviously as this, in my opinion.

    4. The Dark Eternal Night is a solid song with ripping solos, speedy runs, and dark but decent subject matter (feels a little Iron Maiden in it’s story). Not a lot to remember, but definitely a lot to appreciate. My only problem here is with Jordan’s “signature” ragtimey piano interlude. Jordan – enough already! I feel like he’s trying to make this his trademark and, unfortunately, it’s already been taken by Rick Wakeman. I wish he would drop the “piano in the western saloon” bit and break away on his truly original continuum instead.

    5. Repentance is good, although too heavily influenced by Pain Of Salvation’s “Be” album. I like the narratives, but POS did it just a little better.

    6. Prophets Of War is another heavy tune with a great message. Not one of the stand-outs, in my opinion, but a solid contributor.

    7. Now we’re getting somewhere with Ministry Of Lost Souls. Some nice guitar work in the slower beginning parts, with one of the best vocal melodies toward the end that I have ever heard them build to.

    8. And, finally, the rest of the first song. Again, great vocal melodies with an epic feel and an intense conclusion. But the song definitely loses some of its drive by being separated from it’s start. Still, the album feels strong and complete with this one finishing it off.

    So that’s my take, for whatever it’s worth. I love the fact that the fans are, yet again, mixed on this one. I hope they never all agree, because it will mean that Dream Theater has fallen into complacency and predictability – and that can never happen. But here’s the most important thing – and please listen closely. I have seen a lot of different people who were fans since Awake or even Images. Well, I was a fan since the Majesty days. Truthfully, I followed these guys before they were ever signed and have been a die-hard fan ever since. And one thing I can say for sure is that they have all individually grown as musicians and, more importantly, have done the same as a band over their 20+ year career. These guys work hard at what they do and they are always honing their craft. I don’t think we’ll ever see them just sit back and take it easy and stop learning their instruments. And that’s why their albums always evolve – in some cases even past their fans. But that’s a good thing for the music business and, if we can all learn to appreciate it, a good thing for us.

    Here’s to another 20 years! May the rest of their career be as long as this review…

    Posted on January 22, 2010 - Permalink - Buy Now