Dream Theater - Systematic Chaos Review
Posted by Brandon Ratliff on 06.06.2007
Systematic Chaos...also known as war.
Dream Theater – Systematic Chaos
Release Date: June 6, 2007
Label: Roadrunner Records
Produced By: John Petrucci & Mike Portnoy
First Single: Constant Motion
Recommended Downloads: Constant Motion, In The Presence Of Enemies (Part I & II), Prophets Of War
Dream Theater is:
Vocals: James LaBrie
Guitar/Vocals: John Petrucci
Bass: John Myung
Drums/Vocals: Mike Portnoy
Keyboards: Jordan Rudess
1. In The Presence Of Enemies – Part I
3. Constant Motion
4. The Dark Eternal Night
6. Prophets Of War
7. The Ministry Of Lost Souls
8. In The Presence Of Enemies – Part II
Is Dream Theater ever considered much more than a musician’s band? Of course, but so many people out there (critics and regular people alike) would be extremely quick to claim the band puts only emphasis on instrumental wankery, rarely focusing on crafting good songs. Others would hail them as masters of their craft, both in musicianship and songwriting. What are they? Well, just like with anything relating to music, that can only be ultimately decided by your opinion of them, but rest assured I will do my best to explain to you my point of view on the band and the matter, and what you wish to believe after that is, well, entirely up to you.
Are reviews typically so personal? No, but with a band that can have people so divided as Dream Theater, I feel it is necessary to take a slightly different approach to the review than one might normally. And at the very least, I’m the one who writes at the site, and I’ve earned the right to do my review however I wish.
Of course, I don’t wish to sound arrogant with that last statement. But let’s move on.
So what genre would you consider Dream Theater to be in? They’ve played the fringes of many different styles since their majestic (pun intended) 1985 inception, but one can typically sum all of that up in two words: progressive metal. Or are they rock? Does it even matter? Not really. Over the course of their nine studio albums (with this one being the ninth of course), they’ve done a little of everything. But let’s look at what led the band to 2007’s Systematic Chaos.
Click the picture to buy the album.
Back in 2002, Dream Theater released the two disc concept album Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence. The album was laid out like a musical, with the tracks on the first disc being various songs that were like various scenes, and the second being one long piece of music as an overture broken into various sections, also being scenes. The disc was critically praised, but many fans felt it was a little too progressive, with very little in the way of the heavier elements that the band was well known for, and subsequently, very good at. They seemed to have listened to this criticism (if you’ll even call it that), and a little more than a year and a half later, they released the extremely dark and heavy Train Of Thought. Again, the album received the usual critical response, and again, some fans complained about the album. Except this time, the album was too little prog and too much metal. You can never please everyone eh?
Again, the band responded, and the result was 2005’s Octavarium. The album combined elements of both metal (such as the heavy “Root Of All Evil,” which began in an extremely similar way as Pink Floyd’s “Welcome To The Machine”), and progressive (look no further than the soaring “These Walls” or the ballad-esque “The Answer Lies Within”). It would be easy to call it a return to form, but keep the word “progressive” in mind and that almost seems like a moot point. If the album did one thing wrong however, it was the questionable pacing. This is a quote from our own Michael Melchor’s review of Octavarium:
”Dream Theater has always had the ability to weave in and out of passages and tracks, but now the effort to concentrate more on songcraft pays off well in several areas. The pacing, however, does seem a little strange, even for them. Track 2, “The Answer Lies Within”, is a lavish, ballad-esque number that the band has done before and done well – normally in the middle of the album or closer to the end instead of near the beginning where it throws listeners off.”
In addition, the album might have been a little heavier on the progressive side of things, but overall it was fairly well balanced. Now, with all of that being said, let’s take a look at Systematic Chaos.
Instead of going with the slow building introduction as they did on Octavarium, Dream Theater instead decides to kick things off with a faster instrumental section on the track “In The Presence Of Enemies – Part I,” the first part of a two part epic track. The musical portion of the track goes on, shifting through various styles, seemingly paying tribute not only to the band’s past, but other well known progressive bands, notably Rush. Before you know it, five minutes and thirteen seconds and a plethora of musical styles have passed, and James LaBrie finally makes his presence known on the album. Overall the track is a good blend of progressive and metal, with guitarist John Petrucci and keyboardist Jordan Rudess show a synchronicity that is practically unmatched with any tandem pair of guitarists today, much less a guitarist and keyboardist. “Forsaken” comes up next, and though it starts with, and revolves around a subtle piano section by Rudess, the song bounces playfully back and forth between a gentle verse and faster (albeit not very heavy) chorus.
Oh, and by the way, if you didn’t notice, that’s not a guitar overdub in the chorus and bridge. If you can email me and tell me the name of the famous guitar virtuoso that played on this track without looking it up in the liner notes, I will give you a shout in my next review.
Next up is the first “single” from the album, “Constant Motion.” This was the first track that Roadrunner released as a free download, but as far as I know, it’s not an official single. Anyhow, this song shows the band proudly displaying the progressive badge and wearing their influences for everyone to see as it is not only very classic Metallica-like in delivery, but also contains quite possibly the catchiest chorus vocal hook since “Pull Me Under.” Despite the classic influence, the track also carries a modern edge with it that could very likely draw in some younger fans.
And that, folks, is that thing about this album that you probably heard but couldn’t quite place your finger on. Not only did Dream Theater bring a near perfect blend of progressive and metal elements with Systematic Chaos, the album also has a bit of a modern metal aura to it that will definitely attract fans of what usually plays on your local hard rock radio station. Has Dream Theater sold out? Dear god don’t even come close to uttering those words, because while the answer is a resounding no, they definitely brought a new element to what could have ended up as a very stale and formulaic attempt at sounding modern while still maintaining their musical integrity. I highly doubt the A.D.D. ridden fans of most radio hard rock could really stomach a whole Dream Theater album anyway, even one as arguably accessible as Systematic Chaos. “The Dark Eternal Night” trades the usual instrumental acrobatics for a solid and heavy track seeming to focus on the never ending battle between good and evil. There is some clever wordplay in John Petrucci’s lyrics for the song, possibly suggesting that both sides are the same, just taken from different points of view (ala the Jedi and Sith from Star Wars), and the song interestingly breaks into an odd keyboard solo in the middle of the heavy bridge.
Prophets Of War is a notable song in that, while it would have fit very well on Octavarium, the lyrics are political in nature. There are no subtle steps in this track however, as the following lyrics demonstrate:
Is it time to make a change?
Are we closer than before?
Can we help them break away?
Are we profiting from war?
It’s time to make a change!
I could go on and explain the song, but I feel that passage speaks for itself.
Upon first listen, “In The Presence Of Enemies – Part II” may seem to have nothing to do with its predecessor besides the name the two songs share. Before you think that, rip both songs and listen to them one right after the other. Not only does the ending of the former flow perfectly right into the latter, but taken as a whole, the two form combine to form a twenty-five minute and thirty-eight second epic. Few people will see how well these tracks fit together if they do not stop and look at them as a whole rather than two tracks with the same name. If taken in several movements like the second disc of Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence, the song contains the sections Prelude, Resurrection, Heretic, The Slaughter Of The Damned, The Reckoning, and Salvation, painting an entire story throughout the lyrics.
Is there much negative about this album? Well as I said before, that will be for you to decide. The band is even further on top of their game both musically and lyrically than ever before, and have honed their sound down to a fine point. The pacing is dead on, and, well, there really isn’t anything wrong with the album. Some longtime fans may be put off a bit by the modern tone to much of the album, but as I said before, I really don’t see the album doing much better commercially than their past works simply due to the fact that the average music fan, in this day an age of two to three minute songs and sloppy progressions, will be able to sit down and listen to an album where the average track length is around nine minutes without getting bored and putting their copy of All The Right Reasons back in the CD player. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that, as Dream Theater may actually be a musician’s band. Not that a band like Dream Theater gaining more fans is a bad thing though. But if you think you can handle the song length, give Systematic Chaos a try. You never know, you might actually like it. For you former fans, I will give this album a very healthy recommendation as well. Don’t let the idea of Dream Theater taking on a bit of a modern sound scare you; all of the best elements of the band you’ve loved since When Dream And Day Unite are still here, and better than ever. If Dream Theater can ever put out a better album than this, it’ll be the day that they are truly perfect.
The 411: Systematic Chaos is a stellar new release from one of the few bands in existence that never fails to deliver. It has a little more of a modern feel to it than past efforts have, but don’t let that fool you, this is still the Dream Theater you know and love. If Octavarium was a balance with the scales leaning more towards their progressive side, this album definitely tips them back right to the center. If there was a band that could make it happen, Dream Theater is definitely the band that just makes you feel like Dimebag Darrell is out there somewhere smiling, because from start to finish, this is truly a great progressive metal album...with no more emphasis on the progressive or the metal.