Album Review

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Dream Theater
Systematic Chaos

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Rating Scale: 1-6

Jon Eardley


Systematic Chaos marks the 9th studio album from this New York based group of phenoms and is a record that puts the band back on track with the heavier structured approach heard on their Train of Thought album, after the slightly disappointing and less than exciting Octavarium release. As pointed out in my review of their Score DVD, Dream Theater is a band that you either love or hate, and this album is sure to please the former and will keep the haters hating. Simply put, it’s Dream Theater…nothing more, nothing less, and the fact their fan base continues to grow by the week – with little to no help from FM radio, mind you – tells me they are obviously doing something right.

Comprised of eight songs filled with all of the ingredients you’d expect from the group, the album showcases a band that sounds as sharp as ever and convincingly continues on as one of the most consistent acts in the progressive rock/metal industry. By releasing a new record every two years almost like clockwork, you’d think the ideas would dry up, leading some to believe a lot of their songs merely blend in with one another, ultimately seeming as if it’s just more of the same sounds being rehashed. That couldn’t be further from the truth, as nine minute opener "In the Presence of Enemies, Pt. 1" will put those fears and thoughts in their graves right where they belong. The first half of the song is more of an instrumental intro showcasing the band’s patented chaotic flurry of time changes and key/guitar interplay, then it slows down to a more mild mannered gait setting up the entrance of singer James LaBrie. Although he hits those high notes a bit less these days, the man is a rock and delivers time and time again with vocal lines that complement the music with honesty and flair. "Forsaken" is one of two ballads on the record, and while the slow tear jerker has become frowned on over the years, DT have written and still do write some of the best in the biz. It’s back to business with "Constant Motion", as the odd meters return and some of the best riffs Petrucci has brought to the table can be heard. I can’t say enough about the interplay between Petrucci and keyboardist Jordan Rudess, as their patented flurry of frenzied and note-y noodle-fests never ceases to amaze me.

"The Dark Eternal Night" is sure to make some waves, thanks in part to the near rap-like nature of the verse. If the song needs a saving grace, however, it’ll be the almost death-metalish sequence starting at the 5:45 mark leading up to a blistering guitar solo. This section has got to be the most brutal part in any DT song to date, not to mention the groovy chunk brought forth near the end that has, dare I say, some semi-King/Hanneman-esque pig squeals peppered over the top. The next two tracks have grown on me since the first time I’d heard them, but I can see myself passing them by on future spins. "Repentance" flaunts a sullen mood pretty much throughout, sees a softly spoken word section muddle things up in the middle, and has an ending that literally seems to drag on, while "Prophets of War" goes into an almost 70’s disco dance club feel that has me cringing more often than not, and it has yet some more spoken word parts that are just a complete turn off. "The Ministry of Lost Souls" is the first of two epic numbers surpassing the 14:00 mark and is the second ballad on the effort. Things open up a bit more in the middle as a lumbering riffs section sets up yet another chaotic bout of noodling in true Dream Theater form, and it also proves yet again that the Myung/Portnoy tandem is hard to beat when it comes to the art of the rhythm section. Closer "In the Presence of Enemies, Pt. 2" contains some of the darkest lyrics and sinister sounding vocal melodies the band has produced to date, and caps off the album with astute confidence and all in all feels like a true closer.

At the end of the day this is yet another solid outing by Dream Theater and fans of the band will have no choice but to add this album to their collection. Over the years you’ve known what to expect from the band and they continue to meet those expectations by delivering honest and true to the bone material. While the album probably won’t be enough to sway the haters into the fold, it is certain to be enough to keep fans of the band content over the next two years until release ten is bestowed upon us. Again, arguably the most consistent band throughout the entire progressive rock/metal industry.



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