Sound — 9
First and foremost: I am prog, not metal. Bare that in mind as you read this. I found the album improves as it progresses. I found the opener, A Nightmare to Remember, a little wearisome in parts, but for anyone who liked Train of Thought, this track shouldn't disappoint. A Rite of Passage, and Wither seem quite commercial by DT's standards, whilst not unpleasant, is a little surprising, especially the latter. Mike has finished the AA suite, so in "The Shattered Fortress", there is a resurgence of themes from the previous steps (ie, The Glass Prison, etc.). It is the final two tracks that stand out the most, the Rush-esque "The Best of Times" in a slight ballad fashion, and the epic "The Count of Tuscany" which really captures the band at their best. Petrucci will not disappoint, well, not guitarists at least. He and Portnoy seem to hog the majority of the album, with Rudess soaring above with some gothic orchestral motifs. Myung, sadly, seems to have a diminished role these days, as the bass cannot even be heard in some parts, and when it can, is virtually supporting the guitars.
Lyrics — 9
James LaBrie helms the mic again, and in fine shape mind you, alternating between his clear, angelic voice, and his harsh, gruff screaming. Although a tenor, he still manages to find a few moments to hit a couple of high notes interspersed here and there. He does a good job, granted, a voice of his calibre deserves an album more like Scenes From a Memory, or Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, but I can't imagine anyone else more suited for the album, as the ability to alternate between styles is essential to the songs and lyrics. The Shattered Fortress, the first of Portnoy's two lyrical compositions, is the final installment of his AA suite, and a worthy finale for a difficult battle against an unhealthy addiction. Whilst not as interesting as it's predecessors, a worthy finish. The Best of Times, Portnoy's other creation, is about his father, whom died of cancer earlier this year. An uncharacteristic approach to lyrics (by Mike's standards), but the effect is well received when combined with the music, to make a ballad, showcasing, yet another side of the band. It doesn't however, stand up to A Change of Seasons, themed about his mother's struggle against cancer. The only interesting lyrics by Petrucci are those of The Count of Tuscany: Italy, arcane practices of cannibalism interwoven in tradition; well, that's prog metal, I'm satisfied. When read alone, the lyrics seem a little corny and trite, but with the music, they take on a life of their own, and all silliness vanishes. Then again, that's true for most music, as the music is often medium of expression.
Overall Impression — 9
I will not compare this album to anything prior to Scenes From a Memory. After a few listens, I have deemed it superior to Train of Thought. Just makes the cut above Octavarium, and lightyears above Systematic Chaos (not that it was a bad album, just below my expactations of such a grouping of virtuosos). It fails, however, to compare to the likes of the aforementioned Scenes, and Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence. But hey, I'm prog, make that decision yourself. The final two tracks I think are the prime cuts, but if it were to spawn singles, A Rite of Passage, and Wither would claim those titles. It's quite impressive after a few listens, as it caters to quite a few styles. I'm disappointed in the metal themed direction DT has taken for the last few years, but this album far exceeds its predecessor. I do like Rudess' attempts to assert himself during the songs, as he seemed reluctant to do for TOT and SysChaos. I think Myung's bass needed to be turned up a bit, which I really found irritating. If I had to, I'd place it in fifth place, for favourite overall DT album (Change of Seasons excluded), and third place for Rudess DT album.