Sound — 9
When searching for a word to describe the latest Dream Theater album Systematic Chaos, wow comes to mind. From the first track, which is over 16 minutes, the veteran band successfully proves why they are among the top players in progressive metal. The CD marks the band's first release on Roadrunner Records, and the label should be more than satisfied about it's acquisition. Although the length songs might try the patience of some listeners out there, dedicated Dream Theater fans will be in absolute heaven from start to finish.
The title Systematic Chaos does seem to sum up the material heard on the latest CD, with the first track In The Presence Of Enemies - Part I embodying it. That particular song starts ominously and slowly, complete with wind-like sound effects, an echoing synth line, and a simple bass line. Vocalist James LaBrie enters with a similarly mellow vocal delivery, but not for long. It builds and builds, until you get to phenomenal solos from guitarist John Petrucci and keyboardist Jordan Rudess a little more than halfway through. Arrangement-wise, it's a learning experience to hear how the musicians transition so easily from tempo to tempo, all the while playing lightening-speed solos.
What's always respectable about Dream Theater is how they don't need to show off their speed 100 percent of the time. The song Constant Motion is not necessarily a ballad, but it's definitely a slower tempo than other tracks. The more subtle approach allows LaBrie's vocals to come to the forefront for the majority of the song and the solos take somewhat of a backseat. There is a solo by Petrucci -- as amazing as ever -- but it's brief and suits the style of the song.
One of the odder songs is The Dark Eternal Night, which features effects-heavy vocals from LaBrie uncharacteristic from his usual operatic-metal approach. The unique start does foreshadow a bit of what's to come with the rest of the track, which features a cool little saloon-inspired piano work from Rudess and some fantastic percussive work from Mike Portnoy, who also co-produced the record along with Petrucci.
Lyrics — 9
There is a distinct war-related theme on much of Systematic Chaos, from the pictures showing skulls and bullets, to songs like Prophets Of War. On that particular song, there is obviously a call for change with the war in Iraq. LaBrie sings, Compelled; Can we clean up this mess; The loss of loved ones; A perverse request; They continue the same rhetoric; These derelicts that profit. While some Republicans might be miffed by the anti-war lyrics, it's still a fairly engaging song.
Drummer Mike Portnoy adds another chapter to his project called Alcoholics Anonymous Suite with Repentance exploring his experiences with the demon bottle. LaBrie sings, Staring at the empty page before me; All the years of wreckage running through my head; Patterns of my life I thought adorned me. It's a song that it as honest as it gets, and if anything, it's a tiny peek into the mind of Portnoy.
Overall Impression — 9
There is one track that is somewhat of a letdown, if only because it features guest performances from guitarists who don't even play guitar on the song. Repentance features the likes of Steve Vai and Joe Satriani among others, but the musicians only sing backup. While the voices do add a slightly different sound to the track and it's cool to have them all together, it's still a bit disappointing that they didn't contribute any solos to Repentance.
Not all of the tracks are as memorable as In The Presence Of Enemies, but it's hard to not find at the very least 3 or 4 sections that impress in each one. Petrucci is at the top of his game, and pretty much every song features a mind-blowing solo from the guitar god. Petrucci and the band are plain and simple a group of musical virtuosos that play amazingly well together, and listening to them work together so effortlessly is absolutely a worthwhile (and educational) experience.