Sound — 10
I'm not usually one to go and buy something the day it comes out, but when the release date for Dream Theater's newest masterpiece was announced, I saved the date. It turned out to be worth it. I didn't really know what to expect from this album until Constant Motion was released in late April. I liked the song, but I knew that it had to be just a little taste of what was to come. For this album, the 5 geniuses continued their tradition of creating incredible music. Systematic Chaos generated a happy medium between the aggressive Train Of Thought metal and the softer, progressive Octavarium sound, and I think it was a great combination that can appeal to a wide fan base.
Lyrics — 9
The lyrics for this album in my opinion are what set it apart from their other albums. They (John Petrucci) decided to really go all-out fantasy for this one. In every Petrucci-written song, there's a dark story. In The Presence Of Enemies talks about rising up for battle, dark heretic masters, and slaughtering the damned. That last section of Part 2 is maybe a little too dark, with the twisting of the Psalm 23 and all the evil-sounding stuff, but I admire him for making such a drastic lyrical change with much success. Forsaken is about a vampiress claiming a victim, and The Dark Eternal Night talks about a monster that haunts a town. The Ministry Of Lost Souls, however, is not like the others. It is about a drowning person too afraid to reach out to be saved by another. After the person drowned, the other is devastated and can't go on without him/her. At the end, the dead person brings the soul of the living person across to "paradise", and they're together again. This is more of an uplifting song; somewhat a relief from the darkness of Petrucci's other songs. Mike Portnoy's songs all have great lyrics too, be it his OCD(Constant Motion) or his newest installment in the Alcoholics Anonymous Suite, Repentance. Many were disappointed with this track, saying it isn't aggressive like the preceding movements. I think it's perfect, because when they go to play all of these live in succession, I'd rather have all of them alive afterwards. Last but not least, James LaBrie's anti-war Prophets Of War surprised me. I am used to Dream Theater's political songs being more neutral(The Great Debate) rather than taking one side, but it's yet another lyrically ballsy track that makes this album great.
Overall Impression — 9
01. In The Presence Of Enemies, Pt. 1 - this song is part one of Dream Theater's newest edition to their collection of 20+ minute epics. It starts off as an instrumental with the usual odd-time riffs(one of which was very similar to one in Sacrificed Sons) and blazing-fast Petrucci-Rudess unisons, then goes guitar ballad before mellowing out for the vocals to come in for the second section of the song, Resurrection. It builds up to the end with another crazy unison, and then ends with the sound of wind, creating much anticipation for Part 2. 02. Forsaken - this song begins with some soft piano before being interrupted by the rest of the band. It is a great song, definitely a little eerie with it's vocals and lyrics. I did find a few similarities between this song and "Stream Of Consciousness". In both songs, Petrucci has a Malmsteen-esque guitar solo, and the intros and outros for each song are similar, in that they are played by a single instrument. This is a pretty sweet song. 03. Constant Motion - this song I think would be better to me if I had heard it for the first time with the rest of the album. it's early release sort of made it grow old to me. Nevertheless, it's still a good song. Some intricate riffs with odd time as usual, but, my first impression was that the vocals sound very Metallica-esque, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The guitar solo is amazing as always. 04. The Dark Eternal Night - finally Dream Theater made a song that can easily be called their heaviest. Very dark, as the title implies, and it goes on after you think it's done, with an even heavier, dirtier riff. The solo section is great, and I enjoyed watching the in-studio video of them playing it. One of my two favorites on this album. 05. Repentance - Mike Portnoy's latest chapter in the AA saga continues with this slow ballad. Included are movements VIII and IX, Regret and Restitution, respectively. It begins with music from This Dying Soul, and features Portnoy singing a line from that song before James LaBrie comes in. The general theme is forgiveness, and the song features guest voices, who are various friends of Portnoy's getting things off their chest and asking for forgiveness. It's a good song, a break from the previous three fast, aggressive DT songs in the AA Suite. 06. Prophets Of War - this is James LaBrie's usual political-themed song. The lyrics are anti-war, but he manages to do it as to not be overly negative. He states his beliefs in a non-extreme way, which is better to not offend some people who may disagree. My first impression was that the beginning sounds a lot like Never Enough from Octavarium. The chords as well as some of the rhythms are very similar. The riffs are very powerful and the fan chanting adds to the meaningfulness of the lyrics, as well as the random Freddy Mercury background high note vocals from Portnoy. Those make me laugh after watching him record them on the documentary. Good song. 07. Ministry Of Lost Souls - this is my other favorite song from this album. It starts off with a powerful synth ballad with heavy guitar power chords. It then goes into a melodic acoustic guitar section for the vocals to start in. It then becomes a slow ballad with meaningful lyrics that tell a very appropriate, fitting story. The instrumental solo section is amazing as always; Petrucci's guitar solo actually melted my face off the first time I heard it, but it was worth it, even though I no longer have a human face. This is another one of Petrucci's masterpieces; up there with "Metropolis Pt.1" and "In The Name Of God". 08. In The Presence Of Enemies, Pt. 2 - continued from track 1, Part 2 picks up right where Part 1 left off. With a windy bass and piano intro and the darkest lyrics Dream Theater has ever recorded, this song is one of the greats. The third section, Heretic, is all about serving a dark master, and uses a very eerie sounding chord progression. The fourth section, The Slaughter Of The Damned, is maybe a little too dark for me, but I still like it. James LaBrie makes the dark lyrics sound so freaking awesome. It then proceeds to The Reckoning, the standard insane instrumental, and then Salvation, the final piece to the puzzle. This album was all I expected it to be and more. It's impossible to say if it's better or worse than other DT albums, because the sounds and styles are so different on each one, and because they're all so damn good. However, one thing I was kind of disappointed they did was stopping the constant flow of album to album. They ended that by making Octavarium come full circle with itself, which I guess is fitting. I would recommend buying the Special Edition with the DVD, because the documentary is very well-made as well as very humorous. If someone stole my copy of this album, I would probably have to rise up with a vicious blade and overflow my cup with his blood.