Sound — 8
It was in 1989, when Dream Theater's debut release When Dream and Day Unite, sent a large ripple through the heavy metal scene of the '80s. Since the band first formed in 1985, the prog-metal quintet has composed an extensive and highly original collection of music that continues to maintain their stable 22-year history. Dream Theater's latest release Systematic Chaos marked their first with new label Roadrunner Records and comes 2 years after their previous album release Octavarium in 2005. Drawing on narratives about religion, war and mystery, Systematic Chaos is a prime example of the band's determination to adopt more unique and modern sounds, enhancing their reputation as one of the most respected groups in the prog-metal scene. And while the band does use new methods, long-time Theater fans will be pleased the band continues to produce lengthy songs, with the longest stretching at a perfect sixteen and a half minutes. While for some this can seem excessively long, length, technical ability and originality are fundamental to the progressive metal genre, it is a long song that distinguishes the masters from the amateurs. There is no doubt that Dream Theater are artists in their profession, every sound is perfectly sculptured to fit with another even if initially they appeared not to work together. And while the band has generally been recognised as a prog-metal, the adoption of new and more modern styles gives each album a new flare.
Lyrics — 7
The album starts with the track In the Presence of the Enemies Pt. I, a nine minute song that proves a worthy opener to the album. While the song appears to move into a heavier sound there is a gradual shift into a blues-sounding riff that allows vocalist James LaBrie to contribute another instrument, his voice. LaBrie acts as the perfect storyteller, narrating stories riddled with themes about religion, war and blind faith and doing so with admirable professionalism, that is, not trying to overcomplicate the use of his vocals. While the album opens with a fantastic track, there is an unfortunate dent in the album's overall style. Forsaken, the second track on the album, sounds more like an overly produced pop song made for the purposes of commercialisation than a song true to the aspects that characterise the group. And while it seems difficult not to ignore the presence of Roadrunner Records, a company that has surged in popularity and profit over the past few years, the songs irritating repetition and simplicity seems an unusual (perhaps forced) direction. Despite this however, songs such as Constant Motion, Repentance and In the Presence of the Enemies Pt. II overshadow the negatives of the album standing out as the more enjoyable additions. Musically it appears the level of creativity still continues within the band, despite their long history. And while it is difficult to isolate one member as the 'best' in the group, it must be mentioned that, in my opinion, drummer Mike Portnoy and keyboardist Jordan Rudess were perhaps the best performers on the album. Rudess' 60s-style rhythm combined with Portnoy's vibrant drumming on the opening track standing out the most.
Overall Impression — 7
Overall, while the album doesn't move too far from the conventional styles of the progressive metal genre (apart from two songs) it is an album worthy of a genuine listen. Newcomers, like most others, are perhaps better off steering towards Dream Theater's back catalogue (Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, Images and Words) to experience the prime of the groups career, yet at the same time, Systematic Chaos is perfect as well if not purely for the band's ability to continue their legacy. The album's musical and thematic features make it a positive addition to the band's discography, a recommended listen for those eager to experience a new (and long) musical journey.