Dream Theater: James LaBrie (vocals); John Petrucci (guitars, background vocals); Jordan Rudess (keyboards); John Myung (electric bass); Mike Portnoy (drums, background vocals). Additional personnel: Chris Jericho, Steven Wilson, Corey Taylor, David … see full wiki
The Bottom Line: Hold on... You are about to take a ride on the DT express!!!
If any band qualifies to be known as Knights Templar, it is Dream Theater. They are the keepers of the faith. The defenders of what is pure. Bowing to no one they maintain their integrity as one of the best of the best. Be it called heavy metal or progressive or just plain great music period.
As their predecessors before them, these Knights also have been persecuted as being arrogant and too powerful. The power of this band is in their abilities and it is not arrogance when you deliver the goods!
If you want to talk about true arrogance in music we could start with the likes of Roger Waters but that is opening up a can of worms for sure. Sufficient to say that in Dream Theater there is no one that is greater than the sum of the whole. You would be hard pressed to show me a band where there is more talent on one stage then at a Dream Theater concert.
This brings us to Dream Theater's latest offering "Systematic Chaos." Here our knights delve into a world of utter darkness where they show us the battle between good and evil. Where tormented souls languish in their own private hells. Where chaos reigns supreme and the light at the end of the tunnel is only a tiny speck on a very distant horizon. However so small though, there is a light. It is toward this light that Dream Theater takes us. It is an augurous journey with many pitfalls and only the adventurous and the faithful will survive.
In today's world there is much negativity. Most people seem to dwell on all that is wrong and forget about what is good. We live in a society where the next generation feel as if they are owed what we worked our lives to achieve. It is little wonder that we have created a culture that thrives on finding the easy way out. Where the self is not to blame for their actions. It is parents or TV or the other multitude of reasons that the so called experts use to excuse the unfettered behavior of our unruly offspring. This is the world that Dream Theater throws us into with this first cut off this CD "In The Presence Of Enemies."
With the magic of John Petrucci's guitar setting the tone and the wild antics of Jordan Rudess on keyboards we are musically plunged into the chaos that is today's world. The torment of peer pressure and living in a crazy time is painted boldly by the artistic stroke of this band. You can feel a tormented mind trying to find peace where none is to be found. As the music starts to cascade into an abyss of total chaos, Petrucci and his six or maybe it is the seven string brings us back with a delightful and very soulful interlude that captures the anguish of the misguided....and with that the battle of the soul begins.
"I saw a white light Shining there before me
is how James LaBrie begins this epic tale of how easy it is to travel down the path of destruction when it is filled with the promises of false hope and revenge. In the religious context that runs throughout this album, this is the start of the battle of light against darkness, with darkness getting a strong foothold with it's pledge to give you what you want but not mentioning what is given up to complete the bargain. But, the battle is far from over.
Lulling keyboards give way to the thrashing of guitar before returning again to continue the story of the "Forsaken." This technique of using the calming melody of Rudess set against the hellish guitar assault of Petrucci emphasize the unrest that is the heart of this song. Here again Dream Theater uses the theme of false promises to achieve something that is neither earned or real.
"Forsaken I have come for you tonight. Awaken Look in my eyes and take my hand Give yourself up to me."
This time the power and allure of of a woman is used to try and capture our hero's soul. It is just another way to keep the mind from focusing on what is know to be true and good. Giving in to these corrupted ideals is surely leading down a path that does not have a happy ending.
Chaos. Our planet is filled with it. Our daily lives are a constant reminder of how things are never the same. Life can be a blur with all the endless possibilities and the constant assault on our senses by both the media and the surrounds in which we exist. Things are changing so fast that it is impossible to to keep up with it all. Every day we face a new challenge and for some this attack on the psych is just too much to handle. It is no surprise that another problem that needs to be dealt with in everyday life is the concept of "Constant Motion."
With this offering the band is truly in their element. The frantic message that they are delivering is a perfect backdrop for the creative abilities of these phenomenal talents. All members are hitting on all cylinders as this frantic slice of perpetual motion swirls around your head and leaves you spinning as Petrucci fuels the kinetic energy that abounds throughout this thought provoking classic by DT.(Dream Theater)
"Spinning round and round it goes I can't let up I can't let go Can't stop this flame from burning Forever more Into the night Blistering!"
You have to wonder how we manage to make it through even a day with all the pressures that must be faced. I guess, as the saying goes...What doesn't kill us makes us stronger. DT is able to communicate this feeling of foreboding so well I have to say that their perceptions are 100% correct as to the bedlam that attacks us from the moment we open our eyes each day.
They say it is always darkest before the dawn. If that is the case then we have reached the point where there will soon be light because the band plunges to the bottom of the pit with the disturbingly heavy "The Dark Eternal Night." This is metal masters showing us how to do it the right way and with a sense of style and creativity that no one can match. This sinister masterpiece brings us to the pits of hell itself where the struggle continues for our hero's place of rest for all eternity. A ghoulish melodic struggle where the band uses different types of music to demonstrate the inner turmoil that is going on inside the head. The jazzy keyboards that make you think of goodness are slapped away by the brutal bashing it is given by Petrucci's most furious playing on this disc. The darkness is still overpowering goodness in this demonic magnum opus of heavy metal.
Reflection, realization, regret, these are the things that one comes to see when they look back and find what they have been in search of was not on the path they chose but on the tougher path that they pushed aside. When all of this truth comes crashing down the only road left open for those who wish to take it is "Repentance."
"Overwhelming sorrow now absorbs me As the pen begins to trace my darkest past Signs throughout my life that should have warned me Of all the wrongs I've done for which I must repent."
With a melancholy guitar to set the mood, the troubled mind is explored once more in this macabre soundtrack of madness. It is not hard to imagine the surreal landscape that is painted by the instrumentation in this piece. The band captures the mood perfectly. For those of you who think that DT is overindulgent or maybe pretentious in their presentation, let Labrie say to you:
"Sometimes you got to be wrong And learn the hard way."
For the non believers it is time to "Repent!"
Our Templars next take us to a different form of madness that affects us all. The craziness that is war. A lot of the masses do not take the time to look at all aspects of why the government might take action. Such is the case with the recent events in Iraq. There is still some that believe the reason we took action there was so that some Bush friends might profit from it. Well, I have to look at things logically and it does not make sense if you look at the facts. DT uses this premise though for their next offering "Prophets Of War." I don't have to like their politics but I do love the way they present their case! A rousing anthem that churns and churns until building to a crescendo that is as dramatic as any of Clinton's pleas for the children. Still a good song but not the best on here and it does seem out of place with the theme of this CD.
With the feel of a lullaby, "The Ministry Of Lost Souls" begins with the lament of one spirit that is looking at death. As she talks to God he reminds her how he has been with her throughout her life and he will also be there in death. What does death sound like musically? In their own special way DT takes you to the pearly gates themselves. A very creative instrumental section that transports you all the way to the end where the final solution is:
"Remember me I gave you life You would not take it Your suffering was all in vain It's almost over now Goodbye It's almost over now Goodbye It's time I release you from this life Don't turn your back on paradise."
This very personal view of death is a remarkable piece of craftsmanship that mesmerizes those that are willing to open up and listen to what these great musicians bring to the party!
So in the end is it goodness or evil that triumphs. To find out we return to where we began. When our knights started this crusade, it was with the battle between good and evil that torments us all. The hero had succumb to the darkness. As his journey continues he comes to the realization that maybe he has chose the wrong path. To get back on the straight and narrow will not be an easy task. Once again this will have to be done "In The Presence Of Enemies.
Here in part 2 we are privy to the wretched suffering that accompanies the path of the damned. We are shown what it is to reach the bottom.
"Dark Master within I will fight for you Dark Master of sin Now my soul is yours."
Still the battle is not over. In the darkest hour truth and goodness is still possible. As the forces of evil fight to consume our hero's very soul, he finds he is not alone.
"Unwelcome ones Your time has come."
With those words the guardians of goodness make their presence known. All is not lost. As bad as things seem there is always hope. All it takes is something that is really lacking in most people today...faith!
As our new Templars fight for the lost soul, we are treated to a remarkable excursion into the darkest recesses but also we are shown the way out. I have to hand it to Dream Theater. They have proven to me that it is possible to make music which can be as descriptive as the written word or even film.
I only hope that these Knights Templar continue on their crusade to provide us with such powerful and richly entertaining music. I only hope they never have their own Friday the 13th!