Dream Theater has built a career on delivering some of the most consistently strong progressive rock albums in history andSystemic Chaosproves no exception. Built upon the trademark musically diverse but stylistically reliable principles that made albums … see full wiki
When it comes right down to it, ALMOST all of Dream Theater's albums are great in some way or another, although I must say I have not yet heard a note of _Octavarium_ for some reason. Underlying all of their higher-order changes across the different years and recordings is a pretty decisive commitment to super-tight progressive metal, a genre that would have significantly different meaning but for DT's influence. So with that in mind, I am not going to say "well this release was so and so and this release was amazing and..." or anything like that. Unless you are uptight, you probably like all DT's albums if you like DT. And so _Systematic Chaos_ is interesting because it is so...Dream Theater, which is like saying it is so prog-metal, which is what we all think about when we think of DT. This is outstanding, the kind of fiery AND technically difficult prog-metal that shows their spirits have nary been depleted by age, and they can really nail prog-metal craftsmanship in a way that no other band can. In the making-of documentary Portnoy talks about how he wanted to make an album that was just "really cool" which in a way sounds like a modest goal. But as weak and trivial as that sounds, this album is really cool and that's sort of what their catalogue all about anyway -- polished, well-produced music with superlative technical chops, songwriting ability, and emotional grip. This disc also marks DT's first use of fantasy/adventure/monster lyrics in a long time, which is because it makes for good prog lyrics.
"In the Presence of Enemies", with Psalm 23 references and based on a Korean graphic novel, is epic progressive metal in the echelon of "Metropolis pt.2" and "A Change of Seasons". Although its two parts open and close the album, in my view it is best listened to with the tracklisting reprogrammed to place them together, and that is perfection. The instrumental prelude is an overture for various themes, like the sick 9/8 prog-chug and a very memorable, very soaring melodic lead by Petrucci. The second part "Resurrection" brings LaBrie in, leading with brilliant vocal lines, and a voice that seems to get better with age. There is an intense surge towards a cliff-hanger ending, with blazing scales and Labrie singing of "redemption...redemption for humanity." Part II goes forward with the quiet-to-soaring "Heretic", the exhilarating speed metal (with proggy refinement) of "Slaughter of the Damned", the climax of emotional intensity and technical prowess on "The Reckoning", and the masterful resolution of "Salvation", which is Labrie's finest moment in years.
While the major epic is in the "classic prog-metal" category, the other tracks are more eclectic and give the album amazing balance. First there is the dark vampire song "Forsaken", with haunting piano theme framing a great, heavy power ballad of sorts. "Constant Motion" is seven minutes of the best pure prog-metal kickazzery they've got. "The Dark Eternal Night" is about a mummy risen from his tomb (or something like that!), where a cement-heavy odd-metered riff is raked through myriad rhythmic permutations each time it is brought to bear, with an interlude that is a swirling vortex of fugue-like metal, ragtime, and metallic jazz, and opaque walls of coiling riffs like "The Dance of Eternity". "Repentence" has a somewhat Tool-like initial riff, but the main verses and arrangement are an intricate ostinati and Rudess' piano very prominent. The second part has an interlude of vocal samples from guests (Mikael Akerfeldt, Jon Anderson, David Ellefson, Daniel Gildenlow, Steve Hogarth, Chris Jericho, Neal Morse, Joe Satriani, Corey Taylor, Steve Vai, and Steven Wilson) speaking of something for which they are sorry. Then a sea of rising and falling "ahh"s with crescendoing with full-band and classical piano carries the song to its end. "Prophets of War" has almost a dance-like beat at first, laser synths beaming around, and a shouted chorus of rebellion accompanied a muscular prog-riff to match. "Ministry of Lost Souls" is a sixteen-minute mega-ballad that uses every second it has to build beautifully.
Dream Theater is still arguably the top master in its field and _Systematic Chaos_ helps their reputation considerably. I'm sure there are a lot of dream theater fans who hate it but those fans needs to be way less uptight or just get a life because they probably think Shadow Gallery has a few good albums.
Final note: the special edition is very much worth the extra few dollars both for the great making-of documentary DVD and the highly attractive slipcase.
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