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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Dream Theater

Train of Thought

Review by Josh Turner

When I heard Dream Theater was releasing another album, this immediately piqued my interest. Dream Theater had been my gateway into the Progressive Metal genre. This fascination later festered into an obsession with Progressive Rock after I had followed Mike Portnoy's endeavors into Transatlantic. Eventually, this blossomed into a passion for the works of Spock's Beard, The Flower Kings, and all related projects. Trust me, there are many. As a result of Dream Theater, my music collection has grown from a meager collection of mainstream artists to hundreds of albums put out by dozens of progressive artists and this list continually expands.

I thoroughly enjoyed Dream Theater's last two releases: Scenes from a Memory and Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence. The concept albums really hit a nerve with me. I was half-expecting something in a similar vein. When I popped in the CD, there was the familiar hum that ended the previous album. I figured I was in for another ride in one of their dark conceptual worlds. Instead, I was perplexed that it sounded a bit formulaic; heavy, energetic, but a little repetitive, dare I say, Nu Metal. At first this was a bit of a bummer. Then it occurred to me this was just a different sort of album for a different sort of mood, possibly perfect for a gut-wrenching workout. The album has the Glass Prison vibe from the last album written all over it. However, this is the feel of the whole album. It pretty much stays at that level the whole way through with a few twists, turns, and surprises, but overall this one really is geared towards the Nu Metal stations. Aside from some hints of progressive elements, it really isn't all that progressive.

This all begs the question, is the album good or not? I must admit, the rhythm section really kicks, and the vocals are rougher than ever. Jordan Rudess' keys are elegantly sprayed here and there - even if they are quite sparse. This makes for a very enjoyable album and plays servant to the simple pleasures of the primitive parts of your mind. While Petrucci is highly technical and well timed as usual, he is tamer than ever on this release with a few solo appearances. If you look deep enough, there is a consistent theme of death, darkness, and spirituality, but not a solid concept album in my book. I like the album and it has its place in their catalog as their heavy Nu Metalish attempt, maybe as a gateway for newer fans. The album is tight and drives full-throttle with the pedal to the Nu Metal. The last song is worthy of release by itself. While these ears find monotony and repetitiveness in the music, I'm sure no other group could play these songs with the level of skill being shown here. Nonetheless, I welcome a return back to their progressive roots. In the interim, I'll be busy head banging and screaming along with the lyrics on this one.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2003 Year Book Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
As I Am
This is probably the cut best packaged for a Nu Metal station. It is the shortest of the tracks of its kind. LaBrie's vocals are quite good here. Like Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, he employs different singing techniques from talking to chanting to angst-ridden singing. There is even some attempt at harmonization if that's what you want to call it, possibly LaBrie overdubbing several layers of his voice at once. This song features a short guitar solo followed by a few lonely beats of the drum. Aside from these moments, you become quite familiar with the riffs and lyrics long before the end.
The Dying Soul
Continuing along, the pace picks up a little bit with a Metallica feel to it. The formula is the same, however, the guitar solo is found towards the beginning and we are treated to a nice, but quick, keyboard solo. We also get a few different riffs throughout the duration and even some cameos from Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence. There are a few parts where there is talking over the music much like what you'd hear from Megadeath. The patented technique employed with the keyboard and guitar mimicking one another is demonstrated here as well. Towards the end the music breaks, changes pace, and takes a few different directions before it ends abruptly.
Endless Sacrifice
This starts like a Metallica ballad if there is such a thing, something along the lines of, "Wherever I May Roam." It transitions with a bridge that could have easily come from Images and Words and then returns back to the edgy ballad. We are given some funky keys and then some unexpected sounds, which are far from predictable and come straight out of left field. This offers a little relief from the Nu Metal monotony in the first two tracks. But wait! Halfway through, we change back. There are some great vocals accompanied by the piano in the end. All in all, this track has the most variety thus far.
Honor Thy Father
The number opens with a marriage between punk rock and metal. Then it backs down and LaBrie is actually rapping. Yeah, I couldn't believe it either. Shortly thereafter, he returns to singing, and, uh, screaming. This is quite possibly, the most diverse LaBrie has ever been while also quite possibly the most restrained I've heard these instrumentalists in a metal song. Somewhere around the middle point, the song changes direction with the spoken words, "don't cross the crooked step." The pace picks up and here we are given samplings of different people, maybe a son and father, sharing their regrets, anger, and a variety of mindless banter. When we get back to the singing, LaBrie is doing quite a bit of cussing and uses a number of big naughty words.
Vacant
When I began starving for a change, along comes this short interlude. This is the calm after the storm. A cello accompanies the prayer LaBrie is singing. Rudess contributes with some notes from a piano and subtlety provides a quiet sonic atmosphere in the background. This begins my favorite parts of the album.
Stream of Consciousness
Here we pick up where "Vacant" left off. The guitar repeats the theme, then the keys come in heavy, and eventually the bass is flickering and the drums are hopping. This one is an all-out instrumental attack. Everyone is in the game for the fight, but where is Petrucci. Did he get benched? I spoke too soon. He enters into the game with a pinch hit for a home run, and then he goes back to the locker room. Rudess the rookie, however, is making numerous plays and compensates for the absent franchise player. All joking aside, Petrucci, my hero and superstar among legends, provides some outstanding classical sounding bits in the later parts of the song. I also forgot to mention that he's working diligently on a solo album, so he may be torn legitimately between the two projects.
In The Name of God
This is a long one by epic proportion. It clocks in a little over 14 minutes. The song is perfectly placed, following the most different tracks on the album. This one is the best fusion between the new and old styles. I'd say this is my favorite piece on the album. At this point, it feels like the opening tracks were mostly filler by Dream Theater standards with a handful of creative ideas. The bounty is really found here at the end of the road. There are reoccurring themes, but lots of change-ups jumping from one idea to the next. This cut gets better and better as it moves along. This would be a real treat to hear in concert.
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