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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Dream Theater

Scenes From A Memory

Review by Vivian Lee

Since 1985, the five-man outfit named Dream Theater has offered progressive rock fans thoughtful and emotional music that makes them marvel and ask, how do they do that? DT's brand of prog vividly shows eclectic, hard-to-place influences, which include jazz, neo-classical, and ethnic music forms. The band mostly plays as a very focused unit. Their latest offering is Metropolis, Part 2: Scenes from a Memory, an intelligent, well-executed album with an interesting fantasy theme. A two-act murder mystery, Scenes is a continuation of Images and Words' "Metropolis, Part 1", a song about twin brothers, Miracle and Sleeper. This concept album seems to be in the vein of The Who's Tommy in its epic rock-opera aspect.

Jordan Rudess will bowl over fans of the Kevin Moore era with licks and chops that show he's got virtuosity to spare. John Petrucci's guitar work is up to its crunchy, wail-y standard. Mike Portnoy's playing contains the usual odd rhythms and double bass drum pounding although it seems a bit tighter and more restrained to my ear. The interesting quality to James LaBrie's voice in Scenes is that the vibratos or high note hitting that marked him in previous works are gone. Though Scenes isn't driven by any one instrument, John Myung's bass work is markedly downplayed.

Scenes from a Memory is an epic not just in duration but concept as well. The music is lyrically and sonically poetic, direct and intelligent. Overall, longtime Dream Theater fans will forgo their frustration at the story's lack of resolution and love this CD. I urge them to add this to their collection.

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

Track by Track Review
Regression
This track starts the album with a man's accented voice guiding the listener into a "more relaxed state of mind". A short acoustic introduction to the journey the listener is about to undertake. People who enjoy sound as well as music may like this track; attributes are the man's soft tone, the ticking timepiece in the background, acoustic guitar, and a woman's alto leading into LaBrie's tenor voice.
Overture 1928
This is a strong yet brief instrumental piece. It will probably get lots of play with instrumental music fans. 'Overture' has shades of 'Metropolis, Part 1' but without its heaviness.
Strange Deja Vu
Portnoy shows restraint allowing Myung's bass work to be felt clearly on this melodic song that rocks hard. Portnoy and Petrucci provide harmonizing backing vocals.
Through My Words
This is a beautiful yet sad ballad featuring piano. Harmony vocals back up LaBrie's middle toned sounds. If this song doesn't make you cry, check your pulse.
Fatal Tragedy
Soft and sad at the start, ghosts of the past taunt Nicholas with hints of the last life's events. LaBrie's vocals are smooth and heartfelt. Then the song grows louder and darker, and the tempo quickens. The guitar gets crunchier while the drums and synth predominate. There is a Queenish flavor to the keys and guitar in the middle of the song that perks the ears up. The guitar solo is typical Petrucci- up down and all over the place, dueling cooperatively with Rudess' energetic keyboard harmonics.
Beyond This Life
This piece starts out loud, hard, fast and strong with pounding double bass drums and mid-toned crunchy guitar. The entire song isn't crunchy or shreddy, though. There is a beautifully intricate acoustic guitar part before the grinding solo. The distortion of LaBrie's vocals is interesting as he alternates between raspy and soft. The instrumental solo before is very Yes-like in some parts and Emersonian in others.
Through Her Eyes
Theresa Thomason's voice mingles with organ-like keys and bluesy guitar setting up the sad tone of this quiet ballad. As LaBrie sings of loss and life, Petrucci and Portnoy harmonize in the back. This song is even more sorrowful and gorgeous than "Through My Words".
Home
This one is the first radio cut from the album. "Home" builds from acoustic guitar and quiet cymbal tapping, to crunchy electric guitar. The background vocals are discordant and harmonious all at once. During certain parts of the song LaBrie's vocals seem to be raspy in order to signal the character's sinister intent.
Dance Of Eternity
This is another strong instrumental. Otherworldly, this one includes synth and samples from old Dream Theater songs. Although this piece is hard, fast, crunchy and shreddy in the beginning and the end, it shows a sense of whimsy and fun in the middle. The most notable occurence is in the ragtime piano parts. It seems to rock really hard without being dark in tone.
One Last Time
Classical piano and electric guitar introduce this melodic ballad. The raw harmonics of Petrucci and Portnoy provide a good foil for LaBrie's polished voice. The instruments cooperate well to the end, where the song's piano finish sets the sad final tone.
The Spirit Carries On
LaBrie's vocals are breathy and well-honed as he contemplates mortality in song. The track's middle part takes on a rock ballad feel, but the presence of the gospel choir mellows that out in the cut's finish.
Finally Free
The story of Miracle and Sleeper concludes with a man's accented voice leading Nicholas into wakefulness "Open your eyes, Nicholas". The song takes on a dark gothic tone as violin sounding synth and sounds like bells, wind and thunder follow. Piano keys lead into a long orchestral part including LaBrie vocals with harmonic backing by Petrucci and Portnoy. And then Nicholas screams, and we get white noise to end the album.
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