Ok, Dream Theater, where have you been hiding for the last five years? And more importantly, why has it taken you 20 years to turn up Myung's bass in the mix? Systematic Chaos, which I'll admit had me thinking about raising a fuss since my LiveJournal handle is perfectkaos (hence the title Perfectly Kaotic Reviews), certainly exceeded my expectations. Well, more than that, really because the direction the band was heading with Train of Thought and Octavarium had my expectations really low. A 5 oz sirloin from Denny's seems like Filet Mignon if all you eat for five years is dog food.
But I Digress... Dream Theater has finally gotten back to their original influences with this album, with strong notes of Rush, ELP, Metallica, and Zappa replacing Linkin Park and Tool. Though I hear faint traces of Octavarium on this disc, I'll forgive them, asuming that this was how the songs were supposed to be, and 8VM was influenced by this album. When I put the cd into my car stereo, I was blown away by the intro to In The Presence of Enemies much like I was upon hearing I'm American on Mindcrime II. DT, much like the 'Ryche is back.
Modern influences aren't completely lost, as the second track, Forsaken, has a definate Evanescence feel to it. James draws out all of his singing much like Amy and the downtuned guitars complement the airy keyboard melodies. There's even a full rest in the song where the layered melodies just stop for a split second before coming right back in, which, again, is very Evanescence. Though it's reminiscent of the good Evanescence, not the My Immortal Evanescence.
Two solid tracks pave the way for track 3, Constant Motion, aka the best song on this album. Exit crappy pseudoprog music written for an album based on music theory, enter THRASH. We'll even forgive James for doing his best Hetfield impression (which, ironically, is probably the worst Hetfield impression I've ever heard) on the opening vocals because he stops right about the time that he starts swapping lines with Mike, and Mike's vocals are always awesome. The biggest suprise of this song however, is not that they're playing thrash, its that you can hear the bassline, and not just on Myung's solo sections. Speaking of the solo sections, they actually fit within the confines of the song, and dont stick out like sore thumbs as the ones from anything on Train of Thought did. Probably because this time around DT's metal offering has a track length closer to what metal should be.
The Dark Eternal Night is also a welcome surprise, gone are lame watered down lyrics replaced by cheesy power metal lyrics that actually fit the song. This song also contains a lyrical parodox, which earns lots of points in my book, as I am all about paradoxes. If Frank Zappa wrote more metal, im sure eventually he'd come up with a song much like this one. Speaking of mixing things, If mixing Zappa and Metal turns out pretty good why not try some new wave too. From the wimpy singing (at first) to the busy synth line, DT really channelled some good Pet Shop Boys vibe into a pretty decent song called Prophets of War (even if the lyrics are a bit lacking at first). The Ministry of Lost Souls brings in everything from Beatles influences to country twanging guitar to make for another solid epic, one part piano ballad, one part eddie van halen guitar solo (faked on keys) and one part jig. The song is definately Jordan's playground, much like Blind Faith from Six Degrees
Then theres the crap song. Every Dream Theater album has one crap song (except SFAM, as all songs are necessary for the concept album). In this case, its Repentance. Yeah, Mike, I get it, you want to express musically what it means to go through a twelve step progam. But you know what, do it as a side project, do it all in one shot on one album, or something, but this whole splitting the song up onto four albums that have nothing to do with each other-- albums whose styles are vastly different from each other-- doesn't work. Yeah I get Repentance is supposed to go in between Root of All Evil and a song to be written later, and thats where it should go, not in between Dark Eternal Night and Minsitry of Lost Souls. It's too slow, it's too detatched. The testimonials via various peoples ending in a Silent Lucidityesque monologue from Opeth's lead singer Mikael who's last name I cant remember is sort of neat, but the song seriously crashes the groove carried by the two songs that bookend it.