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Many metal bands are well-known and respected for their diversity among/within albums, even though some of the oddball, atypical albums that these bands release aren't well-received by the metal-buying public and the media. Dream Theater lies somewhere in the forefront of bands who strive for continued experimentation and evolution.
Falling Into Infinity is Dream Theater's 1997 follow-up to the much-loved 1995 EP A Change of Seasons. To the dismay of many, the epic title track of ACoS didn't foreshadow what was to come from the band; however, it established its own unique footing in the prog/rock metal genre and in DT's discography.
Personally, I can understand why many metalheads and Dream Theater fans don't like this album and why many people consider it DT's worst offering, but it's much better than When Dream and Day Unite, Scenes From a Memory, and Train of Thought IMO.(Chronologically, these three albums suffered from weak riffing and vocals; overuse of soloing and cheesiness; and mallcore elements.)
DT took a different direction with Falling Into Infinity--one that lays off the face-peeling guitar assault and shoots towards prog-rock territory to create an ethereal, accessible album that gives nods to Eric Johnson and Pink Floyd.
A rotten brownie point is that FiI isn't quite as progressive as I & W, but it's not as commercial as Train of Thought, even though Train of Thought oddly has some of Dream Theater's most impressive soloing and riff-work. Where this album succeeds is its earnest portrayal of feeling and organic tones.
Beginning the album in typical triumphant flair is New Millennium, an 8+ minute funky ditty that shows Labrie getting down and dirty with his vocal gymnastics and illuminates Petrucci's uncanny ability for spiraling, unrelenting guitar wizardry. Honestly, I believe that this song is one of the catchiest to ever come from the band. The crescendos and key changes are very -I-worthy.
Letting us down with a foray into pop sensitivity is a fairly decent, mid-paced metal n'roll song called You Not Me that is somewhat annoying in its mainstream credibility, but has quite a snazzy breakdown and whimsical guitar solo. The breakdown is exhilarating because of how immediate and staccato it is. It basically makes up for the lackluster songwriting shown here.
Peruvian Skies follows and it's interesting because a strange girl named Vanessa is mentioned in the lyrics. It's quite interesting because she is obviously a different character than Victoria, the whiny bitch on Scenes from a Memory. (If someone could explain the inspiration for these two people, please email me or post something on the forum. I would love to know. Otherwise, Vanessa and Victoria need to go run off to the woods together and have hot lesbian sex or something of that nature....anything that would alter the storylines in the aforementioned song/album so that they would become obscene, thus relieving us from such petty pretentiousness.)
Well, Peruvian Skies consists of dreamy, languid choruses and verses initially, but the chorus is sung with much more fervor near the end and it's an excellent effect if I may say so myself. Guitars aren't too bad either, keeping a steady rhythm that has a very attractive climax.
Keeping with the pattern of heartfelt, driving songs is the first of three excellent ballads to be found here, Hollow Years. Beginning with a flamenco-flavored acoustic guitar piece, it quickly becomes this extremely moving, catchy number that seems to inspire as efficiently as many Christian bands, yet without the lyrical simplicity.
Heralding ambivalence from metalheads is a fairly angry down-and-dirty rocker which sounds like one of the slower numbers off of Metallica's Master of Puppets or ...And Justice For All. Soloing isn't noteworthy here again, but that doesn't mean anything because how often do we get to see DT angry? Hmm? Not very often.The bass and drums chug and boom--chiggachiggaboomboom--and help to paint an overall portrait of Dream Theater at their most misanthropic and nihilistic. The only problem with this song is that, at times, the verses sound a bit meandering and incoherent. No biggie, though. It's really quite inconsequential of a problem.
Hell's Kitchen is the lone instrumental that ensues and it is perhaps Dream Theater's most emotional, bare-bones instrumental to date. It's very similar to the instrumental For Absent Friends on Opeth's Deliverance in the way that it takes a set amount of riffing and melody and repeats it for emphasis, while still maintaining a sense of progression.
Lines in the Sand is once again a long, funky number that features guest vocals from Doug Pinnick of King's X. Lasting over 12 minutes, this is a masterpiece, featuring 'planetarium' intro guitars(I know that description sounds way off base, but I'm using the psychological technique of attaching sounds and/or images to physical, tangible objects), great(yet simple) soloing, and excellent soulful vocal performances by Labrie and Pinnick.
Take Away My Pain is the second of the three ballads on this album, and I'm sure that person X who is listening to this album and hates it is saying to himself "YES! PLEASE TAKE AWAY MY PAIN!" by now. I respect person X's opinion, but TAMP(on)(no, jk. haha) is one of DT's best ballads. The band creates an interesting effect by saying one line in the last line of a choice verse and repeating it in the first line of the chorus. The guitars are minimal here, for this is more of a keyboard-driven melody that sounds similar to 80s alternative pop and such at times. The way this song is structured is more like that of PoS, since the soloing is purely obligatory. That makes it very refreshing.
The protest anthem of the album, Just Let Me Breathe, suddenly jumps in next and throws you for a loop with its ADD hyperactivity. Lyrically, it deals with the media's sensationalization of celebrities such as Shannon Hoon and Kurt Cobain and the vast cookie-cutter that is our mainstream music industry. This track is incredibly danceable. If your spouse or sig. other is in the room with you while listening to this, you may feel the urge to do a jig or something. The main guitar line in the chorus is very syncopated and catchy, but the background guitar line is a little annoying and may take away your attention from the main melody for a moment. Also, the interlude has some really nasty vocal work from Labrie.( I mean gutsy, not sexual or gross)
Finally, we get to the last ballad of the album, Anna Lee. The point has been made that this hearkens back to Pink Floyd, but I couldn't necessarily concur, since the only Pink Floyd release I own is Echoes. I can, however, confirm that it's the best ballad of the album and the one that leaves the most lasting impression. I say this because of the poignant piano intro, clever vocal arrangements, and sublime soloing, which DOES in fact sound like Pink Floyd a la Comfortably Numb, perhaps. Simply spellbinding song.
Trial of Tears is the final song of the album and the guitar tone sounds amazingly similar to that of Eric Johnson in the beginning. The pre-chorus in Pt. I- It's Raining is really annoying because Labrie says 'raining' too much, but the actual chorus is decent and the verses flow pretty well, despite being a little slow.
Pt. 2 is an instrumental called Deep in Heaven, culled from the line "Raining deep in heaven" in the chorus of Pt. 1. This instrumental is not really all that noteworthy and is just a convenient way to segway from Pt. 1 to Pt. 3- The Wasteland. The Wasteland is the closing part to ToT and begins with a mesmerizing acoustic guitar lead before the pre-climactic vocals and the reprise of the line "It's raining, raining, raining deep in heaven". Repetition can be very positive as a means of emphasis, but it somehow manages to sound sophomoric here. Some lyric restructuring would've added more punch.
Summarizing FiI, you could say that it is more of an accessible album, but at its conclusion the listener still feels as if he has followed the band through fields of wildflowers and patches of thorns, and that is part of what makes this album notable. It's not epic, but it's still quite progressive, and progressive qualities can often be construed as epic.
I agree with sparse sentiments claiming this album to be underrated and, hopefully, more people will learn to like this album and/or stop avoiding it like it's the evil troll under the bridge.