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Among crowds of Dream Theater fans, Falling Into Infinity frequently draws the most hate of all the band's albums, and is nearly unanimously the choice for Dream Theater's worst release to date. It garners a tremendous amount of hate for being a "sellout" and for being a classic example of how a major record label "takes over a band and ruins it." What bothers me, though, is that although such claims are legitimately founded in reality, the finished product would indicate to the contrary. The album may be more mellow than any of Dream Theater's other releases, but in no way does that make it mainstream.
Falling Into Infinity opens strong with "New Millennium", which immediately gets to work showcasing the abilities of the band's then-relatively-new keyboardist Derek Sherinian. The mellow, laid back tone on many of this album's songs allows for the keyboards to really come to the forefront, and the album benefits greatly from it, because Derek Sherinian's performance is excellent. His style is very different from that of his predecessor or successor, but that doesn't make it any less outstanding.
"New Millennium", although a decent opening track, doesn't really stand out to me as one of the album's best. However, it accomplishes exactly what an opening track needs to do: get the listener's attention and set the pace for what's to come. In that regard, the song is fantastic, as it lays the groundwork for the album with relatively gentle tones, chugging rhythms, and well-defined bass and keyboard lines. The unfortunate downfall of this album is the song that comes immediately thereafter. Butchered by EastWest in production, "You Not Me" is absolute garbage and really makes the album as a whole stumble over itself before picking up again.
Though it would seem from what has been stated already that the album by track two is a disaster in the making, this couldn't be further from the truth. The remaining songs on the album are unexpectedly great. "Peruvian Skies" is reminiscent of a Metallica ballad, starting with several minutes of a slower section telling some sort of tale and then picking up with a much heavier second half. The latter half of this song is probably the heaviest section of the album, and although many fans decry that it's not nearly heavy enough, I claim that point is moot, because it absolutely rocks and I can't help but bang my head whenever I hear it.
There are a couple of other head-bangingly awesome moments on the album, most notably "Burning My Soul," which is defined by a style of riffing that Dream Theater has never done before and never did again. Its uniqueness is perhaps what makes it stick out in my mind, but it's also catchy as can be and is a rock solid song as far as I'm concerned. It also marks the beginning of a long, overarching middle section of the album, featuring three connected tracks. "Burning My Soul", "Hell's Kitchen", and "Lines in the Sand" all flow beautifully into one another.
"Hell's Kitchen", in my opinion, is second only to "The Dance of Eternity" in Dream Theater's catalog of instrumental songs, and is a much less challenging listen. Honestly, it's downright serene, and so is the introduction to "Lines in the Sand". Having owned the album for many years, it's still tough for me to tell when one has ended and the other has begun, because they flow together that well. "Lines in the Sand" is a new approach to a Dream Theater epic. It's really experimental at times, with some strange riffs and breakdowns, but that's what makes it so memorable. And criticize it as you may, Doug Pinnick's guest vocals on "Lines in the Sand" really do add to the song as a whole.
"Just Let Me Breathe" is another major highlight of the album, greatly expanding upon the low, chugging riffs first explored in the opening track. The vocals are fantastic, as LaBrie does an excellent job of thoroughly berating the popular music industry, which is beautifully poignant given the stifling circumstances under which this album was created and for which it is so frequently criticized. The solos in this song are out of this world. The dual-tracked keyboard solo in particular typically makes me feel like Derek Sherinian is attempting to rip my skull in half, my ears being tugged in two different directions in rapid succession.
The closing track, "Trial of Tears", is one of my favorite Dream Theater songs and is almost certainly the strongest song on the album. The entrance is serene, and the first movement filled to the brim with excellent riff work. Also notable is LaBrie's vocal performance, which I think is one of his best, and the outstanding solo work by John Petrucci, which comes to the forefront in the instrumental second movement. The closing sections of the song are powerful, filled with emotion, and beautiful, which gives the album a tremendous ending.
Overall, I can't justify the ire this album usually draws. It's easy on the ears, but it's still solid like a rock. Though it's not my favorite Dream Theater album, it's one of my top picks, and I look forward to listening to it for many years to come.
Highlights: "Hell's Kitchen", "Just Let Me Breathe", "Trial of Tears"