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"My questioning mind has helped me to find the meaning in my life again."
Dream Theater's greatest chapter is a reminder that masterpieces tend to be greater than the sum of their parts. Taking Scenes from a Memory on a song-by-song basis doesn't scream perfection the way it does when the album is approached as a whole. It's tough to think about this album, let alone review it, without thinking about the major role it had in my life at a relatively early stage. Along with Crimson Glory's Transcendence and Yngwie Malmsteen's Rising Force, this was one of the albums that facilitated my conversion to metal at the age of 11. As it happens, I remember the day that the CD finally came in the mail. It was the day I was supposed to attend my graduation ceremony for elementary school. When I noticed that the package had arrived in the mail, I made a point of finding a way to stay home just so I could listen to the record all day. I can still remember laying down on my bed, reading through the booklet and obsessing over each and every track on the album. I felt like my mind was being opened to a new world. That's not the sort of memory you get to make every day.
Now, over half a lifetime later, it's still one of those few age-old albums I still put on at least semi-regularly. In the thirteen years since I first heard it, my tastes have obviously changed quite a bit, but I think there's always a certain part of me that reverts back to that childlike sense of wonder whenever I put on Scenes from a Memory. Does that make a difficult album to review? Honestly, even if the material is so familiar to me, the rare blend of depth and feeling on this record makes it easy to become excited about it all over again. Although I have strong feelings towards almost all of Dream Theater's albums (most good, some bad), Scenes from a Memory was always the one that stood out the most as a masterpiece. Images & Words can seem a bit airy and neo-proggish for my tastes at times, while Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, great as it is, lacks the pristine consistency of this one. That said, I'm not sure it would be the easiest of their albums to recommend. As I said at the beginning, Scenes from a Memory is best when taken as a whole. It offers the best of itself when the listener completely invests in it. Fortunately I had a lot of spare time in my younger days and the spins of this album hit double digits by the second day of owning it.
For detractors, Dream Theater tend to be dismissed for their supposed dryness and wankery. Although I obviously see where they're coming from, I don't think that playing x number of notes was ever the thing that possibly held them back at times. To the contrary, it was often their attempts to be emotional and melodic that risked the biggest eye rolling from yours truly. Where albums like The Astonishing opted far too much for the feeling, and Train of Thought was too wanky, Scenes from a Memory offered the near-perfect mix of melodic beauty and mind-bending finesse. Each of their two sides helped to validate the existence of the other. On their own, the ballads on this album (specifically "Through Her Eyes" and "The Spirit Carries On") might have felt hammy, did they not act as a heartfelt reprieve from the proggy fireworks. Take the urgent monster "Beyond This Life" for instance (incidentally the first DT track I ever heard), on the one hand it's a frantic piece of prog-thrash and keyboard solos galore. On the other, it has light melodic sections that you could wave a lighter to. Without the balance between the two, each of these ideas may have felt less startling than they do.
Scenes from a Memory's perfect sense of flow brings each one of the songs to another level. I think a large part of this strong structure has the album's concept to thank for it. The implications on psychology and spirituality this album offers could deserve their own essays. Suffice to say, the multi-faceted (and arguably open-ended) concept behind the album breathes a lot of thought-provoking depth into already engaging music. The idea of looking into one's past lives, only to have the events of past lives come to bear on your current incarnation is something that really got under my skin when I was younger, and it has much of that same effect now. I've never relied on Dream Theater for strong lyrics, and I suppose some of the lyrical decisions here could raise a cynical brow, but the way the story is told feels organic and consistently clever. Scenes from a Memory was one of the very few concept records I've heard (alongside Operation Mindcrime) that managed to be incredibly in-depth and complex while still being easy-to-follow as a listener. To date, this is still the go-to standard by which I judge all over concept albums. Even the masters of the 1970s never felt quite so coherent as this.
I guess if I were to be nitpicky about Scenes from a Memory, I'd certainly bring up the feeling that certain songs tower over others. Especially hearing it now as a cynical adult, the instrumental bite of "Fatal Tragedy" and "The Dance of Eternity" appeal to me loads more than the potentially cloying "Through Her Eyes" and the AOR power balladry of "One Last Time". With that said, all of the ingredients here are painted in such a way that they benefit the larger scope. A truly comprehensive journey is not without its softer notes. If anything about Scenes from a Memory really hurt Dream Theater in the long run, it's that they never seemed to be able to bring their vision to the same heights again. Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence may have been the closest, but that's an album I never seem to be able to have a single, stable opinion about. And if their self-titled shitpile and The Astonishing tell accurately, it's very unlikely we'll see another slice of perfection like this from them again. For all it is worth, I am so, so glad I heard Scenes from a Memory so early on in life. It's never going to be an album I'm ever more than a few months away from hearing. If it hasn't begun to wear out for me yet, I can't imagine it ever will.
The cinematic, extravagant metal album of the year 1999, the close of the century.
It's hard enough to create just one new paradigm of progressive, heavy music...but two?
Interestingly enough, Scenes From A Memory would not have happened without the difficulties of the prog metal giants' previous record to this, 1997's Falling Into Infinity. On that record, there was stressful label interference and a generally difficult writing and recording process. Among other things, it meant that shorter, more accessible songs would be the focus, at the expense of longer tracks. Clearly, the suits believed nobody liked progressive music anymore because everyone has ADD. Some things never change.
One of those "it's too long, scrap it" tracks that didn't make the cut for Falling Into Infinity was "Metropolis, Pt. 2."
In hindsight, all that was a good thing--because the song was given time and attention from this phenomenal group of musicians to be expanded into its own album. Dream Theater had also located and hired keyboardist Jordan Rudess, who had the formidable task of standing toe-to-toe with John Petrucci in musical duel. Of course, he is now considered one of the world's premiere keyboardists.
Metropolis Part 2 is the story of Nick, whose visit to a therapist to get to the bottom of some strange dreams he's been having turns into an adventure through time and the human heart. Dream Theater, the "Orchestra of Witnesses," provides the soundtrack to Nick's journey of salvation.
As Nick's therapist counts down to "Regression," we are invited into another world, where the murder of a young girl in Paris in 1928 reverberates 70 years later to affect the dreams of one man. We are about to embark on something beautiful, so you "take a deep breath and let it out slowly"...the overture introduces quick takes of the album's many highlights, a reference point of sorts. The first time I heard it, Dream Theater's "Overture 1928" reminded me of the Jurassic Park soundtrack for the sweep and grandeur of its melody.
It turns out that Nick's constantly-recurring dream means that he was someone else in a past life, someone who is deeply linked to him...a young woman named Victoria, who was apparently murdered by her jealous lover before he tragically turned the weapon on himself. But by looking "through her eyes," Nick is beginning to sense that the pieces fit together just too neatly to be believable...
The Orchestra of Witnesses has a command of memorable melodic hooks and wondrous technicality that its members are able to balance perfectly on this record. "Strange Deja Vu" is one of the album's more poignant pop points demonstrating this balance, in which James LaBrie sings both the male and female parts--a testament to the strength of his range. The band's wild interplay starts in earnest on "Fatal Tragedy" and reaches its zenith on "Dance of Eternity," where every instrument takes a turn in a thrilling display.
So adept is this band at moving the listener along through its shifts in mood that you aren't taken by surprise by "Through Her Eyes," one of two touching ballads on the album. The Middle Eastern melody-flecked "Home" is the heaviest "scene," and it doesn't seem to last the 13 minutes it actually takes.
"Home," it turns out, is a pet name for Victoria, who left her boyfriend, Julian ("The Miracle"), because he could not control his drinking and gambling. She finds solace in the arms of his brother, Edward ("The Sleeper"), who falls in love with her. But here's what Nick finds out while visiting Edward's house: he had manipulated the crime scene to make it look like a murder-suicide...because Edward was the one who shot both Victoria and Julian.
You see, what Nick is able to discover is that Julian begged Victoria to take him back, as a changed man--and she accepts. Edward, driven insane by desire, plots the murder and leaves a suicide note in Julian's pocket to fool the police. Seventy years later, the murder is solved by the "endless thread, impossible to break" that links Victoria to the future in a way that none of them could understand at the time.
At this point, it is the epic gospel ballad "The Spirit Carries On" that carries the album to its dramatic high point. Here, LaBrie is joined by a gospel choir to deliver a message worthy of a eulogy (seriously, you could play this song at a funeral and no one would be sad anymore). John Petrucci's solo proves that it is not just his technical proficiency but his heart and sense for soulful melody that makes him one of the world's most admired guitarists. At that point, you feel as if you've just watched a magnificent movie and standing to applaud in the theater while the credits roll. And the wrap-up of "Finally Free" finds drummer Mike Portnoy entering what can only be described as "beast mode" on the outro. One of the Long Island native's finest moments as a drummer.
Upon release, Metropolis, Part 2 was performed live in its entirely all over the world on tour, a tradition I hope the band revives. "It was very satisfying on so many levels," remarks John Petrucci, "....I was worried whether it was going to be good enough, or if it was going to come out like some Spinal Tap rock opera! So it becoming successful was like we had proven something."
The murder is solved, and yet the cycle begins again, as Nick's psychotherapist ushers in his next incarnation by killing him in his home while he listens to music. Who will Nick become next? What new mysteries are there to be solved "Beyond This Life?"
Something to ponder, as anytime you listen to this record, you know that you are not just hearing, but watching and living.
Originally written for www.headofmetal.com
With the commercially-failed yet somewhat underrated Falling Into Infinity in 1997 (a more traditional metal album to some extent), Dream Theater was done with trying to please record executives and decided to go back to the old swing of things with complete creative control and self-produced albums from then on. Though Metropolis Pt. 1 from Images and Words was never meant to have a sequel (the part 1 was meant to be a joke) fan requests led to the development of a massive epic sequel over twenty minutes long but was refused by execs to appear on Falling Into Infinity, and the only recording is an instrumental demo on the Falling Into Infinity official bootleg. Nevertheless, with the band firmly in charge once again of their writing and music, the gang decided it was high time to produce a rightful sequel to the acclaimed Metropolis Pt. 1 in the form of an entire album, and the end result is a very satisfying and ambitious venture.
Instrumentation and soloing are Dream Theater's claim to fame, and there's absolutely no shortage of them on Scenes from a Memory, especially with two instrumentals. Now, this particular feature has always polarized listeners, especially on this album. Loyalists have long applauded the creative and masterful musicianship on this album while critics have attacked it as "wanking" and "musical masturbation", which are quite frankly two phrases I'm sick of reading in reviews. I'll admit there's such a thing as too much, but oftentimes it's just criticism for the sake of criticism. If the solos were repetitive and unoriginal then yes, there is reason to complain. But Dream Theater has always found a way to keep things fresh and exciting, and that is very prevalent on Scenes from a Memory. The most important factor to note about instrumentation is keyboardist Jordan Rudess, who made his debut on this album. While later albums have featured Rudess mostly in the solos rather than in the melodies like previous keyboardists Kevin Moore and Derek Sherinian, Rudess is at his most versatile with shred solos, melodic verses, and even some flashes of jazz piano to fit the theme of the 1920's. Mike Portnoy also gives out some of his finest drum work and is perhaps most prominently featured on this album with heavy fills, constant snares, and frequent time changes (cough, Dance of Eternity, cough cough). Bassist John Myung pulls out a mind-blowing solo in that very song as well, and John Petrucci's guitarwork is not only spectacular but complements Jordan's soloing well. James LaBrie's singing is also quite good, and even though his voice did not fully recover from his vocal chord injury until Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, he's more than capable of hitting the high notes, especially with his backing vocal recording in Strange Deja Vu.
In order to continue the story of Metropolis, the band had to tweak and alter the story as Metropolis 1, with no sequel intended, is supposedly about the mythological founders of Rome: Romulus and Remus. Nevertheless, the alterations to the story fit into Metropolis Pt. 1 and several musical and lyrical references to the first song appear frequently in the album. The story is about a man named Nicholas who undergoes sessions of hypnotherapy in order to find out why he is having dreams about his past life Victoria, a girl in the 1920's who was involved in a love triangle with two brothers (the Miracle and the Sleeper) and was mysteriously murdered, as well as get to the bottom of his fears of death and the afterlife. It is overall a very well-written story with constant flashbacks, songs taking place in both the past and present, and a shocking twist ending. The band does a nice job in telling the story by occasionally alternating instrumental songs and with lyrics that are overall clear and easy to follow, something the band had a bit of trouble with in their early career. However, sometimes the straightforward lyrics are too straightforward and can occasionally come off as simple and uncreative, mainly on Beyond This Life. The song almost word for word describes the scene of Victoria's murder with LaBrie at one point screaming the lyrics rapidly, coming off as kind of silly. But overall, Dream Theater proves that they know how to tell a good story.
To fit the theme of the story, the songs flow almost seamlessly together; sounding like one continuous song. Though a 'prog metal" album, Scenes from a Memory definitely has its softer moments as well, often in interludes. And it is with softer songs that the album falters a bit. Ballads are always difficult to pull off because oftentimes their soft nature come off as a bit boring and can make one impatient for the next song to start, hoping for something more energetic and powerful. But while in terms of casual listening they may be less exciting, in terms of storytelling they do a perfect job of capturing character and emotion, whether its sorrow and fear (Through Her Eyes) or acceptance and peace (The Spirit Carries On, which also happens to feature one of Petrucci's finest guitar solos). But even when it comes to story-line and emotion, some tracks are clearly better than others. Two of the real gems are the instrumentals Overture: 1928 and The Dance of Eternity. Both are plentiful in crazy solos with the latter featuring the band's best overall musicianship together since Metropolis 1. But perhaps the best song is the epic Home. The heaviest song on the album, it features a very cool Middle-Eastern feel with sitar sound effects and despite being over twelve minutes, does not drag on at all. While those three stand above the rest, the album is backed by other solid songs such as Strange Deja Vu, Fatal Tragedy, and Finally Free, the closing song. The End of Scenes from a Memory would mark the band's trend of ending an album the same way the next album starts, which would go from continuing the end of Finally Free to Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence opener The Glass Prison and finally ending on Octavarium. Dream Theater knows how to think ahead, huh?
While Scenes from a Memory might not have the same kind of entertainment consistency as other concept albums such as Queensryche's Operation: Mindcrime, it still earns a spot as one of the greatest concept albums of all time. Dream Theater, as always, brings everything to the table and settles for nothing less than excellent. While maybe not the best Dream Theater album for casual listening just songs at a time (then again, is Dream Theater ever "casual" listening"?) listening to the album as a whole allows the listener to have a greater appreciation of the story and emotion, which is what the band was trying to accomplish here. And throwing in some awesome solos never hurts either.
Has anyone here, like me, ever liked a band a whole lot in the past and over time acquired a lot of the CDs in their discography, listened to them really enthusiastically at first but gradually less and less choosing other music over them almost not wanting yet still somehow thinking they're better than certain other bands until finally you stop listening to them altogether and your CDs just sit on a shelf collecting dust? Then, you come across them again a while later, give them a refreshing listening, and say to yourself "Wait a second! I don't like this!" That is exactly my experience with Dream Theater, and Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory was the first album by them that I acquired. As it turns out, I think it's their worst.
All the alarms that went off that started to get me think this album isn't as good as I thought it was all went off one at a time over time. I believe the earliest was for the lyrical themes; and to be frank, the story this album follows fucking sucks. Some dude undergoes hypnotherapy for reasons that never are really explained. All I can gather is that he's wondering what his own life is about, which I don't believe should warrant the hiring of a hypnotherapist. Just realize that life has no meaning and nobody is going to miss us when we're all dead; a philosophy like that makes for a happy life. But, he goes through with this anyway and he experiences a past life as a woman who's stuck in a love triangle dilemma with two assholes who happen to be brothers. This story goes nowhere interesting and only ends with two of the three characters dead; a happy ending would have all of them dead, probably from suicide from realize that they're living inside a soap opera. I also don't understand why the dude in the present just had to go back to relive a stupid drama like this. Surely if he had traveled back further in his reincarnation history, he would have come across a Spartan, pirate, viking, or even a prostitute. If this soap opera is the most exciting past life he could get, his other lives must have been filled with Arabian carpet merchants, Irish sheep herders, and Indian garbage men.
Alarm number two came from James LaBrie. I really cannot stand the guy's voice; he sounds like a woman even when he's not trying to be the voice of the woman character in which case such as in the first "Tonight I've been searching for it" part in "Strange Deja Vu" in which he sounds really, really bad. But you know what? LaBrie's voice goes pretty well with the cheesy shitty lyrics, and these two together go well with the crappy music on this album. Crap goes really well with crap and crap, and this leads me to the third alarm that went off which took longer to be heard than before, but after a while I finally realized how poor the music is. Regression is a useless intro that plays into another intro track, "Overture 1928", which contains music that sounds like it was stolen from the opening theme of a show on Home and Garden Television. It's this soft, shitty rock garbage that plays into the first song with lyrics "Strange Deja Vu". From there, the band makes a couple of attempts at a darker sound with two lame results: "Fatal Tragedy" and the horribly bloated, chug laced "Home". "Through Her Eyes", "One Last Time", "Through My Words", and "The Spirit Carries On" are the worst of the worst here where the album is at its softest and most flowery.
And you know what? I feel bad for John Petrucci. The guy can obviously play a couple of good solos. The catch is that they're surrounded by this HGTV themed nonsense so he'd might as well be the guitarist from Men Without Hats. This feeling is not mutual for Mike Portnoy. I have no idea why this blue-goateed twelve stepper is praised so much when there is so little about his drumming performance that is at all special. Nothing he does here stands out.
After a bloated soft rock piece and some sounds of the modern guy walking into his home, you hear this "WAKE UP!" announcement, convenient for those of you who fell asleep listening to this album.
Now, it would be a bit of a far shot, but I believe that this train wreck could have been avoided if they made some of the following improvements during production. First, the lyrics would have to be completely rewritten. This precursor to Twilight is a lost cause, might as well scrap the whole story and begin anew. I'm sure if Dream Theater still wanted to make an album about a guy going back to a past life, they could write up a story about one of his ancestors discovering an elaborate plot concocted by the Knights Templar to take over everyone's minds, so he assassinates key members of this order to deconstruct their plans. You know, a story that actually had meaning instead of something that only spineless support group wankers can appreciate. This would be a key change in the album's turn out considering they'd definitely make the music more interesting instead of matching up with a shitty story. Second, James LaBrie would need to be dumped from the line-up. Bring in Russel Allen or someone else who actually sounds like his gender; I just say Russel Allen because he's had a history of singing about epic tales. Third, you bring in a second guitarist to play rhythm guitar. With the added depth of sound, maybe they can ditch a lot of this soft rock sound and actually write a few interesting riffs. It couldn't be Michael Romeo or anyone else who would greatly overshadow John Petrucci though. Wouldn't want to demoralize him even further. These changes would help pave the way to a more acceptable album.
As it stands now though, Scenes From a Memory is a boring album that should be avoided. This is an album that I used to really like, so you can't say that I didn't try to like this. But that just goes to show how pathetic I was in early high school before growing up and getting myself a booster shot of pride and self-esteem. Now, this album doesn't mean anything to me but bad music that is unfortunately considered to be good by a large number of people.
I think it’s safe to say at this point that when Dream Theater came out, they established themselves as the leader of the pack of progressive metal bands who had exploded out of the scene in the early ’90s. The band’s 1992 album Images and Words solidified their style and popularity. It fused Fates Warning’s soaring vocals and melodic yet mean power metal–influenced riffs with Rush’s jazzy, time signature–defying drum work and cinematic, almost guitar solo–natured keyboarding and 20-minute suites.
Despite this, it only took until their fourth album for the band to vomit all over themselves with the commercial interest–driven and dismal Falling into Infinity. After Falling, Dream Theater’s young career was at stake, and the band knew that the follow-up would have to be bloody brilliant in order for the band to stay together. What resulted was a progressive metal masterpiece that would unfortunately be the last undeniable highlight of the band’s career: Metropolis Part 2: Scenes from a Memory.
This album is a sequel to the song Metropolis on the aforementioned Images and Words. A 20-minute-long sequel was originally written for Falling into Infinity, until the label asked them to ditch all of the work and go in a more commercial direction, so on this release the band decided to revive the story and instead make a whole album around it. The concept revolves around a man named Nicholas, who has been plagued by disturbing dreams and intense déjà vu from another life. He sees a hypnotherapist to help him understand these dreams, and eventually finds out he is being used as a puppet by the ghost of a woman named Victoria, to expose the truth of her murder in 1928.
The album comes in from a lot of musical angles, bouncing between Nicholas in the real world and Victoria in the dream world. It uses the heavy, bouncy, and somewhat schizophrenically paced metal parts to display the anxiety, confusion, and obsession on Nicholas’s side, and the horror, pain, and dread on Victoria’s. These aspects are the highlight of the album. Not only are these some of Dream Theater’s best riffs, but songs like “Dance of Eternity,” “Home,” and “Fatal Tragedy” highlight how excellent every single one of the members in Dream Theater is at their respective instruments.
All these aspects are then glued together by clean, keyboard-based ballads that, although they create a contrast and connect the record together, aren’t really notable and tend to drag on. There are four pure ballads in total, and a few of them drop in out of nowhere in the middle of a head-spinning progressive metal track. Two tracks in a row of such ballads isn’t a great progression, either. I’m listening to the musical equivalent of a gripping supernatural crime drama, guys, not riding an elevator to the 45th floor of a hotel.
Joking aside, this is the record that kept Dream Theater from losing hope and staying relevant into the’00s. Sadly, the band would never reach the same critical heights again. The follow-up, Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, was a double album that shouldn’t have been a double album. It marked the start of the band’s lack of experimentation and the cementation of the same formula that would be used over and over again to this day. Still, this is the record that kept the band together and showed that along with Images and Words, Awake, and the “Change of Seasons” EP, Dream Theater is a force of progressive metal to be reckoned with. 8.5/10
Dream Theater's label destroyed their plans and made out of a promising record a mostly cheesy and commercial trash called "Falling into infinity". Now, with a new label and a new record the band put a lot of ideas they had for the last record and had to dismiss into this album. Instead of just completing and rerecording their brilliant second part of Metropolis, they decided to create a whole record around this topic and simply called the album "Metropolis part II: Scenes from a memory".
I think that the whole album doesn't entirely have the magic of the first part of "Metropolis". I must also admit that I really enjoyed the promising demo version of "Metropolis 2" and would have prefered this one to a whole album about the topic. There are a few weaker tracks on this record, especially the ballads and more quiet songs like "Through her eyes" in the beginning of the album. But this album is still in my ranking of the five best Dream Theater records and even in my top three albums of the band.
Now, let me explain you why. First of all, I think that the whole concept is interesting, well elaborated and sounds somewhat like a modern progressive conceptual album in the key of a "Operation: Mindcrime" by Queensryche. The lyrics and the story are really addicting and easily create images or ideas in my head. Second, this album is quite diversified and contains somehow the quintessence of what Dream Theater is able to achieve. Soft ballads with dreamy keyboard sounds and soft and smooth vocals ("Fatal tragedy"), epic progressive tunes with many surprising changes like spoken word passages, epic solos or jazz interludes ("Finally free") and fast and yet very well developed rockers ("Beyond this life") can be found on this record but because of the cinematic story line, all those songs are well and logically connected and create something consistent. That's why this album has a flow that the last two records before this one didn't have. Third, I really admired the first part of "Metropolis" which is probably my favourite Dream Theater song of all times and I was particulary happy to hear some elements of that classic in songs such as the atmospheric instrumental introduction "Overture 1928", the very progressive instrumental "The dance of eternity" that even has some jazz influences or the amazing "Home" that is the best song Mike Portnoy has ever written for the band and that surprises with a strong riff and some exotic Asian folklore influences. This track is one of my favourite Dream Theater tracks of all time along with "Metropolis Part I" and "A nightmare to remember". This epic and inspiring masterpiece "Home" is an important turning point on the record because there are only amazingly strong songs after this one in the second act while there were a couple of a little bit overlong and uninspired tracks in the first act. The track "Home" can be described as the core or the heart of this record as the band put all its energy and creativity into this song that is able to be interesting and diversified over ten minutes long.
If Dream Theater ever had a weak point, than it would be the singer James LaBrie that is delivering "only" a good job on this record while the musicians create magic moments and show all of their talent throughout the whole record. That's maybe why especially the instrumental tracks are amazing and memorable on this record while the quiet ballads that focus more on James LaBrie only seem like some rather boring breaks between brilliant instrumental sections to me to elaborate the story and background of this opus magnum. The story plays a very important role on this record and it is really a well elaborated, addicting and intellectual story that the band worked out but all of this is nothing in comparison to the brilliantly shining musical performances on the record. That's why this record is as well brilliant for more intellectual listeners that attentively read the booklet as well as for the typical fans of progressive music that just close their eyes and listen to minute long guitar solos, vibrating bass lines, tribal drum loops or exotic and folkish keyboard sounds. This album is clearly nothing for a metalhead that awaits some straight, heavy and easily addicting tracks like the band created later on the heavier and darker "Train of thoughts".
It is a very entertaining and stunning experience to listen to this album which I consider as a modern progressive metal masterpiece. Anyone that liked the first part of Metropolis" will admire and must have this record. The first part was like a brilliant preview and this new album is now like the complete movie and this is a blockbuster of modern progressive metal. It begins rather slow paced after a bombastic introduction with some soft fillers before the tension rises and leads us towards a stunning finish. That's why I can really recommand this album to anyone that likes conceptual albums or progressive rock or metal music but not blindly to the masses.
I have to admit, I'm something of a Dream Theater fanboy. With the exception of some of their earliest albums, there's nothing of theirs I don't like. I honestly believe that they're one of the most talented groups of musicians to ever form, and this album to me is the high point of their entire career and one of the high points of music as a whole.
There is a LOT going on in this album, so I'll start with some general specifics. This is a LONG album. Three of the 12 tracks are over 11 minutes long (Beyond This Life, Home and Finally Free), and each of these is basically the band playing as furiously as possible for as long as possible. These do take some getting used to just because of how long and drawn out they can be, but they're balanced by several shorter and more accessible songs. These include Fatal Tragedy and Strange Deja Vu, which while having incredible solos throughout are also catchy and more conventionally structured songs. There's also shorter interludes (Regression, Overture 1928, Through My Words, and One last Time ranging from a minute to four minutes, and these are actually very enjoyable.
While not really what I would call a "metal" album, it does have its heavier and more metallic moments, involving very fast double-bass drumming courtesy of Mike Portnoy and some good heavy (but still very catchy) guitar riffs delivered by John Petrucci. The tempo is generally mid-to-slow paced and airs more on the progressive rock side, as opposed to metal. The writing here is superb in every area, with elements of classical, jazz, blues, psychedelic rock (Home), ragtime (The Dance of Eternity) and gospel (Through Her Eyes and The Spirit Carries On) all being used and used brilliantly. Since this is Dream Theater, no real explanation is needed on the proficiency of the actual playing; every member here is a virtuoso, period. James LaBrie is brilliant here as well, hitting some absolutely terrific high notes and putting a tremendous amount of feeling and soul into his singing.
The two best parts about this album for me would be the instrumental The Dance of Eternity and the ballad The Spirit Carries On. The Dance of Eternity is nothing short of a mind-blowing display of technicality from the band, with something like 130 time changes in 6 minute song, a ragtime piano solo, an insane bass solo and more guitar and drum solos than you can count. Incredible piece. The Spirit Carries On is quite the opposite; it's a very relaxed ballad but I'm willing to say it's the single best Dream Theater song ever written. Flawless vocals and a guitar solo that would make Pink Floyd blush as well as a full gospel choir, this is the epitome of brilliant.
While Dream Theater have had a fantastic career with some truly brilliant albums, this is the pinnacle of it all. Technically brilliant but still having real soul and emotion in every song, Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From a Memory is definitely essential listening for anyone who likes good music.
Dream Theater are a band of many talents and wonders. Their ambition has always fueled them to go to greater heights, and after the monolithic Awake topped the seminal Images and Words in epic scope and artistic vision, where could they possibly go next? Well, apparently the answer to that in 1997 was Falling into Infinity, which I still haven't heard in its entirety, but what came after that? I guess they didn't like the accusations of commerciality against them on that record, so they went with a complete 180 and released this, the most bloated and sprawling thing anyone had ever heard in metal. There is epic, there is canonical, there is planet-sized and then there is Scenes from a Memory, and all it really does is put me to sleep.
I mean, how am I supposed to enjoy this? It's like Queensryche's Operation Mindcrime multiplied by three, the most excessive and floridly proggy album the band ever recorded. It's boring. Nothing on here really kicks up much excitement, no matter how many notes they can play per minute or how many drum fills they can put in a four minute song before they stretch it out to eight minutes. There is some sort of conceptual storyline here, but frankly, it doesn't sound very good, and even if it were, it wouldn't save this stinker much. This album is almost impossible to listen to in one sitting, and this is coming from the guy who just sat through Tribuzy's musical torture chamber of fuckery. Dream Theater, I think you deserve some sort of commendment for that.
So the album starts off with an introduction piece, with the sound of a clock ticking and a man narrating calmly, telling us to close our eyes, take a deep breath and relax. Preparing us for the grueling chore ahead of us, perhaps? Well, whatever. "Overture 1928" is next, and it's another intro piece. I really don't get why bands would ever do this - one introduction piece is more than enough! To be fair, though, this is the best song on the album, with some rumbling guitar progressions and some nice build-ups. It's really all downhill from here, though, so grab your pillows and your sleeping pills and try not to hit your head on the floor when you go down.
There is really not a lot wrong with this that I can't say would also be wrong with the other Dream Theater albums, it's just that this one doesn't seem to have the emotional intensity of some of the later stuff or the exciting grandeur of Images and Words. I'm not the biggest fan of Awake either, as it just left me cold, but this is just ridiculous - it is so elaborate and mechanical that it might as well have been made by a fucking computer in itself. This has a lot of bells and whistles, and the songwriting is certainly complex, but it's too hollow, skimping out on the more personal feel that the Dream Theater songs I like have. I think another thing wrong with this is the way all of the songs are sort of seamlessly connected - this makes them feel much longer than they should, as they don't seem to have any veritable starting or ending points. It is easy to see the intention here, but it doesn't work.
Oh, and "Finally Free" is probably the worst Dream Theater song ever. Completely enervated, painful crap with some truly awful, awful vocals. Good god, this sucks.
This album fails to incite any emotional response, and so despite whatever nonsensical reasons people have for liking this, it's not worth picking up. Avoid.
Originally written for http://www.metalcrypt.com
I have never been a fan of Dream Theater, I think they always seem to have a very good song per album, like Pull Me Under in Images and Words, or The Glass Prison in Six Degrees...But I can't like a single full album by them, let alone worshiping it. But then, I heard this; Scenes from a Memory, and even though I basically hate everything else they've done, I not only like this, I fucking love it, it's one of my favorite albums. It's funny how the only album that I really like by Dream Theater is the one that gets bashed the most (hehe), it's too pompous this way, LaBrie sucks the other way, but I couldn't care less about it's pretentiousness. There's just something to it that I love, even LaBrie's voice, or Rudess' wanking-happy solos.
Yeah this is incredibly pompous, starting from "Regression", with that little spoken part of the hypnotherapist, but the vocal melody is just so damn catchy, and it also appears later in the album, much like Virgin Steele's "The House of Atreus", which gives it a sense of continuity, since this is a concept album after all! Every song here is awesome, except for "Through My Words", which is completely unnecessary, they could just put it on "Fatal Tragedy", but that's ok, since it's not a bad interlude, just a bit off-place. When "Regression" ends, it melds into "Overture 1928", which is one of my personal favorites; it's awesome how it complements the story, a part in which the main character is floating through a bunch of lights when being hypnotized, it sounds very atmospheric, you almost feel what he would have been feeling at the time. The keyboard melody at 0:44 is one of my favorites, and that one also repeats itself at some points, too! There are also plenty of solos by Petrucci/Rudess, and yes, they're wankery, but I believe they complement the songs pefectly, and Petrucci's slow solos are just pure genius, even though he's a tad overrated shredder.
The only weak track that I can find is "Strange Deja Vu", but it's just weak because it is right after "Overture 1928", which is fucking unfair! My problem with "Strange..." is that it's a little bit overlong, but the chorus repeats the afford mentioned awesome keyboard melody, and that's pretty cool. After 2:44 it sounds a bit out of place and starts plodding, but then it repeats the fucking melody again and that leaves me happy! "Fatal Tragedy" sounds pretty fucking epic at times, like the bridge before the chorus, there's a very cool and sort of hidden vocal melody behind, which makes it sound really cool. Then there's an almost thrashy riff at 3:50, which is followed by a bunch of keyboard/guitar trade-off solos. It suddenly stops, and we have yet another really heavy (You gotta love how this album is both beautiful, epic, AND heavy!), "Beyond This Life" has a fucking speed metal riff, and the soloing in the middle is very weird, but it sounds cool, shredding ahoy to kingdom come. The last guitar solo of Petrucci, which ends up with that chorus at 10:05 is great, it sounds HUGE, I don't know how to explain it, maybe it's LaBrie's voice, he makes me want to sing along, even if he fucking sucks when doing it himself--I can't help it. Other thing I like is the snare drum's sound, it sounds very powerful, you can feel every goddamn beat like a bat to your head, and it works both when it wants to be soft, or fucking loud, but you'd already know Portnoy is a very good drummer, it's Dream Theater after all!
Another sort of sub-par track is "Through Her Eyes", but it's not bad, the only problem is that when you have heard this album over 100 times (like me!), you're already wanting it to finish so "Home" can start, and still, "Through Her Eyes" it's a good ballad, but it doesn't have shit over the best ballad here--More on that later! "Through Her Eyes" is the only song that doesn't morph into another one, keeping the continuity, it may be a sort of tribute to Pink Floyd doing it on "The Wall" when they had to change album sides. Ok, when that thing ends, there's "Home". Ahh, ok, "Home" is...Fucking awesome. It could very well be the best goddamn song in here, and since Petrucci tuned down to Dropped D, it sounds really heavy. The intro has that brooding sitar solo, and when it gets really intense, we have that wahwah filled riff, which makes your head bang like there's no tomorrow. It has a very 'oriental' sound, like that bridge at 2:06, sounds very arabic, at least for me! It's main riff is pretty heavy, though I don't like it's "stop and go" nature, but then LaBrie's voice comes and it's almost anthemic.
The pre-chorus is really intense, and even though it has some nasty off-key singing moments, you forget them with Petrucci's solo before the chorus, and if you don't like that goddamn chorus, you have no soul. "Help, I'm falling", damnit, I even like the lyrics, something that I don't usually care for much, but this thing made me read them and get into the story, and even though it is VEEERYY pompous and pretentious, it has a certain charm to it. But a good story must have good music to back it up, and they are able to do that perfectly. Maybe the reason why I like this so much, is because I liked the story, the lyrics, and the music, altogether. "Home" has some more shredtastical™ soloing, though I don't know how the 2 minutes of sex noises at the mid do anything, maybe they were thinking "does this make you horny?", well it doesn't. After the last chorus there's a little bridge with a very oriental feeling, with the drum percussions, and it's pretty damn catchy.
On to the probably most criticized song in here, that's gotta be "The Dance of Eternity". It has like 100 rhythm and tempo changes, and a lot of gratuitous soloing, there's some much silly stuff that you can't even headbang or anything to it, since it's hard to keep on with the timing, so I recommend you listen to it the way you'd listen to jazz or classical music. It sometimes loses focus, but it has really cool parts everywhere, though they could be united in a better way; some parts are really catchy, like that one at 2:16, which you KNOW sounds like something you have heard before, but you can't make it out--Until the fucking keyboard solo comes and tells you that it actually sounded like old 20's music. That thing at 2:32 very well might be Rudess' best keyboard solo ever, it's really catchy, it's fun, and you weren't expecting it, then there's more shredding everywhere, and even a fucking bass solo courtesy of the chinky but very talented John Myung. Talking about that, his bass performance is flawless in this album, but again, you already knew that, cause it's fucking Dream Theater.
Then there are the ballads. Right after "The Dance of Eternity", there's "One Last Time", which starts with a very beautiful piano intro; proving Rudess doesn't only wank all the time! But I have always thought LaBrie sounds like a woman in it, maybe if he sung rougher or something, but after Petrucci's solo, there we have it again at 2:18; I fucking love that melody, it's one of my favorite things about this album--Yeah, I'm judging a whole album based on a keyboard melody. "One Last Time" starts fading away, and then we have "The Spirit Carries On", which I have to agree with the other reviewers in that it's total Pink Floyd worship, but again so was the whole Progressive/Concept Album thing, and the song is good in itself anyways. The vocal melody is incredibly catchy, and sounds a lot like "Regression", though it's not so noticeable until the reprise after the solo. The guitar solo is one of Petrucci's best, and that, too, is total Pink Floyd worship, with a shreddier form. It's weird how this album is so goddamn awesome, yet the rest of Dream Theater sucks, I saw them live this year and they had the shameless dare of not playing a single song from Scenes from a Memory, fags! Ok, back to "The Spirit Carries On", even though the solo is really awesome, the best part is the reprise of "Regression" at 4:23, which (again) is Pink Floyd worship, like the reprise of "Breath" in "Time", back from The Dark Side of the Moon.
"The Spirit Carries On" ends with some wails from a guest gospel singer which her name I can't recall, but it is pretty cool having it at the end, over the little piano melody. Scenes from a Memory ends with "Finally Free", which is the most pompous, pretentious, but awesome song I have heard this side of Manowar. It has a LOT of sound effects to tell the story, like when the main character gets in his car and leaves, and the synth melody at 1:04 is so brooding and evil, it's almost disturbing, but in a good way! I love how that piano sounds below the verses, then the chorus as a shitload of choruses behind, and from 4:00 they tell you the goddamn story with sounds, you hear how the guy enters the house and he struggles with the girl and shoots her lover, and then her, and then he says "open your eyes", over a really creepy melody--If that's not the most pretentious and pompous thing you have heard, well, I hope you die, you narcissistic bastard. However, Petrucci's solo is very beautiful, and I don't really care about how pompous it is, as long as the music is good. The only thing I don't like is how they repeat the same brooding, evil, but ultimately boring melody at the end, for almost 5 minutes! The there are more sound effects to tell the story, and the guy dies or something like that, then there's static noise that begins "The Glass Prison" from the next album, and since that song is fucking awesome, I guess it's alright!
All in all, Scenes from a Memory is a landmark in progressive metal; people complains on how pompous it is, and that it's overlong, and that it has no soul, and it rapes kittens and stuff, but I don't care (ok maybe if it did rape kittens). But it's the only album I like from Dream Theater, and not only like, but worship and love. You just need to forget about the pretentiousness, and be prepared for 80 minutes of musical awesomeness. It's by far their best; you must get it!
I've read so many reviews about this album, plenty saying "this is Dream Theater's big breakthrough in defining their talents!", with plenty of others saying "this album would be great, if LaBrie wasn't such a spaz and the musicianship would work better instead of with him."
And at this point, I agree with both statements.
Before I begin, I have to say that the talent of Dream Theater is beyond incredibly awesome, which make instrumental songs (especially at live performances) the best songs you can ever listen to by Dream Theater. Why?
Well, let's put it this way. LaBrie sucks.
Ok, call me a spaz, as long as I can call him one too. Seriously, if there was a "Lifetime Spaz Award", he'd take it away from Jackson, Ozzy, and me in a heartbeat. LaBrie isn't entirely bad, just that their take on a 1928 murder of a young woman and how a modern man is haunted by this crime just makes me scratch my head and go Tim Taylor.
Regression starts off the album in a pathetic attempt to set the mood via classic progressiveness by the clock and a peaceful acoustic guitar ballad transitioning into Overture 1928, which is one of my personal favorites, because every instrumental by Dream Theater instantly is given a plus by me, even though they aren't perfect half the time, such as The Dance Of Eternity.
Rudess' debut album here shows his kickass talent, but I think he just got a bit too excited over the fact that he was going to play with masters of prog metal and spaz soloed a bit too much. Not that Rudess' solos are bad, it's just, well, too much can make a brain bleed, and top a fucking migrane to Petrucci's solos and you'll never wanna see the word "dream" again, because you know you ain't gonna get one with DT's awesomeness stuck in your head.
Although you might as well save up for their better albums, because this certainly ain't one of them.
The ballad of Strange Deja Vu / Through My Words/ Fatal Tragedy isn't particularly one of them, although Strange Deja Vu is ok, at least the beginning since it litteraly starts where Overture left off.
The weak points have to go to the ballads (Beyond This Life / Through Her Eyes, One Last Time, The Spirit Carries On, Finally Free). LaBrie exaggerates WAY too much. I can see why Arjen invited LaBrie to be a guest vocalist for Ayreon's The Human Equation. LaBrie tried to create a storyline effect here, but it didn't work to begin with, and he tried WAY too much to keep it together before it all fell apart. The Spirit Carries On isn't totally bad. At least it's one song that isn't clogged up too much by LaBrie's incessive storyline.
Finally Free has to be the worst song ever made by Dream Theater, I have to get that off my chest right now. From beginning to end, from "You are once again surrounded by a brilliant white light", to the glass shattering, gun pounding murder scene, to the very end where Nicolas goes home and is haunted for life, where the song ends where, ironically, The Glass Prison from the next album begins.
All in all, this album is decent. Some really good tracks, some really shitty tracks, but overall, LaBrie picked a bad time to try to take the spotlight this time, because it's always going to go to Petrucci, Rudess, and the rest of the band.
Highlights: Overture 1928, Beyond This Life, Home, The Dance Of Eternity
Dream Theater was never a band that I liked that much. I only had When Dream and Day Unite and some of the most well known songs out of their other records, but they just didn't sound appealing to me. However, some time ago I discovered the progressive rock/metal realms, so I thought to myself that I should check the other Dream Theater records out. I mean, Dream Theater was one of the first bands to play true progressive metal (along with Fates Warning and Watchtower) and, nowadays, they are considered the epitome of the whole genre, as few bands have a so wide and big fanbase as DT. Anyways, two or three months ago, my girlfriend offered me the Metropolis 2000 DVD (which contains this whole album played live) and I instantly became a huge fan of the band. Obviously, the first step I made, after receiving the DVD, was buy the record, in order to really appreciate the MUSIC on it.
It's funny to see the mixed reactions that all the Dream Theater records cause on the fans. There are people out other that say that Train of Thought is the worst album of the band, but you can easily find lots of other people who say that it is their best. Of course that, with bands with large catalogs, it is easy to find different opinions between the fans, but, hey, with DT this is taken to the extreme. As we're talking about this record, you can search for it on ProgArchives and see the large amount of reviewers there saying that Metropolis is a masterpiece and songs like Beyond this Life are amazing; see the reviews here, on Encyclopedia Metallum, and you'll find the majority of the reviewers saying that the album is just GOOD and that songs like Beyond this Life are killed by the long solo sections.
Indeed, the solo sections are considered to be the biggest problem of the record. Dream Theater are constantly accused to write songs just to show their technical playing, etc, etc. However, I fully understand why the band insisted so much on the solos here: mainly thanks to two different things.
First: Jordan Rudess. The sucessor of Derek is, indeed, an authentic dream of a musician, able to play almost everything he wants to. And so, imagine: you get into a progressive metal band, to fill in as a keyboardist and you know that the former keyboardists of the band were authentic virtuosos. What do you do? You write long solos, in order to show everyone how good you are and why you deserve to be with the band. Simple, isn't it? And who am I to criticize a musician that just wants to prove his talent?
Second: Falling Into Infinity. Yeah, the infamous lost record of the band, constantly called the worst one the band ever wrote, “too pop-ish and soft”, they say. Well, I haven't listened to that record yet, but, after it, Dream Theater asked their label to let them do whatever they want (as the sound of the album is often related to the label's wishes to turn the band into pop music). So, what do you make when you are constantly accused to be a sell-out by your fanbase? You show them that you are loyal to your roots. What are the roots of Dream Theater? Progressive music, music played by talented, gifted musicians. So you compose lengthy solo sections, to show everyone how prog you are. Understandable, no?
And, wow, Metropolis is a concept album, another thing very common within the progressive circles. It deals with reincarnation and death, basically a guy begins to dream about a woman and visits a hypnotherapist. The hypnotherapist takes him to the past and he realizes that he IS the woman. Or, at least, he WAS the woman in one of his past lives. Anyways, I won't spoil the storyline further, so, if you don't understand the concept, it's better if you search on Wikipedia about it (the article about this record there is pretty good) or, if you can, get the before-mentioned DVD, which explains the concept very well too.
So, lyrically, the songs don't stand very well individually, it's always better to listen to the album as a whole.
Now, let's get to the songs. As I've already said, technical proficiency is what you can expect from the band: John Petrucci is everywhere, even playing some thrashy riffs and leads here and there, Mike Portnoy is the drum monster we all know (and love) and Myung is, during the most part of the record, inaudible (I hate when TALENTED bassists are treated this way). LaBrie no longer sounds like the maniac that made Awake what it is (after all he got his vocal chords broken, for God's sake!), but, in the end, he delivers a pretty solid performance. Sometimes, he sounds like a girl, in order to represent Victoria (the woman that appears in the dreams of the protagonist); that's not the greatest thing in the world, using your vocalist to emulate some woman singing, but it works decently well, after all.
About the songwriting - many songs contain, like I've already said, intricate solo sections, but there is a lot of variety. One instrumental, some epics, some headbangable songs, ballads... very diverse, indeed. Every song adds something to the storyline, which, despite not being the most interesting and cleverest thing ever done on the face of Earth, is pretty consistent and tasteful. However, after I discovered the whole story, I stopped listening to the record: the durability is not the strong point of this piece, in my opinion.
The album is divided in two acts (being the second act a bit more solid than the first, in my opinion) and the acts are divided into scenes (from a memory).
So, Metropolis kicks off with a small intro with the hypnotherapist calming Nicholas, the protagonist, down and, err, taking him back to the past. The lyrics of the tune are very, very good, they fit the music well and kind of grab the listener, powerfully, inside the atmosphere of the album.
“Close your eyes and begin to relax.
Take a deep breath, and let it out slowly.
Concentrate on your breathing.
With each breath you become more relaxed.
Imagine a brilliant white light above you,
focusing on this light as it flows through your body.
Allow yourself to drift off as you fall deeper and
deeper into a more relaxed state of mind.
Now as I count back from ten to one,
you will feel more peaceful, and calm.
Ten. Nine. Eight. Seven. Six.
You will enter a safe place where nothing can harm you.
Five. Four. Three. Two.
If at any time you need to come back,
all you must do is open your eyes. One.”
Atmospheric, isn't it? Especially if you are listening to the song at night, before you sleep.
Anyways, the second track, Overture 1928, is an authentic winner. It sums up the whole record, as it contains some parts of the other songs and even parts of Metropolis Pt.1, out of the Images and Words record. One highlight, indeed.
Another one is track three, Strange Dejá Vu, which follows the same structure as the fifth one, Fatal Tragedy: a nice first section, with a catchy chorus, and then a heavy part where Petrucci plays some truly headbangable and catchy riffs.
Beyond this Life is like a beta version of The Glass Prison, and is probably the heaviest song of the record. It's one of the longer songs, together with Finally Free and Home.
Home has a very exotic beginning that ends with the beginning of a very catchy guitar riff. It has a middle section filled with some nice solos and some erotic (!!!) screams. Finally Free closes the record, beginning with a very SOMBER keyboard line (Jordan is a God just because of that line, I really love it). It is probably the most obscure song of the record, it kind of involves you in a dark, almost scary atmosphere and it doesn't let you out until the end. And WHAT AN END to the whole concept, the first time I saw (and heard it) on the DVD, it really scared me (I'm just a little boy, you know).
Dance of Eternity also deserves a special mention, being constantly labeled as a song made to show the skills of the Theater musicians. In my opinion, it is no Erotomania or YYZ, but it's a nice track and not boring at all.
Anyways, there is a tune on the record that I really don't get why so many people like: The Spirit Carries On. Sure it has a gospel choir (a la Pink Floyd) singing together with James LaBrie, but, hey, the lyrics are too cheesy and the song has a strange happy vibe that I don't like. Meh.
So, this record surely is flawed, I mean, the regular metalhead will not love this stuff, it is too “proggy” for his tastes, but, hey, if you are a fan of progressive metal, this album will be an excellent addiction to your collection.
The total length of Metropolis can also be a problem: the album clocks in at 70, 75 minutes, if I'm not wrong, so you will need time to understand and discover all the things this piece has to offer. Nevertheless, the album is solid and not the big piece of pompous crap that many reviewers stated it is.
Best moments of the CD:
-the transition between Fatal Tragedy and Beyond this Life.
-the main riff of Home.
-the chorus of One Last Time.
-the drum lines of the middle section of Finally Free.
-the last minute of the album.
I don't like Dream Theater that much, but I don't get most people's complaints about them, either. It's self-indulgent wankery? They need to learn to write songs? Come on now. That's like watching a kung-fu movie and complaining that they need to stop interrupting the plot with all those self-indulgent fight scenes. You're supposed to be enjoying their flashiness and visceral thrill! Try not to be so ungrateful.
Still, they are still, for me, pretty much the â€œPull Me Underâ€ band. If memory serves, that wasn't the first choice of a single from Images and Words, which if true must be one of the most astonishing facts in the history of music. The rest of the album isn't nearly as memorable, or as metal, and that would go for the other occasional bits of their music that I've heard. And then there's the matter of James LaBrie's shrill vocals; no, I am not a fan.
This album is kind of a flagship album for the band, one that was hyped shamelessly on its release and seems to be remembered as a defining moment a decade later. It's potentially a more entertaining album for a non-fan than Dream Theater's usual output. The booklet for Images and Words depicted the band standing around some kind of magical Greek temple in the sky, looking pensive and thoughtful and important, and thankfully there isn't much of that here.
Metropolis Pt 2 is comparatively more down-to-earth, and yet it's a bit theatrical. Fitting, given the concept â€“ and the booklet, which looks like the script from a play. I might as well mention now that in spite of having listened to this album countless times over the course of years and even knowing a lot of the lyrics, I have almost no idea what the plot is. There's not much indication of which character is saying what thing in the music itself, so as a concept album it fails a bit at that end.
In calling I theatrical I don't mean that it's prone to explosive emotion or pretension. It's more like band, sensing a bored and impatient audience, seeks to entertain them by dragging out one strange and amusing thing after another. Some might find it a little cheesy to have one song that copies Tool and one that copies Pink Floyd, but for those of us who would otherwise perceive the album as a mush of airy prog noodling, it's a big help. The same goes for the saloon piano and any of their other goofy tricks.
The songs do run together. The first track change I hear is at the end of â€œFatal Tragedy,â€ and that's already the transition between number 5 and 6. I forgive them, because by that point, I'm still not bored at all. It's no flaw that some tracks work more as transitions than songs on their own â€“ better that than sticking them into unrelated songs as bridges, and better to have some songs that are to the point and others that are technical mishmash. Dream Theater manage to be as catchy as they'd like, when they make a point of it, and when they don't, they at least do something interesting.
As the album carries, I do start to get a little bored, especially as they back off of the metal and lay on the.. gospel? Or whatever else; even so, the beginning of the album sounds like something's starting and the end sounds like something's finishing, and the mistakes along the way are more tolerable for knowing that we managed to go somewhere. I was entertained.
This album is a masterpiece. There I have said it. However, I am sure that not everyone will agree with this statement. There are many people that dislike Dream Theater because of the band’s long songs and often perceived ‘music wankery’. The band is well known for composing very complex progressive metal and this album is no exception. If anything, this album is more complex, as it is a full blown concept album of 77 minutes. So if you are a known Dream Theater hater then it is probably better that you read no further. To the people new to Dream Theater or this album, read on.
In Metropolis Part 2 everything comes together beautifully for the band. This album is a real mixed bag where Dream Theater pulls out all their tricks. There are complex and simpler songs depending on the mood or lyrical content. The music is varied between: the progressive; the metal; and the melodic elements. The concept is thought provoking and complex and is perfectly complimented by the lyrics written mostly by Petrucci and Portony. The musicianship is of course stellar as always. The recruitment of new keyboardist, Jordan Rudess, adds another element of virtuosity to this already accomplished band.
This is an album that will take a few listens to understand the concept and the twists and turns in the story. But, unlike many other Dream Theater albums, the music, although complex, is mostly accessible from the first listen. The obvious exception here is the Dance of Eternity, the instrumental track that boasts over 120 time signature changes in six minutes. This is probably the only weak track on the album as it does nothing to propel the story forward and the music feels somewhat artificial.
Without spoiling the story, which is very intricate when connecting it to Metropolis Part 1: The Miracle and the Sleeper from their 1992 album Images and Words, the lyrical themes that run through this album include: life after death (reincarnation); love; lust; and deception. The music compliments these themes on all levels. Songs such as Through Her Eyes and The Spirit Carries On are beautiful and uplifting whereas songs such as Fatal Tragedy and Finally Free and dark and brooding. Some of the longer songs such as Beyond this Life and Home push the story forward and leave room to show off DTs virtuosic and compositional skills.
This is an album that deserves the attention of music fans of all genres. The metal is not as prominent on this album as it is on say, Train of Thought or Awake. However, Metropolis Part 2 offers so much more to the listener. It is a truly uplifting listen and worthy of the highest respect.
Every band needs “its” album. Surely from a technical standpoint, all albums created by a band are their own, but very few bands are truly able to design an album whereas the listener is forced to utter to himself:
“This is *blank* at their best, and I’ll always remember this record.”
In Dream Theater’s case, even at this point in July of 2006, “Metropolis – Part II: Scenes From A Memory” is that album to them. As “Master of Puppets” was to Metallica, “Machine Head” to Deep Purple, “Dark Side of the Moon” to Pink Floyd, or even “Number of the Beast” to Iron Maiden, “Scenes” has so far survived the test of time to become the near unanimous selection among hardcore Dream Theater fans as the band’s tour-de-force.
But let’s get past the clichés.
“Scenes” is a concept album, involving death, spirit, and betrayal. Quite frankly, lyrics have never been a strong point for Dream Theater, with even the best works of the pen to paper resulting in respectable lyrical works at best. The story, even with a booklet in hand, is hard to follow, and one that takes much too much interpretation to truly enjoy as it goes along. Say what you must, but upon a listeners first venture into “Scenes,” you seldom have a clue what is going on.
The story begins with “Overture 1928,” (following a needless “Regression”) an instrumental that covers various passages from throughout the record. The whole band shines here, as no needless solos are added and emotion runs high. By the time it is finished, the listener is immediately thrusted into “Strange Déjà Vu.” This song serves as one of the shorter, more poppy sides to “Scenes.” By this, I simply mean that the song is addicting through its chorus, and one can find themselves singing and humming along to “Strange Déjà Vu” even upon conclusion.
Next up is “Through My Words,” which is simply a lead-up to “Fatal Tragedy,” and involves only keyboardist Jordan Rudess with vocalist James LaBrie. “Fatal Tragedy” begins on a sudden note, and throws the listener into the first “drag on” song of the album. The song’s chorus is not overly catchy, and the beginning of the song’s final instrumental section seems to drag on and on. However, if the listener is to stick through the mindless keyboard and guitar solos for a while, they are taken to complete Progressive Metal heaven. In translation:
The first ever unison solo between John Petrucci and Jordan Rudess.
By the time Jordan Rudess and guitarist John Petrucci finish about a minute of this impressive unison, which has been labeled as a “musical orgasm” by some, the listener is immediately taken into “Beyond This Life.” The song opens with a great riff, and proceeds to cover all sides known to music. Heavy and melodic. Soloing and riffing. Angry and hopeful. The song covers every angle on this one, and as one can easily imagine, it results in a drawn out marathon that can become tiresome. This here is a perfect example of overdoing it, as Rudess and Petrucci waste a solid four minutes simply playing “circus music,” or so I quote.
Again, a poppy tack arises in “Through Her Eyes,” a number that again, can be heard being hummed and replicated worldwide through Dream Theater fans. Afterwards, we enter the final “marathon” so-to-speak of the album, “Home.” Home is an addictive song, with some serious melodies and great riffing, but it simply suffers from being overdone. I know that it is meaningful to the story, but do we really need three minutes of “pleasure noises”? Do we really need Arabian music being played for two minutes upon the conclusion of the song? The answer is no.
The instrumental, “The Dance of Eternity” follows. Now I must admit that this certainly showcases the band’s overall skill, and even though it does nothing for the story, it is certainly entertaining to listen to. John Petrucci rips out the seven string guitar here, and plays one of the hardest songs in the entire Dream Theater catalog. Considering Petrucci is undoubtedly a top 5 guitarist in the world at this point, you can imagine just how stunning his passages are, along with the rest of his super-human band mates.
To conclude our story, we get the trio of “One Last Time”, “The Spirit Carries On”, and “Finally Free.” Gone in each are the needless solos, and in place are melodic vocals, respectable lyrics, all while still displaying great musicianship as a whole. During “The Spirit Carries On,” Petrucci takes the listener through a guitar solo that has truly caused listeners to break down and shed a few tears. The song is in every sense of the word; beautiful, and its stunning climax is even more so.
“Finally Free” concludes the album and its story with a heavy band-jam, but for the most part is under control through-out. Again, the listener is shown the best sides of Dream Theater, as we get melodic vocals and guitar, heavy riffing, and all around solid musicianship.
In conclusion, every song with exceptions to a few are catchy vocally, even though some lyrics do fall short. “Beyond This Life”, “Home”, and sections of “Fatal Tragedy” are quite unnecessary, but can be easily enjoyed during a casual run-through of the record. Everything else is perfect, as the album features more overall emotion than any metal record I’ve ever heard.
One must approach this record with open ears, and with no negative bias toward the band or the direction they took upon writing this masterpiece. “Scenes” is quite simply, the greatest album I’ve ever heard. Yes a few songs are drawn out; yes the lyrics are “iffy” at best, but more importantly:
Every single song has some sort of meaning, a meaning that is immediately felt after its end, and a meaning that will stick with the listener for his / her entire life. It surely has never left me, seven years after this album enriched my existence.
**Album Highs: Strange Déjà Vu, The Spirit Carries On, Finally Free
*** 6% deducted for needless musicianship, soloing, and wanking
Scenes From a Memory basically encapsulates how people see Dream Theater. You've got the confusing (albeit dead simple when you get down to it) story. You've got the schlock-y keyboards. You've got James LaBrie in tight leather pants singing like a girl. And you've got the endless and insanely complex instrumental passages. The view is reinforced by the hordes of fans and laymen who hail this album as the absolute apex of progressive metal.
"I mean, man, its so, like, deep you know? It has like a story and stuff.
And they play really fast."
Now, that isn't to paint everybody who loves this record as a fumbling vocabulary-deficient Neanderthal (or homo, huh huh, erectus) but man, this thing is flawed and deeply so. First of all, the lyrical concept is pretty limp and after the initial period of discovery it becomes very thin. Operation: Mindcrime this ain't. Since most of the lyrics are based upon storyline exposition very few manage to be particularly good lyrically outside of the context of the storyline. Far too often we're hit by blocks of what amounts to scene description, and even the more broad lyrics continually bring you back to the story by dropping in a "Victoria" on you. "Finally Free", for instance, is just fantastic but it cannot stand alone due to the fact that every single line is overtly plot-centric. Basically the only song that doesn't succumb to this trap is "Through Her Eyes"... but no amount of lyrical good will can turn that particular ugly duckling into a swan. It's terrible.
Now, the lyrics don't necessarily have to reach Awake (or even Falling Into Infinity) levels if the music stands up. And it does. Sort of. See, throughout this album Dream Theater applies their particular brand of magic and strikes the listener into awestruck silence. I swear to ya, sometimes when I'm listening to "Home" and they finally break into that classic "Metropolis" riff before the chorus I feel my hair stand on end. It isn't so much the appearance of the riff itself (there are a number of other musical ties throughout the album), but the way its implemented following a beautiful piece of crunch-heavy business with a set of lyrics closely tied to the original opus. You know its coming, and then it hits ya. There are a good number of other such great moments sprinkled throughout the album, but the problem is that 90% of the compositions are flawed in some way.
Before I go into a big ol' list of said problems I'd like to discuss new keyboardist Jordan Rudess a little bit. Firstly, Jordan Rudess is a master of his instrument. I personally can't think of any keyboardist who can match his chops. The man could play circles around Kevin Moore. However, Jordan Rudess is not a master of composition. This guy is a weapon, and his skills have to be utilized while curbing his excesses. Unfortunately, Dream Theater was coming off of the difficult Falling Into Infinity sessions in which they were forced to write in a more commercial vein and as such they were in the mood to wank and wank hard. Thus, JR is allowed to run free and run away with songs. My main source of irritation with this album is how overextended and useless so many of the solo sections are. "Beyond This Life" has, for my money, one of the most annoying wank-sections in the DT catalogue. From the Zappa-esque goofy soloing, to the nearly two-minute trumpet-patch keyboard solo abortion, to the fact that this monstrosity has burst Alien-like from the carcass of a solid piece of speed metal business it makes my brain hurt. And look away, please, from the tuneless hell of cut-and-paste instrumentalist clinic "The Dance of Eternity". Six absolutely worthless minutes you will not get back. Not to mention the fact that it follows about five minutes of equally worthless and pointless wankery at the end of the initially flawless "Home". This isn't Jordan's fault, Portnoy and Petrucci are equally culpable.
Besides doing harm to the individual compositions they infest, these faceless solo sections also make the album a long, tough slog through its near eighty minute run time. By the end of the end of the thing great portions of the album will probably seem blank, great expanses of time that are as brown and dead as the album's cover. The recurring riff phenomena that was exploited to such perfection on Awake here becomes another anchor as I remember the first maybe 150 times I listened to this album I couldn't for the life of me remember, for example, whether "Fatal Tragedy" or "Beyond This Life" came first or even be able to instantly tell which was which.
That said, a few positive words are in order as I do quite like a lot of the record. "Overture 1928" is a tight, melodic instrumental without a trace of fat and some great axe-work from Petrucci. "One Last Time" is a stunning piano-driven ballad (Jordan is absolutely wonderful on the piano, by the way), and it begins the trilogy which ends the album is a grand way. "The Spirit Carries On" is a slightly cheesy Floydian ballad (file next to "Silent Lucidity") with a great performance from LaBrie and a very nice solo from Petrucci. "Fatal Tragedy" is a rock-solid fast rocker (save for its hideous, out-of-place melodic chorus) with one of the few great long instrumental sections on here. And hey, it feels nice to be praising John Petrucci's solos because it becomes pretty slim pickings over the next three LPs. After this they tend to fall into two categories: tuneless shred and cheap melodic solos that border on self-parody.
In the end, Scenes has a solid handful of good-to-great tracks and even the bad tracks usually have some redeeming qualities. I used to rank this album considerably higher, but the fact is this thing hasn't aged all that well. It is markedly more consistent than follow-up Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, but that album just feels more fresh and its high points resonate more with me than the best Scenes has to offer. If I were to venture a hypothesis to explain this, I would have to suggest that it is frustration that robs me of the enjoyment of what is great here. I'm damned frustrated by the subsequent efforts too, but this is the one where the train of thought really ran off the tracks and so it rings melancholy to these ears. Missed opportunities, lost talents...
Our deeds have travelled far
What we have been is what we are
True... and yet...
Stand-Outs: "Home", "Finally Free", "One Last Time"
Like Train of Thought, Scenes From a Memory is a double-edged sword, although it's much more tolerable than ToT because there are no mallcore elements here. The culprit on this album is Labrie's vocal delivery as it pertains to the different characters of this story. This is a concept album, but I'm not totally understanding the concept of it and I just don't like the way it sounds. It's just really fucking annoying for Labrie to be lamenting about Victoria, and for the narrator to say "Open your eyes, Nicholas" on the last song Finally Free, and so on and so forth. Who the hell are these people? If the band isn't going to make it clear to the listeners who these people are, then they should refrain from using their names in the songs, and/or just do away with listing the names in the sleeve altogether. It just makes it really cheesy. If they want to talk about Victoria, they should just refer to her in the third person.
Much of the time, the band just sounds so enthusiastic and
serious about this story, but they don't make me feel it. Also, the excessive soloing detracts from the feeling of the music as well. Yeah, those guitar solos on Fatal Tragedy and Beyond This Life are great if you just isolate them in your mind and don't think it about how it's affecting the overall concept and emotion of the album. It's like saying " Hey, let's sing about this girl who got murdered on Echoes Hill.....oh, nevermind, I'd rather go dancing at the Scottish festival down the street". Three words: Pain of...(You know the last word if you know anything about prog metal)
I will say, however, that the two ballads here are extraordinary and blow away any of the ballads on Falling Into Infinity. Through this Life and The Spirit Carries On are both incredibly emotional without being overdone and cheesy, and they should be on O'Sheaman's list of The Top Ten Prog Metal Songs of All Time if he ever were to create one.
Overall, this album is worth picking up. It's really not all that bad. It's just overrated and a little cheesy, that's all. No Dream Theater album is unlistenable. You should never have to walk down the "remedy lane to the garbage can"(Thanks, stickyShooz. That was funny.) for any of Dream Theater's albums.
What can I say, this is a masterpiece! John Petrucci and the guys released in 1999 what would be called the best prog metal concept album since Operation Mindcrime, and it is well deserving of the title. Scenes From A Memory tells the story of a man named Nicholas who is haunted by the spirit of a young woman who was murdered in 1928. He goes to a hypnotherapist to discover what it means, and discovers a disturbing secret. I won't go into the plot too much here, but it is pretty much impossible to follow without reading the lyrics as you listen.
Now, the music. Each and every member of Dream Theater is a virtuoso at what they do, and on SFAM they really shine. Portnoy's mind-blowing drums and Petrucci's solos lead the album as LaBrie tells the tale. Songs like Overture 1928, Home, and Finally Free make for instant DT classics, while others, like Strange Deja Vu and The Dance Of Eternity (lots of Metropolis Pt. 1 references, as that song was the prequel to this album) are solid songs that can take you away or pump you up, depending on how you listen. Dream Theater doesn't make headbanging music, not many prog bands do. But when all is said and done, you'll probably start singing along.
This is simply an incredible album. Easily the best Dream Theater album I’ve heard, and easily one of the best albums ever too! After Metropolis Pt. 1: The Miracle And The Sleeper back on Images And Words, fans started when part 2 would come around. The answer is this album. And what and album it is!
On the musical front, there simply isn’t a single finger to put on this album. Everything good from previous Dream Theater albums is here. From Petruccis incredible guitar playing, to Myungs merciless bass shredding, to Rudess’ perfect keyboards, to Portnoy brilliant drumming is here. James LaBrie still isn’t the greatest singer the world has ever seen (heard, really), but his performance on Scenes From A Memory is one of his better ones, and his voice really does fit the music quite well. The lyrics could be a chapter of their own; the story of Scenes From A Memory is well worth figuring out, as it adds further to the depth of the album.
Now, this album has wankery. And lots of it. So if that’s not your sort of thing, this probably isn’t the album for you. Petruccis riffs are amazing, and licks like the ones at 2:10 and 2:14 of “Fatal Tragedy” are simply jawdropping. The chemistry between the guitar and Rudess’ keyboard are amazing to listen to, and incredible trade-offs between the two instruments are blasted out in abundance in almost every song. The endless solos on this album are all catchy as fuck, plus the sheer speed of many of them is most impressive. The bass supports the keyboards and guitar very well, and even has some incredible solo moments, like in “The Dance Of Eternity”.
In conclusion, if you don't have this album, you're only doing yourself a huge favor by running out and buying it as fast as humanly possible. For it is one of the most enjoyable albums to be released in newer times. Simply a must for any fan of music.
I recently read a review that said this album is just a show-off of the musicians' talents, and had no feeling at all (although that is a common critic line on Dream Theater). That reviewer could not have been more wrong..
I think he was incapable of understanding how it actually would sound, if this was the case. It would be lots lots LOTS of solos melted together with no structure, I would enjoy to personally spit this reviewer-person in the face just to let him know how stupid he is.
Focusing on the actual album though, it is some over-the-top-and-more playing by some of the greatest musicians in my eyes - however as I said this is NOT an "exhibition" there's loads of structured riffs and leads here which still manages to sound like nothing else you've heard - if you're not a long-time Dream Theater fan that is - cause there are some riffs and words taken from "Metropolis pt. 1" off the 'Images and words' album, but don't think this is some cheap trick - the purpose is to give "flashbacks" to that song since this entire album is the sequel.
What else is there to say, this is one of the most wonderful albums I've heard, and Dream Theater's best to date I think. (although Six degrees.. struck me like a bolt of lightning)