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I would like to leave a little disclaimer as follows: “Due to the lengthy nature of this album, its review has been divided into two sections as per discs and were scored separately. The final number was an average of the two. Now I believe it is only fair to warn you that this was indeed my first Dream Theater album, although I have listened to a number of others since then. As a result, I might have a pretty bad bias on the awesomeness of the music compared to a seasoned Dream Theater veteran who bought this album when it was brand new and wrote a review.”
So the first disc on this album contains mostly longer songs, with double digit giants like The Glass Prison, Blind Faith, and The Great Debate. The first song, The Glass Prison, is easily the best song on the album. In the same way, it easily has the best riffing, solos from all instruments, and great lyrics that hit home hard with me. The riffing flirts with thrash metal at some points and heavy Dream Theater riffs common on every album. The three movements have distinctly different themes which add spice to a long song which can very easily get boring. James LaBrie also shines in this song, with interesting vocal effects.
Blind Faith continues the trend of interesting lyrics, as well as with some of the best keys on the entire album. This song is quite awesome, but not quite as good as the first. This trend continues, as Misunderstood has an interesting acoustic intro with a good chorus that gets everybody into it. However, the song is absolutely destroyed (in a bad way) when the weird sets in. The guitars transform into some sort of howl that kills the rest of the setup the beginning of the song provided.
This trend continues, with my least favorite song on the first disc, The Great Debate. The lyrics contain subject matter which I don’t exactly care about unless I’m listening to a political band like Dying Fetus. I have not physically been able to listen to this song all the way through. I get about 8 minutes through it and get sick of the crap I am handed and refuse to call that Dream Theater. The keys are all over the place, LaBrie sound like he just came from the dentist with 6 root canals, and Petrucci plays the guitar transparently.
Okay, now that I’ve calmed down, let’s continue. The disc finishes out with Disappear, a nice mellow song that calms you down from the horrific nightmare of the previous song. Overall this disc presents us with mellow keys that provide a nice backdrop and twist and turn ferociously in sync with the guitar solos, and the guitars switch things up the rest of the time as well. Mellow guitars on Misunderstood and Disappear, skull shattering riffs on Blind Faith and The Glass Prison. Mike Portnoy is all over his set and does not disappoint (except in how he recently left the band, but that’s a rant for another time), with some really fast sections and takes the back seat at times, creating a nice balance. LaBrie shines with his lyrics that contain interesting and original thinking, most apparent in Blind Faith, and as usual throws his all into the song, something that sets him apart. This disc does a nice job of showing how progressive they are with orchestras, acoustic guitar, fun sounds like police sirens and breaking glass, etc., as well as with whatever it is making those sounds on Disappear. Rating: 87%. Best songs: The Glass Prison and Blind Faith, but stay away from The Great Debate.
So now it’s time for round two. The second disc is comprised of one song that is divided into 8 minutes, bearing the name of the album, although each of the movements can be regarded as an individual track that even has a separate name. We are given a lot of variance on here, and this ends up being for better or for worse. The rock opera that they were going for is lost due to a lack of an overarching continuity in all of the songs.
Consistency is certainly found in the overture, which adequately displays all of the movements of the pieces in one fluid sound, succeeding at that rock opera approach. It is instrumental as well, which helps with that. It features an impressive repertoire of sounds, with slow drum sections, heavy orchestra, and some sounds that are difficult to describe on paper but are yet present. Odd sounds also come into play later, in the movement called Goodnight Kiss. This is a particularly disturbing movement, with sound effects that are offset from the typical lightness of a Dream Theater work. As such, I thoroughly dislike this as my least favorite track on the album. The finale also is styled the same as these two, but it is boring and way too drawn out to amount to much while trying to incorporate a regular song. The song is also a low point.
Curveballs are also thrown in the third and fourth movements. The lyrics are rough and tough styled around mental illness, and the instrumentals reflect that. The guitars go from low and heavy tones to technical and unmelodic. James LaBrie adds interesting vocal flavor, and Mike Portnoy lays it all on the line in these songs. The keyboards are barely present here aside from adding a little bit of flavor here and there, where they are overbearing elsewhere on the album. This makes for a very good and heavy section.
The other three songs are grouped together pretty easily. After all, two of them are the same song title. These also deal heavily in mental depression and insanity with their lyrics, and the singing is phenomenal, which is not an accolade I usually patch on vocalists, as I do prefer me some roars and screams. These songs pack way too much keyboard, as piano leads every song and is incredibly overbearing and allows little else progress to be made. The guitars are featured with some nice solos but take a backseat most of the time. I was also surprised by the use of acoustic guitar in the very mellow song that is Solitary Shell (on another note, if you think they stole that from Slipknot, it is pretty sad that a band can become so crappy that their ideas seem better than yours). Portnoy continues in the same fashion here.
This is definitely the weaker half of the album, as things are all over the place and the songs are a bit too varied to maintain itself as a rock opera. The lyrics aren’t even following the same storyline; they just all have to deal with mental health. Nonetheless, there is still some great material here when it is taking out of context. Best movements: 2, 3, 4, and 6. Stay away from 5 and 8. Rating: 78%.
So let’s sum up this album quickly. The drums and guitars are intense in instances, but fail in other situations. Heavy songs are the best on here, with some of the lighter ventures going to waste as they fail to contain many ideas that are good. The keyboards as a whole are overbearing, and I miss the days when the keyboardist was a part of the band rather than a virtuoso. Bass doesn’t come through much but sounds awesome when it does; and the vocals are killer on this album. I believe them to be some of his best. I would say this album is worth getting if you see it, but not exactly worth it to go out of your way. Heck, you might even get away with only buying a few of the songs. In fact, here are some suggestions: The Glass Prison, Blind Faith, The Test That Stumped Them All, and Solitary Shell.