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Dream Theater’s tenth release, and the first on Roadrunner, Systematic Chaos marked a new beginning for the New Yorkers. Now, before hearing it, I read a lot of comments stating that it was a lot like Train of Thought. And I can’t help but agree, which is a very good thing, ToT being what it is. Chaos blends the songwriting of an Images and Words or Awake with the riffage of Train of Thought. But, as always, there is a progression in their sound. As different as Octavarium was from ToT, Chaos is different from Octavarium. It is also much better than Octavarium.
This album topples Dead Reckoning by DT’s progressive peers Threshold, which I had once given the top position of 2007 Prog albums. The true masters of progressive metal return triumphantly!
There is much less soloing in this album than the other Dream Theater LP’s, which is a definite improvement after the solofest of Octavarium. More attention is given to the actual idea of the album, instead of to the technicality of the song, giving the record a much more completed sound. This album is epic. Not only do they fill up the entire album (78:44), but the songs themselves have build-up and climaxes that add to the majesty of the whole. Especially the sixteen minute closer, “In the Presence of Enemies, Pt. 2: Heretic/The Slaughter of the Damned”. An exceptional album closer.
Systematic Chaos might just be DT’s darkest affair. With songs like “The Dark Eternal Night” and “The Ministry of Lost Souls”, you’d be hard-pressed to disagree. The lyrics, while sometimes needing a bit of tweaking, fit in perfectly with the songs. The lyrical subjects are always in the negative, a contrast with other Theater albums, where there are usually a couple positive sounding songs. This is a good thing, however, what with the dark moods created by the actual music. The several crushing riffs give rhythm to the songs, something that DT lacked before, especially on Octavarium. This is a definite return to Train of Thought, although, as every truly awesome band, this album progresses beyond what has been done before.
I cannot choose a favourite track from this album. The standout songs are “Forsaken”, “Constant Motion”, The Ministry of Lost Souls” and “In the Presence of Enemies, Pt. 2: Heretic/The Slaughter of the Damned”. I was a little disappointed in “Repentance”, the song that appears to be ‘My Dying Soul” (ToT) pt. II. Just not enough there, I guess. It dragged on and I found it to be boring. “The Ministry of Lost Souls” is comparable to ToT’s “Endless Sacrifice”. While nowhere near as good as the dynamic Sacrifice, Ministry still retains some of the majestic elements of its predecessor. Very cool lyrics in this song, as well. The second part of In the Presence of Enemies is an extremely good song, complete with cool lyrics, rising melodies, rhythmic verses and the typical trade of Petrucci: solos. If I had to pick a fave song, this would be it.
Overall, this album has a very modern sound to it. The diminished soloing give it a better chance of being palatable to the more conventional masses. The production is good, nothing too special, but more than good enough. The vocals, sung by the seemingly unchanging LaBrie, are as well-done as ever, although a trifle annoying at times, but that’s the same with every DT album, with the exception of the impeccable Train of Thought. But the true jewel of this album is the songwriting. Each song seems to flow and meander perfectly, like the caress of a lover. Seamless, this album is. But this beautiful songwriting is typical of Dream Theater, as can be seen most easily on the albums Images and Words, Metropolis…, Train of Thought and now this one. I recommend it to one and all, but most especially to fans of Train of Thought.