Register Forgot login?

© 2002-2019
Encyclopaedia Metallum

Best viewed
without Internet Explorer,
in 1280 x 960 resolution
or higher.

Privacy Policy

The Great Ascent to Reach A Higher State - 90%

x1StapleGun, February 8th, 2015
Written based on this version: 2009, 3CD, Roadrunner Records

This album was my first proper introduction to Dream Theater, so I've got a lot to owe it - it helped me get into one of the most celebrated prog metal bands of all time. And this is probably their best representation in album form, albeit more a dedication to the longtime fans than something to draw a new crowd in (like their self-titled), I still enjoyed it greatly. It took a while to get into, but I love it. You can keep Machine Head, THIS was my 21st Century Master Of Puppets (so much so that I still think the intro to "The Shattered Fortress" sounds a bit like the intro to "Disposable Heroes")!

As far as Dream Theater albums go, this is definitely one of the heavier albums - made apparent by track names such as "A Nightmare To Remember" and "The Shattered Fortress" and it delivers on that heaviness. The sound manages to be dense without coming across as stodgy, mainly thanks to Petrucci's driving, crunchy and memorable riffage which NEVER AT ANY POINT seem at all boring or repetitive to me, even after repeat listens. This is partly due to, if a riff appears twice in a song, it will be varied somehow. For example, one riff in "A Nightmare To Remember" appears once in 4/4, and again in 12/8 where the meter's a bit messed up. Portnoy's drumming, once again, fits perfectly with the rest of the music, which seems almost as if it's scored in tandem with the instrumentals, as opposed to merely added. A good example is the escalating intensity of round-the-kit rolls in the full band intro in "The Count Of Tuscany". I also find that, on this album certainly, there's an element of groove in the overall style and execution of each song. It's hard to describe with any word that isn't 'infectious'.

One of the most interesting specimens I found was "The Shattered Fortress" which, after some digging and noticing similarities between this and "This Dying Soul" off of Train Of Thought, I found out about the 12-step suite, and that "The Shattered Fortress" was in fact the climax of said suite. It certainly feels like a climax, especially with the fade-in of pounding drums and guitars and epic synth-strings.

Also, despite this being quite a heavy album, each song, save for "A Rite Of Passage", has a very nicely worked-in softer section to counter-balance the heaviness on offer, which gave me some of the greatest pleasure on the entire album. A prime example of this is Jordan Rudess's lap-steel solo in the middle of "The Count Of Tuscany", which for me was a seemingly-endless mental ocean of elation and tranquility, before the coda to by far my favourite track on the album.

The covers on Disc 2 are also excellent. Dream Theater manage to take the song, make it seem familiar to fans of the original and STILL put their own epic spin on it. Before I actually checked, I was convinced that they were originals too, and they're quite a wide mix of impressive covers as well, with names such as Queen, Iron Maiden, and some one-hit wonder glam band from the 80s called Zebra. I would go so far as to say that what Dream Theater adds to these songs makes them superior to the originals. Take Iron Maiden's "To Tame A Land", for instance. I think the added touch of synthesized sitar helps bring a more Arabian feel which evokes wandering a war-torn desert, perfectly fitting the subject matter (the song is based around Frank Herbert's "Dune"). If anything, the entire package is Jordan's album. His keywork is present and mind-blowing on pretty much all the songs, and it manages to impress me every time I listen to it, and envy the fact that, despite being something of a pianist, I could never dream of pulling off what he does.

Disc 3 is a bit of a throwaway, containing the six originals in instrumental form, i.e. minus the vocals, fade-ins/outs and solos, BOO. Ok, so maybe it's not THAT much of a throwaway, but unless you're planning a Dream Theater karaoke night with some of your friends, I can't think of much else to do with it. Still interesting, but it would have been nice to keep the solos, because that's a key aspect of Dream Theater's sound and nature.

In all, this album is primarily fan service, but it can (and did) draw in a new audience, and it's a wholly spectacular offering. Even with the pointless instrumentals on Disc 3, I would recommend you get the special edition as the covers are very good, managing to stay true to the originals while adding a little extra flavour. And even if you get the normal version which only contains Disc 1, you're still in for a voyage of metal ecstasy!