“Systematic Chaos” (Special Edition) by Dream Theater

Artist: Dream Theater
Title: “Systematic Chaos” – Special Edition (enhanced)
Label: Roadrunner Records
Release Date: 6/5/2007
Genre: Progressive Rock/Metal
Rating: 4.5/5

After the release of their 20th Anniversary CD & DVD “The Score”, Dream Theater would shock many music fans by signing on to Roadrunner Records, a label who has been giving a home to some seriously cool new acts as well as several legends. Those of us who have enjoyed the music that Dream Theater is so adept at bringing to life would wonder how their ninth studio album would come out when it was done and when you place “Systematic Chaos” on the player you quickly find out your answer. Right off the bat they hit you with a masterpiece of Progressive Metal instrumentalism that calls to mind the bands influences and learning from their past – it’s a mix of Fusion and Prog styling that really comes to life and draws you right into the album from the get go. There are parts of this track that reminded me a little of Progressive Rock giants Emerson, Lake and Palmer and perhaps this is based on the manner in which Jordan Rudess presents one of the keyboard passages. It just reminded me a little of the vibe that was laid down on the classic “Karn Evil 9”. It’s almost five minutes before we even hear a note from singer James LaBrie but when he makes his grand entrance we find him to be as passionate as ever. “Systematic Chaos” is presented on one CD as opposed to the band giving you a couple of disks of music and while there is a chance that the long time follower will take offense to that they should also be aware that no sacrifices have been made in the songs epic nature. There are a couple of shorter numbers such as “Forsaken”, and this will be a crowd favorite since its one of those songs that actually prompts you to sing along with them – LaBrie sounds incredible here as well and this could become the bands first single off the album if such a thing is even sought. When we get to “Constant Motion” we find DT doing their best Metallica for the most part albeit with far better musicianship than them. It’s a mix of standard heavy DT but with the Hetfield vocals coming in every now and again and I am not sure I liked them doing this. The song is ok and might impress the fans who want the heavier side from the band as opposed to grandiose displays of technical ability. Portnoy joins in at times with some vocals as well and seems to be getting better at such contributions. As I listened I began to think of this new album as a slight mix of that which we enjoyed on “Train Of Thought” and “Octavarium”. I would also have to say that this is the heaviest that Dream Theater has been in many years and this could bring a new level of fans to their corner.

“The Dark Eternal Night” is a heavy one and there is a vocal trick done during it that almost comes off as a Black Metal band and I admit that this was VERY different to find DT sticking into their sound. The song progresses at times like Primus with that off time groove that they love to do and as a tune it works and is a true head banger. I’m not sure I want to see this brand of vocals in their stuff again but I applaud Portnoy for giving them a go. The tune “Repentance” is a slower piece that has a ton of Pink Floyd essence to it and while I loved the feel and flow of this track I admit that the voices towards the end were getting a little annoying to listen to. Perhaps I need to focus on what is actually being said the next time around to see if I get it. Portnoy penned the lyrics for this one and has also done so around other tracks on the album with the larger remainder being done by Petrucci, who has written five tunes out of the eight on the recordings. The lyrics are notably darker than much of what the band has presented in the past and this is a good thing as it shows their diversity all the more. The musicianship all over the album is what stands out the highest and it is here where DT becomes hard to review based on how unpredictable they remain and in how they always toss in that which you are not expecting them to do. Without over examining the players I will leave it as the following comments – John Petrucci is one of the best in Prog-Metal as far as guitar goes while Mike Portnoy is continually breaking ground on the drums and inspiring players everywhere with his accomplishments. Jordan Rudess has been a star ever since he joined the band and while many still find the Moore and Sherinian years to their appeal, I feel that Rudess has grown with them and helped the band as a whole grow in new musical directions more than his predecessors ever hoped to. I liked those players myself but something about Rudess always amazes me. John Myung continues to hold the whole thing together and remain quiet and firm as he does so. The recording closes out in typical Dream Theater fashion with a grandiose, multi-layered song that runs just under seventeen minutes. With “In The Presence Of Enemies – Part II” we find the band throwing in everything but the kitchen sink and delivering many different avenues of Progressive Metal treats. It’s a song that needs to be focused on when it plays because there is just so much going on that it is almost a requirement that you do so. I found this to be one of the best and most imposing tracks on the album. The Special Edition of “Systematic Chaos” comes with a bonus DVD that features a 90 minute documentary about the making of the album. On the DVD we find the band in the studio during the recording and rehearsal process as well as talking candidly about it from the control room. We primarily hear from Portnoy who seems to be the master of ceremonies on the segment, but Rudess, Petrucci and LaBrie also give us their two cents about the albums creation. Oddly enough we never hear from John Myung on this film and perhaps he simply does not feel it necessary for him to say anything with the others speaking volumes. Lyrics are included on the booklet and that’s great since it is such deeply brooding stuff for the most part. The SE actually has four more pages than the standard version and some different photos and comes to you in a richly illustrated sleeve around the CD case. The sleeve depicts a traffic light and the most notable color is the green which symbolizes “Go”. I took this as a hint for the fans so let’s all “Go” with Dream Theater on this new adventure. Here’s to the next twenty years, you have a very clear winner with this one.

Track Listing:
1. In The Presence Of Enemies – Part I
2. Forsaken
3. Constant Motion
4. The Dark Eternal Night
5. Repentance
6. Prophets Of War
7. The Ministry Of Lost Souls
8. In The Presence Of Enemies – Part II

Official Website: www.dreamtheater.net

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