In 2005 Dream Theater released their 8th album, Octavarium, to some fanfare. The album showed them stretching out a bit, trying out different styles, but still staying true to the musical adventurousness which has set them apart from similar bands in their genre.
While Systematic Chaos still shows those eclectic tendencies it remains much closer to their metal roots with a more straight-ahead crunchy yet polished metal approach making it easily their heaviest album since 2002’s Train of Thought.
The album both opens and closes with the 2 part In the Presence of Enemies, which really makes an excellent set of “bookends” to open and close on.
Next come the albums 2 singles, Forsaken and Constant Motion—placed consecutively. Normally I’d criticize such placement, as it’s better to space out the album’s intended singles to get the listener to listen to the other tracks in between. But these days with the CD being a dying format and given the strength of all of the tracks on the album, placing the 2 singles consecutively matters far less than it might have five or ten years ago, especially given the high caliber and quality of musicianship and composition of the entire album.
The Dark Eternal Night is just an all around fun track. Starting with the exceptional musicianship of John Petrucci and Mike Portnoy, the heavily distorted Portnoy vocals don’t start until over a minute into the song followed shortly thereafter by LaBrie’s recognizable tenor.
Repentance is the next piece in Mike Portnoy’s 12-Step Suite which started detailing his struggle with alcoholism with The Glass Prison on 2002’s Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence album and continued with This Dying Soul (on Train of Thought) and The Root of All Evil (on Octavarium) it starts with the same melodic theme as This Dying Soul with the opening lyric from that song being sung by Mike Portnoy and segueing into LaBrie’s vocals. Generally Dream Theater puts one “slow” or “slower” track on each album for the listener to catch his/her breath before continuing. It’s nice to see this trend continue with Repentance.
With most of the material being written either by Petrucci, Portnoy, or the band as a whole—Prophets of War is the lone James LaBrie songwriting contribution. And what a strong contribution it is. If there’s a third single to be found on the album, this is it. The beat is catchy as is the rhythm guitar riff. And much like with LaBrie’s other political material he expresses a question with hints of discontent without showing the common celebrity pretension exhibited by other musicians in that he doesn’t suggest or offer a solution, just indicating that a solution needs to be found.
The Ministry of Lost Souls tells the story of a man who dies saving the life of another and the questions he would pose to the one he saved. Musically this could just as easily have appeared on Octavarium as it shows similar melodic themes to the title track on that album.
All in all it’s an exceptional album well worth picking up and is, unbelievably, a step up from Octavarium, which was an exceptional and highly impressive album in its own right.