Dream Theater - _Systematic Chaos_
(Roadrunner, 2007)
by: Kostas Sarampalis (9 out of 10)
Through thick and thin, Dream Theater are still headlining the progressive metal movement, eighteen years since their debut. With albums that amazed and excited (_Images and Words_), confused (_Falling Into Infinity_), re-invigorated (_Scenes From a Memory_), annoyed (most of them) and toyed with plenty more of their fan base's emotions, they never lacked quality and skill.

_Systematic Chaos_, the band's ninth full length, is a well rounded album that contains most of what people have loved Dream Theater for in the past. It also eschews some of the pretension and style-hopping that confused and complicated their last few releases. Straightforward this ain't, but the listener will not find any forty minute songs in here either.

Perhaps the first thing that strikes one's ear in the first listen is how much more focused this album is. With tighter, faster guitars that sound a lot closer to their early releases, without the overtly processed and industrialised feel that had made its appearance since _Six Degrees..._, Dream Theater sound fresher than ever. Upping the speed a few notches is also a very welcome change, with the slow songs that weren't really going anywhere in previous releases being replaced by a rather more introspective mood -- a brooding melancholia if you wish -- where necessary in the course of this album.

The record starts strong with "In the Presence of Enemies Pt. 1", which begins with a four minute intro before any vocals appear. "Forsaken" is melodic and more accessible, whereas Dream Theater once again flirt with their heavy and dirty side with "Constant Motion", and the Arabic-sounding solo two thirds through is bliss. Things get complicated and fuzzy later on in "The Dark Eternal Night", but probably their best song in a long while comes under the guise of the straightforward, hard-hitting and electronics tinted "Prophets of War".

_Systematic Chaos_ is not only perfectly executed, as expected, but it is also expertly produced. It sounds crystal clear, and does not have the slight annoyances the previous few albums had -- like the low, dense sound of _Train of Thought_, for example. This time, it is Petrucci that shines outright with his brilliant shredding, soloing and careful experimentation with his guitars. Portnoy is masterfully non-overwhelming, and Rudess has quite a bit of fun, albeit with some repetition. Still, with several songs clocking the fifteen minutes mark, sometimes the band might lose the listener's attention; but they are quick to lure him back in with tempo changes and interesting passages, as well as their undeniable skill with their instruments.

Whatever one might say about a Dream Theater release and whatever direction the band chooses to take at any point, most of their fan base is so polarised that it is like throwing pebbles on a riverbed. The circles will disappear and will have ultimately made no difference. Yet it is nice to see a band as accomplished as this one take a step back and revisit their past, and with it craft such a fine album.

If you have liked Dream Theater in the past, you should have no problem liking this one too. If, on the other hand, your entire musical universe is comprised of buzzing guitars and the shrieks of a tortured bat, why did you even bother reaching the fourth paragraph? Finally, it is worth mentioning that lyrically _Systematic Chaos_ deals mostly with war and politics, and is very well written. Finally, if you get the limited edition, you also get a bonus DVD with the whole album in 5.1 surround and a video documentary on the making of the album.

Contact: http://www.dreamtheater.net

(article published 4/8/2007)

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