Released: 2007, Roadrunner Records
The members of Dream Theater are certainly some of the most gifted musicians playing in metal today. As they so arrogantly acknowledge in the hour and a half, making of documentary that accompanies the special edition of the new album, SYSTEMATIC CHAOS, some bands have a hard time playing fast; they have a hard time playing slow. This virtuosity has served them well as they established themselves as one of the most innovative bands to enter the progressive metal genre. Earlier albums like IMAGES AND WORDS, AWAKE, and SCENES FROM A MEMORY are all standards within the prog community. However, as time goes on, it seems that they spend less time crafting songs and more time just wanking away. The previous two albums are great examples of the aimless and heartless direction of this once great outfit. TRAIN OF THOUGHT was an aggressive and heavy venture, while OCTAVARIUM slowed things down a bit and had a mellower quality. Both albums were fine for what they were but clearly there was nothing special about them that will be lasting in any way. Sadly, SYSTEMATIC CHAOS is another middle of the road offering that while enjoyable, is nothing that you will still want to listen to ten or fifteen years from now like you do with the aforementioned earlier efforts.
The main problem with SYSTEMATIC CHAOS is that, unlike what the title implies, there really is no unity among this mess. There are a highlight tracks like the opener and closer, “In The Presence of Enemies” parts one and two, though. These tracks are good examples of the Dream Theater finesse capable of flaunting a variety of moods and motifs tied together into a composition of epic scope. “Forsaken” is another highlight song. While not really progressive, it is a fine example of straight forward melodic metal, complete with memorable hooks. “Prophets of War” is another high point that has a unique structure. With almost techno sounds at times, weird Queen-like backing vocals in places, and a fan-provided shouting section, this track, while short, has a very progressive and interesting feel that places it as one of the truly inventive moments.
Unfortunately, there are some absolutely abysmal songs on the album as well. “The Dark Eternal Night,” while being heavy is a complete train wreck. The hardcore verse parts are obnoxious for Dream Theater, featuring melodies with distorted vocal effects that really do not fit the music, leaving them to try and tack on the end of lines in places where they don’t belong. This song does not really sit well with the rest of the album or the entire Dream Theater catalogue, and it features some of the most fruitless instrumental sections on the record, including another pointless circus carousel sounding breakdown by Jordan Rudess. “Constant Motion” is another song that really fails to impress as it features unimaginative riffs and melodies that are mere reflections of eighties-era Metallica or Anthrax. The chorus is also rather out of sorts with the way that they overextend the title to fit the music.
What Dream Theater really needs to do at this point in their career is slow down and spend some time crafting songs again rather than running into the studio and pushing the record button. They need to change up the sounds they use already too. Since SIX DEGREES OF INNER TURBULENCE, the keyboard, guitar, and drum sounds have had the exact same tone on every album. It would perhaps be advantageous for them to do what Rush did on their recent studio venture - get a well-known producer to join them in the studio. They need an objective voice to let them know when they are going off track and someone to breathe a little new life back into their albums. Perhaps then their loyal fans will get another classic record rather than another bland offering like SYSTEMATIC CHAOS. Oh yeah, they need to leave behind the ridiculous horror/fantasy lyrics next time around too.