In the Presence of Repentance.
My friend Justin wrote a nice, long review of the new Dream Theater album.
Let me start this off by saying I am a die hard Dream Theater fan.
As a longtime fan, I have to say that it’s hard for me to ever dislike the direction they go in. They are progressive, meaning constantly progressing, and so I have always defended their latest work, even their previous release, 8v (Octavarium), which came under certain scrutiny from a large portion of the fan-base.
The key to Dream Theater’s success, as I see it, is based on three important factors; the first and most obvious being their technical lure to any musician or music lover. No matter what style of music you prefer it’s impossible to deny that these 5 band members are other than musical prodigies, and that the music they create would leave any prospective cover band in tears. They are simply that good, and so for many, including me, this is what ensnares you initially.
The second factor, which is in some cases similar to the first, is its musical enjoyment, Aside from the technicality of the playing; the songs are in themselves powerful, catchy, and at times moving. The power of the music combined with the respect and awe of their skill can please many a fan, but here comes the kicker.
The third factor: the connection. How does one connect with a song? Through the lyrics of course. Dream Theater’s lyrics have in the past known to be intelligently written, cleverly devised, and most importantly beautiful, in all senses. The pain of living and of becoming, the ups and downs of love, the odd specific idiosyncrasies of human interaction; these all make one connect with the song. And when the music is thunderous and epic (as most DT songs are), any fan of the prog genre falls in love.
With Dream Theater’s previous release, 8v, fans were on edge about the 2nd factor. The music was technical, the lyrics, while not as wonderful as some previous releases, were still OK. The power of the songs; however, did not seem on par with the rest of the DT repertoire. Any critic of the album will point out each songs lack of “substantiality.” While I do not agree, I can certainly see where this argument is coming from.
The new album, Systematic Chaos, fixed that problem and let’s the listener know it from the very first second. What this album failed to deliver, was a connection. That means the lyrics are silly.
To sum it up, track 1 and 8 (yeah, I’ll get to that) are about a guy who sells his soul to a demon (likely the devil) and fights to get it back.
Track 2 is about someone who gets taken by vampires and doesn’t know they are being sucked of blood.
Track 3 is a “balls to the wall” metal cliché.
Track 4 is about a monster who terrorizes…I don’t even know, its just a monster RAWR!
Track 5 is actually good. It’s the next in the AA saga, thus reflecting actual human emotion: A+
Track 6 is about the war in Iraq. Meh, politics in music: not my cup of tea, but at least its something real, and the music is great so this one works too.
Track 7 is about someone drowning who is saved but their savior drowns (call Alanis Morissette) they become obsessed with crossing to the “other side” where this person is, and in the end they actually do.
Track 8: see track 1
Now let me just say this: splitting up Track 1 and 8 because it’s long was a bad move. Both tracks are good, because the song is good, but track 1 is lost – it just is – and for no reason. If you get this album (which you should) I suggested ripping it on your PC and placing those babies back to back like they should be.
That being said, I can deal with this track because one can assume this battle for a soul is an internal conflict, and so this actually becomes the best track on the album. It is a fantastic piece of music, and the lyrics can assumingly be connected with, so it works. This is what DT is, and a new favorite of mine.
However, I have yet to be abducted by a vampire. Ill let the metal cliché slide, because I’m sure it was fun to play/write. Further, I am not a monster, nor has one recently terrorized me or anyone I know, so I cant really connect their. The AA saga works. The political tirade, gag factor of 10, but it works. The story about drowning can work, if you get into it, but a lot of the time it seems too trying. It’s hard to buy it.
In general the 3rd factor seems divorced from this album. Which is a shame because had it included such lines as “like the spider in the window I wish that I could speak,” “through natures inflexible grace I’m learning to live,” and “still awake I continue to move along cultivating my own nonsense,” then this would easily be one of my favorite albums.
The reason why it isn’t is because I can’t seem to connect with it beyond enjoying the songs and appreciating the music.
That being said, I love the album. It’s DT, its fun to listen to, it rocks. The songs are musically on par with everything DT has ever done. In fact the instrumental pieces are some of the most intricate DT have put out yet. Why complain then? Because this album could have easily been a DT masterpiece had they lyrics been real.
In the end, this album is only the first DT release under a new record label, and it rocks. Judging by the Special Edition documentary, the band had fun making the album, and the lyrics seem to reflect that. It’s an album where the band had fun, as such its fun to listen to; it’s just not the music that moves a person; which so much of the rest of their songs do.
So if the band wanted to come onto a new label and create a fun album that displayed their superior musical abilities, then that’s fine by me. I just hope in the future they keep the demons and monsters where they belong. Under beds and on Iced Earth albums.
Rating: 8.9 (could have been an 11 with connectable lyrics, my scales go to 11, F off.)