"Scenes From a Memory" is one of the best prog metal albums of all time, that contains the perfect prog metal sound.
After almost ten listens, after so much effort for trying to appreciate this album, I now consider SFAM one of the greatest prog metal albums of all time. Certainly they were a couple of songs that I loved immediately, ( all the heavy ones). I just couldn’t get the ballads and the slower songs, such as “Spirit Carries On” and “Finally Free”. Now I realize how perfect this album really is.
In 1999, after a few albums behind them, Dream Theater release their ultimate masterpiece, a landmark album for progressive music and most definitely for metal music generally speaking. It’s a concept album, with a complex story of love, past lives, and murder. A little cheesy, if you ask me: in fact, what really made the album in my opinion was the music itself.
All the heavy songs have outstanding musicianship and technique, without even exceeding, excellent, catchy melodies, mind blowing time changes and odd time signatures: basically the perfect prog metal sound. The ballads (The Spirit Carries On, Through Her Eyes) have a touching, heart warming melody, nice vocals by James LaBrie, and some good experimentation here and there. I really don’t understand how I didn’t get them previously.
The structure of the album, since it is a rock opera, is unique for rock music: divided in two acts, which are divided as well in different scenes ( nine scenes in total, five in Act 1, four in Act 2), being in this way similar to a classical opera. There’s only one interlude, which means that the band at the time had many ideas and didn’t need too many fillers. Although, as it happens many times in concept albums, some melodies, ideas, riffs, are repeated pretty frequently, even though they’re always slightly different than the original. I never liked much this songwriting method typical of concept albums, but this album, as well as Phideaux’s “Doomsday Afternoon”, “Quadrophenia” and “Tommy”, makes an exception.
Everything starts with the ticking of a clock, followed shortly by the psychiatrist, one of the story’s characters, speaking. Soon after, an acoustic guitar plays along with James LaBrie a soft, warm melody that reminds Pink Floyd’s “Pigs On A Wing” a little. This Is “Regression”, the intro of the album. The Overture is fabulous. Who could have known that in only a few minutes something like this! Like all overtures, this one is instrumental, with many fast tempos, some slowdowns, some excellent virtuosity, and, of course, a nice, singable chorus.
“Strange Déjà vu” is connected with the Overture, so it seems like it’s one entire song (they form the second scene). The first three minutes are formed by the Overture’s main theme, although this time vocals are present. It’s incredible how a song can remain amazing even adding to it another instrument, or vocals. After the “Overture repetition”, there’s a new part, unbelievably catchy and cool. The song gets slower towards the end of the song, so it can connect to the following song, “Through My Words”, the calm, one minute interlude.
“Fatal Tragedy” has an original theme, a lot more different: an intriguing verse, played also with the piano, other than the guitars, a catchy, slow chorus, and a mind blowing second theme towards three quarters of the song: a complex keyboard driven piece, probably one of the highest moments of the album.
“Beyond This Life” is one of the long songs (eleven minutes). For almost the whole song they keep the same, catchy and heavy riff, even this time completely original. There’s also a nice, calm chorus, and a great bridge towards the end of the track. Another highlight of the album.
“Through Her Eyes” actually is the only 100% ballad of the album. It is always calm, relaxing, with a nice warm melody, very accessible and singable. Despite these things, though, this is the song that I prefer the least, since it also took me a long time to appreciate it like I do now.
I always loved the following track, “Home”, the longest of the album (almost thirteen minutes). Like in “Beyond This Life”, it maintains always the same riffs, with of course some variations, such as time changes. Interesting the sitar used every once in a while, as well as the sound of a woman having a sexual intercourse that comes out at half time.
“The Dance Of Eternity” is one of my favorite DT songs. Definitely their best instrumental song ever. So many time changes, so many mind blowing solos, it just always gives me a grip. All of the musicians are at their highest peak: Portnoy’s complex drumming, Myung’s lightning fast bass solo, Rudess’s amazing rag time piece, and, of course, Petrucci’s shredding action. A must listen to for whoever plays an instrument.
“One Last Time” is a semi ballad, very short, but with a brilliant chorus. Here we can find some repetitions from previous themes.
“The Spirit Carries On” was the song I hated for so much. Now I love it. Probably because it has a very simple, kind of cheesy melody, but after a while it grew on me. Now it even gives me goosebumps! Brilliant chorus, especially when the gospel choir comes in, bringing it to a whole new level.
“Finally Free” was also a downer for me. Just like the previous track, it grew up on me. It’s twelve minutes long, and, just like the other two long songs, it almost alays maintains the same riff and melody. Exception made when the chorus of “One Last Time” is repeated. After almost ten minutes the music stops, and we hear some noises, like a TV, or some footsteps, and, at the very end, the sound of a radio with no signal.
As a conclusion, I repeat that it took a long time for this to grow up on me, but now, it finally did. A masterpiece, an essential album for whoever loves prog rock and metal: your music collection will be incomplete without “Metropolis Pt.2: Scenes From a Memory”.