DREAM THEATER — Systematic Chaos (review)

DREAM THEATER — Systematic Chaos album cover Album · 2007 · Progressive Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
2.5/5 ·
Raff
A couple of years ago I was given this album as a Christmas present by my other half. Seen as most of the DT albums I own had been a disappointment to say the least, I would never have bought it of my own accord. In spite of repeated attempts to get into the band, my opinion of them has really never changed - lots of talent, technical chops galore, but ultimately poor songwriting skills. Though the various members of DT play as if their life depended on them, the results never really gel - and their latest effort is no exception.

However, to be perfectly fair, I have found "Systematic Chaos" somewhat easier to approach than the other albums I own, with the sole exception of "Images and Words" (the only DT album I can actually listen to with some pleasure). True, my mind still sort of blacks out halfway through the record, but in some way I have found most of the tracks manage to hold my attention long enough to distinguish one from the other. As most other DT offerings, SC is definitely too long, with two-thirds of the compositions lasting between 8 and 16 minutes - the band have yet to learn that less can be more.

Another rather serious flaw of the album has to do with those songs which are sharply reminiscent of other bands' work. I don't want to use the word rip-off, but this is what came to my mind when I first heard "Constant Motion", which sounds like vintage Metallica with keyboards - while "Repentance" reminds the listener of Porcupine Tree, and "Prophets of War" of Muse. On the other hand, "Forsaken", with its big chorus, is the token ballad which graces every DT album - rather pleasant to listen to, even if LaBrie's voice (still the band's weakest point) does not do it any favours. With "The Dark Eternal Night", the band return instead to heavy metal territory, complete with John Petrucci's heavily fantasy-flavoured (and to me quite cheesy) lyrics.

The same rather embarrassing lyrics grace the two-part epic that bookends the album, "In the Presence of Enemies", whose instrumental parts are as a whole the best thing on SC. In particular, the "Prelude" kick-starts things with pyrotechnic energy and Petrucci's trademark manic noodling, which makes the band's sound immediately recognizable. The other epic of the album, "The Ministry of Lost Souls", is another typical DT track which throws in anything but the kitchen sink, but ends up being ultimately forgettable for all its length. In any case, I am quite sure a different vocalist would improve DT's overall impact immensely, since to these ears the instrumental tracks are almost always the most impressive, in spite of the distinct whiff of self-indulgence that all too often permeates them.

Definitely listenable, at times even somehow enjoyable, "Systematic Chaos" is far from essential, unless you happen to be a die-hard fan of the band, and think they can do no wrong. Not really cohesive nor innovative, it is however a reasonably solid effort from an outfit that, for better or for worse, have almost single-handedly created a genre.
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