Progressive Metal

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Progressive metal, more commonly know as prog metal, is characterized by genre transgression and instrumental virtuosity. Its signature features are guitar driven songs that have complex time signatures and very intricate playing.

Progressive metal as a genre is associated with acts such as Dream Theater, Fates Warning and Queensrÿche, who had their heyday in the early 1990s, but progressive elements have been fused into metal virtually since the inception of metal. For instance, on their early releases, Black Sabbath would incorporate jazzy passages into their compositions, while also drawing on other genres, and many proto-metal acts also had backgrounds in progressive rock and heavy psychedelic rock. In the early to mid 1980s, some NWoBHM groups, such as Iron Maiden would find direct inspiration in progressive rock acts like Genesis, Yes, and King Crimson and incorporate progressive elements, such as complex song structures, twin guitars and changes in time and tempo into their style, while the cult band Mercyful Fate were known for blatantly disregarding the conventions of composition in popular music, opting for complex and unusual song structures.

So, progressiveness was a part of metal since the inception of the genre, but it was not until the late 1980s and mid 1990s as bands like Watchtower, Fates Warning, Queensrÿche, Psychotic Waltz, and Dream Theater that progressive metal became established as an independent subgenre. These bands would draw both on previously established metal genres, like NWOBHM, and progressive rock acts of the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Especially Dream Theater would become iconic of the genre, and their instrumentation, which includes prominent keyboards, became the blueprint for many progressive metal bands to follow. The music that came out was very diverse and even symphonic at times. Not all of it was overly technical, though some bands such as Dream Theater were very technical, while others, like Fates Warning and Watchtower emphasized odd time signature. Psychotic Waltz incorporated psychedelia into their sound, and Queensrÿche began to operate with complex lyrical themes.

After progressive metal had been somewhat popular for some time, it began to take on more extreme forms such as progressive death metal, and so on. Bands such as Edge of Sanity and Atheist took prog metal to greater heights with their infusion of prog and death metal. Atheist also added a jazz/fusion sound to their music to make it true progressive death metal, as did Pestilence on their jazz-influenced Spheres. Also during this time, bands such as Opeth and Voivod changed their style to a more progressive sound. While Voivod changed in the early 1990’s, Opeth became a more progressive metal band in the late 1990’s which was probably an effect of the progressive metal movement that was going on at the time. Some already established metal acts in other genres would similarly cross over into progressive metal territory, such as Savatage, who - although having a background in traditional metal and power metal - released several progressive metal albums. In parallel with the development of progressive extreme metal genres, many power metal acts would take their music in a more progressive direction, resulting in the subgenre of progressive power metal (which is included under power metal here at the MMA) some of which, like Kamelot and Savatage, would eventually become fully fledged progressive metal acts.

Most bands in the progressive metal genre have their own unique style; whether it is more spacey, more symphonic, or more technical while others follow the Dream Theater configuration to a smaller or greater extent (these are sometimes referred to as 'traditional progressive metal' bands), but they all have an equal balance between the influences. Over the years progressive metal has gained the title of having longer songs then regular metal, and while this is mostly true, it isn’t always.

These bands are here because they are different, in a sense, than regular metal bands because they not only include metal but different genres as well, such as jazz/fusion, prog rock, and classical music, and put them all together to make an enjoyable sound. Bands and releases who include progressive elements in their music, but whose central sound is more firmly anchored in another genre are placed in that genre - for instance, Enslaved, whose style is progressive and experimental but still quite firmly based in their black metal roots, are placed in the black metal category, while mathcore and progressive metalcore bands are placed in metalcore.

Sub-genre collaborators (shared with Avant-Garde Metal):
  • siLLy puPPy
  • DippoMagoo
  • Sisslith
  • adg211288

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progressive metal Music Reviews

AYREON Transitus

Album · 2020 · Progressive Metal
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adg211288
Transitus (2020) is the tenth full-length studio album by Dutch progressive rock/metal project Ayreon. The follow-up to The Source (2017), Transitus wasn't originally convinced as an Ayreon album, which may explain why Arjen Anthony Lucassen has released two Ayreon studio albums in a row without working on another project between them, as is the normal process for him. Because of its origins Transitus is also the first Ayreon album since The Dream Sequencer (2000) to not feature Ed Warby on drums. They are instead played by Juan van Emmerloot. Other regular guest musicians like Joost van den Broek (keyboards) and Ben Mathot (violin) are still featured however. Guest guitar solos on this album are performed by Joe Satriani and Marty Friedman. Transitus was released with an accompanying comic book that tells its story, to be read along with the music, with all the characters designed to look like their vocalists.

Transitus is primarily the story of Daniel, played by Tommy Karevik (Kamelot / Seventh Wonder) and Abby, played by Cammie Gilbert (Oceans of Slumber). Daniel and Abby are a mixed race couple living in 1884 (200 years before the human race destroys itself in the main Ayreon storyline). If we were to talk of Transitus in terms of movie or literacy genres, then we'd primarily call it a romance as the starstruck couple face social prejudice related to their respective stations: Daniel's the son of the lord of the manner (Twisted Sister legend Dee Snider), while Abby is a mere servant. But this is Ayreon, so there are going to be twists of an otherworldly nature, so in fact Transitus is perhaps more than just a romance, but a ghost story. Spoiler alert, Daniel dies in track one. He ends up in a mysterious place between this world and next: Transitus!

Transitus is narrated by Tom Baker (TV's Fourth Doctor in Doctor Who), who adds a dramatic flair to his narration that's sure to get anyone's inner geek bouncing off the walls. Narration is something that for me that can ultimately harm a very good album if done too excessively, but Baker makes this a real treat, conjuring some real gothic horror vibes at times, which fits the music perfectly. Though not a singer, Baker is the only member of the cast in his role as The Storyteller to appear on every song on the album. Tommy Karevik's Daniel, despite his death right at the start of the story, appears the most often of the actual vocalists, but Transitus isn't designed to give everyone even close to equal singing time, so while Daniel is the tale's protagonist his role is primarily featured on the first disc of the album, where he appears on all but two songs. His appearances are reduced on the second disc, as the still living characters' parts in the story are told. Cammie Gilbert's Abby is the second most appearing character, followed by Lavinia, her stepmother, played by Amanda Somerville (Trillium). Lavinia, a medium, becomes haunted by the ghost of Daniel right at the start of the story, but her vocals are only featured on the second disc of the album, where she effectively becomes the lead character, neither hero nor true villain, just misguided.

The remainder of the album's diverse vocal cast are supporting characters. The most important of these is Henry, Daniel's brother, played by Paul Manzi (ex-Arena), who while only appearing as a singer on four songs, is the story's antagonist. He is most vehemently against the union between Daniel and Abby and after Daniel's death is determined to see that Abby pays for it, in which he conspires with Lavinia, who mistakenly believes that Abby killed Daniel, when in fact his death was a tragic accident. Also key on the supernatural side of things is The Angel of Death, played by Simone Simons (Epica), whom Daniel meets in Transitus along with her henchwomen The Furies (Marcela Bovio (ex-Stream of Passion) and Caroline Westendorp (The Charm The Fury)) – though the pair also play the servants of the manor and two of the villagers. Daniel is able to appeal to the Angel's better nature and after some wibbly wobbly, timey whimey stuff revealing the backstory between Daniel, Abby, Henry and Daniel's Father, gives Daniel seven days and seven nights to try to save Abby from the fate Henry has prescribed for her.

Also a part of this tale is Abraham, Abby's father, played by Johanne James (Threshold (drums) / Kyrbgrinder). While his role is much more minor than many of the cast on Transitus, appearing on just three songs, Abraham represents the quintessential 'good man' of the tale, devoted to his daughter and spending his appearances just trying to save the life of first Daniel and then Abby herself. Then there is The Statue, played by Mike Mills (Toehider), who makes a single song appearance, Dumb Piece of Rock, encouraging Daniel to choose Abby over status during the flashback, but whose role is probably all in Daniel's mind (but it is Ayreon so maybe not?). It's surprising to hear Mills regulated to a single song appearance given that he is basically one of Lucassen's favourite collaborators right now, this being his third consecutive Ayreon album (as it also is Karevik's). Dee Snider also appears on a single song, Get Out! Now! as part of the same flashback sequence.

Some other vocalists are also featured on Transitus in small roles as the Villagers, basically cameos, while Dianne van Giersbergen (ex-Xandria / Ex Libris) also appears on the album but isn't playing a role, just providing her soprano voice for a haunting eerie effect. As a vocalist cast it feels much more restrained than some Ayreon albums, especially The Source, with just seven recurring characters appearing on anything from three to eleven tracks each (out of twenty-two), two one off characters, a narrator and Bovio/Westendorp playing multiple characters in a backing capacity, with six additional villagers.

It is a good cast and I like that Lucassen has highlighted rising progressive metal star Cammie Gilbert along with his regular collaborators, as well as Johanne James, who is better known as a drummer than a singer, but I also feel like he may have missed a few tricks with this one. Both Bovio and Westendorp are surprisingly underused despite handling multiple roles and I feel like the story could possible have seen the role of the Furies expanded upon, perhaps with one in support of The Angel of Death's aiding Daniel and one against. I have this image of Bovio's Fury supporting the Angel and Westendorp's rebelling, using her growling voice to full effect instead of the few bits we do hear in the background. There was certainly plenty of running time that could have been used for such a subplot, or any subplot that saw their characters developed more, since as a double CD Ayreon album Transitus is only just of a length that requires that distinction at 80:49 long, making it the shortest Ayreon 2CD. But alas, that was not to be. Additionally Dianne van Giersbergen is such a good singer that her not even playing a role seems almost criminal. And finally the biggest gripe: I can't be the only Ayreon fan who is waiting for the day that Lucassen allows his own voice to grace an album again. Come on Arjen, it's been three albums now!

Just how much this story fits into the greater Ayreon universe is debatable. There are lyrical references in This Human Equation, which not only references The Human Equation (2004) but also the Universal Migrator (2000) albums, but mostly Transitus seems to be very stand-alone. The music itself has some familiarity to it – the guitar riffs are metallic, but overall this isn't as heavy an album as its predecessor The Source and the writing structure is very different, aiming for shorter songs in general, although not to the extremes of The Theory of Everything (2013) and its four long twenty-plus minute suites. But one should expect many tracks that are under three minutes long, doing their job to advance the story between more traditionally structured tracks. The only epic of sorts is the opener Fatum Horrificum, which is in some ways like a very long intro into the story about to unfold. There are other elements of genres heard like symphonic elements and some Celtic folk on Talk of the Town. Much like The Theory of Everything though, it's album that works best when listened to as a whole, considering each disc an separate act.

As such it often feels like the individual highlights are lacking on Transitus. They are here, but with the exception of the Mike Mills sung Dumb Piece of Rock fans should perhaps expect the album's singles to be the most individually memorable tracks, like the Dee Snider led Get Out! Now!, the soft duet between Tommy Karevik and Cammie Gilbert Hopelessly Slipping Away, along with the Simone Simons led This Human Equation and of course Talk of the Town, which features Paul Manzi as the lead singer with support from Karevik and Gilbert. That's not to say that the rest of Transitus isn't excellent, but it is fair to say that it's the Ayreon album that is closest to being an actual musical that you need to experience everything in sequence, narration included, in order to appreciate everything that Arjen Lucassen has created.

While I don't imagine ever ranking Transitus alongside my favourite Ayreon albums like Into the Electric Castle (1998) – my favourite album of all time – The Human Equation, 01011001 (2008) or The Source, I find myself very satisfied with it. It's very easy to get into, immerse yourself in its story (which I hope I didn't spoil too much) and if we can ever get out of these worldwide restrictions because of Covid-19 I can well imagine this getting the full stage show works like Into the Electric Castle and The Human Equation have done. It's very good work from everyone's favourite Hippie once again and dare I say...nice!

ADAGIO Sanctus Ignis

Album · 2001 · Progressive Metal
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siLLy puPPy
Considered by many to be the French version of Symphony X mixed with Rhapsody Of Fire, the progressive power metal band ADAGIO was formed by guitarist Stéphan Forté in the year 2000 after graduating from the CMCN music school (now known as the Music Academy International.) The band was initiated for the love of Yngwie Malmsteem’s virtuosic neoclassical shedding style which Forté mastered without missing a beat. While ADAGIO would later develop a stronger symphonic side of its person a with choirs and elements of progressive rock, this 2001 debut SANCTUS IGNÍS showcases a fairly straight forward style of progressive power metal much in the vein of the US act Symphony X to the point that this could really pass as some lost album of the New York based prog metal champions.

The band originally formed in Montpellier in the south of France but has since relocated to Paris. Ironically the moniker ADAGIO is an Italian term that means “at ease” and refers to a slow tempo whereas the band itself is known for its extremely fast tempos. While not exactly cranking up a storm at the level of say Dragonforce, ADAGIO does turn up the heat on much of SANCTUS IGNÍS with the emphasis on Forté’s neoclassical guitar shredding style however often it does site back in the mix while tapestries of keyboard sound dominate the soundscape. This album consists of 9 tracks and races past the 58 minute mark and while the album contains no sprawling 20 minute behemoths it does have one track, “Seven Lands Of Sin” that just misses the 12 minute mark.

When you’re listening to SANCTUS IGNÍS you really just can’t shake the Symphony X comparisons because at this stage ADAGIO is really the perfect clone of one of the US’s most referred progressive power metal bands. There is a distinct classical underpinning for melodies with stomping guitar riffs that build up tension and climax with sizzling solos carried out with power metal gusto. David Readman has particularly strong vocals and belts out these demanding vocal performances with ease although his talents are overshadowed by the fact he sounds like a gazillion other vocalists out there which is pretty much the problem with ADAGIO’s debut in every regard. This album simply lacks an ounce of originality that sets it apart from any other album in the demanding world of progressive power metal.

The saving grace of SANCTUS IGNÍS is that the musicianship is top notch and the album is not at all an unpleasant listening experience in the least. If you are hell bent for leather to track down every possible band that worships the alter of bands like Symphony X and Rhapsody of Fire then ADAGIO will give you orgasmic sensations until your eyes bulge out however like many bands of this ilk, ADAGIO at this stage is woefully bereft of inspiration and going through the motions for their own sake. Add to that the band isn’t nearly as accomplished as either Symphony X or Rhapsody in constructing interesting compositions that display a wide range of motifs that construct a much larger movement. Music like this has to have a higher purpose that allows the progressive power metal to support otherwise it just feels like an empty shell. I would say that SANCTUS IGNÍS is superior to the first two Symphony X albums but pales in comparison to some of that band’s later efforts. Extraordinary in execution but underwhelming in the compositional department.

CHAOS OVER COSMOS The Ultimate Multiverse

Boxset / Compilation · 2020 · Progressive Metal
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UMUR
"The Ultimate Multiverse" is a compilation album by multi-national progressive metal act Chaos Over Cosmos. The album was released through Narcoleptica Productions in June 2020. The material on "The Ultimate Multiverse" is compiled from the EP's "Chaos Over Cosmos (2019)" and "II (2020)". Chaos Over Cosmos is a duo project consisting of Joshua Ratcliff (vocals) and Rafał Bowman (all instruments and programming), who live in Australia and Poland respectively. The two have never met in person, so all parts are recorded individually and then put together for the final release. The band released their debut album "The Unknown Voyage" in 2018.

Stylistically the music is melodic metal featuring elements from melodic death metal, metalcore, power metal and progressive metal. While there are a lot of differences between the two acts, I think an act like Into Eternity is a valid reference, at least to some point. The tracks on "The Ultimate Multiverse" sounds a bit like they were composed to be played and listened to in instrumental versions, and sometimes the vocals seem like an afterthought. The instrumental part of the music is very busy and especially the omnipresent fast melodic guitar runs and futuristic synths/keyboards dominate the soundscape. The programmed drums are decent, but not more than that, and it´s another example of a release featuring programmed drums where a human drummer could have added so much more to the music. It all becomes a little too sterile, because of the programmed drum sound and stiff playing style.

There´s nothing wrong with the musicianship though, and especially Bowman is an incredibly skilled composer and musician. He knows what he is doing and he is more than capable of playing the adventurous and technically challenging pieces he composes. If he could learn a little restraint and not play a million notes almost constantly throughtout he release, I´d say there is a chance that he could compose some extraordinay material in the future. The material on "The Ultimate Multiverse" is interesting, futuristic sounding, and overall of a good quality, but the vocal parts need to be better integrated and not sound like they were forced upon tracks which were originally composed to be played in instrumental versions. The vocals vary between growling, screaming, distorted with effects raw vocals, and clean vocals. None of the vocal styles are particularly original, but they get the job done and they are generally decent enough.

So upon conclusion "The Ultimate Multiverse" is a bit of a difficult album to rate and describe for that matter. It´s eclectic and adventurous, and there are some very impressive technical playing here and some beautiful melodic parts, but there are also some sterile programmed drums, and vocals which feel a bit like an afterthought and which aren´t particularly interesting, so there are both good and not so good features on the album, and a 3 - 3.5 star (65%) rating isn´t all wrong.

HAKEN Virus

Album · 2020 · Progressive Metal
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siLLy puPPy
Having released its first album “Aquarius” only a decade ago, HAKEN has since become one of prog metal’s most celebrated and anticipated acts with a series of albums and EPs that show a band that loves to change things up on every release without losing the core idiosyncrasies that makes this English band stand out from the prog metal pack. Despite the stylistic shifts from album to album one can easily distinguish the first three albums more focused on the progressive rock side of the equation from the latest three which crank out a more bombastic metal heft often at the expense of falling into the traps of mediocrity which was particularly so on the band’s last album “Vector.” It seemed as if HAKEN was fresh out of ideas and innovation and was resorting to a paint-by-numbers techniques of songwriting but with the band’s sixth album VIRUS, the inspiration seems to have returned and although i wasn’t exactly chomping at the bit to check out a new HAKEN album, i have been pleasantly surprised that this is a well-thought out intricately designed expression of prog metal in the modern era.

Although its merely happenstance that the title VIRUS was picked for an album that came out in the year that is all about microscopic pathogens, the title refers more to mental psychopathies rather than the physical varieties. This album that clocks in just shy of the 52 minute mark encapsulates themes that arise in the form of institutional abuse as well as physical and metal abusive relationships, anxiety, depression as well as suicide. Musically the album merges both aspects of the band’s well known sounds. While rooted in the heavy djent-ish guitar riffs of the later albums, HAKEN has returned to its atmospheric roots by adding emotive counterpoints meticulously engineered and mixed by ex-Periphery bassist Adam “Nolly” Getgood. The result of this grab bag of HAKEN-isms is a stellar well-balanced album that celebrates a decade of prog metal ingenuity cleverly truncated into a single album’s listening experience.

The album starts off with the lead single “Prosthetic” which was the first track crafted by the band and which sets the tone for the entire album’s feel. The track immediately blends the eerie atmospheres with heavy guitar stomping bombast steeped in staccato palm muting action and accompanied by technically infused energetic drum workouts. At this stage in the band’s career i would say they sound more like where Leprous should’ve been heading had they not abandoned their metal origins altogether and steered into sleepy time prog. The album continues with twelve tracks that blend the subtle melodic counterpoints of vocals, guitar and bass with the soaring keyboard accoutrements and jazzy drum workouts. The twin guitar attacks are tastefully reserved with dueling riffs and occasional soloing as extended pastiches of the emotive lyrical directions. The brashness of the slightly atonal djent guitar orotundity during the heavier parts in conjunct with Ross Jennings fragile and expressive vocal parts offer a beautiful contrast that works on all levels.

The highlight of the album has to be the five part “Messiah Complex” which is a tale of the ascent to power, tyranny and subsequent endgame beautifully brought to life by a series of musical motifs and musical gymnastics not heard from HAKEN since “The Mountain” such as the beautiful vocal harmonies heard on “Marigold.” Despite the multi-suite magnitude of these tracks the individual parts are actually quite succinct with most just over two minutes and the grand finale “Ectobius Rex” just missing the five. Some of the most daring prog metal gymnastics occur in these final moments when wrestlers guitars riff up a storm with jittery time signature ambushes and Gentle Giant inspired vocal games emerge unexpectedly in “The Sect” along with angelic atmospheric backdrops and groovy rhythms, sizzling little solos and even a few video game noises. After a climactic finale of the “Messiah Complex” suite, the album tenderly drifts off into the spacey closer “Only Stars” which drops the metal altogether and offers a little dream pop ambience.

While HAKEN started out with a series of strong albums that crafted an intricate display of metal and prog in a powerful combo effect, on “Affinity” the band started to get cold feet and retreated from the more ambitious mingling of styles that got them noticed in the first place. While “Vector” was a step up at least in terms of quality of the composiitons, the band was still suffering from sounding generic and failed to stand out from millions of similar sounding bands. Happy to say that on VIRUS these guys have struck gold again by taking the heaviness of the last two albums and bringing back the diverse elements that made the first three albums so unique. Add a little emphasis on staccato driven grooves and an incessantly eerie atmospheric presence accompanied by strong melodic vocal performances and i can only conclude that HAKEN has made a triumphant return to form. While HAKEN will never rank high as one of my favorite bands of all time, i do enjoy their unique stylistic approach that they have made all their own even if influences are sometimes a bit too close for comfort. VIRUS doesn’t miss a beat and offers an album’s worth of updated HAKEN tunes to allow you to forget about the wild roller coast ride that is 2020, at least for nearly an hour’s length.

HAIL SPIRIT NOIR Eden in Reverse

Album · 2020 · Progressive Metal
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siLLy puPPy
There have been a slew of bands in the 2010s that have given legitimacy to a new style that has become known as psychedelic metal that exists outside of the usual doom and stoner realms that have been fusing heavy psych and the more bombastic chord heft of Black Sabbath. Bands like Finland’s Oranssi Pazuzu and Greece’s HAIL SPIRIT NOIR have perhaps been the most clever in how they have straddled the disparate worlds of progressive rock, black metal and psychedelic rock. HAIL SPIRIT NOIR is a trio from the northern city of Thessaloniki that threw both the prog and metal worlds a curve ball with its 2012 debut “Pneuma” which featured a fresh new twisted take on the fusional possibilities of black metal, prog and heavy psych.

In the beginning the band’s focus was heavy on the metal side of the equation but as each subsequent album that followed: “Oi Magoi” and “Mayhem In Blue,” it became clear that this was a band that could maintain the exact same recipe of ingredients but created a completely new album simply by changing the ratio of the musical elements on board. Celebrating a decade of existence, HAIL SPIRIT NOIR returns four years after its last release with its fourth album EDEN IN REVERSE which sheds much of the black metal of the previous output and shifts into a psychedelic swirling vortex of heavy prog laced with keyboard rich gymnastics that add the most spectacular spaced out trips into the unpredictable band’s antics that finds more influences from synth bands like Kraftwerk rather than Darkthrone.

The album which sounds like a retrofuturisitc jump into the soundtrack of “The Twilight Zone” indeed brings much retro charm to its near 43 minute run with trippy oscillating Moog synthesizers bringing a time bending wobble effect to the majority of the album’s run. Gone are the raspy black metal vocals and the new clean vocals display a mood of nonchalance as if the space portal jumping experience is just too exhausting to get excited about however a blood curdling scream or two pierces the veil every now and again. In many ways EDEN IN REVERSES reminds me of a much more psychedelic version of post-black metal Ulver than anything from HAIL SPIRIT NOIR’s prior repertoire. This album hosts seven exquisitely designed tunes that find the perfect balance between electro-robotic detachment and heavy prog guitar heft. At times reminding of 70s Pink Floyd (especially in the vocals) and at others like a darker version of Japan’s Ghost that discovered the joys of heavy metal.

The album flows incredibly well as do all HAIL SPIRIT NOIR albums with seamless melodies blending with polyrhythmic complexities made all the more engaging by the barrage of synthesized spaciness which make you wonder if Jean-Michel Jarre is involved somewhere behind the scenes. The band states that this album takes the music out of the retro hybridization of the 60s / 70s and pushes it forward to the 70s / 80s era which eschewed the overuse of the black metal bombast and instead sailed off to planet Lysergia for a more mind-bending psychedelic experience. The results are something familiar yet so far away from where the band has visited in the past. Despite the retro drenched motifs, EDEN IN REVERSE is clearly a product of the here and now with a crystal clear production job and ample doses of extreme metal riffing albeit it set back a bit to emphasize the synth attacks.

Despite the clear detour from the metal universe, the energetic bombast still exists well within the confines of the head banging domain that HAIL SPIRIT NOIR has always occupied. The album was produced and mixed by Dimitris Douvras (Rotting Christ) and mastered by Alan Douches (Nile, Aborted, Whitechapel). Add to that a cameo vocal appearance from Borknagar’s Lars Nedland appears on the track “Crossroads.” Despite HAIL SPIRIT NOIR’s dedication to experimentation that insures that each and every album released carries a distinct personality apart from what came before, the true success of this trio is in crafting instantly catchy compositions that favor melody over avant-garde weirdness and only after an accessible foundation has been laid can all the tricks and trinkets find their way into the mix. What can i say? HAIL SPIRIT NOIR never fails to disappoint and 2020’s EDEN IN REVERSE despite a totally new direction is hardly an exception to that. Excellent!

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AYREON Electric Castle Live and Other Tales

Movie · 2020 · Progressive Metal
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Electric Castle Live and Other Tales (2020) is a live release by Dutch progressive rock/metal project Ayreon. It is a documentation of the second run of official live Ayreon shows following the Ayreon Universe shows and was recorded in Tilburg in September 2019. While the prior Ayreon Universe was a retrospective show, Electric Castle live is a stage version of Ayreon's breakthrough album Into the Electric Castle (1998) with an assortment of songs from other Arjen Anthony Lucassen projects and one cover song.

Like with Ayreon Universe Arjen Lucassen isn't performing himself as part of the live band, but he does reprise his original vocalist role as the Hippie from Into the Electric Castle so is generally on stage more often on this live release than he was on the former. Speaking of the cast most of the vocalists from the original album have returned to their roles on Electric Castle Live; Fish (ex-Marillion) as the Highlander, Damian Wilson (ex-Threshold, Headspace) as the Knight, Anneke van Giersbergen (ex-The Gathering, Vuur) as the Egyptian, Edward Reekers (ex-Kayak) as the Futureman, Edwin Balogh (ex-Tamás Szekeres) as the Roman and George Oosthoek (ex-Orphanage, MaYaN) as one of the voices of Death. Replacement cast members for unavailable vocalists are Simon Simons (Epica) as the Indian (replacing Sharon den Adel (Within Temptation)), John 'Jaycee' Cuijpers (Praying Mantis) as the Barbarian (replacing Jay van Feggelen (ex-Bodine)) and Mark Jansen (Epica, MaYaN) as the other voice of Death (replacing Robert Westerholt (Within Temptation)). The vocalists replacements are well chosen and you'd be forgiven for mistaking them for those who original sang their parts. Of course there is one person I have no mentioned yet, the most notable of the re-casts: actor John de Lancie (best known as Q in Star Trek: The Next Generation) replacing Peter Daltrey as 'Forever' of the Stars, complete with new narration. Marcela Bovio (ex-Stream of Passion), Jan Willem Ketelaers (Knight Are) and Dianne van Giersbergen (ex-Xandria) make up a trio of backing vocalists.

Some of the stage musicians are the same as on Ayreon Universe but with some changes that were likely due to availability from their usual projects. Of course Ed Warby is there on drums and Joost van den Broek on keyboards, with a triple guitar setup of Ferry Duijsens (Vuur), Bob Wijtsma (Ex Libris) and Marcel Singor (Kayak), with Johan van Stratum on the bass. Ayreon regular Ben Mathot is on violin with cello performed by newcomer Jurriaan Westerveld. The most noted guest performer is of course Thijs van Leer of Focus, just as on the original album. He makes his entrance during Amazing Flight and continues to appear both through the album show and the Other Tales segment.

The narration change is the biggest difference that the live version of Into the Electric Castle has to the original. The songs themselves are faithfully performed, more so than much of the material on Ayreon Universe was, with minimal other changes to the flow of the album. Some other changes are the inclusion of a piano solo by guest musician Robby Valentine after Cosmic Fusion; some backing death growls on The Castle Hall and some vocal alternations to include Fish on the final song Another Time, Another Space. Nothing changed is out of place and makes the performance unique from the original. In some ways de Lancie's narration is faithful to Daltrey's original, but is a little jarring at first when you're like me and are so familiar with the original that anything else seems wrong to start with. By the time the show is over though, I've come to realise that the de Lancie narration is in some ways a improvement on the original, especially for the live environment.

The show isn't over with Into the Electric Castle though, as there is more to come. After a quick pre-recorded video introduction by Mike Mills (Toehinder) in character as Th-1 from The Source (2017), the other projects of Arjen Lucassen are worked through: The Gentle Storm and the heavy version of Shores of India (sung of course by original vocalist Anneke van Giersbergen), Stream of Passion's Out in the Real World (with Marcela Bovio on vocals), Ambeon's Ashes (with Simone Simons on vocals), Guilt Machine's Twisted Coil (with Damian Wilson on vocals), a cover of Marillion's Kayleigh (with Fish on vocals, of course), Arjen's solo album Lost in the New Real and after a speech by Lucassen and Joost van den Broek, Star One's Songs of the Ocean as an encore with Arjen on guitar and primary vocals by Robert Soeterboek (making his first and only appearance during the show), Dianne van Giersbergen, Marcela Bovio and Damian Wilson before everyone involved in the show comes out on stage for a climatic sing-alone finale. The extra songs allow some Lucassen work that wasn't featured on Ayreon Universe to also get an airing. The total show is over two and a half hours long, so there's a lot of value for money to be had here.

Where Ayreon Universe gave the overall better airing of the Ayreon catalogue in the live environment, a stage show of a complete album is where the project's music really comes to life. The main cast of singers are all dressed up as their characters, with Damian Wilson coming out in full knightly armour and wielding a sword being the best costume, while Oosthoek and Jansen don black metal style corpse paint in the role of Death. The stage is done up as a castle set, though sadly it doesn't look like the Electric Castle from the original album's cover, but that's probably for production reasons: the castle set is set up to its battlements can be used by the vocalists and musicians as well as the main stage.

So Ayreon Universe or Electric Castle Live? There's no easy answer to that question. Except perhaps to say, both. Once again this is an essential live release from the project that I once thought would never have true live releases. This is especially essential if you're as big a fan of Into the Electric Castle as I am (it's my favourite album of all time) and it's clear that more Ayreon albums deserve this kind of attention.

AYREON Ayreon Universe - Best of Ayreon Live

Movie · 2018 · Progressive Metal
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Ayreon Universe – Best of Ayreon Live (2018) is the second live release by Dutch progressive rock/metal project Ayreon. It follows The Theater Equation (2016), which was a stage adaptation of The Human Equation (2004) in full. Ayreon Universe is presented as more of a traditional live show, featuring a set list covering all of the Ayreon studio albums plus a couple of tracks from Star One's Space Metal (2002) album. There are many reasons why Ayreon has not been performed live until relatively recently (The Theater Equation wasn't even performed as Ayreon though it was released under the name), such as the nature of the project which meant that previously Ayreon songs were only performed on tours for other Arjen Lucassen projects, but there is also the fact that Arjen Lucassen himself isn't a big fan of playing live due to stage fright. He has done it as can be seen on live releases for both Star One and Stream of Passion, but it is something he has often avoided since those tours. So that leads us to the big catch with Ayreon Universe, which might be seen as a deal breaker for some: for the most part, he isn't on stage during this show.

Instead the release is performed by musicians and singers who we might consider the Ayreon extended family. Many of the musicians on stage have been Lucassen's go-to people for some time, mostly notable among these of course is Ed Warby on drums, who has been with Lucassen since Into the Electric Castle (1998), only not drumming on The Dream Sequencer (2000) – that album's Rob Snijders is also performing on Ayreon Universe for a couple of the lighter tracks – and the upcoming Transitus (2020). On keyboards is Joost van den Broek, who has a long history with Lucassen including performing on Star One's Live on Earth (2003) and a regular Ayreon guest since The Human Equation. On bass is Johan van Stratum, who was Lucassen's bandmate in Stream of Passion, while Peter Vink plays on Star One's Intergalactic Space Crusaders. The two guitarists are Marcel Coenen and Ferry Duijsens. Coenen performed a guest solo on The Source (2017) while Duijsens makes his Ayreon debut here, but previously worked on Lucassen's The Gentle Storm project. Elsewhere in the core band are a few names that Ayreon fans will recognise, regular collaborators Ben Mathot, Jeroen Goossens & Maaike Peterse on violin, flues/woodwinds and cello respectively.

Then there are the vocalists. As a project known for its often large casts of different singers on each album, it isn't going to be an Ayreon live show without a while host of talented vocalists getting on board with it. Some of the singers are the same as on album, but elsewhere changes have been made. But the live cast is as good as any studio cast: there are singers who were regulars in Ayreon's early days who may not be as well known in the metal scene in particular, but perhaps are the ones who most deserve to be part of this experience. There are also some of the biggest names in both prog and power metal performing under the Ayreon name on this show. I'm not going to mention them all here: there really are too many to list, so instead I'm going to form this review based around what's taken from each album, so let us go back to the dark ages and The Final Experiment (1995).

The debut Ayreon album is represented by three tracks on Ayreon Universe and fittingly it's the duo of Prologue and Dreamtime that kick off the event. Prologue is altered to instead be in the voice of The Source's TH-1, performed by Mike Mills of Toehider. Mills is a modern Ayreon regular having first appeared on The Theory of Everything (2013). Mills is a standout performer on Ayreon Universe. You can tell that this guy is just so fucking into it as he comes out on stage in full TH-1 costume, bringing a theatrical performance to the stage. We haven't even got into a proper song yet and the man has proved that he is a born entertainer.

Then we get Dreamtime and you can probably see that it's called that and not The Awareness which is what the song is on album. That's because it's edited down for the live show. That is unfortunately a trend with the track selection on the album. Honestly I think that does kinda suck because Ayreon is a prog act and prog is known for it's impressive instrumental work, something Ayreon is no exception to, but I can understand why they've taken this approach on the live show: they're maximising the time for vocalists to be on stage as well as the amount of songs that can get an airing: there is a lot of material that needs to be covered.

Singing Dreamtime is of course none other than Edward Reekers (ex-Kayak), the original vocalist who did the song. Reekers is one of those early Ayreon legends. It's been a long time since Lucassen used him on a studio album (come on you Hippie sort that out!), and this marks his return to the project. For long time fans of Ayreon Edward being here and singing this song must be like nostalgia overload. It certainly is for me and I only discovered Ayreon in 2007.

The other song from The Final Experiment is another classic one: Merlin's Will. On album this was sung by Leon Goewie, the vocalist of one of Lucassen's pre-Ayreon heavy metal bands: Vengeance. Leon is not among the vocalists performing on this show, so instead the song is performed by Floor Jansen (Nightwish), which makes it a unique version. Floor's sister Irene, part of a trio of backing vocalists on this show, previously sang an acoustic version of the song for the special edition of The Final Experiment, but this is the metal version. And Floor rocks on it.

The second Ayreon album Actual Fantasy (1996) is also represented by three songs. One of these is the short title track that on this show leads into Computer Eyes rather than Abbey of Synn, which is the other track performed from the album. Actual Fantasy is the oddball Ayreon album with only three lead vocalists, but two of them are present on the show. One of course is Edward Reekers again and the other is Robert Soeterboek (Wicked Sensation). The latter performs Abbey of Synn on his own and they duet on Computer Eyes. Because the album was structured that differently to most Ayreon albums and was disconnected from the overall concept that The Final Experiment begun, Actual Fantasy is probably the Ayreon album that gets most overlooked by fans, so its good to see that it gets a fair airing.

The third Ayreon album of course was Into the Electric Castle. Into the Electric Castle is my personal favourite album of all time. It would later get the full live show treatment which resulted in the next Ayreon live release Electric Castle Live (And Other Tales) (2020), but on Ayreon Universe it still gets a four track showing, in order of performance: Valley of the Queens, The Two Gates, The Castle Hall and Amazing Flight. The latter two performances are notable for being the two that Arjen Lucassen himself is playing guitar on and singing in the case of Amazing Flight. But first is Valley of the Queens. Initially sung solo by Anneke van Giersbergen (ex-The Gathering), this version is an alternative one for three voices, with Floor Jansen and Marcela Bovio (ex-Stream of Passion) joining her on stage. It's a really good and haunting rendition.

The Two Gates is used as an opportunity to introduce the musicians on stage with the song itself being sung by Damian Wilson (Headspace), returning to his role of the Knight with the Barbarian performed by John "Jaycee" Cuijpers (Praying Mantis). Cuijpers also went on the play the role on Electric Castle Live later on, but here he's an odd choice considering that the original vocalist Jay ven Feggelen (ex-Bodine, another band Lucassen was a part of though they were never on the same album) is actually there and sings the role later on during Amazing Flight. Neither does he sing the character's parts on The Castle Hall, there handled by Robert Soeterboek. Both men do the part well, but it really does beg the question over why when the man himself is present. Good versions though and rightly chosen as staples of the Ayreon discography.

Then we have The Dream Sequencer (2000) and what is the most under-represented album of the night with just one song played: And the Druids Turn to Stone. Damian Wilson sang it originally and of course performs it here too to perfection, actually raising the song in my personal estimations to be honest. There's really little else to say on that. I've have loved Lucassen to come out to do my personal favour Carried by the Wind though, or for perhaps other personal highlights My House on Mars or The First Man on Earth to be included. But I guess they took the Universal Migrator selection between the two albums, speaking of which...

...Flight of the Migrator (2000), the heavy counterpart to the Dream Sequencer, has two tracks featured and they are obvious choices: Dawn of a Million Souls and Into the Black Hole. However neither of their original vocalists are there on the night, Russell Allen and Bruce Dickinson respectively. Busy men, those guys. John "Jaycee" Cuijpers takes on Allen's song Dawn of a Million Souls and ends up being a highlight of the whole show though. I kid you not by the time the man had walked off stage again my first thought was precisely this: 'Damn, Russell Allen just got handed his arse!'.

Into the Black Hole is an Ayreon classic and not just because of who happened to sing it on the album originally. If anything the song is more known in the fan base these days because of Damian Wilson's renditions on the Star One and Stream of Passion live releases. So it comes as a surprise that he isn't the chosen singer for it on this show. Instead Tommy Karevik (Kamelot & Seventh Wonder) performs it for another good, though like many other tracks, edited down version.

Between Flight of the Migrator and the next Ayreon album The Human Equation came the first Star One album Space Metal. Two tracks are featured in the set list, Intergalactic Space Crusaders and The Eye of Ra. As they decided to feature Star One as well I do find it a shame that the second album Victims of the Modern Age (2010) was ignored, but I can't deny they picked a couple of good ones. As Russell Allen is absent, the former track becomes a vocal battle between Damian Wilson and Maggy Luyten (at that time still Nightmare's vocalist) and it's a damn good take with plenty of vocal interplay between the two. The Eye of Ra is the final song of the show and is used as a celebratory climax: with everyone singing it, including many singers I haven't even had the opportunity to mention yet! So moving on...

...The Human Equation is one of the most popular Ayreon albums so it may come as a surprise that it isn't that represented here, with only two songs, the singles Loser and Love, featured. Perhaps that's because The Theater Equation saw that album performed in full, I don't know. Loser is a highlight of the show. It starts with Jeroen Goossens bringing out a didgeridoo for the I dare say iconic intro before Mike Mills starts to sing. Once again you can tell he's really into this just by looking at him. The song is changed from it's original version by swapping Devin Townsend's original manic harsh screaming at the end for four the female vocalists coming down to stage to reject Mill's character Father. Mills draws out the last high note displaying his incredible vocal ability, before giving a shout out to the late Mike Baker, who originally sang the song, which is enough to get any fan of The Human Equation or Baker's band Shadow Gallery choked up.

The version of love features a number of vocalist changes from the original version. Dream Theater's James LaBrie is not here, so the role of Me is taken over by Edward Reekers. Heather Findlay's role as Love is converted to the voice of Wife (Marcela Bovio). Irene Jansen original appeared on the song and is able to step down from a backing vocalist role, as does Lisette van den Berg, a singer that Arjen hasn't really worked with outside of backing roles yet. Robert Soeterboek also takes part and taking over the lines of Fear, originally Mikael Åkerfeldt's part, is none other than Ed Warby in his first Ayreon vocalist role.

01011001 (2008) is the most represented Ayreon album on Ayreon Universe, with five songs, though very edited from their original versions, in order of performance: River of Time, Waking Dreams, Ride the Comet, Comatose and Age of Shadows. River of Time brings out Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian) with Marco Hietala (Nightwish) subbing for Bob Catley's role. It's a very good version, their voices work well together. Waking Dreams is as on album, with Katatonia's Jonas Renske with Anneke van Giersbergen, though edited to not feature notably the keyboard solo originally played by Tomas Bodin, which ends up being jarring to my ears and actually spoils that track a bit. The same vocal team also handled Comatose, again shortened. Jorn Lande originally sang the song and it is one of my favourite light Ayreon songs. This is a good version, but I do really wish Jorn could have been there to do it.

Ride the Comet originally had several singers delivering short lines in its verses, but here Renkse takes over with Floor Jansen for some reason sitting out her bits in favour of the trio of backing singers, while Maggy Luyten does her chorus. Age of Shadows is just that, not the We are Forever deviation, with the vocals shared between Kürsch, Hietala and Floor Jansen. An iconic more recent Ayreon track it's an obvious pick for the show, though I'd have rather seen in played in full, since the vocalists who did the We Are Forever part were Jonas Renkse and Anneke van Giersbergen, both featured elsewhere on this show.

The Theory of Everything (2013)'s tracks is where things get more theatrical and if there's any other Ayreon album apart from The Human Equation and Into the Electric Castle that could perhaps have the full performance stage show treatment it's that one, as the singers prove on the selection of four tracks featured here, with props used and the vocalists visibly acting the parts, a highly of which is the exchange between Tommy Karevik, Marco Hietala and Anneke van Giersbergen during Magnetism.

Finally we come to The Source, the then latest Ayreon album and surprisingly represented by just two songs: Star of Sirrah and Everybody Dies. You'd think the latest album would have more presence here but then maybe not, this isn't in support of that album and it certainly isn't a show from any kind of normal tour. These songs are all done by singers originally on that album with the addition of Luyten, but with some changes due to absences, notably James LaBrie again. Everybody Dies is a highlight, again seeing Mike Mills in his TH-1 regalia.

Arjen Lucassen himself shows up for the final song of the main set which was The Castle Hall and then gives an over ten minute speech about the event before the first encore. Although he talks about his fear of playing live and public speaking he does a pretty good job of it when he does perform on stage and delivers his speech well, a point he does reference himself as it goes on. On most shows I don't think audiences want a band member to speak for over ten minutes, but this is no normal show or normal musician. The audience is rapt and Lucassen's speech is amusing. He has always struck me as a musician to be a very down to Earth and humble man and it is obvious that he is overwhelmed by what has been done with his music for this show and how many people have turned out to see it performed.

In summary Ayreon Universe as a live release does have a few niggles like tracks being edited down, but ultimately it's a minor issues. The whole thing is damn impressive, especially when you consider how many major bands couldn't possibly have plans for the three nights these shows were performed due to their vocalists being occupied with it for ultimately very little time on stage each. It's a massive undertaking to put Ayreon on stage. It's testament to the quality of the music that Lucassen can get such talented people not just to appear on his albums but on stage as well. And despite it's niggles, Ayreon Universe is a damn entertaining show. It's very possibly the best live release I've seen to date.

DREAM THEATER Breaking The Fourth Wall

Movie · 2014 · Progressive Metal
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It seems like it was just yesterday that the Luna Park DVD was released. Now it's another one from the Boston Opera House less than a year later. The show is divided in three acts. The first act is tracks from the last two albums and the song "A Trial of Tears" from "Falling to Infinity". The second act is 5 songs from the "Awake" album to celebrate his 20th anniversary and the third act is the encore celebrating again "Scene from a Memory" with his 15th anniversary. On those 2 albums, the band use the same pattern by starting to play the technical, fast and heavy songs like "The Mirror", "Lie", "Overture 1928" and "Strange Déjà Vu" and finishing with the slower and emotional songs like "Lifting Shadows Off A Dream", "Space Dye Vest" and "Finally Free".

"The Illumination Theory", the most progressive and the epic song of the last album is played with an orchestra in the second act which is the perfect fit with this song that contains an irresistible classical break in the middle. The picture is crystal clear and the camera work more satisfying than the "Luna Park" DVD. As for the sound, I had to crank up the volume very high to get the full sound. Again, I wish we could hear John Myung louder, but that's what happens on live recording, it rarely match the sound quality of a studio release. James Labrie's voice is in nice shape as well as all others members. It's another nice addition to your Dream Theater collection. 3. 8 stars.

DREAM THEATER Dream Theater - Score: 20th Anniversary World Tour Live with the Octavarium Orchestra

Movie · 2006 · Progressive Metal
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AtomicCrimsonRush
I always look forward to putting this DVD on as I know I am going to get the best of both worlds; symphonic orchestrated music and full on Dream Theater prog. I agree with some reviewers that the setlist is not exactly mind blowing but it nevertheless spans the 5 year history. It is interesting the way the orchestra blends into the metal sound, similar to the Metallica S&M concert, or indeed Kiss Alive IV. It is always of interest when metal meets symphony. The DVD "Score" is very well produced, sharp editing throughout and excellent sound quality. There is nothing wrong with the visuals at all, with the band members sharing the spotlight, but the problem lies in the setlist itself. There are too many omissions and some opportunities wasted in the early part of the concert.

It opens with some deadset oddities such as The root of all evil, I walk beside you, Another won and Afterlife. It isn't until Under A Glass Moon that it really takes off showing the power of that brilliant track and Petrucci's amazing guitar solo. Later we are treated with The spirit carries on and the entire suite of Six degrees of inner turbulence; absolutely flawless and indispensable on the live stage. After an ovation the band belt out Vacant, The answer lies within, Sacrificed Sons and the masterpiece epic Octavarium that is quintessential to the band. The Encore: Metropolis Pt. 1 is a brilliant way of ending the concert to a rapturous crowd.

Disc 2 is packed with some hit and miss Bonus material including a mammoth 20th Anniversary Documentary, that has some fascinating info on the band and the way that not everything goes to plan on a tour. Portnoy has too much to say and now it is a bitter taste now he has scarpered and been replaced. The Octavarium Animation is terrific, and the live performances are always a treat including Another Day (Tokyo - 1993), The Great Debate (Bucharest, Romania - 2002) and Honor Thy Father (Chicago - 2005).

The DVD comes with high recommendations due to the visual quality, and overall package. Ignore the early part of the set and just enjoy DT at their absolute best in the middle half of the concert accompanied by masterful orchestration. A must for all DT fans and one of the best DT DVDs available to this point in time.

DREAM THEATER Live at Budokan

Movie · 2004 · Progressive Metal
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AtomicCrimsonRush
One of the first DVDs I saw of Dream Theater before the onslaught of DVDs that have come since. This is an early performance and of considerable interest as a result. These were the glory days of Dream Theater ramming prog down the throats of the hungry Budokan fans. It is an incredible performance best seen than heard though the audio experience offers much as a type of Dream Theater concoction of the best of the earlier years. The CD is good listening but the visual persentation is incredible. There are a few odd surprises scattered in the mammoth set list but the classics are here and played to perfection. Beyond This Life is a huge epic clocking 19:37, and with some dynamic lead guitar from Petrucci. The Test That Stumped Them All is always a killer track live and sounds fresh and powerful with huge bass runs of Myung and Portnoy's slamming percussion.

Endless Sacrifice is an 11 minute gruelling journey into prog excess with a wild keyboard section from Rudess. The Instrumedley to follow features some awesome musicianship. LaBrie is in fine form on soaring vocals, and shines on such compositions as the 14 minute Trial Of Tears and New Millennium. It is always a pleasure to experience a Jordan Rudess keyboard solo and it is as inventive here as ever. There are some amazing songs such as Solitary Shell, Stream Of Consciousness and quintessential Pull Me Under. The set closes with epic 16 minute In The Name Of God. So overall this is a great set with power metal and tons of instrumental breaks. It is progressive and packed to the gills with mind bending virtuoso solos and material from some of their best albums. It was the "Train of Thought" tour so there is plenty from that album as well as "Six Degrees" and "Images and Words" among others.

The special features are wonderful featuring 'Riding The Train Of Thought" a Japanese Tour Documentary of about half an hour, and John Petrucci Guitar World segment, Jordan Rudess Keyboard World, and a Mike Portnoy Drum Solo clocking 12 minutes. The Dream Theater Chronicles - 2004 Tour Opening Video is okay showing the video the crowd saw in the opening, and Instrumedley with multi-angles is lots of fun. Overall it is a fantastic DVD concert, and all Dream Theater fans must have it.

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