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Systematic Chaos - Dream Theater

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Genre: Hard Rock & Metal - Heavy Metal / Artist: Dream Theater / Audio CD released 2007-06-04 at Roadrunner

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      19.08.2010 00:07
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      Dream Theater's 9th Studio Album

      Systematic Chaos is Dream Theater's 9th studio album, released in the UK on June 5th 2007, and after 2005's Octavarium, it saw the band venturing in a new direction. They had just signed onto a new label (Roadrunner Records) which therefore meant a change of sound was in order - they got darker, heavier and much more aggressive - a sound that many 'classic' Dream Theater fans disliked. Although the heavy sound was heard in Octavarium's predecessor, Train of Thought, I felt that Systematic Chaos is far richer, and exciting.

      Band members...

      James Labrie - Vocals
      John Myung - Bass guitar
      Jordan Rudess - Keyboard and continuum
      John Petrucci - Guitar and backing vocals
      Mike Portnoy - Drums, percussion and backing vocals

      The track listing is as follows...

      1. In The Presence of Enemies, pt.1 (9.00)
      2. Forsaken (5.35)
      3. Constant Motion (6.55)
      4. The Dark Eternal Night (8.53)
      5. Repentance (10.43)
      6. Prophets of War (6.00)
      7. The Ministry of Lost Souls (14.57)
      8. In The Presence of Enemies, pt.2 (16.38)

      Total length: 78.33

      Dream Theater, in Systematic Chaos, not only take a different direction in their sound, but also in what the music is based on. Five of the eight tracks in the album are based on fictional creations, and with these creations, Dream Theater create a dark, mystical theme that runs throughout, enhanced further by the sounds and music incorporated. These stories, plus the lyrics and music, are an acquired taste, especially if you were a Dream Theater fan prior to this release, but I think the album's great nonetheless.

      The album itself is not a concept album, but with theme of darkness running through it, the album is unified. Dream Theater themselves stated that they loved returning to an album where they could just write songs without a concept in mind - there was more freedom. The title of the album, 'Systematic Chaos', is a paradox, in a sense. It is chaos that is organised, and this idea can be seen through the way in which Dream Theater, during their composition process, bring thoughts, influences and musical ideas to the table, and then as a whole, they arrange them into a complete album: Systematic Chaos.

      1. In The Presence of Enemies, pt.1 (9.00)

      In The Presence of Enemies is usually played in its entirety when played live, both parts 1 and 2. However, Dream Theater have split them up to introduce and conclude Systematic Chaos. The first track opens with an extensive scalic descent that leads to a low D, which becomes a long, booming, sustained chord. There is no introduction as such, but the band kick straight into it. A long, heavy and typically progressive instrumental passage follows, where all instrumentalists play quite virtuosic parts. With heavy sounds, the grungey synths work very well. A truly beautiful and lengthy guitar solo ends this section, bringing the tempo down considerably, before, after 4 minutes, a verse begins to arrive.

      Exchanging between 7/4 and 6/4, the verse is rather odd and unsettling, with some strange synth sounds from Jordan Rudess. The chorus is effective to the song, but isn't particularly memorable. A final section builds up to the instrumental conclusion of the first part of In The Presence of Enemies, and Dream Theater here have introduced the album in style. Not only can they show off their skills, but they create an atmosphere that runs throughout the album whilst producing pretty good music.

      2. Forsaken (5.35)

      Forsaken was the second single released from the album, and is about a vampire coming to take the protagonist away. Opening with a mysterious piano riff in an odd time signature, the band interrupt with a fantastic riff. The opening piano riff continues through a verse that emphasises James Labrie's vocal abilities. Although the lyrics are somewhat basic, Labrie sings with emotion, before leading onto a dramatic bridge that prepares the listener for a dreamy chorus. Labrie's vocals soar, the band support, and vocal harmonies enhance the experience beautifully.

      The break continues the emotion, and it features a basic yet effective guitar solo from John Petrucci, before the final chorus. The lyrics are pure cheese in this song, and the music is nothing to shout about from the band, but altogether, I really like the song. It's a ballad with grit, and it works.

      3. Constant Motion (6.55)

      Constant Motion returns to the heavy sound, with a really cool riff, again in an odd time signature. It was the first single from the album. The lyrics were written by drummer and the main man of the band, Mike Portnoy, who suffers from OCD. He feels that he has to juggle a lot of balls at the same time, working with side projects as well as Dream Theater, and claims that his mind is always in 'constant motion'. This song compliments the album title 'Systematic Chaos' too, as the music really is chaotic, yet arranged very well. Although the lyrics are again very cheesy, the music is full of 'balls' and is cool. As a single, the song follows a typical verse-chorus structure, but understandably, the prolonged instrumental break (which is full of musical interest, and never gets boring) was cut down for the radio-edit. The song is great.

      4. The Dark Eternal Night (8.53)

      The Dark Eternal Night is Dream Theater's heaviest song to date. Full of virtuosity, it's progressive metal at its finest, yet I have never warmed to the sound. There is vast rawness in it, especially in the verses and bridges. The chorus is far more euphoric however. The sweeping guitar chord sequence with effects works wonders as a backdrop, and the significantly-different emotion-filled vocals with supporting harmonies compliment it well - it sounds like a blur, but works very well. After a second chorus, there is a break lasting almost three and a half minutes in length, with never stops at one idea. Instead, Dream Theater progress from one musical idea to the next, including a short piano section that sounds like it belongs in a silent movie, relating to ancient theme that runs through the song. The song is actually about a werewolf that awakens and wreaks havoc...

      I don't dislike this song. It is a completely new sound for Dream Theater and although it sounds good, I'm glad that they dismissed it after the one song. Despite their aim to create a very heavy song that is full of complexities, there is substance present.

      5. Repentance (10.43)

      It's easy to say that the slower song is one's least favourite on an album, but in this case, it really is. Repentance is the penultimate song in Mike Portnoy's 12-step suite, which tells of his journey through the Alcoholics Anonymous programme, and to soberness. The song has religious undertones, and the music itself is very laid-back. Being 10.43 in length, the song really drags. However, it acts as a break to not only the album's heaviness, but also to the heaviness of Portnoy's five songs of the 12-step suite.

      The song has a similar structure to The Dark Eternal Night, although the verses and choruses are not hugely different. There are moments in the song that are effective however, but overall, it is far from my favourite track on the album.

      6. Prophets of War (6.00)

      I predict that this track would be the favourite track of a non-Dream Theater fan, but also of quite a few Dream Theater fans too. With blatant Muse influences and the political undertones, the song is bold and strong. The main riff is very powerful, as are the Roger-Taylor-esque backing vocals provided by Dream Theater's drummer, Mike Portnoy. The song is full of interest: dramatic moments, a fan-provided chanting sequence and some fantastic synth effects, and overall, it is definitely one of the best songs on the album, and to some extent, one of my favourite tracks ever written by the band.

      7. The Ministry of Lost Souls (14.57)

      The album's penultimate track is an epic. The song tells a story of a man who sacrifices himself for his other half. The lyrics are typically sub-standard from Dream Theater, but due to the content, they are emotional nevertheless. The music, on the other hand, is fantastic. With constrasting dynamics and a range of timbres and sounds, it never settles down. It's also very evocative, and so it needs to be! The music features quite an aggressive break, but soon returns to the emotional feel for the final chorus and concluding section. This section features a phenomenal effort from Petrucci, who plays over a repeated chord sequence with variations until the song fades out. The song reflects the lyrics so well, and it really is full of emotion - a great addition to the album.

      8. In The Presence of Enemies, pt.2 (16.38)

      I love this song too. It speaks for the whole album, and acts as a symbol for it. It has dark undertones and a fictional story, telling of a tale regarding a heretic who undergoes a rite of passage to become part of a cult of some description. Whether it is a metaphor of something further is up for interpretation, but again, the lyrics are not only dark, but cheesy too. The music is heavy and full of grit, but is exciting and powerful too. It all blends together to make not only this song, but the whole album an experience of formidable expression.

      The part of the song features parts III-VI of In The Presence... in its entirety. The first part, 'Heretic', features moments of pure radiance, especially the 'Angels fall' refrain, which grows in emotion with each of the three times it is heard. Part IV, 'The Slaughter of The Damned', alternates between quite a jumpy feel and a more desperate feel. The next part, 'Reckoning' is purely instrumental, and features, once again, a lot of brilliant musical ideas, as well as virtuosity. Part VI, 'Salvation', concludes the song, and is typically conclusive. It is a grand finale, one which Dream Theater do so well, and it completes the album fantastically, with the line 'Dark master' pretty much summing up Systematic Chaos' very well indeed.

      The album cover and sleeve features art work from Hugh Syme, and although I prefer it to their newer album, I still do not think it's that great. The front cover features a spaghetti junction of some kind (representing 'chaos'), with ants invading (not really representing 'systematic' in any shape or form). The ant thing, I do not quite understand, but at first glance, it's pretty cool. One can find all the lyrics and album notes inside the booklet.

      The album can be purchased as a one-disc (featuring only the album) and as two-disc. The second disc is a DVD, and features a 'making of...' documentary (which is utterly hilarious and very intriguing!) and the album in a 5.1 surround mix. I am glad they included this as I have never thought much to the sound quality of Dream Theater's albums. Produced by the guitarist Petrucci and drummer Portnoy, these guys aren't professional producers, and at times, it shows.

      The album, although not a concept, should be looked at as a whole, like all albums should be. Although each song is on a different topic, there are running themes, contextually, emotionally and musically. It is the unification which really makes an album an album. Dream Theater have ventured in a new direction, and it is one that I really like. The cheese is off -putting at times, and some areas really aren't as strong as other Dream Theater material, but what is here is excellent. For someone who wants to get into Progressive Rock/Metal, particularly the new modern wave we are under, this would be a great place to start.

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        31.01.2009 21:50
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        9.5/10

        The newest studio release by Dream Theater
        1. In The Presence Of Enemies Pt.1 - Long start to an album, provides the foundations for other progressive songs to come off it. Contains a mind blowing Petrucci solo.
        2. Forsaken - Links off 1. nicely, i didnt realise the track had changed
        3. Constant Motion - Opens with a heavy off beat riff that anyone would be proud to have composed. LaBrie really comes into his element in this song.
        4. Dark Eternal Night - My favourite on the album. A dark heavy song with more 'brutal' vocals from LaBrie. If you listen hard enough the bass player is working his hands off!
        5. Repentance - A long song, but not the longest. The sort of song you think mightve been rushed.
        6. Prophets Of War - Completely underrated track, almost every members does a fantastic job, even with ridiculous work rate.
        7. Ministry Of Lost Souls - Longer than 5. but still not the longest. Really shows Dream Theaters progressive side. Combines nearly all genres of music
        8. In The Presence Of Enemies Pt.2 - At a near 17 minutes long, this song could easily take up a trip to the shower if you know all the words. and you will, because its catchy!

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        24.11.2008 14:27
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        ****

        Funnily enough the lead track form the album, Constant Motion, is by far the worst and it's the side of Dream Theater which I really dislike. The track is made up of a mixture of machine gun heavy metal, weak backing vocals from other band members and to top it off, it sounds just like Metallica (in this case Battery).

        By contrast and oddly enough, the second lead track, Forsaken, is the complete opposite and is by far my most favored side of Dream Theater, made up of vocal harmonies with an epic and melodic structure.

        As for everything in between, the well documented tightness and technical ability of the band is exhibited in time honoured Dream Theater style. I felt that it was somewhat muted in the most part too which made for an interesting change (which may well broaden the appeal), and Jordan Rudess is allowed a handful of keyboard and piano solo sports which adds an extra edge to the album.

        Prophets of War is another typical melodic and well written DT track too and other than the aforementioned blip, Systematic Chaos is a noteworthy if slightly less enjoyable follow up to the incomparable Octavarium, which has also enjoyed a fantastic Special Edition issue, complete with embossed card sleeve and 90 minute making of DVD.

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        05.08.2008 11:32
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        A progressive metal showcase of technical skill... but lyrically weak

        Systematic Chaos, Dream Theater's 9th studio release covers, yet again, a vast spectrum of musical ideas. As an ardent Dream Theater fan, I really wanted to enjoy this album as much as possible.

        There are some excellent moments in this record. The opening track "In The Presence of Enemies: Part 1" for example is absolutely excellent - melodic, dynamic, full of energy and leaving the listener eager for part 2. "Forsaken", to me, feels a little too cheesey and predictable - there's not really any new ground covered hear. It's the Systematic Chaos equivalent of Octavarium's "The Answer Lies Within". "Constant Motion" and "The Dark Eternal Night" form a tight, heavy metal pair of tracks. The latter is one of the most monstrously heavy tracks I've ever heard from Dream Theater - from the opening riff you know you'd better prepare for a fully charged musical war!

        Repetence, a 10 minute ballad, is excessively long in my opinion. Lyrically it's one of the stronger tracks, but the voice over section in the middle feels a little embarrassing to listen to. "Prophets of War" again has a rather cringe-worthy "crowd shout-a-long" moment with such cries as "Fight. The. Fear." It doesn't really inspire me at all. Thankfully, the listener is treated to "In the Presence... Part 2" at the end of the album. This is what I'd call "classic modern Dream Theater" - it's almost like Octavarium's little brother.

        Overall, I feel this album is a little embarrassing. It seems to be Mike Portnoy that is really driving the "metal" direction of Dream Theater and, personally, I feel he is steering it towards a slightly cheesy world of "Dungeons and Dragons" in this album. "The Dark Eternal Night" is a prime example of some shameful "epic" songwriting - including such lyrics as "Grotesque creatures battle", "a sickening monstrous sight" and "drifting beyond all time, out of a churning sky". Hmmm...

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        29.06.2008 23:58
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        Dream Theater's ninth album (2007).

        With their most recent album, Dream Theater seem to be taking stock of their career thus far and presenting something of a self-tribute, but one that still continues to move forwards, even if still essentially means blatantly stealing ideas from other bands. Bookended by the slow, grand, keyboard-dominated 'In the Presence of Enemies,' the progressive rock vibe is clear from the onset, and the album benefits from prog's recent resurgence in popularity thanks to bands such as Porcupine Tree, whose style is flagrantly stolen for the tedious fourth instalment of Mike Portnoy's Alcoholics Anonymous epic, 'Repentance.'

        'Forsaken' is a strong vocal-centric song that harks back to the dense sound of 'Awake' and retains commercial credibility, while the follow-ups 'Constant Motion' and 'The Dark Eternal Night' disappointingly revert back to the 'Train of Thought' era where Dream Theater wanted desperately to be the thinking-man's Pantera. You couldn't get a more contrived Kerrang!-friendly single than this. The second half of the album is more long-winded to a fault, especially with the dark but drawn-out 'The Ministry of Lost Souls,' but fortunately 'Prophets of War' keeps the energy up with its electronic beat and Muse worship.

        This is the best Dream Theater album in a long time, but it still shows a band lacking in a characteristic direction, all too easily influenced by whatever happens to be in their CD player during the songwriting sessions.

        1. In the Presence of Enemies, Pt. 1
        2. Forsaken
        3. Constant Motion
        4. The Dark Eternal Night
        5. Repentance
        6. Prophets of War
        7. The Ministry of Lost Souls
        8. In the Presence of Enemies, Pt. 2

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        17.09.2007 13:45
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        Brilliant virtuoso masterpiece

        Fear not, audiophiles, for proper music has returned to save you from the horror of manufactured pop!

        For die-hard Prog-Metal fans, the latest release from Dream Theater, their 9th (and a half if you count A Change Of Seasons), sees the Instrumentally gifted Quintet back to their no nonsense best.

        Whilst the last album, Octavarium was more mellow in places and a bit samey in others, perhaps just a modern retake of the commercialised 1997 release Falling Into Infinity, Systematic Chaos is pretty much all hard driving, mixed meter wizardry.

        At 75+ minutes, this is another epic album, and with only 8 tracks, you can expect plenty of extended instrumental sections to give you your money's worth. Whilst the casual listener may think a lot of DT's work sounds the same - too many notes, several verse patterns to each song, widdly guitar keyboard duels and far too many drums - there is distinct progression by the Berklee trained musicians throughout their career. Gone are the pompous overtones of their debut When Dream & Day Unite or Images & Words, and newly assimilated are the rather brilliant concept ideas of Scenes From a Memory and the hard edge of Train Of Thought. (Plugging the album titles here...). The new sound is distinctly contemporary, yet also unique to DT - in the same way that Snakes & Arrows sounds like a modern album but is definitely a Rush record. (And a plug of another review!).

        Warning: before you read the liner notes and get very confused - the various parts of the concept are within the tracks, starting with Track I, but moving to Repentance before finishing with the ending track - with one part seemingly missing. (I was confused too). The basic concept is based on the struggle of a helpless individual slowly turning to Darkness/Evil, but ultimately finding redemption and the Light. The themes weave through the album - creating a link between the songs that stand alone just fine.
        Track Listings.
        1. In The Presence Of Enemies Pt I
        In a similar vein to their last concept album (Scenes From A Memory), the opener begins with a Medley of the musical themes as a presage to the whole album. It occasionally sounds a bit tiresome - 'when will the singing start!', but actually it's better to think of it as the players warming up!
        James' (LaBrie - Vocals) voice is improving with age, and some throaty yells suit the feeling of the lyrics better than the operatic wails of earlier albums (He was classically trained to wail, rather than the Jack Daniels and best shouter in the band method).
        As the song moves through stop/start verses to heavy choruses, the instruments build to a full on assault before one of those DT endings that you know means the song hasn't really finished - there's just an hour of other songs to listen to first.

        2. Forsaken.
        Basically - this is how Evanescence done without a care for album sales would sound. Poor forsaken chap meets beautiful girl/angel who wants to take him away. Whether she's a servant of the chap above or the one below isn't entirely clear - but the music is damn good, the short guitar solo is especially transcendent, listen closely for pick squeals and feedback to show how hard JP (John Petrucci - Guitars) is playing.

        3. Constant Motion.
        Occasionally - thankfully not too often - MP (Mike Portnoy - Drums), helps out on the singing of his songs, which are usually about Alcoholism, Demons or Nobody liking him. This track is not actually about these topics for a change, and the growling backing vocals complement the Lead quite well. I gave up trying to play along to this track after 4 bars, anticipating replacement finger requirements due to burnout.

        4. Dark Eternal Night.
        Subject matter may offend some - but then, a song about the Dark Lord is nothing new for a Metal Band, although Prog bands do tend to go for a more unfocussed approach to a subject. Mixed meters again - 4, 5 and possibly 6/4. (My brain hurts from keeping track). Odd instrumental section with quirky keyboard sound changes and a devilish ascending scale pattern.

        5. Repentance.
        Self-pity in heaps here, very moody song with excellent leading bass line. The second half features voiceovers from friends and other bands' members who confess/make up stories of guilt and their pleas for redemption.

        6. Prophets Of War.
        Clever play on Prophets and Profit in this one - a thinly disguised rant at Arms Traffickers and the Nations that live to fight wars. The band never shy away from offering opinion on world problems and this is no exception. Great mix of hard edged chorus and bass driven verses.

        7. Ministry Of Lost Souls.
        Simply stunning track. 14 minutes worth, so make sure you're sitting comfortably. Atmospheric verses lead to heavy vocal choruses - almost a retake of Train Of Thought's 'Endless Sacrifice'. Charts the search and release of a young lost soul who can't break free of her life and move on. This song is a pinncale of Progressive Rock, which will divide listeners - it's either perfection to the ear, or the sort of whiny, instrumental show off nonsense that stops them being mainstream.

        8. In The Presence Of Enemies II.
        Begins as the opening track ends, but shifts to a darker, moodier section as the narator is drawn into the grip of the Dark One's Minions - but ultimately wins his redemption and frees himself.

        Ok - so a lot of casual listeners will not enjoy this album. It's too long, too widdly and hurts your brain. In short a masterpiece of Progressive Metal.
        For the slightly timid listener hoping to get into DT, I would perhaps recommend Falling Into Infinity or the far more Operatic and accessible Scenes From A Memory.


        On a final note - as with the last few releases, this album is also available as an Extended set, with a second DVD disc containing a 30 minute 'Making Of' video and some other extras of album goodies.

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      • Product Details

        Disc #1 Tracklisting
        1 In The Presence Of Enemies
        2 Forsaken
        3 Constant Motion
        4 Dark Eternal Night
        5 Repentance
        6 Prophets Of War
        7 Ministry Of Lost Souls
        8 In The Presence Of Enemies