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Progressive rock - one of the most controversial genres in music. I think it's quite like marmite - you really do either love it or hate it. Many people think the music is pretentious, and many others think that the music is over the top. But this review (and probably many others after this) aims to fight against these claims, as I strongly disagree with both of them. Metropolis Part II: Scenes From A Memory by Dream Theater is one of the best albums of music ever written, in every single aspect.
Firstly, what is progressive rock? Or 'art rock' (as many have called it in the past)? Personally, I see a difference between the two, but I feel that this album can be classed as both. Progressive rock is exactly what it says on the tin. Rock music, that is progressing from the norm. So if one defines rock music as a genre of music with a strong beat, usually featuring electric instruments and a drum kit, along with all other features (generally in a verse-chorus structure, generally 4/4 timing etc.), then progressive rock is taking these typical features, and developing them. Dating back to the 1960s, bands from the likes of King Crimson, Yes, Rush and ELP, to Queensryche, Tool and Transatlantic have been developing the fundamental ideas of rock, and I feel that this rate of development has also grown over time. These days, we are seeing songs ranging from 2 minutes to 78 minutes in length, with time signatures ranging from 2/4 to 19/16, to name but a few features...
'Art rock', I see as very different, but very often, due to the nature of Progressive rock, we see overlaps. Art rock, I feel, is expressive music - music that conveys certain emotions - and the artists use musical techniques and a range of sounds to do this. Modern day Romantic music, if you will. Many progressive rock bands take this element in their stride naturally, but bands worth a mention are Porcupine Tree, Muse (yes, 'prog in denial' as I say. Don't even get me started!) and, bringing me back on track, Dream Theater.
This album, Scenes From A Memory, is a perfect portrayal of a band merging both progressive and artistic elements into music. In this album, a story is told. The basic plot is about a man who was a woman in a previous life, and this woman was brutually murdered back in the 1920s. Throughout the album, we learn about her story - a series of shocking truths that lead to a interesting end. As much as I love the whole idea, I cannot help but sense an element of mocking in this album. Mike Portnoy, Dream Theater's drummer, stated that 'Metropolis pt.1: The Miracle and The Sleeper', which featured on the 1992 RIAA Gold certificated album Images and Words, was called 'pt.1' (or 'part 1') as a joke. Dream Theater never intended on writing a second part, until fans pleaded for a sequel...which they eventually received. However fantastical the story is for an album, this is was the genre is all about - and I love it! Even if you don't, the music itself is a masterpiece.
It opens with 'Regression'; a fairly short song that features the voice of the hypnotherapist, who is putting 'Nicholas', the protagonist in the story, 'under', if you will. He is hypnotising him. A brief acoustic and vocal passage follows, that truly is relaxing. Being a past 'hypnotherapee' myself, I could easily follow the album and put myself 'under', and listening to music helped me relax. It was fantastic.
After this song finishes, the album proceeds straight into the following song, 'Overture 1928'. This overture does just what overtures aim to do. If you know Classical music, an overture is an instrumental introduction to choral music (mainly). From experience of Classical music, and Art and Progressive Rock, I would best describe an overture as a summary of themes and ideas, and this is exactly what Dream Theater do. The song itself is fantastic, and features a beautiful guitar solo, that afterwards, expertly progresses from euphoric harmony. You know a good overture when you hear parts of it through the rest of the album - and in this album, you do!
The next song, which again is linked as if it is part of the same song, is 'Strange De Ja Vu'. This is another excellent song - one of the best on the album in my opinion. The music has an aggressive feel to it throughout, but the chorus contrasts very well. The chorus is beautiful, and if you listen to many of other Dream Theater's songs, you will find that their techniques of producing harmonious choruses are great. This is a perfect example, as the well-crafted guitar part alongside the vocal harmonies create a rich texture that leaves you disappointed when the chorus ends. I have found myself repeating this song quite a lot.
This song is bridged by a short song called 'Through My Words', which involves James Labrie singing some meaningful lyrics, accompanied by calm, delicate piano playing from keyboardist Jordan Rudess. The song is a teaser for a similar song that appears later in the album. However short this song is, it really is beautiful.
The piano part of 'Through My Words', though being quite repetitive throughout, changes to bridge the gap to the next song: 'Fatal Tragedy', which again, is dramatically different. Though it initially continues that soothing tone, a sudden dissonant chord breaks the soft thread, and reverts the tone back to aggression, yet a feeling of desperation and sadness is conveyed through the chorus. Though not as powerful as the chorus of 'Strange De Ja Vu', it does still capture emotion very well. The song continues to a lengthy solo section, that is based around interesting chord patterns and motifs. Dream Theater does what comes naturally to them, and implements solos and ideas around these patterns, varying them by using irregular time signatures at irregular points in the music. This exciting break ends with a break down to just piano and the hypnotherapist's voice, leading us into the next song...
'Beyond This Life', the third longest song on the album, clocking in at 11.22. This time is taken mostly by a solo section in the song, where Dream Theater show they're truly progressive side, and...well, show off. But, it's done in style. Never do Dream Theater veer too far away from either end of the spectrum (Progressive and Art), and they maintain their emotive aura throughout this song. The verses and chorus themselves are divine...they once again capture such strong emotion, and the chorus really does make you smile, particularly the final one. However Dream Theater do it, they create the most euphoric of atmospheres...
Remember that song I mentioned earlier, 'Through My Words'. Yeah? Well the next song on the album is called 'Through Her Eyes', and is based around the motifs used in 'Through My Words'. This is the 'ballad' of the album. It opens with a solo female gospel singer, accompanying the quiet, mellow instrument parts - most prominently, John Petrucci on guitar. The introduction is very clear-cut from the rest of the song, and we feel a clear entrance into the song when Rudess on the piano takes dominance, and Petrucci begins to play chordal guitar instead. As I mentioned, it is the 'ballad' of the album, and takes the basic verse-chorus structure, and can be said to be the least progressive song of the album. Nonetheless, it is very 'Art', and conveys such beautiful emotion. It is definitely one of the most moving songs on the album.
This song marks the end of Act I. Yes, the album is separated into Act I and Act II, and yes, you guessed it, we have scenes too - oh hey look, 'scenes', isn't that in the title of the album? Yes Dream Theater have gone all out to make this look like a Shakespearean play to you. You might love it, you might hate it, but just enjoy the music, that's the main thing.
The start of Act II is marked by the song 'Home'. This song is the 12.53 in length and is the longest on the album. It also poses the sharpest contrast of them all. 'Though Her Eyes' - a ballad about Victoria's (that's who Nicholas was in his previous life) death, followed by 'Home', which is an angry song about adultery, and features a passage of a woman orgasming during the break. Top marks for Dream Theater. The song really is epic. With an Indian feel running through it due to the sounds Petrucci uses and the scale in which the song is in, the song not only has a (once again) wonderful chorus, but the solos are sublime, and the general ideas used are brilliant. This is one of Dream Theater's best pieces of work. It's not my favourite song by them, but I'm sure that it is for many fans.
The song is proceeded by the second instrumental of the album, 'The Dance of Eternity'. The title is derived from the final lyrics of Metropolis pt.1: 'Love is the dance of eternity'. This song is intensely progressive, and ventures to time signatures I do not dare to count. I believe on one of the DVDs on bootleg videos the band shows us which time signatures they actually do change to, but I can't remember. I do remember at one point, they are changing time signature after every bar. Many with think this is over the top, or showing off, but you just have to appreciate the musicianship that Dream Theater have. It is fantastic. And to top it off, there is a short piano ragtime passage involved, which made really made me laugh.
The next song is my favourite on the album: 'One Last Time'. A fairly short song, but a gem nonetheless. An introduction, followed by a dense verse, before breaking into a truly moving chorus. The story behind it makes it even more moving (well, at least when it is reprised in the final song of the album), but I will not reveal anything more to you. After this beautiful chorus, there is a break, which contrasts majorly, completely cutting off the 'artistic' elements in the song, and replacing it with progressive elements. I feel Dream Theater have done this deliberately, but again, get the album, learn the story - then you'll see why. When the vocals return however, art and emotion is restored, and a fantastic build-up is created, leading to a climatic finish, preparing us for what is to come next.
If you're not a Dream Theater fan, if you're not a progressive or art rock fan, if you're not even a rock fan, please listen to the following song. I'm not going to say that EVERYONE will like it, but it is one of Dream Theater's most accessible tunes, and it is called 'The Spirit Carries On'. It is beautiful, both progressively and artistically. It conveys powerful, moving emotions, whilst linking it with the rest of the album with a reprise of Regression, and the reintroduction of the female gospel singer. Everything builds up once again to reach a climax, before breaking down in preparation for the finale. 'The Spirit Carries On' is epic, and, there is no other word to describe it but beautiful. If you don't take my advice and listen to this album, at least give me some credit for writing all of this and listen to 'The Spirit Carries On'.
The conclusion. The tying up of loose ends. As the lyric spell out for you, 'This doesn't make any sense'. Despite the perfect, finished feel created by 'The Spirit Carries On', there must be a final scene, to answer all of your questions. Unfortunately, when it's done, you'll probably still be saying 'huh?!!?!', cause it's music for pity's sake. It's not a story written down in a novel for you. Dream Theater are done with epic...I think they whacked out as much as that as they could have done in 'The Spirit Carries On', but 'Finally Free' is an awesome song nonetheless. It ties up loose ends, like I mentioned, while still conveying emotions and being as progressive as you like throughout. The reprise of 'One Last Time' (that I mentioned earlier) is extremely emotional, especially if you've been following the story. And the song eventually fades out...but that's not quite the end.
I've reviewed Metropolis Part II: Scenes From A Memory as well as I can without spoiling it for you, and hopefully I have convinced you somewhat to have a listen. I am passionate about music, and I love the progressive and art rock genres, and I strongly believe that this is one of the best examples you can find of an album from either genre, and one that shows you the best of both worlds.
And I did it all without listening to the album! I like it that much.
In my mind, this is, without doubt, Dream Theater's finest work.
The whole album is one illustriously produced concept - following the twisted story of a young girl's murder in the early 1900s and how a modern man comes to terms with his haunting past.
Musically, this album is breathtaking. Each musician (and there are only five of them, believe it or not!) is an expert in their field. From John Petrucci's soaring, highly melodic and blistering precise guitar playing, to James LaBries strident vocals these guys really know how to rock! They also know how to shift time signatures regularly, surprise the listeners with gentle, gospel-like movements or blow their minds with some intense keyboard-guitar unison solos. It is the keyboard playing that is of particular interest to me. This is Jordan Rudess's first excursion with Dream Theater and he sure pulls his weight! Some may hate his lavish, complex playing style, but I love it!
The songs on this album are, surprisingly, rather catchy. Even though many of them are over 7 minutes in length, there are plenty of hooks, riffs and solos to keep the listener enthralled. Notable pieces include "The Dance of Eternity", "Beyond This Life" and "The Spirit Carries On" - the last of these being a poignant ballad style piece with a really powerful, soaring chorus.
If you're new to Dream Theater - I would recommend you begin here. If you're not that keen on it, try "Images and Words" which includes the track "Metropolis" (you'll notice that Scenes From a Memory is subtitled "Metropolis Part 2" - there's a very clever connection between the orginal song and this full length album).
Considering I have reviewed a fair few concept albums lately from the likes of Marillion and Pain of Salvation I thought I would review what has to be one of the greatest concept albums of all time. This goes beyond the norm and tries to actually tell a story rather than relying on sub-context to guide the listener through its intricacies.
Dream Theater (no, I haven't spelt it wrong - they're American) are a progressive rock band formed originally in 1985 under the name of 'Majesty'. The name Dream Theater, which the band name eventually became, was taken from a movie theatre in California. The group consists of five people each one being classically trained in their particular field which helps create their sound which can be very intricate.
The album is a follow-up to a track called 'Metropolis Pt. 1: The miracle and the Sleeper' which appeared on the bands 'Images and Words' release in 1992. 'Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory' was recorded in 1999 and was voted No.95 in Guitar World's list of the greatest 100 guitar albums of all time.
1 - Scene One: Regression
2 - Scene Two: Pt. I Overture 1928
3 - Scene Two: Pt. II Strange Deja Vu
4 - Scene Three: Pt. I Through My Words
5 - Scene Three: Pt. II Fatal Tragedy
6 - Scene Four: Beyond this Life
7 - Scene Five: Through Her Eyes
8 - Scene Six: Home
9 - Scene Seven: Pt. I The Dance of Eternity
10 - Scene Seven: Pt. II One Last Time
11 - Scene Eight: The Spirit Carries On
12 - Scene Nine: Finally Free
The album begins with the sound of ticking before the voice of a hynotherapist gently leads Nicholas 'under' as he undergoes regression therapy. Nicholas, in this hypnotic state, begins to focus his attentions on a girl named Victoria Page whose life somehow seems to mirror his own. We learn of the recurring dream he has of Victoria whenever he closes his eyes and are given details of the house he enters where he encounters a young girl's reflection in a mirror. The girl is Victoria and she explains why she is 'haunting' Nicholas.
I don't want to give too much of the story away but she tells of the difficult situation she found herself caught up in in 1928 and of her murder which is later recounted in an old newspaper article Nicholas finds.
The band throughout switch time signatures and musical styles as the story progresses from past to present and different emotions come into play. Being classically trained some of the playing is exceptional and very moving in parts. James LeBrie's voice holds up well as he sings of the pain and loss Victoria suffered and the track 'The Spirit Carries On' is the sort of thing you could ask them to play at your funeral without having them raise an eyebrow in disgust. 'Anarchy in the UK' it ain't!
The story is a tangled web of intrigue which can take a few listens to actually gain the complete picture but it is well worth it as what transpires is a work of such unique quality that at times it actually feels like your watching a movie rather than listening to a piece of musical theatre.
The album only reached No. 73 in the US despite being hailed as Dream Theaters 'magnum opus' by fans and critics alike and is a shame as this obviously prevented more people from being made aware of this monumental recording. It can often be the kiss of death when someone sings the praises of some film or piece of music by claiming it is 'the greatest thing since sliced bread' but with this album the critics are right for once.
I came across the band a few years ago now and a lot of their material is very detailed with weird timing and jazz-like soloing but it is never boring. 'Scenes from a memory' takes them to a new level as they attempt to articulate through music a tale of murder, betrayal and reincarnation. If you like your music to be a touch cerebral then you can do nothing better than picking up this album, slapping it on the CD player, turning off the lights and giving yourself up for 77 minutes of prog rock that can beat the others into a cocked hat.
Also posted on Ciao.
This is yet another classic Dream Theater album.
Based on a concept - the story of Victoria- Murder, dreams, and other imaginative ideas are linked into the music. The album starts with the ticking of a clock, and the voice of a physchiatrist speaking. This is a simple and effective start to the album. Similarly the albums ends with a man listening to the radio and being discovered (the radio going into white noise).
The musicians use technically advanced melodies and harmonies to produce what is known as the Dream Theater sound. Classically trained musicians James LaBrie, John Petrucci, Jordan Rudess, Mike Portnoy and John Myung work well together to produce a very popular Dream Theater Album.
Track 2 - Overture 1928 is the only instrumental songs on the album and really shows what Dream Theater are capable of when twinning pop/rock with progressive metal.
I would recommend this to any fan of prog rock, prog metal, or anyone who can appreciate techically advanced musicians at their best!
Dream Theaters 1992 album Images and Words pioneered the progressive metal genre and remains for many the bands best work, finding a perfect balance between the bands influences in prog rock and metal. The albums most technically impressive song Metropolis part 1 was finally followed up seven years later with the most ambitious Dream Theater release yet, 1999s Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From a Memory.
Scenes From a Memory is the bands only concept album, an inevitable release for experimental progressive musicians that became something of a cliché for seventies rock acts. Dream Theaters influences are extensive, but are most popularly cited as prog and classic rock acts such as Rush and Queen on the one hand; 80s metal bands like Metallica and Iron Maiden on the other. Inspiration is a lot easier to pin down on this impressive and ambitious release, the introspective storyline owing to Genesis The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, structural elements and ballads sounding distinctively Pink Floyd (Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall particularly) and the whole character driven prog metal experience furthering the work of Queensrÿche eleven years earlier with Operation: Mindcrime, the single most important influence here.
Reduced to theatrical-trailer-type synopsis, the album deals with a murder mystery from a characters past life that is explored and solved through regression hypnosis. Songs and passages alternate between Nicholas actions in 1999 and his latent memories and dreams of the city in 1928. Expanding on Metropolis Part 1 must have proved slightly problematic due to that songs fairly arbitrary and indecipherable lyrics, which were in fact only added at the last minute due to the record companys wish to avoid an instrumental track, but the band do an admirable job. There are elements of mystery as the story develops, especially by code-naming the two brothers The Miracle and The Sleeper respectively, but unlike Genesis The Lamb, there isnt a great deal open to interpretation.
Dream Theater had earlier proved their integrity with their 25-minute epic song A Change of Seasons, released specially in 1997, and Scenes From a Memory displays the same ability and effectiveness at crafting an extended musical piece that remains consistent, recognisable and strong. The twelve songs on here can all stand alone outside the context of the album, despite the repeated melodies and musical themes throughout.
Displaying admirable prog pomposity, the 70 minute album is divided dramatically into Acts and Scenes:
1. Scene One: Regression (2:06)
2. Scene Two: I. Overture 1928 (3:37)
3. II. Strange Deja Vu (5:13)
4. Scene Three: I. Through My Words (1:02)
5. II. Fatal Tragedy (6:49)
6. Scene Four: Beyond This Life (11:22)
7. Scene Five: Through Her Eyes (5:29)
8. Scene Six: Home (12:53)
9. Scene Seven: I. The Dance of Eternity (6:13)
10. II. One Last Time (3:47)
11. Scene Eight: The Spirit Carries On (6:38)
12. Scene Nine: Finally Free (12:00)
Scenes From a Memory may seem like overkill to some Dream Theater fans, but in truth the bands restraint and sharp focus makes this album far better than it could have been. There are very, very few simple filler tracks, as may be found in albums where the storyline takes precedence over the music: even the obligatory opening track, featuring a hypnotic clock ticking and spoken word vocals, soon becomes a pleasant Pigs on the Wing style acoustic introduction. The later Through My Words is the only song here that couldnt really stand alone, but works as a great introduction to the next.
In contrast to criticism that this album is too prog, it is also often criticised for being too metal. The band has alternated between heavier and lighter eras throughout their career, but Scenes From a Memory is perhaps their thrashiest offering. Beyond This Life, the most well-known song here, is driven by hard and fast riffs and there are many occasions when the band break into an extensive jam: Fatal Tragedy, the strongest and most diverse song on the album, ends with a relentless instrumental section that is a worthy successor to Megadeths Hangar 18. The bizarre instrumental The Dance of Eternity epitomises the slating of this album and as such is a fascinating experience, whatever the listener thinks of it: incorporating all of the musical themes of Metropolis part 1 on instruments as diverse as a honky-tonk piano synth, youd have to be a little crazy to consider this fun extravaganza a true work of genius.
As a cohesive work, the music on this album is all roughly similar. There are slow, soft songs and loud, speedy anthems but nothing that breaks the eerie melancholy gloom of the concept. The Spirit Carries On stands out somewhat in its optimism, and the band make a final intelligent choice in following up with the shattering Finally Free, something of a self-contained third Act (at least that would be the case if this were a film) that turns the limited story on its head. This song combines the best elements of the album that have preceded it and features some acting work to provide easy fodder for critics of the CD (not to mention the opportunity to appropriate the title Finally Free as an expression of relief that the album is finally over).
Scenes From a Memory isnt an easy album to appreciate, but once the listener gets past the oppressive idea of a concept, it should be enjoyed by fans of rock and metal. The album cant be seen as wholly original, owing debts all over the place, seeming especially like a superior version of Operation: Mindcrime that avoids the cheesy and false suburban cyperpunk thing and restrains over-elaborate excess. All of Dream Theaters albums sound admirably distinct and different from each other, but this is doubtless the band at their most focused and creative, and as such deserves a listen by all fans. This isnt my personal favourite album, primarily because the lengthy playing time means the similarity in sound and return of riffs become a little grating and outstayed, but there are very few weak songs. Images and Words remains their most original and enjoyable release, but fans of the bands darker metal side may prefer Awake or Train of Thought. In any case, those put off by Scenes From a Memory should avoid the bands subsequent release, Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, with its pointlessly long running time and failed grandeur.
Dream Theater predictably toured Metropolis Pt. 2 in its entirety after its release, recorded on the Metropolis 2000: Live Scenes From New York DVD which adds a little to the experience through its use of live action, slightly amateurish footage. Thankfully, Scenes From a Memory is an album that can stand alone perfectly well AS an album: many Pink Floyd fans had to watch Alan Parkers version of The Wall to fully understand and appreciate what Roger Waters had been getting at, but there is little hidden in Dream Theaters interesting and ultimately optimistic tale of Depression-era fratricide. The thinking person's thrash metal.
This is Dream Theater's 5th full length studio release, and with the help of new keyboardist Jordan Rudess, they have produced their first concept album, and what I believe to be their best album.
The album kicks off with the lovely acoustic Regression which sets the scene for the whole story, which is too complicated for me to explain. After the lovely end chord of the 2 minute opener, the keyboard kicks in with the anthemic drum rhythm and the album really starts with Overture 1928, a 3 and a half minute classic prog metal instrumental, which leads perfectly into the next song, Strange Deja Vu, which I think is one of the best on the album.
Through My Words is a piano and vocals intro to Fatal Tragedy, which is, in my opinion, the best on the album. The main part of the song is really catchy and the 3 minute instrumental at the end is unbelievable.
Beyond This Life is an important part of the story, and has a great instrumental section, but at 11 minutes long, I think some parts go on for a bit too long, but that's not a bad thing.
The next song, Through Her Eyes is one of the most beautiful ballads ever, and is put in the perfect place, right after Beyond This Life, which is probably the heaviest on the album. The only problem I found with Through Her Eyes is that it fades out, so it doesn't link with the next track, Home.
Many people think Home is the best on the album, but I find it one of the weaker tracks. There's only 1 tempo change, which happens like a couple of minutes from the end of the 12 minute track, and it kinda drags a bit, but it's a great track though.
Then it's prog at it's best with The Dance Of Eternity. This is the craziest, and in my opinion, the best instrumental ever. It has more time and key changes than you can imagine and has parts in 13/8 and everything!
One Last Time is kind of a soft interlude but has an amazing piano part from Rudess, who proves that he can do more than Moore and Sherinian.
The next track, The Spirit Carries On, is one of the best ballads ever. If you thought Through Her Eyes was good, this is even better. A phenomenal solo from John Petrucci (no crazy shredding, but among his best) and a lovely gospel middle section.
The last track, Finally Free, makes you focus on the story more as it comes to the end, and the 'open your eyes Nicholas' at the end really shocked me when I first heard it. It has a great drumming outtro from Mike Portnoy, and he does it even better on the Live Scenes From New York DVD, and it's a very good song overall. After you hear this album, you'll say to yourself 'wow' - This is music.
This is the best album I have ever heard, and if anyone has anything better, then try me.
As some of you may have noticed, this text has been lifted in part from the review ‘Dream Theater – Progressive Music Today’. This, their most recent album ‘Metropolis Part II – Scenes From A Memory’ sees the band reinvent the idea of the concept album and pull it off brilliantly. Set against a rather sinister plot the storyline is propped up perfectly by their tasteful musical arrangements and you’ll have no real problem putting your feet up and listening to this album from start to finish…twice. As with most things they’ve got better with age (not that they’re old) and the calibre of musicianship on this album (complemented magnificently with the recruitment of keyboard god Jordan Rudess), is staggering. When all is said and done though, every time I play the album it ultimately begs the question ‘what the hell are they gonna do next?’ Whatever it is - I can’t wait!
Disc #1 Tracklisting
2 Overture 1928
3 Strange Deja Vu
4 Through My Words
5 Fatal Tragedy
6 Beyond This Life
7 Through Her Eyes
9 Dance Of Eternity
10 One Last Time
11 Spirit Carries On
12 Finally Free