Friday, May 14, 2010

Essential Listening- Dream Theater - Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From a Memory

I have to admit, I'm something of a Dream Theater fanboy. With the exception of some of their earliest albums, there's nothing of theirs I don't like. I honestly believe that they're one of the most talented groups of musicians to ever form, and this album to me is the high point of their entire career and one of the high points of music as a whole.

There is a LOT going on in this album, so I'll start with some general specifics. This is a LONG album. Three of the 12 tracks are over 11 minutes long (Beyond This Life, Home and Finally Free), and each of these is basically the band playing as furiously as possible for as long as possible. These do take some getting used to just because of how long and drawn out they can be, but they're balanced by several shorter and more accessible songs. These include Fatal Tragedy and Strange Deja Vu, which while having incredible solos throughout are also catchy and more conventionally structured songs. There's also shorter interludes (Regression, Overture 1928, Through My Words, and One last Time ranging from a minute to four minutes, and these are actually very enjoyable.

While not really what I would call a "metal" album, it does have its heavier and more metallic moments, involving very fast double-bass drumming courtesy of Mike Portnoy and some good heavy (but still very catchy) guitar riffs delivered by John Petrucci. The tempo is generally mid-to-slow paced and airs more on the progressive rock side, as opposed to metal. The writing here is superb in every area, with elements of classical, jazz, blues, psychedelic rock (Home), ragtime (The Dance of Eternity) and gospel (Through Her Eyes and The Spirit Carries On) all being used and used brilliantly. Since this is Dream Theater, no real explanation is needed on the proficiency of the actual playing; every member here is a virtuoso, period. James LaBrie is brilliant here as well, hitting some absolutely terrific high notes and putting a tremendous amount of feeling and soul into his singing.

The two best parts about this album for me would be the instrumental The Dance of Eternity and the ballad The Spirit Carries On. The Dance of Eternity is nothing short of a mind-blowing display of technicality from the band, with something like 130 time changes in 6 minute song, a ragtime piano solo, an insane bass solo and more guitar and drum solos than you can count. Incredible piece. The Spirit Carries On is quite the opposite; it's a very relaxed ballad but I'm willing to say it's the single best Dream Theater song ever written. Flawless vocals and a guitar solo that would make Pink Floyd blush as well as a full gospel choir, this is the epitome of brilliant.

While Dream Theater have had a fantastic career with some truly brilliant albums, this is the pinnacle of it all. Technically brilliant but still having real soul and emotion in every song, Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From a Memory is definitely essential listening for anyone who likes good music.

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