Concept albums are usually discs that are only made by the most pretentious of musicians. It is already quite difficult to write a good song and pull it off, but to write a whole album and succeed is insanely tought, and to combine both into a record that has to flow, be coherent and lyrically solid is just incredible if you can make it work. However, it's been done in the past. Queensryche proved they could do it with Operation: Mindcrime. Pink Floyd have the epic The Wall. Rush has 2112. And make a guess; Dream Theater was influenced by all these guys, and want to sit on the shelf next to them.
And they ***ing made it work, too.
This album is classic in every sense of the word. Every note, every riff, every lyrics, every drum beat works perfectly. No song does not belong on here, everything has its rightful place, although there are of course (as usual) tracks that just blow your mind away. I know that I may be a sucker for this grand, progressive, masturbatory side of metal, but this album shows that these guys possess musicianship, songwriting skills, balls, and ingenuity and can combine all that to pull off a terrific record with aplomb.
It's hard to single out anything here, since everything is all intertwined, but one of the standout songs is the epic "Home." Going from a melodic eastern guitar lick to a singalong chorus to guitar solos that make your neck stand on end, such is the speed with which Petrucci needles out the notes, not to mention Portnoy's drum work which is just out of the wazoo, I believe that this may well contend with their other classics such as Metropolis and Learning To Live (not to mention ACOS), as one of the best things they ever did. And there is more proggy epic goodness. Beyond This Life's intro riff is badass. James LaBrie does a great job on the vocals, he is not annoying in any way on here, superb performance, James. We know you can do it. And oh, talking about solos: Beyond This Life's second part is like a seven minute epic jam monster. Rudess, Petrucci, Portnoy... all these men are just masters at their instruments.
Of course, DT isn't just out to write chunky pieces of metal. To make people catch their breath, they added the fantastic pair of ballads Through Her Eyes and The Spirit Carries On. Particularly the latter stands out as being incredibly moving. If I would have to choose a song to play at my funeral, it would be this. The solo is really in synch with the song, LaBrie's vocals are splendid, the piano interludes are insanely atmospherical and overall it's just a great song. Through Her Eyes is awesome in the same way, although the lyrics are slightly cheesier.
And then I still haven't mentioned my favourite moment of this album. After the "gunshot" bit in Finally Free, Petrucci's guitar solo just knocks me off my chair, bed, or whatever I'm sitting on and makes me bow to my cd player in amazement. You don't have to noodle at 3000 npm to make a good solo. It's short, it's sweet, but damn, is it effective.
Another pair of songs where these guys showcase their "we are progressive musicians look how good we are at our instruments" are the instrumentals. I especially like Ouverture 1928, with another Petrucci solo I cannot forget. Sometimes, this guy can be too much all over the album and kind of tower over his bandmates, but damn, on here every solo just works. I'm impressed with everything the guy puts out on here. Not to do injustice to the rest of the guys, who also showcase some superb class (Mike is a ***ing genius on the double bass here), but this album has JP's signature written all over it without being dominant in any way. I find that to be great.
The Dance Of Eternity is the other instrumental, and it just redefines complex. You can scoff at me now, but I'll be damned if anyone is able to copy that. It's insanely technical, complex, and I'm just amazed how these guys can actually pull the song off everytime. How do you remember to play such solos in such odd time signatures at such speeds? It just stumps me.
The rest of the album serves as a narrative to the story (Regression, Through My Words), or is awesome in its own way, but just is towered over by the masterpieces on this dics. Strange Deja Vu is a pretty loud balls to the wall song, with a pretty aggressive atmosphere, chunky riffs, mouthwatering drums and another dose of LaBrie vocals in excellent shape. Fatal Tragedy is like a mini Beyond This Life, it serves well for the story, but it is just kind of overshadowed. One Last Time is very melodic and atmospheric, and the piano ending is just so sweet.
And on top of it it's the lyrics, to which after many repeated listens I still cannot quite completely figure out what it's about. Yes, I know it's a murder mystery, and who killed who is clear now, but the main threads still have to come together. This may be a good thing or a bad thing, but if it's so hard to decipher, or rather too metaphorical, I just think it's another display of ingenuity. It all nicely ties together too, not giving away the clue before the very last song, so you really need to sit out the ride to understand the record, and to make you want more after every song.
Overall this is just a classic album period. If you love metal, get this. It belongs in your collection. If you like progressive with a set of balls, this cd is your man. If you like excellent musicianship, this album is an excellent bet. Anyone can find something to like on here, and if you're not satisfied with the music you can always try to make sense of the lyrics. It's hard to hand out five stars to a record, as very little can be considered classic, but this one definitely deserves it. Dream Theater get a gold star for this one. Highly, highly, highly recommended to any music fan out there.