Dream Theater
Systematic Chaos



by Jeremy Price USER (33 Reviews)
June 5th, 2007 | 79 replies | 10,004 views

Release Date: 2007 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Twenty-one years in, and Dream Theater still know how to be creative, exciting, and powerful, while still blasting you away with their sheer talent.

13 of 13 thought this review was well written

Dream Theater have been riding an odd wave for the last fifteen years. Since the 1992 release of Images and Words, the band has become the undisputed poster boys for progressive metal. Their unmatchable playing ability, coupled with their powerful melodies and balls-to-the-wall energy have made them the idol of metal heads throughout the world.

And yet, the band’s ride to the top has been fraught with turmoil. Pretty much every single album since Images and Words has been viewed as controversial. Falling Into Infinity was too soft, Train of Thought was too heavy, Scenes From A Memory was too technical, Octavarium wasn’t technical enough… The list goes on and on. Unfortunately, most tend to judge Dream Theater on a completely different scale as most bands, leading to under-appreciation from fans. When you take a step back, you can truly see how incredible this band is.

And so, we reach Systematic Chaos. For once, we have an album that mixes all the best parts of Dream Theater’s sound. Equal parts heavy and soft, equally restrained and unleashed, both technical and emotional, Systematic Chaos will shatter any pre-conceived notions of Dream Theater you may have brought to the table.

Of course, this is still a Dream Theater CD. You still get the rapidly shifting time signatures, the virtuostic solos, the massive riffs, and the powerful melodies that have made the band famous. However, what makes this CD special is how well everything is integrated into the music. In Train of Thought, the soloing was spectacular, but because of their awkward placement and sheer abundance, the record sounded overclogged. Now, every solo is placed so perfectly that they integrate seamlessly with the music.

The five minute instrumental opening to In The Presence Of Enemies Pt. 1 demonstrates the band’s new found understanding of their own music. The opening is riddled with guitar and keyboard solos, but you might not even notice, because everything feels like it’s a natural extension of the song. Another plus is that there are never too many solos. Systematic Chaos really is an album built off of great riffs, and to drown them out would be near criminal.

One of the most noticeable changes on this album is how much darker it is compared to the rest of the band’s discography. It’s not a “heavy” darkness, like on TOT, yet there are plenty of heavy moments throughout. Lead single Constant Motion screams Metallica, and vocalist James LaBrie’s Hetfield-influenced vocal stylings are definitely noticeable. But it’s so freaking bad-ass and powerful, you won’t care. The song does later regain some progressive elements by the second half, but it’s still primarily a metal song. The same is true (only more-so) for The Dark Eternal Night, which comes packed full of crunchy riffs and aggressive vocals. Unfortunately, the first three minutes or so are a bit too cheesily faux-aggressive, but the rest of the song works very well.

We do have plenty to go around in the way of softer tracks. Dream Theater finally break their streak of cheesy, sub-par ballads, and put out two of the best slow jams in their career. For starters, we have Repentance, a near 11 minute minimalist ballad, proving something that has for long been in doubt: Dream Theater can write simple songs. The main riff is based off the quiet section of “This Dying Soul”, but becomes its own piece soon enough. The song is very emotional, and it breaks away from its somewhat slow start to provide plenty of interesting little parts to keep you interested. The CD’s “prime attraction” ballad, however, is clearly The Ministry Of Lost Souls. It starts off with a giant sweeping orchestral section playing the piece’s main theme, before retiring into a quiet acoustic guitar playing. This piece is definitely surprisingly catchy, with the beautiful chorus of “Remember me, I gave you life, but you would not take it…”. Of course, the piece doesn’t remain a ballad for too long, and by seven minutes in, the thumping drums enter, and the piece turns on its head. Surprisingly, it’ll keep you interested for its entire fifteen minute duration.

Of course, what’s a Dream Theater album without controversy? The main candidates this time around are Forsaken and Prophets of War, the former of which is the album’s pop-metal song, and most obvious single. Some might accuse it of being too commercially friendly, but it’s a beautiful piece, and Dream Theater master it. From the quick change from piano to crazy riffage, to Petrucci’s perfectly placed solo, the song accomplishes what it aims for. Prophets of War follows the new Dream Theater trend of social commentary (first started with The Great Debate on 6DOIT , and continued with In The Name Of God from TOT and Sacrificed Sons from Octavarium), this time tackling the war in Iraq. It sounds a bit cliché, but Dream Theater do it better than anyone else to this point. Sure, at points it’s cheesy, but what makes the song great is that is loves its own cheesiness, and doesn’t ever try to be too overly serious. The high-pitched vocals that enter a minute and a half in (If you’ve heard the song, you know what I mean) are just so wonderfully unexpected, and add to an already great song.

As I have already mentioned, Systematic Chaos is a very dark album. In The Presence of Enemies Pt. 2, the album’s epic closer, immediately gets the hairs on your arms raised, starting with the sounds of wind, and a very quiet keyboard part from Jordan Rudess complimented by Labrie’s vocals. At 2:21, we finally hear the main theme of Pt. 2 on the piano, and it’s a simple part so dark and dirty, it screams ominous. The piece is, of course, epic, jumping through every sound Dream Theater has become known for, and somehow combining them into one brilliant piece of music. There are so many great riffs throughout, and the lyrics perfectly compliment the dark mood being set. Needless to say, the piece must be heard to understand, because it’s just so brilliant that there are few words to describe it.

Need I even mention the playing ability of these guys? Probably not. But I will say that they’re no slackers on this CD, matching their expected levels of shred, solos, grooves, etc; no one is weak, and everything sounds fantastic. Perhaps even more impressive is how good the CD actually sounds. The production is crystal clear, and you can really hear every instrument throughout (even Myung!) But what really strikes you about Systematic Chaos is that, after twenty-one years together, Dream Theater can still re-invent themselves, and release music that is both creative, fulfilling, and deeply emotional. If this is what the band sounds like twenty-one years into their career, I can’t wait to hear what they’ll sound like ten years from now.

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user ratings (1662)
other reviews of this album
1 of
  • Kenneth E. Rathburn (2.5)
    'Haphazard Mess' would be more apt....

    Thomas Carpenter (3)
    A fantastical Train Of Thought with added instrumental excess...

    Grayson Hale (2)
    Perhaps they should be looking less to their contemporaries and more to their own back cat...

    Locrian (2)
    Systematic Chaos is Dream Theater’s attempt to do what they’re just not very good at....

  • Austin (3)
    Dream Theater does just enough to make a passable album, but it's a disappointment conside...

    Eric E. Smith (4)
    While not as classic as say "Images and Words", Dream Theater's new LP "Systematic Chaos" ...

    Mike Stagno EMERITUS (2)
    Systematic Chaos is an album that showcases a ton of potential, but ultimately falls short...

    Jorn van Schaïk (2.5)
    An album that sounds like Train of Thought + Octavarium rehashed, more devoid of originali...

  • GenuineImitation (4.5)
    This is a great album. It could very well wind up being a Dream Theater classic....

Comments:Add a Comment 
June 6th 2007


Album Rating: 3.5

One note: DO NOT judge this CD on Constant Motion and The Dark Eternal Night. They are in the minority on SC.

The review could be shortened a bit, but I really wanted to delve into each track seperately (there's only eight, after all). If I find some things I think should be edited down, I will. This Message Edited On 06.06.07

June 6th 2007


Hmm... I've yet to hear Dream Theater's new album. Your review has gotten me curious.
Well-written, by the way. It is a bit long, but I found the majority of it enjoyable. I think
it gives a pretty clear view of what to expect of this album; good job! (Way better than
what I could do. :D)This Message Edited On 06.05.07

June 6th 2007


Album Rating: 4.5

Awewsome review Jeremy, but a big longer.
This album is a bit different then the prevous two albums, but thats what progessive metal is all about.

June 6th 2007


Album Rating: 3.5

Mediocre DT album.

June 6th 2007


Mediocre DT album.

Which, according to your rating, is still pretty good.

June 6th 2007


Album Rating: 3.5

I am a Dream Theater fan, and like this album, but it just doesn't compare to their other work. :P

June 6th 2007


Album Rating: 3.0

I heard Constant Motion and probably wont ever listen to it again... but ill pick this up some time, it was my most anticipated album of 2007. Nice review btw, I voted

June 6th 2007


This review is making interested. Good job!

But I hate their ballads and Labries vocals.. it ruins the band

Home is their best song imho

June 6th 2007


I've never heard of this band, but I may get interested after this review.

June 6th 2007


Album Rating: 3.0

I have to agree with Altmer... is a mediocre album for DT. It somehow feels like their music is losing soul ... it's getting more technical. This is kinda fascinating since a lot of great musicians are seen toning down on the technicality with advancing age to deliver more emotionally .. for it to be satisfying on a deeper level. With DT however the opposite seems to be happening. The album also kinda gets tiring after some listening ... just an opinion though ...
Good review all the same ... maybe a tad long ....

June 6th 2007


Album Rating: 3.5

For me this one is oddly compelling despite its mediocrity... funny how often I listen to it and how I hate it. :P

June 6th 2007


Album Rating: 2.5

great review. decent album, seems a bit hurried at times

June 6th 2007


Album Rating: 4.5

This is definitley the best DT album bar SFAM. Even Constant Motion is good (in parts) and TDEN was really cool imo.
ITPOE is one of my favourite DT tracks ever, as is TMOLS.

June 6th 2007


Album Rating: 5.0

I agree about The Dark Eternal Night, but i like Constant Motion the instrumental parrt is amazing...my personnal favorite is In The Presence Of Enemies Parts I & II, Repentance is pretty cool as well

June 6th 2007


Album Rating: 2.0

They really stretched out with this one. Almost every song has something the band's never tried before, and most of it works. However, Constant Motion is meh, and that's what really keeps this from being a 4.5.

Digging: King's X - Dogman

June 6th 2007


Album Rating: 2.5

I just really dont like Dream Theater.

June 6th 2007


Album Rating: 3.5

For me, I disliked Constant Motion upon first listen... It's still not my favorite, but it's definitely a grower. It just takes some time to get into.

Prince of Darkness
June 7th 2007


Album Rating: 4.5

At first, this album didn't really impress me. There were no real hooks, but after a few listens I loved it. In The Presence of Enemies parts 1 and 2 are excellent. I would love to see these songs played live. They should make another dvd after this tour...

June 7th 2007


Nice review for a pretty sweet album.

June 7th 2007


Album Rating: 3.5

probably their best album since six degrees . . .

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