Review Summary: A well-executed concept album with very impressive musicianship that at times presents a chore in looking for substance beneath the surface.
Dream Theater have been noted by many for their status in the progressive metal genre, and are particularly known for their excellent use of melody and rock in their centrally metal sound, as well as every musicians’ immense level of skill. However, a common gripe about the band is their seemingly unfocused songwriting; a Dream Theater song’s identity sometimes gets grossly overshadowed by shear musicianship and lengthy solos. The music of Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From a Memory
consistently reminds me of this very thing; it’s filled to the brim with impressive performances on every instrument throughout, many memorable passages and one of the best musical representations of a concept I’ve ever heard. As much praise at that statement contains, there are moments where it ultimately feels shallow and top-heavy.
The mood for the album is immediately set with the opening track, and it never loses its cohesive feel during the 77-minute duration of this beast of an album. The ways the band choose to musically convey each event in the story generally works very well, from what options a prog band would choose from anyway. It’s not all wanky, complicated riffs and instrumentation the whole time; if a moment in the story calls for simple background music or a primitive ballad, that’s what they play. The band seem very dedicated to the album’s concept, and that commitment has to be commended, especially given the length of the album. In general, there seems to be a well-maintained balance between showcasing musical skill with tremendous leads and simply setting the mood and/or supporting the story’s atmosphere.
Not only is each individual instrument performance here impressive, but the band are really tight and it seems like they’ve been doing this since they were all fetuses. Solos are common. Very common. The band fit the definition of the genre they play, not only in the sense of writing progressive songs, but they take full advantage of the genre label and inject many extensive solos and lead sections in almost every song. There are many moments that seem to be there solely to prove that they can, in fact, play music! This, while a good thing from a musicianship standpoint, is also one of my biggest complaints with the album.
The only other real complaint I have with the album is the vocals. Now, they are well executed and fit very well with the music. The problem is this music wasn’t made in 1985. I understand the band started in the 80s, but James LaBrie hasn’t really changed his hair metal-esque delivery since his inclusion in the band. Though many enjoy his approach, and I would agree that it can be enjoyable, especially if you like the style of metal from which it came, it is simply a vocal style that feels outdated in comparison with how modern the music sounds. It can be argued that this isn’t something that can be seriously considered a flaw as I am simply a part of this generation, and the music I listen to now could be seen the same way by people in the future. Regardless of this, however, his vocal style still clashes with the rest of the band as they have evolved to better fit the times with each album. By this album, which was released in 1999, LaBrie is still singing like it’s 1985. This is a problem regardless of what year someone picks this album up to listen to it.
At worst, I’m declaring the songwriting sub-par and the vocals not meshing well with this otherwise timeless music. While all the Dream Theater releases I’ve listened to can be summed up in this manner, what makes this record stand out is its very fleshed out story and the musical dedication to stay true to the concept to match it. This album really does feel like it has purpose and it certainly does feel complete, which I can’t say about some of their other albums. When analyzing the positives and negatives of an album, I like to see how significant each are and if they overshadow one another. While I can’t say the amount of focus put on skill-showing passages is enough to entirely bring down this otherwise epic, dramatic opus, it certainly is significant enough to leave me wanting more underneath the musical barrage of a surface at times. In the end, the fantastic job of representing a concept Dream Theater do with this album and the simultaneously haunting, beautiful, majestic and aggressive music is enough to make the album worth your time.