Review Summary: Dream Theater combine excellent storytelling and thrilling musicianship and make their masterpiece.The Journey Through Dream Theater, Part 6
After Falling Into Infinity
, an attempt at reaching the mainstream that was both a commercial and critical failure, Dream Theater went in a completely different direction with their next album. Scenes From A Memory
is their most acclaimed work. Whether or not it is better than Images and Words
is up for debate, but one thing is certain: It is by far the band’s most ambitious work, and a proud achievement that would set the bar for quality in the world of progressive metal.
The album crafts a story of a young man named Nicholas who, through the help of a hypnotist, takes a journey through his past life. It’s so well-crafted as a concept album that it’s hard not to be intrigued by Nicholas’ journey, following along as he goes through times of confusion, discovery, suspense, and sadness. James LaBrie must be applauded for his work here. His vocals have thankfully recovered since his dismal performance in Falling Into Infinity
, in fact this is arguably his strongest performance to date. He does more than just sing the songs here, he brings a voice to each character and guides the story through each track with his vocals.
But of course, this being Dream Theater, the album thrives on more than just its masterful storytelling. The instrumental side of the album is equally spectacular. Mike Portnoy’s drumming is consistently excellent. John Petrucci gives a fantastic performance that balances off his shred-level chops with more emotional guitar-playing. This album was keyboardist Jordan Rudess’ debut with the band. While Dream Theater’s recent work has been criticized for excessive instrumental showboating by not just Petrucci but Rudess, here the two men find a balance between the numerous sections of instrumental flashiness and the more simple story-driven sections.
The album starts off with mostly story-driven sections; it’s Fatal Tragedy
where the band truly unleashes their skills for the first time. After gradually getting heavier over the course of its first few minutes, the first signature Dream Theater instrumental section kicks in to close it out, and from there the album progresses into some of the heaviest material Dream Theater had released at this point. Beyond This Life
delivers an onslaught of heavy riffs that eventually leads to a 4-minute jam session, with Rudess and Petrucci trading off various solos and riffs. Home
is even better; from the mystical keyboard intro to the Egyptian-influenced metal riffs to the climactic solo section, the song is captivating throughout its entire 13-minute duration. LaBrie’s vocals are spot on as well. The excitement doesn’t stop there, as the album leads into the instrumental piece The Dance of Eternity
, which truly demonstrates the full range of the band’s technical abilities. It rampages through about 20 different time signatures, incorporating various instrumental solos throughout, even a ragtime break in the middle. Myung gets one of only three bass solos throughout Dream Theater’s entire catalogue, and he wastes no time in tearing away at his instrument during his 15 seconds in the spotlight.
As a contrast to the heavier material, the ballads appear during the somber and reflective periods of the story, and are delivered with great emotional power. Through Her Eyes
is an effective piano-driven piece that falls in between all the heavy rockers in the middle section. The female vocals in the beginning are a very nice touch. It’s The Spirit Carries On
that steals the show, however. LaBrie delivers a great performance in this emotional ballad, but it’s Petrucci’s performance that sends it over the top. His soulful minute-and-a-half solo is the best moment on the album, no small feat on an album already filled with sensational instrumental displays.
Scenes From A Memory
consistently succeeds in both thrilling and intriguing the listener, with each track flowing into the next and marvelously telling the story of Nicholas’ adventure through his past life. Sure, the instrumental sections are over the top at times, but that doesn’t take away from the experience, it heightens it. The songs succeed in both driving the story along and just being incredibly entertaining. The band takes plenty of opportunities to display their respective talents but it never becomes overbearing, and they know when to scale it back, as seen on cuts like The Spirit Carries On.
Truly going beyond what anyone expected of them, Dream Theater created a classic that they would never match in the following decade.
Top Tracks: Beyond This Life, Home, The Dance of Eternity, The Spirit Carries On
Dream Theater is:
• John Myung – Bass guitar
• John Petrucci – Lead guitar
• Mike Portnoy – Drums, Percussion
• Jordan Rudess – Keyboards
• James LaBrie – Vocals
To Be Continued…