It's a long time ago since I first heard 'Pull me Under' on Tommy Vance's Friday rock show. Ever since that glorious moment (I can still remember it well as Tommy Vance never said who the band were but thankfully ITV's Raw Power had the band on soon after) I have been a fan of the New York based quintet. The band have come a long way since their inception gathering an extremely committed fanbase because of their un-comprising attitude and refusal to play the corporate game. In the words of drummer Mike Portnoy, "We haven't succumbed to trying to be what is popular, because usually that stuff passes within a year or two." Amen to that.
Systematic Chaos is the band's ninth album although it could be 10 including 'Change of Seasons' (if this counts as an album). Ever since Guitarist John Petrucci and Mike Portnoy have taken over the production helm the band have settled into a niche they were only hinting at prior to 'Scenes from a memory'. Since then the band have released consistently good prog metal and although their last release 'Octovarium' was acknowledged as a solid release, the general consensus amongst fans was it was missing that Dream Theater magic of albums such as 'Train of Thought' and 'Scenes from a memory.' Thankfully 'Systematic Chaos' is dripping in Dream Theater class and is one of the band's best releases.
'In The Presence of Enemies - Part 1' starts the show but for the first four minutes it does sound like a hangover from 'Octovarium' until the song breaks down into almost silence allowing for a subtle clean guitar riff to fade into the mix. From this point the song rips into 'Systematic Chaos's own identity and puts aside any thoughts that the album was going to be Octovarium part 2. 'Forsaken' is perhaps the band's most straightforward song since 'You not me' and is a highlight on this disc. It's short punchy length, piano introduction and first class riffage are all infectious and, although far from the prog metal Dream Theater are renowned for, it is totally Dream Theater if that makes sense.
The band's metal edge makes it's most pronounced appearance on 'Constant Motion' and 'The Dark Eternal Night' and are thankfully devoid of any Muse-esque shenanigans which infested their last release. 'Repentance' is the continuing musical exploration of Alcoholics Anonymous' 12-Step program and is a slow, haunting and mellow tune that makes ten-minutes seem like five. This album is full of so many highlights it's difficult to pick just one but 'The Ministry of Lost Souls' has to be this reviewers choice. Its style and feel would slot it perfectly into the 'Scenes from a memory' album yet the six minute ballad style opening will take a while to sink in but after repeated listens the pure genius of this track flourishes.
The production is bright, crisp and has John Petrucci's guitar high in the mix allowing his big axe-driven lines to hammer home with great satisfaction. I could write for hours on the musicianship on offer but I'm sure we all know how good these players are, suffice to say the technical ability is on show for all to see, perhaps not as obvious as previous albums but it's there nonetheless. And this is key to 'Systematic Chaos,' it is chock full of little ideas that will only spring out at you after repeated listens, you could argue this is true of all their releases but, as a Dream Theater fan, I've noticed it more on this new album.
Dream Theater has delivered a gem of a recording for their new home of Road Runner records. The album is varied, interesting, technically brilliant and over-all full of great ideas and catchy songs, a little like 'Images and Words' in that respect. However 'Systematic Chaos' finishes on one of their strongest songs to date. 'In The Presence of Enemies - Part II' is sheer excellence encapsulating everything the album is about. The cover may look like Spaghetti Junction being overrun by giant ants but it's a treasure trove of ideas and will no doubt increase their fan base perhaps even winning over some of the prog nay sayers of this world, honestly, they don't know what they're missing, and worthy of my first ever maximum score.