Album of the Week 48-2017: Dream Theater – Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From A Memory

Dream Theater is often accused of favoring a display of musical virtuosity over songwriting and lacking in the quality control department. All true, but when they are good, they are really good, which is what makes them one of the flagships of progressive metal. Despite experimenting with conceptual pieces since their debut album, it took them until the late nineties to come up with a full-blown concept album. And whether it is a result of its conceptual nature or not, it would take them close to another decade before they released another album as consistently good as ‘Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From A Memory’.

‘Scenes From A Memory’ is such an enjoyable listen, because it avoids most of the pitfalls that many modern progressive bands imitating Dream Theater – and sometimes the Americans themselves – suffer from. Especially the overly compressed production with the genre is nowhere to be found. Both sonically and in the songwriting department, the album is dynamic and organic, making listening through the entire album a particularly pleasant experience. There are never any solos that get in the way of the songs. If anything, John Petrucci’s solo is what saves the particularly sappy ballad ‘The Spirit Carries On’.

When I first heard the album in my early teens, I did not get it. It was too complex for me and I thought some songs needed too much time to get to the point. In those days, ‘Beyond This Life’ was the only song that made some impact on me through its deceptively simple, crushing main riff in 5/4 and its general dark atmosphere. While I still love that song to this day, the brooding, almost doomy ‘Home’ is easily the most moving song on ‘Scenes From A Memory’. The dark, downtempo riffs have a vaguely Middle-Eastern flair that really enhances the tension in this part of the story.

Instrumental track ‘The Dance Of Eternity’ is a fan favorite and it is not difficult to hear why, as it really puts the musical skills of Petrucci, drummer Mike Portnoy, bassist John Myung and then new keyboard player Jordan Rudess to the fore, not unlike ‘Overture 1928’. Personally, I am quite fond of ‘One Last Time’, which it morphs into. It is easily the best of the album’s more introspective moments, because it has a distinct early Genesis vibe; the inspiration of ‘Broadway Melody of 1974’ is quite obvious. ‘Strange Deja Vu’ and ‘Fatal Tragedy’ are nice, dynamic tracks that interestingly feature equal measures of progressive rock and metal.

The ballads are a matter of taste. Whether or not you will like them depends largely on how much you like James LaBrie’s dramatic delivery, though it is worth noting that ‘Finally Free’ surpasses ‘Through Her Eyes’ and ‘The Spirit Carries On’ in sheer dynamism and atmosphere. As a whole, ‘Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From A Memory’ is an album that has a really pleasant flow, which is never outshone by the musicianship. Concept albums can certainly be a bit of a slippery slope, but Dream Theater’s progressive music seems to be tailor-made for the situation and it has resulted in one of their more consistent outings thus far.

Recommended tracks: ‘Home’, ‘Beyond This Life’, ‘One Last Time’

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