Since the beginning of this blog, it has been inevitable that this day would come. The day that I post about a Dream Theater album, that is. Everyone who knows me will know that there was a time in my life when I was obsessed with all things Dream Theater. Now although my opinion of the band may have been excessively elitist, the fact remains that they are deserving of all the high praise they receive. Formed at Berklee College of Music in Boston back in 1985, Dream Theater has now become one of the biggest juggernauts in the progressive metal scene. Founding members John Petrucci, John Myung, and Mike Portnoy, certainly need no introduction, as they have become household names for all aspiring musicians in the rock discipline. Although Mike Portnoy has since left the band to pursue other projects (such as critically acclaimed rock supergroup Flying Colors), he was still a driving force with Dream Theater at the time of their fifth studio album, Metropolis, Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory.
With the release of this album also comes the Dream Theater debut of well-known and unbelievably talented keyboardist Jordan Rudess. After their first keyboardist, Kevin Moore, left the band in 1994, the band initially approached Rudess and asked him to join the band, however he opted to take a position touring with the Dixie Dregs at the time. Dream Theater then hired Derek Sherinian, a fellow Berklee alumnus, who played with them until 1999, when he was replaced by Rudess. Rounding out the band is James LaBrie, who has been the primary vocalist for Dream Theater since 1991.
Metropolis, Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory is a concept album. In other words, all of the songs are tied together to create one unified storyline that progresses throughout the length of the album. This is a technique that has become prevalent, especially in progressive rock music, ever since the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. For Metropolis, Pt. 2, the plot draws upon themes of reincarnation, fate, and transcendence. It follows the story of a man who discovers that his soul has been resurrected from a previous life. Of course it is infinitely more complicated than such a simple description, however I would prefer to leave it up to the individual to let the story unravel as they listen. Be warned that there are many unexpected twists and turns, and it is quite possible that you will not be able to garner all the subtle nuances of the story without using some other reference to aid you.
Although the storyline adds a valuable element of originality to the creative effort, I believe that, as has always been the case with Dream Theater, the instrumentals are the truly distinguishing part. It is unmistakably clear that the members of Dream Theater have an ironclad control over every aspect of music that they choose to manipulate. Not only this, but they have the immense creative vision to dream up everything from the most advanced polyrhythms to the most emotional melodies. “Scene Seven: I. The Dance of Eternity” is certainly proof enough of the inconceivably complex arrangements that the band writes. It’s not all about the fast finger work, however. Tracks such as “Scene Five: Through Her Eyes” and “Scene Eight: The Spirit Carries On” prove that Dream Theater isn’t afraid to favor simpler, more soulful progressions to create a more well-rounded musical experience and storyline.
Over the course of their career, the band has released eleven studio albums, and I can confidently say that every single one is exceptional. As a full, cohesive effort, however, Metropolis, Pt. 2 pulls ahead because the songs build off of each other. They are certainly tied together by the overarching plot, but they are also brought together by constantly recurring musical motifs. “Scene Two: I. Overture 1928,” which kicks off the album after the soft opening track, is a medley of all the major musical themes that are introduced later as the story develops. The band’s incredible imagination shows as they successfully create the rest of an album that explores a multitude of diverse musical areas while simultaneously staying true to the principal concept.
For fans of progressive metal, this album is certainly an essential part of any collection (if it isn’t already, that is). Clocking in at roughly 77 minutes for twelve tracks, Dream Theater takes their time in cultivating a true masterpiece. As a result, all of the themes are developed to their full extent without any hints of feeling rushed or forced. This is a perfect example of the benefits of the artists having full creative control over the composing and producing process, which unfortunately was not the case with their previous album from 1997, Falling Into Infinity. Although not as much of a problem today, Metropolis, Pt. 2 also represents the success they had in the battle against their management, which was pressuring them into writing songs with more mainstream appeal. Their determination in pursuing the art that they truly want to create is admirable and certainly inspirational, and the passion with which they go about it is evident in their music. This is one album that you will definitely not want to overlook!
(P.S. On a side note, if you’ve spent this whole time wondering why in the world it’s called “Metropolis, Part TWO,” then look no further than right here. “Metropolis, Pt. 1: The Miracle and the Sleeper” is a track off of their second album, Images and Words, and it is the prequel to this album.)