Dream Theater - Train of Thought

posted by Greg, Monday June 7, 2004 @ 01:32:29 PM

Artist: Dream Theater (http://www.dreamtheater.net)
Album: Train of Thought
Release Date: November 14, 2003
Label: Elektra

Rating: 8/10

Recommended Tracks: This Dying Soul, Honor Thy Father, In The Name of God

You may have clicked on this link thinking "Huh? Dream Theater? That nerdy keyboard and saxophone-solo prog rock band?", and you'd be absolutely right. However, this particular offering from the legendary band is without a doubt the heaviest offering in their storied career, and while it isn't that new anymore I still wanted to give it the recognition it deserves since a lot of you may have just dismissed it right off the bat since you aren't Dream Theater fans. There's a whole lot of metal going on in this disc, and hopefully you have enough sense to realize that there's more to metal than unintelligible screaming about leaking entrails from a dead body and who can hit a bass drum the hardest and fastest. Yeah, I listen to that side of the spectrum too, and still like it a lot, but when a band with the considerable talents of Dream Theater put their minds to making a through and through metal album, ALL fans of metal should stand up and take notice.

Prog rock is definitely an acquired taste, especially for the fringe bands in the genre who are often way out there in terms of sound and song structure. Dream Theater has long been known as one of the pillars of the scene, and are also well-known and respected in the metal community for their immense talent and occasional ball-busting foray into heavy metal on their albums. Just about every Dream Theater album has at least one good heavy crunchy metal work of art on it that is almost worth buying the cd for alone. Unfortunately, they also average about one or two sappy ballads per album that wouldn't sound out of place coming through the speakers of a waiting room in your dentist's office, which leaves you with the rest of the albums being filled with mid-tempo prog-rock gems.

On Train of Thought, however, it's all the business of metal, and business is very good. From the swirling, opening crunch of the first track "As I Am", it's very clear that this ain't your older brother's poofy-haired-dorks-in-a-crowded-studio-for-a-30-minute-jam-session Dream Theater. This album is chock full of smoking guitar solos, pounding double-bass drum fills, darker subject matter (much of the lyrical content of album deals with the effects that divorce and abuse have on children), and just an overall pervading sense of a concerted effort to make a heavier, darker sound. Every track on here except for one you can proudly blare out of your speakers for your gore-and-guts obsessed death-metal buddies to bang their heads to, without having to worry about them saying "Dude, you like Dream Theater?".

A good basis of comparison for this album is the newest Metallica album St. Agnes... er, I mean St. Anger. It's a good comparison not in terms of quality (the first minute of the track "Dying Soul" is better and heavier than anything Metallica has put out since ...And Justice For All), rather it's a good comparison of one band delivering on a promise to get heavier against one band who failed miserably. Everyone got semi-excited when it was announced that Metallica was supposedly returning to their roots and making a heavier album when all they did was drop another steaming turd into the toilet of metal, and left a lot of skid marks on the underwear of metal in the process. When I first heard Train of Thought, what kept creeping into my mind was "This is the album St. Anger should have been". Vocalist James LaBrie won't ever get mistaken for Metallica's more famous James on the street, but he can match him tone for tone, as when you hear LaBrie's snarling "yeeeeeeah" that he often wraps up verses with, you'll immediately think of James Hetfield's signature "yeeeeeeah". Dream Theater obviously don't try to match thrash for thrash with Metallica (though they have before... there is an amazing album in which Dream Theater covers the entire Master of Puppets album you should try to track down), but this album definitely is a delivered promise in the heaviness department.

There are a few times on the album where Dream Theater does stray away from their strengths though, as this is by no means a perfect album. LaBrie tends to go a bit too over the top with his vocal theatrics at times (though not nearly as bad as on previous DT albums), and he inexplicably sings a couple of verses on tracks 2 and 4 in a rap-rock sing-songy chorus style that is downright awful. And, of course, there's the pre-requisite sappy Dream Theater ballad included (track 5, entitled "Vacant"), but luckily it's only a little less than 3 minutes long so you don't have to suffer much. Speaking of pre-requisite Dream Theater, most of the songs could be trimmed by a good 2-3 minutes to just be lean, mean crunch fests, but the boys just have to show off how damned good they are with extended guitar and keyboard solos, rubbing it in your face that they are much, much better musicians than you could ever hope to be.

The overall quality of the album is more than enough to put up with those flaws though, as it's still more than heavy enough to satisfy the average metal fan and still Dream Theater enough to satisfy the average Dream Theater fan. This album takes the title of "Heaviest Dream Theater Album" away from 1994's Awake, and it does so in a first-round knockout. So for those of you who were disappointed with the new Metallica album (i.e., everyone reading this review above the age of 13), I highly suggest you take a ride on Train of Thought. Dream Theater has made a great album to bridge the gap between prog and metal, and in the process should win over a lot of new fans willing to take a chance on it. Hey, at least they didn't drop a Load on us, like some other bands have before.

- Greg

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