Dream Theater – Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From A Memory

May 2, 2014 in Artist Rewind, Reviews by Chris Foley

Dream Theater - Scenes From A MemoryDream TheaterMetropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From A Memory (1999)

Reviewed by Christopher Foley

“Close your eyes and begin to relax. Take a deep breath and let it out slowly”. 

Thus begins Dream Theater’s much ballyhooed full-length concept piece, the successor to the immortal “Metropolis, Pt. 1: The Miracle And The Sleeper” off Images An Words. This is an album which rams its dizzying array of sonic delight into your ears with brute force, blurring the lines between impenetrability and accessibility; in a way which only these particular New Yorkers can.

It’s strange that it took Dream Theater so long to launch a fully-fledged concept album, having dabbled in complimenting songs and pompous epics prior to this point, although I understand it had been waiting in the wings since at least the Falling Into Infinity sessions. One thing I kind of want to get out of the way – and likely something I’ll be chastised for – concerns the story. I genuinely don’t find it all that exciting, despite being well utilized. Dream Theater didn’t really have a lot to work with, although I can appreciate what they pulled out of the bag; it just doesn’t really appeal to me. Operation: Mindcrime this is not.

Fortunately, the performances and music are spectacular, and whilst the story may not enthrall me, the instrumentation certainly does, vocal lines included. James gets a lot of flack, particularly concerning this release, and I find it really unfair. LaBrie is great here – maybe a little softer than usual, but never even close to bad. The lyrics aren’t amazing, although I chalk that down to a story I struggle to identify with or really, even grasp. Let’s talk about the music, though.

Scenes From A Memory essentially functions as a gargantuan song, one where you can dip in for individual moments if the need be, but is most successful taken on as a whole. The revisiting of musical motifs is commonplace here, both stretching back to 1992 as well as those established in the incredible overture or the following “Strange Déjà Vu” – which, if you’ve heard the “Metropolis, Pt.2” demo, pretty much ran the show. The band exercises its frightening musical talent throughout the album, gliding between mind-shattering time signatures and tempo changes.

This work is a dizzying technical display, although one not as overt as some would lead you to believe. One thing which should be understood is that “Metropolis, Pt. 1” was an exercise in glistening melodiousness and brain-fragmenting technicality, so is it any real surprise that the album – its sequel- applies that exact formula? The balance between the two is perfect here though, and hearkens back to the aforementioned blurring of accessibility and impenetrability. Comparing the likes of “Strange Déjà Vu” and “Beyond This Life” backs up that notion, with the former catchy and repetitive enough to warrant radio airplay, and the latter a perfect example of Dream Theater’s musical prowess.

I definitely prefer listening to this album in one sitting, as the musical journey is certainly impressive – I often wonder how long it took these guys to put it together. There are some tracks which stand out as particularly impressive. “Home” blends middle-eastern sounds with themes which were established in “Metropolis, Pt. 1”. It’s a cracking number, and you can totally hear where Circus Maximus took its inspiration from on The 1st Chapter. “Fatal Tragedy” is another cool one, mainly for the ridiculously brilliant mid-section, although I love the way the song unfolds in pompous seventies prog rock fashion.

On the whole, this album is an undeniably impressive affair, and a real strong effort from Dream Theater. While the theme doesn’t gel with me, I can’t deny its utilization or the music in general. It’s not the best concept record out there by my measure, though in the eyes of some it is; and perhaps with good reason, as this is pretty damn spectacular. It’s rare for an album of this magnitude to retain focus, which is testament to Dream Theater’s ability, as well as the love and care put into writing and recording the material. I won’t lament what could have been (despite the quality of a certain demo), as this is what we have, and really, I wouldn’t have it any other way. If you’re at all interested in progressive music, then this is one of THE albums to hear.

4.25 // 5