It's free – you can download the radio edit of the first track, "As I Am", from Dream Theater's web site! But the radio edit will tell you precisely nothing about the real album, and "As I Am" is the worst track on the album anyway.
So what's the album really like?
It's pure Dream Theater, with everything that is good and bad about that statement. Every time the band releases a new album the cognoscenti jump in with comparisons to previous DT albums, debate which 'era' was the best and worst, and lament that Dream Theater is marking time with their music and repeating the same old mistakes.
This review will not do any of those things, other than paint – in very broad strokes – a few comparisons between Train Of Thought and the collective body of prior DT albums:It is essentially similar to their previous work. If you'd never heard the album you could drop the needle on any track and recognize it as Dream Theater within 10 seconds. It is substantially heavier overall, yet there are also more elegant piano passages and even a nod to fusion on some of the long instrumental sections. You will hear more John Myung than on almost any previous DT album. John Petrucci provides more blazingly fast guitar noodling and, sadly, less melody than we have come to expect from him. There are some parts with much heavier bass than usual, and seep crunchy riffs so up front in the mix that everything else is drowned by the distortion. And it is still far, far more complex than any other progressive metal music out there..
Comparisons over. So what's on the album?
Opening track "As I Am" fails to make a good first impression, but it does make a statement: Remember that famous opening riff from Black Sabbath's "Black Sabbath"? This song starts with the same basic 3-note riff then develops into a more standard DT piece. You won't find the standard iteration of verse/chorus/repeat, but that doesn't necessarily make it "progressive" either – the melody just seems disjointed. Given the simple, heavy sound of this song, as well as that Sabbath riff and the fact that DT covered pieces from Metallica and Iron Maiden on their last tour, it's a safe bet that the statement made by track 1 is that DT is attempting to reel in a part of the huge and lucrative heavy-metal fanbase.
But that song is the only weak spot and the quality improves as the track-counter clicks up to 7 over the 74-minute duration. Five of the tracks clock in at 10+ minutes and are complex and impeccably executed. The tunes get more musical and melodic toward the end, with the heavier and more metallic tracks toward the front.
Several tracks feature spoken lyrics – varying from a brief rap-like chatter to overdubbed recordings a la Six Degrees. Perhaps they have a deep and meaningful significance – but they don't lend themselves to constant replays. This is particularly true of "Honor Thy Father", which features the dark mutterings of a bitter conflict between a father and son.
"Endless Sacrifice " is a strong piece, with an underlying riff that is compelling and repetitive, and is reprised and re-visited all the way through the song. The tone changes from power-ballad in the verses to the excessive guitar crunch and pinches and the simple atonal shouts of nu-metal in the chorus; and then back again. There's a long technical instrumental piece in the middle that is classic Dream Theater.
The last three tracks are by far the best on the album:
"Vacant" is a short ballad. Note the deliberate omission of the word "power" – it is mellow and is built around a simple but melodic theme picked out first by the guitar, then by the piano.
That theme leads straight into the next track, "Stream Of Consciousness", which may be one of the best pieces Dream Theater has ever produced. It is an 11-minute instrumental piece that gets better with each listen. Get down to your record store and listen to this track – it alone is worth the price of the CD. Pity about the unsatisfactory end though – a 5-second fade-out would have served this excellent piece better.
Final track "In The Name Of God" is a kaleidoscope of sounds, melodic and long and complex and even jazzy in parts and very, very appealing.
So, summarize the album!
It's typical Dream Theater. Heavier than usual, perhaps "progressive heavy metal" rather than "prog-metal". You could accuse Dream Theater of producing the same stuff album after album. But given the skills and musicianship of the elder statesmen of prog-metal, that is a good thing!