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Dream Theater: Train Of Thought

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!

    Added: November 12th 2003
    Reviewer: Duncan Glenday
    Related Link: Dream Theater's Web Site
    Hits: 17363
    Language: english

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    » SoT Staff Roundtable Reviews:

    Dream Theater: Train Of Thought
    Posted by Murat Batmaz, SoT Staff Writer on 2005-04-04 18:19:53
    My Score:

    There is not a single Dream Theater album that sounds like its predecessor. Awake was nothing like their phenomenal album Images & Words; and Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence was a total paradigm shift after Scenes From A Memory. Thus, whether you like Dream Theater's musical direction or not, they do continue to evolve and progress -- and Train of Thought sounds as unique as anything else in their amazing back catalog. It sure has stirred much controversy, but at the end of the day, the album definitely serves its purpose. John Petrucci and Mike Portnoy had been greatly experimenting with heavier songs on their Six Degrees tour, and the heaviness factor was something they certainly had to get out of their system, which I'm glad they did.

    John Myung on bass leaves his imprint on pretty much each song here, making his sound audible like never before. It is great to hear him dominating tunes such as "Honor Thy Father" and "Vacant". He even plays solos on the instrumental piece "Stream of Consciousness" -- twice! Another major difference is that Jordan Rudess on keys perhaps takes a secondary role through the album; he is almost nonexistent on the thrash-riff laden "As I Am" which holds a lot of classic Metallica references. Rudess is still there, however -- just in a different capacity. He adds some nice piano melodies that are vital to the songs. His piano piece on "This Dying Soul" is almost dream-like, while he cuts loose playing a hypnotic hammond solo on "Endless Sacrifice" where his sound keeps panning from the right speaker to the left and it's majestic to say the least. Rudess also co-wrote the only soft song, "Vacant", with Myung, to which James Labrie contributed lyrics, and this track forms a nice bridge between the first set of heavier songs and the more epic-length proggy numbers.

    Without doubt, John Petrucci and Mike Portnoy are the backbones of the songs. Petrucci plays long, detailed guitar solos that may come off as less melodic than usual, but that doesn't mean he plays all shred only. Note the ending of the instrumental song, study Petrucci's flowing melody line and how he mixes it with DiMeola-ish playing. The song is basically centred around Myung's scary bass figure with interesting Beatles-like harmonies and occasional fusion textures. Petrucci also adds a nice guitar riff with Egyptian scales before he delves into chunking metal riffage -- perhaps the heaviest thing ever played on a DT album. I believe the instrumental outro of this song might leave most Spastic Ink fans pleased. Mike Portnoy's drumming is tasteful. His tone is solid and blisters with power. He plays brilliantly leaving his mark and giving the album its immediate Dream Theater character.

    Aside from the lyrics to one song, Labrie isn't given much creative input on the album. Yet, he still does all the songs justice, be it the amazing chorus on "Endless Sacrifice", the vocal melody at the end of the 14-minute track "In the Name of the God" or simply the stunning ballad "Vacant". Some people bash DT for turning too mainstream on TOT; well, you can't be aiming the mainstream audience when five out of seven songs on your album span over 10 minutes, with impossibly technical instrumental prowess and cerebral lyrics. You can argue every aspect of DT's music, you can love or hate their instrumentation, song arrangements, but you cannot deny that even their most averagely written song lyrics are light years more thought-provoking and poignant than pretty much every other prog band out there. Train of Thought sees Petrucci and Portnoy exploring themes of independence, alcohol problems and recovery, religion, resistance and spiritualism. Dream Theater simply continues to evolve, while most others simply walk in their footsteps.

    Dream Theater: Train Of Thought
    Posted by Jedd Beaudoin, SoT Staff Writer on 2004-02-15 22:09:16
    My Score:

    Heavier, louder, better. Whereas Dream Theater's last outing Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence tended toward the slick and sprawled itself across two discs in a way that, although not self-indulgent, proved intimidating, Train Of Thought stands as a lean, mean fighting machine. Vocalist James LaBrie sings with a hunger that seemed to be growing on recent DT albums but appears to be reaching some sort of new peak here. Guitarist John Petrucci fires on all cylinders, hitting notes gracefully and with a newfound passion, while drummer Mike Portnoy also hits hard with enthusiasm and buoyancy. The only real disappointment is that keyboardist Jordan Rudess seems pushed to the far corners of the album; while DT has long been a drum and guitar band, his role seemed greater on Six Degrees and proved an asset to the band's sound. Overall? Great epic stuff from these veterans who rarely disappoint.

    Jedd Beaudoin

    Dream Theater: Train Of Thought
    Posted by Yves Dubé, SoT Staff Writer on 2003-11-22 12:45:39
    My Score:

    " ...Balls and Chunk..." - Mike Portnoy

    " Jane, you ignorant slut" - Dan Akroyd, Point/Counterpoint

    No need to go into a track by track analysis as both Duncan and Peter have done this already. Let's just get to the opinion part of this review.

    In the late '80's a group of chefs, whom had recently graduated from a prestigious culinary arts school, decided to open a restaurant together. Although the main courses were exquisite, some people felt that maybe the desert menu wasn't all it could be. The original pastry chef left and a new one was imported from Canada. This revamped team then proceeded to release one of the finest table d'hote ever presented. Almost overnight, their restaurant flourished as patrons, hungry for a type of cuisine they hadn't eaten in some time, came in droves and told all their friends. They followed up this menu with an even better one . They seemed to have learned the art of balancing hearty fares with subtle sauces. A day came though, when their saucier decided he was not pleased with the direction the new menu was taking and left. He was temporarily replaced by an upstart young chef who seemed to want to put just a little too much mustard in the sauces.

    Around this time, the head chef ( let's call him Mike), was interested in working with other chefs in order to round out his culinary skills. Through various colaborations with other equally gifted cooks, he created a wide assortment of tantalizing dishes, yet he seemed content on experimenting with these new flavors only outside his restaurant. While working with his usual team ( which now included a new saucier he encountered in his travels) he seemed content to just stay with similar dishes. Thus subsquent menus seemed to be losing some of their intelligent nuances and seemed to be aiming more towards robust, if not simplistic, recipes which appealed to a younger, fast food oriented clientele.

    These days there are more customers than ever frequenting the restaurant but I think a lot of the original patrons have left to eat elsewhere. This new hearty fare also seems to be overwhelming the pastry chef, who seems to be unable to create deserts with enough flavor to stand out . The head chef seems to be serving up larger and larger slabs of raw meat, while the soup man seems to be dumping way too much of the same spices in the gumbo.

    To me it's a bit of a shame because I used to frequent this restaurant regularly about 5 or 6 years ago, but I am finding each new menu less and less to my liking. The cooks seem very happy with the way things have turned out but I preferred it before the head chef went out and explored new recipes elsewhere. I think that if he'd stayed in his own restaurant and emptied his creativity sack with his original team ( all of whom are excellent cooks in their own rights) the overall restaurant could have really become a 5-star eating establishment.

    This current menu has some fine dishes, but I get the impression that the buffet table is getting shorter and shorter. Oh well, I think my opinion may also stem from the fact that I'm slowly becoming a vegetarian so all this raw meat does not look nearly as appealing to me as it once did.

    Yves Dubé

    Dream Theater: Train Of Thought
    Posted by Michael Popke, SoT Staff Writer on 2003-11-14 21:34:58
    My Score:

    The stark, black-and-white packaging for Train of Thought may be cheap (nice job, Elektra) but it's also appropriate, as this album takes an unflinching look into the tortured soul of the beast known as Dream Theater. While 2002's Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence captured the band's sheer beauty and brutality at its light and dark extremes, Train of Thought finds Dream Theater, now 15 years old, wallowing in the mire the band has created by trying to be all things to all listeners. In fact, in some places, Train of Thought doesn't even sound like a Dream Theater album. A heavy bottom end trumps memorable melodies. Deeply personal (I daresay cathartic) lyrics trump the recent story songs of Six Degrees … and Scenes From a Memory. But new Dream Theater doesn't trump old Dream Theater.

    Metallica's influence on Train of Thought has already been cited in other reviews of this album. And the case can even be made that Train of Thought – given its angry tone and sonic bluntness – is Dream Theater's St. Anger. What's even more surprising, though, is Dream Theater's nod to rap-metal on "This Dying Soul" and "Honor Thy Father" -- even more so than on the first disc of Six Degrees ... . Also slightly discomforting is the fact that singer James LaBrie tosses around variations of the "F-word" like he's some sort of cocky nü-metal poser.

    After several listens, Train of Thought starts to make more sense, as the nuances of John Myung's bass and Jordan Rudess' keys embed themselves in your musical psyche. In fact, the best tracks here are the ones on which those players' instruments blend well with the group's collective sound, namely the instrumental "Stream of Consciousness" and the epic closer "In the Name of God." But whereas Mike Portnoy's drums and John Petrucci's guitars usually reign over everything else, they get lost in the chaos here. Once master musicians who helped define the parameters of progressive metal – indeed, finding a band that does what Dream Theater does better than Dream Theater has always been tough – this seminal band now seems content to follow more than lead. And that, my friends, is disheartening.

    Michael Popke

    Dream Theater: Train Of Thought
    Posted by Pete Pardo, SoT Staff Writer on 2003-11-14 07:18:31
    My Score:

    With each new Dream Theater release comes countless debates over the direction of the band, as well as relevancy to their earlier material. Train of Thought will continue to stir similar controversy, as the band seems to be moving away from the highly melodic and technical progressive metal to a more heavier, plodding style littered with flashy and intricate solo spots.

    What seems readily apparent after a few spins of the CD is that John Petrucci and Mike Portnoy (who once again produced the CD) have spent a lot of time listening to Metallica's Master of Puppets & And Justice for All. Those who saw the band live on their last tour were certainly more than shocked that the band chose to play the Puppets album in its entirety at select shows, and while they performed it extremely well, in doing so they neglected to include many DT classics in the set. Well, Train of Thought sees the band seemingly destined to try and take up where Metallica left off in the late 80's, adding in the trademark DT complexity. Many of the songs here have that epic, crunching sound that Metallica made so famous, yet the music is decidedly Dream Theater. "As I Am" and "The Dying Soul" are filled with slow, heavy riffs from Petrucci and uncharacteristic angry shouts and grunts from singer James LaBrie. "Endless Sacrifice" is a gem of a tune, with dark and heavy arrangements that go from atmospheric (thanks to some spooky keyboard work from Jordan Ruddess) to symphonic in classic Dream Theater style. Ruddess and Petrucci trade off some jaw dropping solos on this one that will have you shaking your head in amazement. It's mainly in these type of situations where the bands penchant for intricate passages rises to the forefront, as many of the rhythms on most of the songs are probably more straightforward than anything they have done before. LaBrie seems to have taken a more reserved role in the band, performance wise as well as lyrical contribution. Only the beautiful and short "Vacant" has his lyrical stamp on it, a song that differs greatly from the dark and angry nature of the rest of the tunes, and not surprisingly it sounds a bit out of place here, which is a shame. "Honor Thy Father" is another Metallica influenced piece, and Petrucci does a great job of throwing in all sorts of guitar sounds. I do question the odd LaBrie vocal passages at times, which sound like something off of a nu-metal or rap-metal release. The band saves the best for last with the instrumental "Stream of Consciousness" and the epic "In the Name of God." The former is perhaps the best instrumental the band has ever done, and is filled with tasty and melodic passages mixed with some serious complex arrangements. The latter is a great slice of dark prog-metal, melodic, complex, and memorable, with great performances from the entire band.

    So, in summary, there are a few items to point out:

  • This album is much heavier than any DT release to date
  • This album is less melodic, with far fewer catchy melodies than on previous releases
  • Musically speaking, there are still plenty of insane instrumental workouts
  • John Myung plays a more prominent role than he has in years
  • James LaBrie seems to perhaps be given a secondary role
  • While the cover painting is cool, why was the booklet done in a drab black and white newspaper- like paper?

    Take a listen, draw your own conclusions, and see what you come up with. To these ears, this is still quality Dream Theater, perhaps more brutal than before, but they still do what they do better than almost any other band. With all the new groups that come out who try to emulate the bands classic sound, it's no surpise that they have chosen to alter their sound a bit, ironically emulating some of their heroes. Highly recommended.

    Pete Pardo

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