Saturday, June 09, 2007


Dream Theater used to have a message board on their Web site. It was filled with passionate users who had frank, brutal opinions about their favorite band. When Octavarium came out, the board was filled with people slamming the album, calling it full of ripoffs. Nevermind that it had a title track that is easily DT's most powerful epic ever. Or that it made use of a symphonic orchestra, which the band expanded for their live DVD, Score. Naysayers said that one song sounded too much like U2. Another sounded too much like Muse.

The point that these rabid, passionate fans made is that the band should be exploring its own music, not piling in influences. Those influences were the same thing as ripoffs, in their eyes.

I never agreed with those fans. Dream Theater has always been open and honest about its influences. Instead of rehashing something that has been overplayed on the radio, they take something they have heard, twist it and turn it into something fresh and engaging.

Take the second track of their new album, Systematic Chaos. "Forsaken" is a song about vampires. The song is filled with the sound of Evanescence, with a haunting, Michael Myers-esque piano melody played on top of low guitar and bass playing in gothic unison. Anyone that listened for two seconds might think, "Yeah, Amy Lee wannabe." But after listening to "Forsaken" all the way through, the average listener will be blown away. Odd time signatures add an urgency to the sound. Keyboards simulate a full orchestra and add punch to the chorus. Mike Portnoy's drums add complexity and groove.

The same happens on most of Systematic Chaos' eight tracks. A sharp-eared listener can pick out Foo Fighters and Queen in "Prophets of War," Megadeth in "In Constant Motion," Black Sabbath and Rush in "In the Presence of Enemies." Are those ripoffs? Hardly. But if you call those ripoffs, then you have to also call "ripoff" when you hear strains of Liquid Tension Experiment, A Change of Seasons, Voices, In the Name of God, Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence and many other Dream Theater songs.

I don't buy into the argument that DT is ripping off other bands. Vanilla Ice's "Ice Ice Baby" is a ripoff. Come to think of it, almost any rap song is a ripoff. Even Evanescence is a ripoff. Don't believe me? Listen to Lacuna Coil.
Dream Theater pays homage to those bands by extracting those influential styles, adding layer upon layer of counterbalance and creating a magical, full sound that travels far beyond anywhere the original influence could have gone.

Systematic Chaos is a great introduction to the world of progressive rock where, like learning to drink beer, the music becomes quite enjoyable once you acquire the taste.
Systematic Chaos is one of the band's better releases. Dream Theater fans should be immensely pleased with a CD that was expected to be a sequel to the aggro "Train of Thought," yet is a much more musical journey. If you have never listened to Dream Theater before, prepare for an adjustment period. Once you hear what's going on, your ears will never be the same.

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