Train Of Thought

Dream Theater

Elektra, 2003

REVIEW BY: Jedediah Pressgrove


Dream Theater is a group of musicians with too much talent. They have a sometimes tired inclination to make everything technical, but I don’t think they’re necessarily showing off. They just do what they want.

Oh, and Dream Theater really loves Rush, Yes, Pink Floyd, Queen, Metallica, Tool, and Pantera (their 2002 release Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence is proof). And it is not coincidental if you hear the same homage. Dream Theater started out as three Berklee College of Music students -- guitarist John Petrucci, bassist John Myung, and drummer Mike Portnoy -- covering popular metal and rock bands.

The band has since gone through a couple of lead vocalist changes, settling on James Labrie in 1991, and keyboardist Kevin Moore left the group after recording the 1994 album Awake, replaced by Jordon Rudess. An important thing to remember is that some people credit the band with inventing progressive metal. This is quite untrue. Progressive metal existed before the 1980s (hell, just listen to a few of Black Sabbath’s songs), and Portnoy says Connecticut band Fates Warning was doing progressive metal before Dream Theater.

But when you hear how Dream Theater pulls off progressive metal, you can understand why the unintentional lies are there. The group was recently in the habit of ending an album with a certain sound or note and beginning the next album with the same. Amusingly, this pattern is only interesting conceptually. Personally, I get nothing from hearing static close out Metropolis Pt. 1: Scenes From A Memorymy_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250   and open Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence. But pretension, sometimes unintentionally hilarious pretension, typifies progressive music.

Train Of Thought was undisputedly the heaviest Dream Theater album upon its release. On previous albums, the band was heavy but more concerned with melody. Here, they are definitely trying to be darker and louder. Though not failing totally, Dream Theater stumbles on this album. In fact, it can be a bummer hearing the band take itself this seriously.

Take some of the lyrics from the second track, “This Dying Soul”: “Then you had to deal with loss and death / Everybody thinking they know best / Coping with this shit at such an age / Can only fill a kid with pain and rage.” Sure, alcoholism makes for hard recovery and soul searching, but Portnoy has been writing these lyrics for years, and on Train Of Thought they come off as ridiculous dark poetry. You get all the same symbols (prisons and mirrors) mixed with laughable vocal delivery by Labrie, striving to channel the Pain and Rage of the drummer. Petrucci’s hummable guitar lines, Myung’s solid bass playing, and Portnoy’s fierce drumming save the song, but even the instrumentation can get boring, run after run after run of it, as the song towers past eleven minutes. 

And that’s really the general problem with Train Of Thought. Nothing wrong with long songs, but song composition as a whole must be solid for most listeners to stick around. “Endless Sacrifice” is another eleven-minute beast, and the first half of the song is embarrassing. The verse guitar riff is a poor copy of Metallica’s “Sanitarium,” and the chorus sounds a lot like an awkward Disturbed cover. But the latter half of the track is clearly the work of talented instrumentalists, not eager hacks. “Honor Thy Father” could have been a great song if edited a bit -- and if it didn’t feature Labrie seemingly evoking Kid Rock for a brief and horrendous moment. I wouldn’t say things get unlistenable, but the band makes too many mistakes to ignore on most of these tracks.

Thankfully, the last two songs, “Stream Of Consciousness” and “In The Name Of God,” fare much better. The former is an instrumental, which, I hate to say, gives the band two fewer things to mess up (lyrics and vocals). I also think it contains very fine playing from Rudess, who often noodles too much while ignoring texture. “In The Name Of God” is the best lyrical statement on the album, raising a legitimate question about religion: “Unyielding crusade / Divine revelation / Does following faith / Lead us to violence?” Not an original thought, but at least the band executes the idea well and avoids the melodrama of earlier tracks.

If you have not listened to Dream Theater, I would recommend getting one of their first three albums or even checking out the second disc of Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence. Train Of Thought is for dedicated fans who want to seek out the coolest sections of massive songs.

Rating: C

User Rating: C



© 2008 Jedediah Pressgrove and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Elektra, and is used for informational purposes only.