Scenes From A Memory is Dream Theater's first studio album in two years and the epic masterpiece fans have been waiting for. This album features a special, tantalizing focus that die-hard fans have been demanding for years. Scenes From A Memory shows the band to be in top form, wrapping their superb musicianship around a set of smart, accessible, solidly crafted rock.
There's always been an element of slightly camp theatricality about progressive rock--witness Peter Gabriel dressing up as a giant hogweed--so the idea of a progressive musical isn't too much of a stretch. Dream Theater's Metropolis Pt 2: Scenes from a Memory
takes the progressive rock staple of a concept album in a stagy new direction. You know they're up to something when the booklet divides the album into "Act One" and "Act Two", the lyrics are told from the point of view of a cast of characters, and the band credit themselves as "The Orchestra". In the hands of almost anyone else this would seem risibly pretentious, but Dream Theater somehow manage to carry it off (just) by virtue of their uniquely heavy metal slant on the old progressive format. Their blistering, even-louder-than-Metallica riffing takes the dainty edge off the proceedings (most of the time) as the story of dying and "learning to live" unfolds.
Both their fans and the band seem to agree that 1992's Images and Words is their finest work to date, so it's only fitting that the plot here is an extension of the track "Metropolis, Part 1" from that album. The extraordinary virtuoso musicianship of the band is, of course, abundantly on display again (amateurs can only shake their heads in despair when players this good let rip), and James LaBrie sings all the "roles" with real gusto. With a new keyboard player to fill the talent gap left by the departure of Kevin Moore, and studio production that rightly gives all the individual instruments their due, Dream Theater seem finally to have found their musical feet again. --Mark Walker