Dream Theater – Train of Thought – Review

Dream Theater

Train of Thought (Elektra)
by Tim Den

I admit it, I’m a pretty fuckin’ big Dream Theater fan. No shame there. Been a disciple of their fluid, sprawling storytelling (both lyrically and musically) for over 10 years now, faithfully snatching up everything they’ve released along the way (all right, not the live albums. I’m a fan, not a nerd). Why, the first CD I ever bought after moving to Boston was a Dream Theater album: An import version of the then-unavailable debut When Dream and Day Unite ($30, no less!). Now that’s dedication.

And the band has earned just that from me, release after release, never failing to excite through pop craft (Falling into Infinity), prog concept album (Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From a Memory), and political panorama (Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence). It’s as if the band could never exhaust their bag of windswept melodies, organically flowing jams, and impeccable narrative timing. So, then, why does Train of Thought feel so forced… so deliberate… so fragmented and boring? Could it be because the band didn’t give themselves enough creative rest after the double album Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence? Could it be because they’re trying to fill the “heavy” void left vacant by the false promise of St. Anger? After all, vocalist James LaBrie and guitarist/backup vocalist John Petrucci seem so bent on sounding massive, that they even borrow “Blackened”‘s vocal line and stiff crunch verbatim (in “This Dying Soul”). What’s the deal, fellas? Those years of worshipping Pantera and Meshuggah couldn’t convince the fans that you’re “heavy,” so you had to go and make an album full of one-dimensional palm mutes and bullet train solos?

Problem is, Train of Thought ends up sounding like pieces pasted together to make the ultimate heavy album. Yet the band’s strength lies in majestic melodies and carefully thought-out instrumental passages. Here, both are abandoned in order to cram in as much (too much) boiling rage, from gorilla stomps to guitar hero shreds that leave no lasting impression. The listener feels desensitized after just two songs. And it doesn’t help that almost every song out of the seven here goes past the 10-minute mark. For a seven-song album, 74 minutes is a fuck of a lot, wouldn’t you say? Especially since it’s virtually the same pummeling the whole time?

Dream Theater set themselves apart from the prog wankers by always incorporating more drama and liveliness. On Train of Thought, however, the only drama is of the action/filler kind.