Friday, September 29, 2006

Dream Theater - Score CD Review

Anyone who follows Dream Theater, even in the least, knows that they are one hell of a live band. In fact, Dream Theater like their live performances so much so that out of their 14 releases from 1989 until now, 5 of them have been live albums, the latest being Score. With their last live album being Live at Budokan, which was released in 2004, and having only one new album under their belts (Octivarium) between that live album and this one, there is one big question that is just begging to be answered: Is this triple album really necessary?

If you listen to only the first disc of this 3 CD set, then the answer would be “Maybe”. Containing only 2 songs (out of the 8 on it) from Octivarium, the other songs you would think would have been played on past live releases (both CD and DVD), but only the overplayed “Innocence Faded” will seem familiar. Instead of the usual songs, Dream Theater play some older material along with two songs that were never released — “Another Won” and “Raise the Knife”.

The two new songs are both interesting pieces, with “Another Won” originally being written in 1985 (it shows its age a little) and “Raise the Knife” being from their 1996 sessions. Even with these new songs and the positives of hearing some Octivarian tracks played on the first disc, “The Spirit Carries On” is an overpoweringly weak song, but the crowd seems to eat it up nonetheless. Dream Theater has never been good at being a ballad band and their attempt here is almost to the point of being laughable, especially when James LaBrie implores the crowd to “Sing it!”.

The remaining highlight on the first disc is the performance of “The Root of All Evil”, which was probably the best track from Octivarium, and it started the set off perfectly. In place of some of the songs on disc one, or potentially in augmentation of the set, I would have killed to hear something from Train of Thought, as the songs from that album seem to be very conducive to a live environment, as heard on Live at Budokan.

Once you’ve finished blowing through the first disc and pop in the second, the answer to the question posed in the first paragraph will go from that “Maybe” to a hearty “Yes!” Hearing the band playing alongside an orchestra is something that any Dream Theater fan, and many prog rock fans in general, will cherish. If you’re thinking that the collaboration sounds anything like the much publicized Metallica “collaboration” with an orchestra, then you’re in for a big surprise. Instead of using the orchestra for small finishing touches, like Metallica did, the Octavarium Orchestra complements Dream Theater perfectly, weaving in and out of the six songs they play on.

“Six songs is all?” you might be wondering, but remember who we are talking about here. The first collaboration is on the sprawling 40 plus minute epic “Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence”, which is started off with over seven minutes of the orchestra playing a derivation of the theme of the song before Dream Theater joins the fray. When they do, the interplay between the two groups is phenomenal. Instead of overpowering the orchestra, the band is mixed at the perfect level so that this feels like a unity between the two entities, as it should be, instead of a gimmick, as many bands would no doubt treat it.

“Vacant” is really unneeded, however, and “The Answer Lies Within” is done well enough, but again it is a ballad, which Dream Theater doesn’t exactly excel at. Thankfully the orchestra makes it a little more interesting than it would usually be. The final three pieces to be played on this effort are all amazing in their own right. The 10 minute “Sacrificed Sons” is a nice mid-tempo prog song that mixes with the orchestra wonderfully. “Octavarium”, clocking in at 27 minutes, mixes a long section of ambience during the first third of the song with mostly the band performing throughout the rest of the song with not as much of the orchestra chiming in until the end of the song for the build up faux finale that leads into the 10 minute “Metropolis”.

“Metropolis” shows a wonderful balance between the orchestra and Dream Theater near the opening. Being a heavier song to start, the smoothness of the orchestra takes some of the edge off while not neutering the song. As the song progresses the orchestra does take a back seat to the myriad of solos, but that is somewhat to be expected.

In the end, this is a wonderful performance put on by one of the most talented bands still playing today. And as is the case with almost every Dream Theater live release, you’ll definitely get your money’s worth, this time around by getting a set consisting of Dream Theater’s less played material, unreleased material, and an entire set consisting of a melding of orchestration and prog rock. This is essential listening for any prog rock fan.

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