With 27 years, and 12 studio albums, Dream Theater have established themselves as one of the most talented bands of progressive rock. It has been one of my favorite bands for several years now. I've seen them live twice and pretty much love all their albums. Now, when I look at their discography, the one that probably stands out as the best for me is their epic, concept album Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory. Released in 1999, the album tells the story of a man called Nicholas, who discovers details of a past life which include love, murder, and betrayal. The album was further recorded live in both a CD (Live Scenes from New York) and a DVD (Metropolis 2000: Scenes from New York).
The album has a lot of assets. First, great music and an interesting story. Second, the usual musicianship and talent of the band is at its peak. And third, is the cohesiveness of the whole album. This really feels like a concept album; all the songs feel like a part of each other, a part of the same story. There's a seamless nature to the songs that makes them flow much better.
"Fatal Tragedy" is probably my favorite song from the album. Even before I became familiar with the band, and even heard the whole album, I had heard it and I fell in love with it. Some time later, after hearing the whole album, the whole sequence of "Through My Words", "Fatal Tragedy", and "Beyond This Life" became my absolute favorite. To me, it is one of the strongest and most kick-ass sequences of any album ever. The build-up from a slow song to a hard-hitting rocker is excellent, and the intensity of each song is contagious. That doesn't mean the album lets go after that. All the songs share the same qualities, but "The Spirit Carries On" and "Finally Free" come to mind as another sequence that rivals the first one I mentioned.
That said, I have to admit that I tend to give the edge to the live recording of the album (Live Scenes from New York, or Metropolis 2000) when listening to it. This might seem weird, but I think the songs benefit themselves from the live environment. The intensity I mentioned feels stronger in the live version, and there's a "rawness" to the music that elevates it. Sure, James LaBrie's voice suffers just a tad when he's live, but I still think the live versions are better than the studio album.
Although Dream Theater has always been consistent in the quality of their albums, Scenes from a Memory stands out for me. As good as their other albums are, the only one I think approaches its greatness is maybe 2003's Train of Thought. Epic, thought-provoking, intense, hardcore. Those are some words that can describe it. Grade: A+
(All pictures belong to Dream Theater, Elektra, and its affiliates)