Dream Theater – Metropolis Pt 2,Scenes From A Memory (1999)
The cinematic, extravagant metal album of the year 1999, the close of the century.
It’s hard enough to create just one new paradigm of progressive, heavy music…but two?
Interestingly enough, Scenes From A Memory would not have happened without the difficulties of the prog metal giants’ previous record to this, 1997’s Falling Into Infinity. On that record, there was stressful label interference and a generally difficult writing and recording process. Among other things, it meant that shorter, more accessible songs would be the focus, at the expense of longer tracks. Clearly, the suits believed nobody liked progressive music anymore because everyone has ADD. Some things never change.
One of those “it’s too long, scrap it” tracks that didn’t make the cut for Falling Into Infinity was “Metropolis, Pt. 2.”
In hindsight, all that was a good thing–because the song was given time and attention from this phenomenal group of musicians to be expanded into its own album. Dream Theater had also located and hired keyboardist Jordan Rudess, who had the formidable task of standing toe-to-toe with John Petrucci in musical duel. Of course, he is now considered one of the world’s premiere keyboardists.
Metropolis Part 2 is the story of Nick, whose visit to a therapist to get to the bottom of some strange dreams he’s been having turns into an adventure through time and the human heart. Dream Theater, the “Orchestra of Witnesses,” provides the soundtrack to Nick’s journey of salvation.
2. Overture 1928
3. Strange Deja Vu
4. Through My Words
5. Fatal Tragedy
6. Beyond This Life
7. Through Her Eyes
9. The Dance of Eternity
10. One Last Time
11. The Spirit Carries On
12. Finally Free
As Nick’s therapist counts down to “Regression,” we are invited into another world, where the murder of a young girl in Paris in 1928 reverberates 70 years later to affect the dreams of one man. We are about to embark on something beautiful, so you “take a deep breath and let it out slowly”…the overture introduces quick takes of the album’s many highlights, a reference point of sorts. The first time I heard it, Dream Theater’s “Overture 1928” reminded me of the Jurassic Park soundtrack for the sweep and grandeur of its melody.
It turns out that Nick’s constantly-recurring dream means that he was someone else in a past life, someone who is deeply linked to him…a young woman named Victoria, who was apparently murdered by her jealous lover before he tragically turned the weapon on himself. But by looking “through her eyes,” Nick is beginning to sense that the pieces fit together just too neatly to be believable…
The Orchestra of Witnesses has a command of memorable melodic hooks and wondrous technicality that its members are able to balance perfectly on this record. “Strange Deja Vu” is one of the album’s more poignant pop points demonstrating this balance, in which James LaBrie sings both the male and female parts–a testament to the strength of his range. The band’s wild interplay starts in earnest on “Fatal Tragedy” and reaches its zenith on “Dance of Eternity,” where every instrument takes a turn in a thrilling display.
So adept is this band at moving the listener along through its shifts in mood that you aren’t taken by surprise by “Through Her Eyes,” one of two touching ballads on the album. The Middle Eastern melody-flecked “Home” is the heaviest “scene,” and it doesn’t seem to last the 13 minutes it actually takes.
“Home,” it turns out, is a pet name for Victoria, who left her boyfriend, Julian (“The Miracle”), because he could not control his drinking and gambling. She finds solace in the arms of his brother, Edward (“The Sleeper”), who falls in love with her. But here’s what Nick finds out while visiting Edward’s house: he had manipulated the crime scene to make it look like a murder-suicide…because Edward was the one who shot both Victoria and Julian.
You see, what Nick is able to discover is that Julian begged Victoria to take him back, as a changed man–and she accepts. Edward, driven insane by desire, plots the murder and leaves a suicide note in Julian’s pocket to fool the police. Seventy years later, the murder is solved by the “endless thread, impossible to break” that links Victoria to the future in a way that none of them could understand at the time.
At this point, it is the epic gospel ballad “The Spirit Carries On” that carries the album to its dramatic high point. Here, LaBrie is joined by a gospel choir to deliver a message worthy of a eulogy (seriously, you could play this song at a funeral and no one would be sad anymore). John Petrucci’s solo proves that it is not just his technical proficiency but his heart and sense for soulful melody that makes him one of the world’s most admired guitarists. At that point, you feel as if you’ve just watched a magnificent movie and standing to applaud in the theater while the credits roll. And the wrap-up of “Finally Free” finds drummer Mike Portnoy entering what can only be described as “beast mode” on the outro. One of the Long Island native’s finest moments as a drummer.
Upon release, Metropolis, Part 2 was performed live in its entirely all over the world on tour, a tradition I hope the band revives. “It was very satisfying on so many levels,” remarks John Petrucci, “….I was worried whether it was going to be good enough, or if it was going to come out like some Spinal Tap rock opera! So it becoming successful was like we had proven something.”
The murder is solved, and yet the cycle begins again, as Nick’s psychotherapist ushers in his next incarnation by killing him in his home while he listens to music. Who will Nick become next? What new mysteries are there to be solved “Beyond This Life?”
Something to ponder, as anytime you listen to this record, you know that you are not just hearing, but watching and living.
Written by Matt P