Coming a year after Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, it's great to hear that Dream Theater hadn't lost their überheavy edge. John Petrucci, Mike Portnoy, Jordan Rudess, and bassist John Myung effectively peeled back the pretentious excesses of Six Degrees, turned them in on themselves, and came up with a leaner, meaner but no less ambitious outing. The centerpiece track, despite the fact that it is second on the disc, is "This Dying Soul: IV. Reflections of Reality (Revisited)." A tome about alcoholism and recovery, it's strident riff opens out onto vast sonic panoramas where pianos and rhythm section offer Petrucci the space he needs to take his guitar playing into overdrive. Also, lyrically this is an evolutionary track on the set; it opens doors for the rest of the narratives here. Whereas the opener, "As I Am," is an anthem of resistance and independence, from "This Dying Soul" onward, themes of acceptance, surrender, and willingness become the M.O. for transcendent transformation. Struggles with the past, new encounters, and near despair are common themes, as on the brilliantly textured and detailed "Train of Though." Note the beautiful interplay between the guitars and keyboards on "Endless Sacrifice," the insane drums and buzz saw attack on the intro to "Honor Thy Father," or the brilliant play on the intro to "Seasons of Whither" in the intro to "In the Name of God," before the almighty riffing takes it into crunchland with a deep, poignant reflection on spiritual and religious hypocrisy. This is hard, heavy progressive metal at its very best lyrically and musically.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek