A Nightmare to Remeber- The album opens up with a creepy atmosphere as thunder and rain sets the mood for the piano intro. The band explodes in some hard and heavy riffs to get the song going. The lyrics tell the story about a car accident on John Petrucci's childhood and are pretty straightfoward story telling. Song goes about 16 minutes so you will experience a lot of signature changes. 5 minutes into the song they turn the aggresiveness down and comes a moody part with some good guitar melodies and motif. 9 minutes into it comes the almost mandatory solo trading between Petrucci and Rudess. Not bad as Rudess continues to impress and keeps my opinion that he is the most talented out of the 3 keyboardist DT has had. After the solos the songs picks up its pace as Portnoy takes on the vocals with some growling that on my opinion shouldn't have been there. James had a pretty cool Pink Floyd style with the vocals but Portnoy really messed it up with the growls. What i found pretty cool is that actually that part is where you find out that everything is ok when Mike is singing pretty much pissed off. Song ends with some effects by Jordan and some double bass blast by Portnoy.Overall a nice heavy song i dare to compare with The Dark Eternal Night from their previous album, props to Jordan and Portnoy's drumming but definitely a no go to his vocals.
A Rite of Passage- The song RoadRunner chose to be the single is pretty much the only one along with Wither that has radio playing potential. The song has a pretty catchy chorus and riffs. It starts with some asian style guitar intro and on to a heavy riff with some echo effect on the lyrics that kinda reminded me of In The Name of God. Petrucci delivers anothe solid solo with some flurries and tempo changes on it before Jordan following with some sound and effect experimenting that will please some or just make other puke. This song has pretty much everything DT's fans like and everything that motivates DT's haters.
Wither- They follow up to long and heavy songs with this 5 minute power balad that in my opinion is the most radio friendly one on the album. I can pretty much compare this one to The Answer Lies Within as it's style is pretty much pep talk. The song is about Petrucci's writer's block and how not ti give up. The solo at the end has a Brian May type of triumphant closing and the chorus will appeal most of the old-school DT fans as it has strong melodies and Jordan does an outstanding job with the harmonies. In my opinion one of the best ballads from DT.
The Shattered Fortress- This is the song i was looking forward the most since it is the finalle of Mike Portnoy's Alcoholics Anonymus Saga. This song takes you on a journey from The Glass Prison to This Dying Soul The Root of all Evil and Repentance. The song pretty much takes the riffs and sections from the other songs and mix them with new melodies by Petrucci and Rudess and solos that resumes what makes this song interesting. You need to listen to the other songs in order to make sense on this one but the parts Mike chose from each of them fit perfectly along with the new solos that personally the last one anlong with James vocals to end the song was outstanding . It is a great ending to a concept record that to be accomplished along 5 albums (not counting the song The Mirror that is believed to be the prologue to it) is not easy at all to accomplish.
The Best of Times- Here is one of the highlights of this album.The song is about Mike Portnoy thanking his father who died late last year for all he did to his family and his inspiration. It opens with a beautiful and melow piano and then it is joined by some guitar and violin that sounds equally beatufil as the piano. The song quickly jumps into a happy rock song that describes their relationship and reminds me a lot of the Falling into Infinity era with notable Rush influence in it. Into the middle of the song when the lyrics explains the bad news of the illness are known and the music grows into some dramatic and orchestrated synths. The song is closed with a 3 minutes solo that sounds perfectly as we get to hear Petrucci at his best. I must admit that everytime i listen to this song it makes me wanna run to my dad and hug him drowning in tears. Perfect song both musically and lyrically. Did i mentioned that Petrucci's solo is amazing?
The Count of Tuscany-Last song of the album and DT delivers yet another epic closing. This 19 minutes monster has some Zappa,Floyd and Rush influence in it and pretty much ended being my favorite one from the album. The song's about a Count in Tuscany (DUH!) that Petrucci met and tells the story about how he feared he was gonna die that day. The song has everything DT is about, a nice guitar intro that sounds a bit like Yes ,signature changes, heavy and blasting riffs, then agains some tempo changes. Petrucci and Rudess once again deliver with awesome chemistry (and that is just the first 3 minutes of the song). The story carries on with some fast and heavy parts and a catchy chorus before going into a DT standard solo section by the middle of the song. It is then followed by a piano unison that last about 2 minutes and pretty much sets the tone to get you ready for the perfect ending with some slow accoustic guitar followed up by a melodic and mellow finale to the album. The lyrics are pretty much love them or hate them since its a weird story but it kept me going till the end of the song to find out what was the outcome going to be.
Overall i rate this album as #4 on DT's discography behind Scenes From A Memory, Images and Words and Awake. It is their most balanced album of the decade and James Labrie vocals hasn't been that solid since Awake. Mike delivered another outstanding drumming performance as well as John Myung who is as solid as ever. The high notes on my opinion besides James notable improvement on the vocals are John Petrucci and Jordan Rudess who basically carry the album from start to finish. I must say that as well as with Systematic Chaos this 2 albums have improved in the recording quality. Im sure this has something to do with RoadRunner and if this is what i can expect from them i hope they have along and solid relationship. Once again Dream Theater delivers and continue to prove that they belong to the upper echelon of musicians.