Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From A Memory by Dream Theater
In 1985, at Berklee College of Music in Massachusetts, an incredible thing happened: three young undergraduates, Mike Portnoy, John Petrucci, and John Myung decided to form a “progressive metal” band. Subsequently, after dropping out of college to focus on the band, going through major lineup changes, and releasing an unsuccessful debut album, the band released “Images and Words” (1992). This was the beginning of Dream Theater’s success. On the album, a track was titled Metropolis Pt. 1: The Miracle and the Sleeper. It was originally titled “part 1” as a joke, but the song’s popularity among the fanbase spurred many inquiries asking, “Where’s Part 2?”. Well, in 1999 Dream Theater released the long-awaited follow up, Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From A Memory. Fans received more than they bargained for: not just a follow up, but an entire concept album. This album, suffice to say, is the epitome of progressive metal, and showcases the extreme technicality and complexity that Dream Theater is oft attributed.
Before we venture to discuss the music, the Concept behind the album must be mentioned. The story that the lyrical compositions tell is complex, mysterious, and requires multiple listens to fully appreciate. Since I don’t want to delve too much into the plot, as it is better simply to be heard, it essentially revolves around Nicholas (Metropolis), who is undergoing “regression therapy” and discovers that, in a previous “lifetime”, he was a woman named Victoria who was murdered under mysterious and questionable circumstances. The Lyrics tell of his journey to find out what happened to Victoria. Although several references and connections can be made with Metropolis Pt. 1, the song does not need to be heard prior to Pt. 2 in order to appreciate the storyline.
Scene One: Regression–This song opens with a clock ticking softly, and subsequently a hypnotist luring our narrator, Metropolis, into a hypnotic state. The song is soft, somewhat lilting, and almost has a comforting or trusting tone. This line portrays the song rather well, in my opinion: [hypnotherapist speaking] “Imagine a brilliant white light above you / Focus in on this light as it flows through you / allow yourself to drift off as you fall deeper and deeper into a more relaxed state of mind.” Great opening track, overall, since it sets the mood for the album.
Scene Two: I. Overture 1928–This song is an instrumental. As the title implies, the song is an overture to the epic masterpiece of an album that follows: it features elements, riffs, etc. that will recur later on. And, oh boy, it is a wonderful preview of what is to come. Most notable in this song is the keyboard and guitar parts, which explore rich and varied melodies in different time signatures and different keys. As always, Portnoy on drums is a firm support and anchors the music to a solid beat. Incredible coordination of the instruments overall, even with the bass guitar reflecting in thunderous tones the guitar riffs.
Scene Two: II. Strange Deja Vu–The previous song flows seamlessly into this track, thundering with a steady beat from Portnoy and eloquent lyrics from LaBrie, the vocalist. The Lyrics speak of Nicholas (Metropolis), which has a recurring dream about a house. When he ascends the stairs into the house, he sees a mirror at the landing, and in it a young girl, that he invariably learns is called Victoria. This song has a yearning tone and yet somewhat vindictive, for reasons later revealed. In the latter half of the song, a thundering and catchy bass beat is introduced, and the pace of the song seems to kick up a notch, although in reality the beat does not accelerate, a feat which Dream Theater can so easily pull off. At the end of the song, Nicholas is intrigued by a hint that Victoria drops, and seeks to learn more.
Scene Three: I. Through My Words–This track is led mainly by piano and reflective lyrics. This song mostly furthers the Concept of the album, wherein Nicholas discovers that he is Victoria. Victoria was a past life for “Metropolis”, our narrator. Secondarily, it introduces the lamenting tone that recurs in certain parts.
Scene Three: II. Fatal Tragedy–The previous track transforms into a heavier, more solid section wherein Metropolis is told about “a tragedy” concerning Victoria, by an old man in a house. Great instrumentation on all parts, with great keyboard work and later great songwriting in the guitar and drum parts, particularly. This is probably one of the longer tracks on the album thus far, but every second is worth it. At this point, we feel some curiosity about “the tragedy” ourselves, and we begin to care for our narrator, Metropolis. In the latter section, there is an even heavier and more technical section with some great keyboard and drum parts, and later a stand-out solo from Petrucci, with its foreboding and melodic tone. This section of the song is exhilarating and breath-taking with some of its instrumentation. It is a joy to listen to.
Scene Four: Beyond This Life– It is a heavy guitar riff backed by a solid beat from Portnoy and extensive use of keyboards, with some particularly interesting synthesizers. It then opens into a thundering bass line with LaBrie’s lyrics somewhat in the background. It has a great, uplifting chorus that recurs periodically. This song is not only catchy, but is possibly the most important song in furthering the Concept. Do not miss the lyrics on this one. Also, this is the longest track yet, weighing in at eleven minutes. Being progressive, however, not a single section of the song is even slightly repetitive, and with “progressive”(ly) more complex instrumentation. The song, overall, creates an enigmatic mood with an almost detached anger and a sense of bitterness. One of my favorite tracks for its atmosphere, technicality, and lyrical substance.
Scene Five: Through Her Eyes–This song begins with a softer, more contemplative tone, set by the keyboards and the female voice, assumed to be Victoria, which hums softly in the intro. The song goes into a lamenting piano piece with a bit of acoustic guitar and assorted percussion instruments supporting. The lyrics mostly talk of Nicholas’ lamentation concerning Victoria. A nice break from the mostly fast and hard tracks featured prior to.
Scene Six: Home–the early riffs are still soft and contemplative, but it soon turns into a harmonic, egyptian riff on guitar and a varied beat from Portnoy. It quickly builds to climax, turning very heavy, and Petrucci turns on the wah pedal for his guitar work in this section. It soon settles in a heavy and bitter riff as a background for the lyrics. This song is told from a different point of view, although it would spoil it to reveal whom, so I will only mention his alias: the Sleeper. This opens after a minute to a lighter, more optimistic chorus which uses the famous and powerful line: “The city – it calls to me//Decadent scenes from my memory”. It is soon changes perspective again, only this time to “the Miracle”. Later, it goes back to its egyptian riffs and Nicholas finishes the song with a revelation of Victoria’s Plight. Great song, with complex riffs and movements strung together with incredible artistry. It’s the longest track at thirteen minutes.
Scene Seven: I. The Dance of Eternity–Another Favorite of mine, a reflection of Metropolis Pt. 1 in several ways. Reintroduces complex time signatures and synthesizers on the keyboards. It is haunting while vindictive, and the mood seems all to happy to switch between the two as often as possible. This is a great instrumental track, and if thus far you have been impressed by Dream Theater’s technicality and nuances, this song will absolutely blow you away. It is indeed a long song, but Dream Theater is masterful at keeping the song fresh.
Scene Seven: II. One Last Time–This track sets the tone for the rest of the album. Its ponderous and lonely aesthetic is heavy. Another song to further the Concept of the album. A shorter one, at three minutes. However, this song, as I said, is mainly for the plot, so not necessarily the most complex or tricky in its song structure.
Scene Eight: The Spirit Carries On–This song is certainly the most uplifting and optimistic on the album overall, which turns out to be the prevailing mood throughout the conclusion to the album. These lines sum up the song perfectly: “I may never find all the answers / I may never understand why / I may never prove what I know to be true / But I know that I still have to try.” An excellent guitar solo is featured towards the end, which is not akin to most others on the album, which are faster and technical, but instead can be described as soulful.
Scene Nine: Finally Free–This is a twelve minute song, and an epic conclusion to Metropolis Pt. 2. It is heavy with positive emotion and a sense of fulfillment or completion. Notes of mystery and sadness remain, but in a more subdued fashion. The song, in its musical and lyrical aspects, illicit a feeling of “coming full circle”. As the song ends, a sense of profound wonder and satisfaction is all that remains.
There is a reason that Dream Theater has garnered many accolades, awards, and praise. This band represents the pinnacle of music-making, both conceptually and instrumentally. The standard of musicianship that Dream Theater has set is simply incredible. Dream Theater puts contemporary and antiquated artists alike to shame with its elevated and unparalleled creations. Aside from their musical prowess, the band has managed to pull off a beautifully constructed Conceptual album, which few and far between have been successfully created. I can honestly say that any one person that is interested in music ought to hear this album, as it is a shining example of true artistry which is not too often seen.