Train of Thought (ToT) is Dream Theater's seventh full studio album, released November 11, 2003. Released a mere eighteen months after Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence (SDOIT), ToT is a comparatively low-key release, with much less fanfare and stark monochrome packaging. But as the busy colourful packaging of SDOIT mirrored the wild musical variety contained on its two shiny discs, the white-on-black packaging of ToT mirrors the dark, heavy feeling of the music of the album. This is easily the heaviest overall album Dream Theater's ever made, more so than SDOIT and 1993's Awake. Here, the band blends elements from Tool and nu-metal in general into their heavy progressive sound to form a bassy, heavy, full sound that retains DT's trademark depth.
There are seven songs on the album, all written and performed by Dream Theater, and produced by Mike Portnoy and John Petrucci:
- As I Am (7:48)
The album opens with a gradual synth build which quickly gives way to a deep and heavily distorted riff, first on bass and then on guitar. Speeding up in several steps, this leads into the verse. The lyrics are shouted, rhythmic, and rhyme crazily. A calmer section leads towards the chorus, where more traditional metal riffs enter. Another verse, in the same pattern, leads into another chorus. An instrumental section follows, with a number of solos. One last chorus leads into an outro mirroring in many ways the intro, fading down to a single note. A slightly edited version of this song was released to radio stations, where it had very little effect.
- This Dying Soul (11:27)
A continuation of The Glass Prison from Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, this song is based off the fourth and fifth steps of the AA twelve-step program. A straight-out thrash song like its predecessor, the first part (Part IV) recalls classic Metallica in its style, though of course adding a significant synthesiser part. The music calms down for the introduction of the lyrics and gains a foreboding tone. The thrash returns with distortion in the vocals, and Part IV then ends with a calm piano riff and then a quotation from The Glass Prison. It flows continuously into Part V, where the vocals change to a much more clipped and urgent style, with the music changing correspondingly. Three minutes of instrumental interplay round off this epic, ending suddenly.
- Endless Sacrifice (11:24)
The best song on the album, it continues in the heavy-alternative style of Misunderstood from SDOIT. Clean guitars and synthesisers begin this song in a relaxed, flowing manner, and interplay with the vocals in a reflective, almost soothing manner. A rapid increase in tempo leads into the heavy, distorted, intense chorus, which is followed by a return to the original relaxed style of the verse. The chorus returns and just at the point where the pattern of the song seems apparent, the heavy sound continues leading into a guitar solo. The guitar solo rapidly becomes a guitar-synth duet, and then becomes a keyboard solo. Much more rapid-fire soloing follows, including a brief acoustic piano segment. Eventually the vocals return, following the rapid-fire cadence of the instrumental break, and everything draws to a finish.
- Honor Thy Father (10:14)
A brief drum solo begins this intensly angry song. Distorted guitar joins in and builds until the entrance of the vocals. Keyboards join in, and the vocals become distorted and thin and return in fullness for the chorus. The chorus is angry to the point of vitriol, and each repetition through the song intensifies the wording. After the second verse the music becomes less distorted transitioning back to the chorus. The bridge follows, with samples of dialogue used for flavour as in 6:00 from Awake. After the vocals return, the chorus is repeated one last time and the song ends with a heavy, extended outro.
- Vacant (2:57)
The one quiet, short song on the album, this song is very reminiscent of Disappear on SDOIT. A violin adds flavour to the clean guitar and acoustic piano, with the imagistic and spare lyrics lending a still-life quality to the song. The piano ending of the song leads smoothly into the next.
- Stream of Consciousness (instrumental) (10:14)
An amazing song, this qualifies as one of the best metal instrumentals I've ever heard. Both its style and quality invite comparison with Metallica's brilliant instrumental Orion, from Master of Puppets. Not as showy as DT's earlier Dance of Eternity (from Scenes from a Memory), it makes its impact instead through the interplay of the different instrumental lines. In a way, it could be considered a new Liquid Tension Experiment song, although it is more 'composed'-sounding than most of the LTE recordings.
- In the Name of God (14:14)
This epic album closer begins with an unaccompanied guitar riff that leads into a heavy full-band riff. A topical song, the lyrics discuss religious fanaticism in a heavily unfavourable tone. Those familiar with Dream Theater might be reminded of the embarassing The Great Debate from SDOIT, which attempted to address the issues around stem cell research and was in almost every way a failure. Never fear, the band have learned from their mistakes and do it right this time around. Despite the lyrics being a little overdone, the rest of the song is done well enough that this is excusable. Musically, it sounds like the conclusion of a 72-minute album, its energy just muted enough to sound as though it is being played at the end of a long journey. The first bridge sounds very much like the bridge of The Great Debate, a driving bass riff and a subtle piano line threaded through it. The rest of the song is difficult to summarise just because so much happens in it; it sometimes feels like a recap of the preceding six tracks for all the familiar-sounding touches scattered throughout. At the end, a sample of The Battle Hymn of the Republic fades in, leading to a fadeout where it is accompanied by a lone acoustic piano.
Train of Thought is the most focused album Dream Theater has ever made. It rocks hard, has a coherent mood, and lets up just enough for the length to be listenable. While not the genre-shattering masterpiece that Scenes from a Memory is, Train of Thought is very good, and is in my opinion the best metal album of 2003.
This writeup is copyright 2004 D.G. Roberge and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs-NonCommercial licence. Details can be found at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd-nc/2.0/ .