An album by Dream Theater released in 1999 and probably the best concept album released in the last decade (some would argue that Radiohead's OK Computer is also a concept album, but it's not clear). Its full title is Metropolis Pt 2: Scenes From A Memory. Metropolis Part 1 was one of the most loved tracks from their second album Images and Words. It was originally called Part 1 as an in-joke but fans kept asking when Part 2 would be released. Part 2 turned into a whole (and I mean whole: The CD comes in at 77 minutes and 30 seconds, a full 30 seconds less than the maximum possible on a CD) album.

Musically, it is considered by many fans as their best release. It falls into the category of progressive rock -- music with very complex arrangements, time signatures and so on. In particular, the drumming by Mike Portnoy is awesome; not to say the rest of the band is not up to scratch, but the drumming is mindblowing. It is adored by fans, and considered a return to form after Falling Into Infinity. It's good listening even if you're not interested in progressive rock, just skip the progressive parts.

Lyrically, it concerns itself with the story of Nicholas who keeps having dreams and nightmares about a girl called Victoria; so he undergoes hypnosis to resolve the issue. Nicholas discovers he was Victoria in a past life (in the 1920's and 30's). He finds out that Victoria was brutally murdered in a murder-suicide:

Headline: "Murder, young girl killed
Desperate shooting at Echo's Hill
Dreadful ending, killer died
Evidently suicide."

A witness heard a horrifying sound
He ran to find a woman dead and
Lying on the ground

Standing by her was a man
Nervous, shaking, gun in hand
Witness says he tried to help
But he'd turned the weapon on himself

We then discovered that she was murdered by Julian Baynes, who then turned the gun on himself, or so it would appear. Julian had loved Victoria, but had gotten involved in crime/drugs/gambling. Victoria had gone to Edward Baynes, Julian's successful twin brother, for consolation and Edward had fallen in love with her and married her while Julian was in the dumps.

But it turns out that what actually happened was that Victoria decided Edward had taken advantage of her, Julian had come out of his junkie state, Victoria and Julian had organised a secret rendezvous to get back together again, Edward catches them, shoots Julian after a struggle, then shoots Victoria, then makes it look like murder-suicide:

Edward
Friday evening
The blood still on my hands
To think that she would leave me now
For that ungrateful man

Sole survivor
No witness to the crime
I must act fast to cover up
I think that there's still time

He'd seem hopeless and lost with this note
They'll buy into the words that I wrote

"This feeling inside me
Finally found my love, I've finally broke free
No longer torn in two
I'd take my own life before losing you"

Then Nicholas wakes up. What happens next is weird ... we hear Nicholas driving home, then getting a drink, then being startled by the hypnotist saying "Open your eyes, Nicholas", Nicholas is violently startled ... and that's the end of the CD. Some people have postulated that the hypnotist was in fact the reincarnation of Edward, who goes to kill Nicholas now the he knows what happened.

Quite a complex story, told well. It works on both a musical and lyrical level. It can be very derivative at times. For example, The Spirit Carries On sounds like it's pure Pink Floyd; like something off The Wall. Other bits sound like Tool, Queen, Kiss, Genesis, Metallica and even Elton John. And this is pretty much deliberate according to the band members; and I guess acceptable in the post-modern milieu. The way they connect it all up together is stunning. They can go from little accoustic ballads through to rock as hard as Metallica's best.

If you're not into progressive rock and want to see what it's all about, this is a good album to start with.

Now that it's been over ten years since its initial release, Scenes is looked back upon as the most professional, well-rounded and well-developed Dream Theater album in their discography. While it's true that the album was indeed a return to form next to the Infinity album, it wasn't a return to old habits. It contained much of the atmosphere, brilliant composing, and technical difficulty of Awake without being as scatterbrained, uncontrolled, and self-indulging in its deep tracks. This very easily might have been caused by the musical input of Jordan Rudess, whose first studio album with DT was Scenes. In any case, it was by far their most focused effort, and their most accessible album from end to end.

Since Scenes, Dream Theater only released one other concept album - Octavarium in 2005 - to a lesser reception. A Concert DVD called Metropolis 2000: Live Scenes from New York and accompanying triple live album Live Scenes from New York were both released in 2001 which featured Scenes performed in its entirety. The release also included full performances of two classic DT suites: A Mind Beside Itself pts 1, 2, and 3(From Awake), and A Change of Seasons from the EP of the same name.

The theory that the hypnotherapist is the reincarnation of Edward who follows Nicholas home and murders him is true, and confirmed on the live DVD release. Thus 'completing the cycle' of the three spirits in an intrinsic, spiritually divine love triangle. Interesting, to an extent, but somewhat short of fascinating. Though most people who have any real investment in this album is drawn to it by the extreme nature of its music. It's often excessive, and somewhat hard to keep up with, but in the same breath it proves itself to be challenging and rewarding to those who don't get completely lost.

The album's track structural design splits the events of the album into two Acts, in nine "scenes" as it were. The musical climax of the album is the first scene of Act II. Though, Dream Theater chose not to start its scene count over, but instead to roll over its scene count from Act I. Thus, Home does not become Act II, Scene 1: Home as would be logically expected, but Act II, Scene 6: Home.

CD tracklist:

1. Act I Scene I:
Regression

2. Act I Scene II part 1:
Overture 1928

3. Act I Scene II part 2:
Strange Déjà Vu

4. Act I Scene III part 1:
Through My Words

5. Act I Scene III part 2:
Fatal Tragedy

6. Act I Scene IV:
Beyond This Life

7. Act I Scene V:
Through Her Eyes

8. Act II Scene VI:
Home pts 1, 2, & 3: The Sleeper, The Miracle, Nicholas

9. Act II Scene VII part 1:
The Dance of Eternity

10. Act II Scene VII part 2:
One Last Time

11. Act II Scene VIII:
The Spirit Carries On

12. Act II Scene IX:
Finally Free

Like just about everything by Dream Theater, the singles from the album flopped terribly, yet the album was still internationally successful.

Personally, I actually wouldn't recommend this as a starting point for those interested in Dream Theater, or Progressive Music in general. Play around with the really old stuff that still maintained some traditional rock aspects: Yes, Jethro Tull, and Rush. Then when you're ready for a somewhat darker, more elaborate and more modern type of progressive music, try Porcupine Tree, then Dream Theater's Awake or Images and Words. Then maybe if you're really attached to the style you can try slightly heavier things like Opeth or slightly more schizophrenic things like early King Crimson or some of the earlier Genesis records. The most important thing to remember though is that you don't have to enjoy it. There's nothing wrong with living off Steely Dan, Cole Porter, and The Beastie Boys. There's plenty of amazing shit out there.

Scenes is definitely a good album though, if you can tolerate it. 8.4/10.

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