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Milan Fahrnholz Profile
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posticon Scenes From A Memory - A Review (in 3 parts)


Part I


***Warning: I try to describe the whole album and tell the whole story, so spoilers of musical and dramatical kind might be within***

Metropolis Pt 2: Scenes From A Memory – Dream Theater (1999)

Image

Personnel:

Mike Portnoy (Drums, Percussion, Vocals)
John Petrucci (Guitars, Vocals)
John Myung (Bass Guitar)
James LaBrie (Lead Vocals)
Jordan Rudess (Keyboards)

Additional Musicians:

Theresa Thomason (Additional Vocals on Through Her Eyes and The Spirit Carries On)
Gospel Choir arranged and conducted by Jordan Rudess(Additional Vocals on The Spirit Carries On)

Cast of Characters:

Nicholas
Victoria Page
Senator Edward Baynes (The Miracle)
Julian Baynes (The Sleeper)
The Hypnotherapist


Review Key:

Musical Review
Plotline



Notes:

On their 1992 output „Images And Words“ there was a track that was called „Metropolis Part 1: The Miracle And The Sleeper“, which remains one of DT´s most popular outputs to this day and is the final encore for most gigs today.. While the „part 1“, was originally meant as a joke due it it´s epic lyrical content, they finally released Part 2 purely on fans´ demand in 1999.
Originally it was to become a single track of about 20 minutes, but as the CD they were working on at the time was already packed (the 78 minutes long Falling Into Infinity, which came out in 1997) they put it to the unfinished tracks. Later they would rework the whole thing and make it an independent 77 minute (almost) enduring concept piece.
It is loosly linked to part one through the figures that represent the brothers The Miracle and The Sleeper and through the mentally linked characters. It tells a fascinating and very unusual murder story, very unusual told through the music of Dream Theater.
I will review it and attempt to get near to the story(with help of lyrics, older interpretations and the film sequences they did for their live shows).
Scenes From A Memory was performed live in it´s entirety on some shows of their 2000 tour.
The most popular live documentation of that can be found on the 3 CD set „Live Scenes From New York“ which is fully packed with the whole concept, a selection of some of their greatest songs and the bombast epic A Change Of Season, making this a mindblowing 3 hour show.

ACT I

Scene One: 1. Regression

The first we hear, after we have pushed play on our CD player is the ticking of a clock and the Hypnotherapist slowly counting back from ten to one bringing us into the world of 1928.
The acoustic guitar comes in and James LaBrie sings the first lines. Just guitar and and voice at this place. It all starts really gentle and sweet. We are truly chilled at this beginning as a sound brings us into the next track.

The story starts with the hypnotherapist practising his regression theraphy on Nicholas. He counts back from ten to one while Nicholas is getting calmer and entering the dream-like trance. The Hypno assures Nicholas he is safe and only needs to open his eyes to come back. At "one" Nicholas is hypnotised and enters his secret past.

Scene Two: 2. Overture 1928

The sound goes on and we shortly hear an opening chord of Metropolis Part 1. Rolling drums and heavy guitar riffs become louder. This instrumental clearly is what leads us into the past of the story. Jordan Rudess introduces himself well but laid back at this point.
The guitar plays melodies that appeared in Metropolis Part 1 and some that will be repeated during the rest of the album. Unbelivable rhythms come from the drums, a few changes and different chord sequences come up as this instrumental is progressing. Loose beats bring us directly into the next part.

II 3. Strange Deja Vu

Heavy riffing and Mike Pornoy´s unique drum playing bring us into this one. James LaBrie´s vocals sound kinda surreal. The soul of his voice as well as the instrumentation perfectly fit the athmosphere of the strange unknown setting we are brought into.
This is overall a very powerful track, that is although it´s the third track, a very good opener that sets the mood for what is to come and if not already before we are now really sure that something exciting is to follow.
The scene starts in the regession and after LaBrie briefly sang Victoria´s role in a very soft interpretation, the sound gets heavier and changes as we get back to real life. Then Jordan Rudess leads us back to the chorus on piano. Near the ending we hear the first catchy line, that just ends before it allows us to sing along.

Nicholas went to the therapist because he wanted to discover more about the strange dreams and places that come up in his mind everytime he closes his eyes. In the regression everything is like a dream but a lot clearer to him. He sees a pathway that leads him to a house that seems strangly familiar.
In his mind he goes up the stairs of that house into a room, where he sees a girl inside the mirror. Her image is getting clearer, it´s Victoria. In his subconcious mind Nicholas is aware that he knows her, although he doesn´t know why.
He pleads Victoria to tell him more about why she´s always on his mind and why she seems to be so bitter. He feels there´s something she wants to express. Obviously he knows that she was murdered.
He comes back to conciousness and leaves the therapy but knows that there are many questions unanswered and wants to find out more about the truth.


Scene Three: 4. Through My Words

A very sweet but also melancholic piano melody leads this song to which James LaBrie goes on with his vocals.
Little lyrics has this song, but still it is very, very emotional as simple as it is. Even though it is rather a bridge between Strange Deja Vu and Fatal Tragedy it is of great importance to the drama and progression of the mood on the album.

Nicholas feels that he and Victoria are mentally linked. He becomes aware that they share the same soul.

II 5. Fatal Tragedy

Two voiced vocals and again more riffy guitar along with Jordan Rudess on the piano again, which seems odd when you hear it but not if you listen to it.
A short choir section brings us to the first chorus which also features backing vocals by Mike Portnoy and John Petrucci. I love that short (church)organ, guitar, organ, guitar interplay. It just works perfect. I love it, also at the point it gets lost and Portnoy beats his drums again to dead, fantastic break in that scene.
Back to the song and chorus and a new heavy passage with really crazy organ parts that are under heavy drum and bass rhythms.
John Petrucci sounds a lot like Steve Morse here, especially in his solo that still sounds exciting. Many very fast solo parts and keyboard interplays come before it all gets together at around six minutes on a high speed down up and down scale, one of my very favourite moments in the album.
When this is over short fast piano chords accompany the Hypnotherapist´s speech that leads us into the next track.

What happened at that certain tragic night, and more about how it concerns his present live, all those questions
keep him from his sleep that night.
The next events are a bit unclear.
What we know is that Nicholas visits an old man who obviously knows about the murder. He tells him about a girl, obviously Victoria, and that this tragic was a well discussed topic in the past and everyone was concerned as she was so young.
Nicholas wants to find out more, but the old man(who seems to know surprisingly much about Nicholas, his fate and his past)leaves him on his own. It is possible that the old man shares his soul with Julian Barnes, but that´s only one of many theories, actually it´s quite hazy as we have little detail on that.



Last edited by Milan Fahrnholz, 18/6/2004, 15:27
18/6/2004, 12:56 Link to this post  
 
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Re: Scenes From A Memory - A Review (in 3 parts)


Part II


Scene Four: 6. Beyond This Life

The riff comes along very heavy on the left channel. It´s almost metalish clichéed, but somehow it just fits exactly to the rest of the song. The vocals come along very electric, like a machine.
This is told through the newspaper account, I guess that´s why it´s a bit less emotional at this point. It changes through very different vocal effects, depending at which point of the song we are, normal verse then a second kind of verse and some kind of chorus has another vocal sound. After that chorus another change of mood comes along, some short quiet guitar licks, then back to in-the-face riffing.
It gets very hard near the end of the first vocal section, it´s some kind of fast spoken vocals that pump like the drums that get louder at this point. The funny thing about the track is that everytime it gets heavy and loud we are thrown back to chill and vice versa.
The main chorus is just beautiful, it again has very nice backing vocals. Makes you think why they didn´t sing like that earlier. A keyboard effect then goes through your ears slowly through your head from one side to the other. This drifts between fast and mid tempo and we get more sequence changes and keyboard/guitar solo interludes that allow each other enough room to show their skills and be part of the complex but meaningful song structure.
One keyboard solo is definitly inspired by Frank Zappa. Sometimes it sounds like vibes and then like keyboards again and again like vibes. The tone of this solo is overall very Zappa-esque. The solo section slowly gets in the backround and the vocals return. The chorus is reprised the song ends with a bit of fine accoustic guitar that brings us into the next track.

Another session at the Hypnotherapist. He brings Nicholas back into his own subconcious mind to find out about Vicoria´s death that seems to be his own past death as well. Nicholas finds out more about the murder as he sees an old newspaper account of 1928.
This way Nicholas and we discover that the murderer who obviously was Julian Baynes had a relationship with Victoria, but they broke up due to Julian´s lifestyle that was strongly influenced by his gambling addiction(and possibly other kinds of addictions, as well) or so it seems. In that account we know about the reports of the witness Edward Baynes(Julian´s brother) who reportedly heard a horrifying sound and went to the place where he found Victoria dead and Julian standing next to her, who commits suicide just in the next moment.
This account is full of speculation wheater the murder was prearranged or something. We find out that Victoria had a switchblade with her(for self-defence?) and that Julian had a suicide letter in his pocket, where he tells that he´d rather kill himself than living without her. All that makes us think that after the break up, he wanted to kill himself but hand out her the letter first. The situation escalates, she puts out her switchblade and Julian shoots her and then commits suicide...but this is what the account makes us think.
At this point of the therapy Nicholas becomes fully aware that he carries Victoria´s reincarnated soul inside him and he feels that in that reincarnation everything one has done in his past life will follow one into eternity and that the personality stays the same throughout all possible lives.


Scene Five: 7. Through Her Eyes

Theresa´s soulful vocals open this track under the guitar soloing of John Petrucci, which is very beautiful.
The first of two ballads on the album has begun. The piano and the accoustic guitar that dominate this track are not only
very, very beautiful but also very atmospheric.
I picture Nicholas going along the pathway and visiting the grave at that point. It is bitter-sweet, very warm but still if you deal with the story it can bring you close to tears. A very philosophical lyric packed into a very emotional piece of music. James LaBrie´s vocals are just beautiful and very warming. He even makes the (rather rare occuring) high notes sound perfectly asthetic. A few licks on the electric guitar and very soulful singing end the first part of the album.

After the therapy Nicholas visits Victoria´s grave. „In loving memory of our child, so innocent, eyes open wide“ stands written on the stone.
Nicholas is very sad, because to him this is quite like seeing his own death. But he also becomes more aware of how that past has influence on his present life and that he can learn more about himself by living through Victoria´s past.


ACT II:

Scene Six: 8. Home

That track builds up very slowly. Guitar and Sitar sounding Synths make their appearance and slowly get louder after a bit silent cymbals the drum rhythm enter and it gets to it´s main theme. The wah-wah and later oriental or eastern sounding guitar that connects to the Sitar sound make the intro perfect.
We then get into a simple main rhtyhm that is used as foundation for the vocals that also build up from verse to verse. The instrumentation especially the drums get more and more complex as the song progresses.
The chorus is probably my favourite ever Dream Theater chorus. It also reprises another vocal melody from Metropolis Part 1 and has a break that shares the melody with a part of the intro sequence of the same song. Also one or two lines are repeated in the disorted-spoken-vocal bridge.
Then everything starts the vocal section again before we get back to the chorus, which is just brilliant as I said before. The album´s name is also mentioned here just once again like in Metropolis Part 1.
The gambling/sex sequence(one on each channel with the music on the main channel) is very dramatic and atmospheric. While you hear the sounds from both sides the slow drifting section with drums, sitar-sounds, guitar and bass builds up and gets louder before the really agressive synth solo starts. That has a great effect at that point and takes you even deeper with the drama of the whole thing. The guitar solo of course follows directly and brings the momentum back into the chorus.
The eastern main theme comes back and a short session that sounds really, really eastern on the drum and synth part make it into another solo section that gets fast before the coda and the final crash. The last we hear is something that sounds very familiar...

This is completly in the past. We learn that Victoria left Julian because of his gambling addiction, she cries out herself at Julian´s brothers Ed´s shoulder.
In her desperate situation while he calms her, he falls for her and although he wants to resist the temptation because he feels sorry for his brother, his desire for Vicotria grows and in the end he gives it away and spends a loving night with Victoria while his brother is at the casino(or somewhere).
Nicholas doesn´t know of all that. He just wants to find out more about his past life and learn more about the murder and what has become of him. He can´t await the next therapy session to learn go deeper into his past life.


Scene Seven: 9. The Dance Of Eternity

It begins with very, very short excerpts of Metropolis Part one, some of the intro and some of the the solo parts.
On this instrumental everything comes together. It is for sure intended to directly follow The Miracle And The Sleeper´s middle section. It is exactly in that style and leaves space for every instrumentalist in the band to play in the fourground on this up-tempo track.
There´s a part where Jordan Rudess plays something that sounds like a western saloon piano that stops as it directly goes on in the main type of scene and we get more heavy and also very impressive inspired drum parts and John Myung has a very dominant part as well.
It is really like a time travel seven years into the past, as if Kevin Moore never had left the band. You hear the original Dream Theater sound on this track, make no mistake! This is nothing short of classy, everytime you get into a theme, the next comes along.
It perfectly flows, gets up, falls down. It´s never predicatable and never boring, but very coherent and everything fits together. It directly leads into the next track.

II 10. One Last Time

Another famous melody on the piano enters this touching track. It is build as a prelude to an end, so it sounds. The vocals get help from a heavy guitar and a piano that surprisingly fit well together. You´d never think that if you heard them seperatly. Even if it starts semi-balladesque it somehow gets on a bit like Surrounded.
The ending mood is broken up and you know that there´s something still left, it can´t be over now. Not only the lyrics but also the music tell here. The singing gets more dramatic and desperate and then it breaks up and we hear a child-like piano that sounds like we´ve reached the end of a one way road here.

Nicholas is reflecting on what he has learned so far, yet is still not convinced by what the old man had told him and what he read in the news paper account.
He belives that he heard rumours about the events before and that there´s still a piece missing to make the picture complete. Nicholas visits Ed´s house where his affair with Victoria took place. He falls half-unconcious and sees his memories while he´s awake.
There are many clues in the house on what happened and he hears voices, a woman screaming and a man who pleads forgiveness, at this point Nicholas probably knows about the affair Ed had with Victoria, the (not yet?) ex-girlfriend of Ed´s brother Julian.



Last edited by Milan Fahrnholz, 18/6/2004, 15:27
18/6/2004, 12:56 Link to this post  
 
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Re: Scenes From A Memory - A Review (in 3 parts)


Part III


Scene Eight: 11. The Spirit Carries On

Very warm and soulful vocals welcome us here in this track. Also just accompanied by piano in the beginning. Later that is joined by an acoustic guitar. We feel warm and chilled and the drums enter at just the best possible time. It gets tension, the song progresses but never loses it´s warming and positive feeling. You could call this a ballad, but it´s not one of the slow and sad kind.
It carries on like what the lyrics are about. Many emotion is put into the singing, and the guitar solo adds to the good feeling the song gives to you, when you listen to it. During the solo the tempo slowly grows and falls back again, the Gospel Choir and another vocal addition of Theresa make the picture complete.
The singing gets intense and you can´t help yourself singing along at this time. A very friendly and warming atmosphere leads this piece and it´s outro. You feel good, you feel very, very good.
This has a very chilling effect on me, and is definitly a highlight, if you can pick highlights on that complete perfect piece of music, anyway. At that point you, could stop but it´s not yet over.

This is the third and last hypno therapy session for Nicholas. He finds all the answers to his questions and how the murder took place.
He finds out that Ed was involved and that the truth is different to what everyone else always has belived. Victoria appears once again and encourages him to try and reveal the truth about her murder that happened in his past live. Nicholas is positive.
He knows that all this happened to make him aware that death is not the end nothing to be afraid for. He knows his soul will transcend and that the time he will die, whenever that will take place(it could be any day) is nothing he needs to fear.


Scene Nine: 12. Finally Free

The Hypnotherapist leads Nicholas back into conciousness. Accoustic guitar and string-like keyboards connect to the home-like feel of the previous song. You hear a car start and a thunderstorm comming up. You briefly hear the outro theme on the keys, then the piano starts some drama again. Gentle instrumentation and singing carry on the momentum.
A drumbreak brings us to the next section and deeper into the dramatic progression of the last song. While story is told and it goes on you hear the murder occuring during a guitar lead instrumental section that is broken again by the repetion of the chorus of One Last Time. The guitar solo is using the main melody we heard a lot during the album again and fades into another more intense kind of singing. This really has a kind of end feel, there´s a lot of hall in the voice, as suddenly we just have accoustic guitar and voice again before we break back into the seemingly eternally progressing track again.
„We´ll meet again my friend, someday soon...“ is James LaBrie´s last line of vocals, before we enter the lenghtly outro. This is definitly a highlight, it reminds me a lot of the extended ending of Rainbow´s Stargazer. Just hugly effective powerchords that are repeated for two minutes or so, more and more great drum breaks come, they get more and more hefty and it wears on and one and Pornoy just beats it before...
The song gets into the car radio of our hero. The sound in the backround and we hear the car sounds and all that, the music is switched off.
We hear Nicholas entering his home, going up the stairs and everything. Watching TV, making himself a drink. Footsteps, music, they Hypnotherapist, a scream, the bumping phonograph on the record. Fade to black...

Finally he comes back to conciousness after his last regression therapy. He leaves the Therapist´s place, enters his car and drives home in the rain.
At his point we learn about the past events for a last time, something Nicholas has learned in his last session but we haven´t, yet.
Victoria wanted to end the affair with Ed and get back together with Julian. They planned to meet up and talk. Victoria knew that Julian was the one she loved but that he´d kill his brother if he knew of the affair he had with her. So they meet up, but Ed shows up and so Julian and he start fighting. Ed kills Julian and Victoria. Julian dies lying on the dead Victoria. Ed puts the suicide letter(he obviously had written in desperation before) into Julian´s pocket and then gets help to play his part of the witness and lead the police and the public(like later the press) to the wrong path. That was the true murder story.
In the present Nicholas enters his home gets up the stairs switches of the TV and puts on some music while he´s having a drink. He almost drifts into sleep as the Hypnotherapist who has followed him into his house says:“Open your eyes Nicholas!“ We hear Nicholas scream and the phonograph of the record player that played the music gets bumped and the story is over. The hypnotherapist was Ed´s reincarnation who repeated the past as he killed Nicholas´ and made his soul transcend once again.



Conclusion:

This is the album where everything comes together. Here all the highlights of the previous DT outputs are mixed together with a new sound that points into a very exciting direction.
You have the atmospheric sounds of Images And Words, the hard edge of Awake and the warm comfortable feel of Falling Into Infinity. But you can also hear many influences by classic bands like Pink Floyd, Yes, Genesis, Steve Morse, Deep Purple, Metallica, Rush, Frank Zappa and the Mothers Of Invention and many more.
It is a modern classic piece, really.
The concept has a lot that is in the style of the seventies, a little bit of eighties and little nineties sound. The production sound is overall really great, it´s crystal clear, Portnoy and Petrucci did a great work on the album sound.
James LaBrie´s vocals are very soulful, and he doesn´t over-do it on the high scales like he used to on previous albums. I couldn´t imagine a better singer for SFAM. The rhythm section is unbelivable, but not overdone. John Myung does some incredible work on his six-string bass and Mike Portnoy´s drumming is out this world. Petrucci, while sounding greatly like Steve Morse, shows also many other influences and has really some edge and feel in his playing. Jordan Rudess couldn´t have entered the band at a better time, he introduces himself greatly and brings Dream Theater into an exciting modern era.
Many critise Dream Theater for being to highly technical and cold, with many demonstration of skills but not much heart.
Well, in Scenes From A Memory you have musical technial perfection but everything is very coherent, one thing perfectly flows into another, it´s more like two long pieces seperated into chapters that tell an overwhelming story, makes perfectly sense and still has a certain warmth to it.
As a concept album it works in a great way. It is really moving and one of very few original stories that are constructed so clever, musically and lyrically.
Although it´s a concept piece it still never loses itself througout 77 minutes and still has enough room for many instrumental, experimental sounding but yet perfectly structured instrumental pieces. With many feeling you are lead through certain passages and moods, that will guide you through a great story. Best sit down, at night, switch the light of, make it yourself comfortable, put your headphones on and let the pictures come. It will be like a movie in your head. Your fantasy will provide you the pictures as the story goes on and your feelings won´t remain untouched throughout this truely emotional metal opera. Definitly Dream Theater´s best work, you can say that this is perfection from beginning to end. Everything is where it has to be. Considering that it came out in 1999 the year Britney Spears had her first sucess makes me feel positive about current music, hence such a young band(in comparison) can still release albums that great. If you see it, and like classic rock, conceptual prog, or very good melodic constructed metal music, get it!
This is a modern masterpiece, and you won´t often hear me saying that, if ever again.



- Milan


Last edited by Milan Fahrnholz, 18/6/2004, 15:27
18/6/2004, 12:56 Link to this post  
 
Christos Gatzidis Profile
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Re: Scenes From A Memory - A Review (in 3 parts)


Milan you need to get out more. emoticon Seriously though, excellent review for what IMO is the band's best album after Images & Words.
18/6/2004, 13:30 Link to this post Send Email to Christos Gatzidis   Send PM to Christos Gatzidis
 
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Re: Scenes From A Memory - A Review (in 3 parts)


Hey mate!

I'm sure it's a good review, but is there any chance of dividing up your review into smaller paragraphs? Makes it a lot easier to read on the web then! My eyes go funny reading such dense lines like that! emoticon

Cheers,
Rahul

---
Theory is when you know everything and nothing works;
Practice is when everything works and nobody knows why.

Here we combine Theory with Practice: Nothing works and nobody knows why.
18/6/2004, 13:31 Link to this post Send Email to Rahul   Send PM to Rahul
 
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Re: Scenes From A Memory - A Review (in 3 parts)


I made more, does it look a little better? Sorry, but I can´t actually seperate them, as that would spoil my whole concept.emoticon
18/6/2004, 14:30 Link to this post  
 
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Re: Scenes From A Memory - A Review (in 3 parts)


It's a bit better, thanks! Haven't got time to read it now though! emoticon

---
Theory is when you know everything and nothing works;
Practice is when everything works and nobody knows why.

Here we combine Theory with Practice: Nothing works and nobody knows why.
18/6/2004, 14:50 Link to this post Send Email to Rahul   Send PM to Rahul
 
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Re: Scenes From A Memory - A Review (in 3 parts)


I was aware of that was what you actually were trying to say.emoticon
18/6/2004, 14:51 Link to this post  
 
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Re: Scenes From A Memory - A Review (in 3 parts)


quote:

Rahul wrote:

It's a bit better, thanks! Haven't got time to read it now though! emoticon



Alternatively, make a text-zoom. I find it readable, by zooming 150%. With Mozilla that's view->text-zoom
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Re: Scenes From A Memory - A Review (in 3 parts)


Really great review, Milan. Thanks for this, it saved my day. I wish I was capable to describe music as good as you do!

But I'm not sure if your interpretation that the Hypnotherapist is the reincarnation of Ed is right. I don't have arguments to convince you that it is wrong, but I just don't like this ending! Why should the hypnotherapist have the will to kill Nicolas, even if his soul is Victorias?

Nevertheless: great album, great review!
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