One thing's certain about Dream Theater's fourth CD: you won't feel cheated if you buy it, even if you don't like what you hear. Boasting over 78 minutes of huge orchestrations, ambitious instrumentals, and wildly diverse styles that range from raging metal to gentle ballads, this disc contains more music than just about any we've recently heard. If the R&B lite of Top 40 or the faceless crunch du jour of alternative rock leaves you snoring, try dialing up a little prog-rock,'90s-style.
Dream Theater's biggest weakness is that guitarist John Petrucci and drummer Mike Portnoy still tend to overplay. Bassist John Myung, however (who met Petrucci and Portnoy at Berklee College of Music), is solid and foundational enough to keep the band's music from sounding like it's flying apart. On the band's best cuts, everyone's in perfect lockstep-such as on Infinity's opener, 'New Millennium.' The tune combines all of the best elements of King Crimson, Rush, and Soundgarden, with a dense arrangement built around Myung's insistent Yamaha 5-string ostinato. Dynamics and changing rhythms make the hard metal of 'Peruvian Skies' several notches more intelligent than your average grungepop or grindcore. Another of John's trademark angular, distorted eighth note bass ostinatos leads the way on 'Burning My Soul.' Even on many of DT's over-the-top tunes, such as 'Lines in the Sand' (with guest vocals by King's X bassist Doug Pinnick), highly inventive arrangements and production techniques turn what would otherwise be a shred-fest into a work of art. (Check out Myung's amazing flurry of harmonics 9:47 into the track.) The ambitious three-section closer, 'Trial of Tears,' is Pink Floyd-like in its grandiosity. This time, Myung wields a Chapman Stick; the instrument choice is pure genius, as the Stick's unique tone-ultra-deep, with a super-detailed, almost acoustic-sounding top-fits the song brilliantly. The album concludes with a tasteful Myung solo.
Falling into Infinity is an intense listen - at times fatiguing to the ear, but still highly enjoyable. As Dream Theater continues to mature and learns to further explore taste and space, it's destined only to improve.