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Dream Theater: Train Of Thought - Album Of The Week Club review

Borne perhaps from a fear of predictability, Train Of Thought was Dream Theater’s proud attempt at writing a ‘classic’ heavy metal album

Dream Theater - Train Of Thought album art
(Image: © InsideOut)
Dream Theater - Train Of Thought

Dream Theater - Train Of Thought album art

(Image credit: InsideOut)

As I Am
This Dying Soul
Endless Sacrifice
Honor Thy Father
Vacant
Stream of Consciousness
In the Name of God

Borne perhaps from a fear of predictability, Train Of Thought was Dream Theater’s proud attempt at writing a ‘classic’ heavy metal album. Indeed, such was the frenzy of guitar riffs that keyboard player Jordan Rudess later admitted that he found it challenging to squeeze into the sound. 

Written and recorded in just three weeks, Train Of Thought reflected the less-than-happy memories of a summer tour they’d just finished with Queensrÿche

That experience at times coloured the sessions: in the lyrics of opener As I Am, guitarist John Petrucci recalled the apparently comical experience of Queensrÿche’s Mike Stone attempting to give him a guitar lesson. 

Intentionally or otherwise, the album includes many of Petrucci’s finest solos, but the overall impression conveyed by the record is of unstoppable, if murky, power.

Every week, Album of the Week Club listens to and discusses the album in question, votes on how good it is, and publishes our findings, with the aim of giving people reliable reviews and the wider rock community the chance to contribute. 

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Other albums released in November 2003 

  • Against Me! As The Eternal Cowboy - Against Me!
  • A Natural Disaster - Anathema
  • 15 Year Killing Spree - Cannibal Corpse
  • Choronzon - Akercocke
  • Coldplay Live 2003 - Coldplay
  • Here Comes That Weird Chill - Mark Lanegan
  • Avril Lavigne: My World - Avril Lavigne
  • Payable On Death - P.O.D.
  • Sixty Six To Timbuktu - Robert Plant
  • Skull Ring - Iggy Pop
  • This Left Feels Right - Bon Jovi
  • Live from Faraway Stables - Silverchair
  • Kid Rock - Kid Rock
  • Lost Dogs - Pearl Jam
  • Soundtrack To The Apocalypse - Slayer
  • Thank You - Stone Temple Pilots
  • Blink-182 - Blink-182
  • The Central Park Concert - Dave Matthews Band
  • Collide - Skillet
  • The Electric Joe Satriani: An Anthology - Joe Satriani
  • Greatest Hits - Red Hot Chili Peppers
  • The Infinite Steve Vai: An Anthology - Steve Vai
  • Blitzen Trapper - Blitzen Trapper
  • Life On Display - Puddle of Mudd

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What they said...

"This album is certainly a UFO in Dream Theater's discography, but what a UFO! The title of the album is very well chosen, because between alcoholism, Portnoy's anger and Petrucci's love, this album is a real 'train of thoughts'! Listening to it several times is necessary in order to appreciate it at its true value, but it is really worth it, because it has qualities that no other album can claim to have." (MusicWaves (opens in new tab))

"James LaBrie's voice really takes a back seat to the music on this album and he really is just another instrument in the wall of sound. The band has opted for an extremely heavy approach to their music this time (at least by their standards) but still manage to maintain the quality in musicianship and arrangements that they're known for. The production is big and powerful and the band has never sounded better." (MetalReviews (opens in new tab))

"Struggles with the past, new encounters, and near despair are common themes, as on the brilliantly textured and detailed Train of Thought." Note the beautiful interplay between the guitars and keyboards on Endless Sacrifice, the insane drums and buzz saw attack on the intro to Honor Thy Father," or the brilliant play on the intro to Seasons of Whither in the intro to In the Name of God." (AllMusic (opens in new tab))

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What you said...

Chris Downie: It would be fair to say Dream Theater are a band that need no introduction, given the high profile garnered through over 30 years of raising the bar for supreme musicianship, coupled with an uncompromising attitude that has seen them succeed on their own terms, whilst remaining on the periphery of the mainstream. As widely alluded to, even among large swathes of their dedicated fanbase, they are a Marmite band, who invite intense debate among critics and fans alike; par for the course in truly 'progressive' bands, as has been witnessed in their forebears Rush and Queensryche, who charted similarly eclectic musical journeys, to mixed results.

This, their seventh album, was the culmination of appearing on metal package tours and festivals alongside the likes of Megadeth and Fear Factory, resulting in a desire to make their heavier side the primary focus on the next release. Whilst not a big departure from their signature sound, is noticeably heavier than their previous output; indeed, it is still arguably their heaviest to this day.

With its melding of classic thrash metal and progressive rock influences, a key reference point for the uninitiated would be ...And Justice For All-era Metallica, albeit with much better production and tighter arrangements. The opener As I Am has a menacing, slow build-up approach that sets the darker tone from the offset. Whilst less prominent than on previous and subsequent efforts, keyboard player Jordan Rudess does embellish the tracks without getting in the way, or reducing their overall impact. 

Indeed, the epic instrumental Stream of Consciousness is reminiscent of the Awake and Falling Into Infinity eras, where he rivals the melodic soundscapes created by Kevin Moore and Derek Sherinian respectively. Other key highlights would be Endless Sacrifice with its catchy hooks and distinct Dream Theater chorus, as well as the epic closer In The Name Of God.

If there is one drawback to Train Of Thought, as a whole, it is that it's runtime is par for the course they have charted from Awake onwards, with CD capacities regularly filled to the brim. While their more diverse offerings have often justified this runtime, the heavier nature of Train of Thought does make it an often overbearing proposition, when a more concise 50 minutes or so would have sufficed. That is not to say that it overstays it's welcome, far from it. It is a focussed effort that not only updated their sound and reach out to a new generation of metalheads, it is also rightfully seen as a watershed in their career although, arguably, the last truly great album of the Portnoy era. 9/10

Bill Griffin: I like to imagine this is what Rush (my favourite band) would have sounded like if Geddy and Neil hadn't latched on to the electronic sounds. Not surprisingly, these guys are all huge Rush fans as well.

I had issues with LeBries singing for a long time (he always seemed to be flat) but it's either grown on me or I was simply mistaken. Nonetheless, I love this band. Still haven't gotten every album and I don't have this one yet either but that will change. I have heard most of the tracks before though; my first Dream Theater album was Live At Budokan, recorded on this tour.

A solid 10 from me, maybe my first given.

Uli Hassinger: I'm not a die hard Dream Theater fan and I especially don't like their oft-mentioned "masterpiece" Images And Words that much. My favourite albums by them are Scenes From A Memory and this one.

It's a typical Dream Theater album to me. The harder riffs go well with the otherwise typical Dream Theater music. It gives it a darker sound, and the keyboards are often drowned out, but there are enough calmer parts as well were Rudess has the chance to put his stamp on. It has the typical ingredients of a Dream Theater album: multi-layered songs with several breaks, virtuoso musicianship, great singing. But it is combined with almost death metal riffs, which makes it even more interesting.

The best songs by far are the opener As I Am and the instrumental Stream Of Consciousness which is one of the most impressive instrumental songs ever. In The Name Of God is also outstanding. The other songs are good too but somehow a few minutes too long. Great album : 8/10

Gary Claydon: Dream Theater fall very firmly into the 'bands I think I should have liked but didn't' category for me. Not that I didn't try. Man, did I try. For about a quarter of a century, as it happens. Album after album, hoping that the latest one would be the one that finally 'clicked' with me. They never quite did, though. There were close calls. Images And Words and Scenes From A Memory are Dream Theater at their best in my opinion, but even they are far from perfect to my ears. 

The problem has always been that I find Dream Theater too cold, too clinical, too calculated, no sense of spontaneity, no joie de vivre. Excess is not necessarily a bad thing in a rock band but excess for the sake of it is simply self indulgence. Dream Theater tracks/albums are regularly guilty of being too long, too drawn-out, ideas and genuine moments of brilliance thus diluted. Lyrically, I've always found them somewhat lacking as well.

I don't particularly dislike Train Of Thought but can't get excited by it. I'm not a fan of Jordan Rudess, particularly live (very talented, technically very proficient but my comment about excess for the sake of it applies here) so the fact that he takes a bit more of a back seat than usual helps. Opener As I Am is the pick of this particular litter. 

Thing is, when Train Of Thought was released, there were other bands who were doing far more interesting things with prog-metal. For instance, in the years either side of 2003, Mastodon had released their debut followed by the brilliant Leviathan and only two years earlier Opeth had unveiled the magnificent Blackwater Park'. In comparison, Train Of Thought pales quite markedly.

It was Sheffield City Hall where I finally gave up trying to like Dream Theater. Sitting four rows away from the aforementioned Mr Rudess, I found my mind constantly wandering, which is highly unusual for me at a gig. Eventually I gave up the ghost and, for the only time I can remember in the many, many gigs I've attended, I left early due to being bored. Usually I give the CRAOTW at least a couple of spins. It had been at least a decade since I last heard Train Of Thought but this afternoon, halfway through my second listen of the week, I turned it off. Just like that night at Sheffield City Hall, I got bored. 5/10.

Alex Hayes: Oh yes, I love me a bit of Dream Theater. Nowadays, I can barely tolerate much of the music that first came into my life during the 90s/my 20s, but these progressive metal overlords are an enormous exception to that.

I know the group's debut album, When Dream And Day Unite, was released in 1989 (I own it), but, as with most of rock fandom, it was 1992's Images And Words that introduced me to the band and turned me into a fan. I still think of them as a 90s band to this day, oddly enough. Plus, when it comes to Dream Theater, a lot of professional critics abhor them. So what's not to like?

Images And Words is still one of my favourite albums by the band, along with the likes of Awake, Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From A Memory and, yes, Distance Over Time (a latter day Dream Theater classic). I'd actually rate quite a high percentage of the group's output over Train Of Thought, which has never been a personal favourite. That's not to say I don't like the album though, far from it. Compared to the majority of music from that time period (the early millennium, 2003 to be precise), this is absolutely shit-hot. As Dream Theater albums go though, it just doesn't draw me in the way that a lot of the group's other material is easily capable of doing.

So, why is that? Well, it's the heaviest Dream Theater album for a start. I don't have an issue with heavy music in the main. Only last night, I found myself listening to Gorguts' Considered Dead album, for Satan's sake. When it comes to the sick, aggressive shit, I'm usually well up for it. In Train Of Thought's case though, the emphasis on heaviness almost seems to place restrictions on the group's creativity, not giving the songs room to breathe. It also minimises Jordan Rudess' presence, and is too much of a direct Metallica imitation in places.

Over the years, Dream Theater have crafted many spectacular epics (Metropolis Part I: The Miracle And The Sleeper, Octavarium, The Count Of Tuscany to name just three). Occasionally however, they tend to get carried away with themselves, and push a certain track too far. The Ministry Of Lost Souls from 2007's Systematic Chaos is a good example of that, an unnecessarily long song that really doesn't justify it's run-time. Train Of Thought's closing epic In The Name Of God is another. It's stunning in places, but overstays it's welcome with me a little.

Other highlights here include As I Am, This Dying Soul and Honor Thy Father (a 'loving' tribute to Mike Portnoy's stepfather). As is to be expected for a Dream Theater album, the musicality and individual talent levels on display here are absolutely through the roof (including Rudess, when he's actually prominent in the mix). Train Of Thought is a deep and absorbing album overall. The fact that it's not a personal favourite of mine by the band shouldn't be taken to mean that I don't enjoy it. I bloody well do.

A warning to newbies though. There's a reason the critics aren't keen on Dream Theater. I love 'em, but even I have to admit that they're a bit of a Marmite band. Their music is too much for some people, and I can easily imagine certain first time listeners reacting to this with a resounding 'What the fu**...'

So there we go. A quality album from a unique band. A lot of rambling about Dream Theater, with even a little Gorguts thrown in for good measure. My work here is done.

Graham Tarry: One of my least favourite and rarely played Dream Theater albums. It’s too sluggish for my taste, lacking the Prog element that I love in most of their other albums.

Greg Schwepe: So, ever have one of those bands that “on paper” you should really like? That one band that has similar characteristics (same genre, same instrumentation) of bands that are your favourites… but you just can’t seem to connect with them? That’s my Dream Theater conundrum. And believe me, I really wanted to like Train Of Thought, but just couldn’t totally get there!

Borrowed a concert DVD of theirs a few years ago. Had read articles in my guitar magazines about the band members and knew their pedigrees and influences. “It’s like Yes and Rush put together and turned up to 11” I think I read somewhere once. “Oh, I’ll totally like that!” Three songs into the DVD I turned it off. Didn’t do a thing for me. And I was disappointed! Here I was hoping to find some new band (to me) and then get excited and go explore their entire catalogue.

When I saw this week’s choice I was bound and determined to give Dream Theater another full-blown try. I did, and had the same results; it's just not something that draws me in. And the weird part is that I really like elements of their sound when I hear it in other bands; alternating chugging and shreddy guitar, hyperactive drums, changing time signatures, and really long songs. Maybe all the virtuosity gets in the way of their songwriting.

It wasn’t really until Stream Of Consciousness that I finally found a song that kind of stuck with me. Until then it seemed like a lot of riffing on the low E string and then a lot of “tickity, tickity” drum fills. Maybe prog metal is not my thing, even though separately I like prog and I like metal.

About the time the post comes around for the album rating, I unfortunately won’t be giving Train Of Thought a very high score, sorry to say. Maybe some of the other reviewers could steer me towards another Dream Theater album so I could try again.

Evan Sanders: I had never heard this album or band, possibly because my "metal years" were in the 70s and 80s. I have to agree with those who compare it to Metallica or Black Sabbath, but without the menacing lead vocals. And sorry, it's just too long. Even Led Zeppelin had only one song over 11 minutes, and they kept their albums to 40-ish minutes (except the double one). Just because a CD holds 70 minutes of music doesn't mean you have to use them all. 5/10.

Elad Winberg: One of my favourite Dream Theater albums, and one of the best metal albums in the modern era! I liked the heavier direction, and the song As I Am sounds a lot like Metallica which is always a good thing for me. The lyrics were also well-written and the production sounds good. My only problem with this album is the lack in memorable keyboard work except from a few moments, and I don't blame Jordan Rudess for this, but rather the direction of the music. Other than that, it's a really good album, and it's always fun to listen to it once in a while

Douglas Mackenzie: OK, so I've been through it and for me it's rather disappointing. The first track - As I Am - does have a Metallica feel, but the majority of the rest of the album, whilst indeed 'heavy', is not necessarily 'good heavy'. 5/10.

Mark Herrington: My brother-in-law asked me to go to a Dream Theater concert in January 2004 at the Manchester Apollo, on their Train of Thought Tour. They played a lot of the album and I was impressed with their musicianship and the power of the new songs. So it was my first Dream Theater album purchase, and my favourite.

They have never got quite this heavy or ‘straight to the point’ since, so it’s quite unique in their output. Although my second-favourite, Black Clouds and Silver Linings, is pretty heavy in parts too.

John Davidson: With the opening heavy riffage of As I Am, Dream Theater set their stall out for an assault on the ears with Petrucci, Myung and Portnoy hammering away at the guitar, bass strings and drums in a blend of Sabbath and Metallica that they'd rarely come close to before.

It's only when James LaBrie's vocals start that I am jolted back into prog metal . He’s too studied and controlled for this type of song, and it almost saps the energy out of the music. Fortunately Petrucci is on hand to deliver a solo that takes us back into pure metal motherlode.

This Dying Soul is an odd one. At 11+ minutes it is certainly longer than it needs to be. At times they channel Iron Maiden (particularly in the guitar melody) and at other times the beat becomes more of the nu-metal stagger of Korn. LaBrie brings more of a performance to this one with a mixture of snarls and whines that are a decent fit for the tone of the music.

Endless Sacrifice is a more traditional Dream Theater semi power ballad with its measured, keyboard-led start and cigarette lighter swaying melody, albeit interspersed with bursts of staccato rhythms for the chorus. The second half of the song ramps up the energy and develops into a proper groove.

Honor Thy Father continues the heavy riffing, blending the melodic elements of a standard Dream Theater song with the thundering guitars, sections of stop start drumming and vocal snarls. As befits a 10-minute prog metal song, there are numerous sections but they flow together pretty well.

Vacant offers a short and gentle interlude before Stream Of Consciousness kicks in. It is a belter of an instrumental and for me the best track on the album by a margin. The drumming is fantastic without being overdone, and Jordan Rudess gets plenty of time to play his signature keyboard runs and squeals when Petrucci isn't pulling out the stops with some excellent riffage and soloing.

Closer In the Name of God” is suitably epic, powerful and melodic in equal measure.

Overall, this is another astonishing display of technical prowess, and for a change, married to consistently strong songwriting and production. It's also one of the few albums where you can distinguish John Myung's bass in the mix across the tracks.

What stops this being a 9 or 10 is that as with most Dream Therater CDs – and at 70 minutes of music – it is too long to enjoy in a single sitting. Also though it is definitely one of his better efforts LaBrie remains a weak part of the band for me. I always feel he cares too much about hitting the notes and not enough about delivering passion and performance in the music. When the songs are technically demanding and complex you need a human touch point to connect with and LaBrie rarely brings that in the studio. I’ve seen them in concert three times and he is much better live when the rough edges are on show.

If the album had been released as a single LP with As I Am and Stream Of Consciousness on side one and Vacant and In The Name Of God” on side two it would have been a solid 5 stars, and while the other songs all have their merits they do dilute the whole experience as much as they extend it.A solid 8 that could have been a 10 with some pruning.

Mark PS: As big a Dream Theater fan as I am, this is one of those albums by them that I can take or leave really. I do like the heaviness of it, but it's one of those albums that I enjoy more for the instrumental sections of it than I do for any vocal passages - the contrast between the heaviness of the music and James LaBrie's vocals is almost dichotomous, and as a result, I think some of the songs almost lose something as a result of that. 

This Dying Soul is my favourite track on the album for the tone it has, but I think the best section of music on it is the call-and-response section between Jordan Rudess and John Petrucci on Endless Sacrifice. Stream Of Consciousness has some staggering playing on it but feels a bit over-long to me, and In The Name Of God "suffers" from the same thing in my opinion.

It's not a bad album by any stretch, & it's not even a bad Dream Theater album - but there will always be other albums of theirs which I'll go back to more than I do with Train Of Thought. If I was marking it out of 10, I'd give it 7/10 on the basis that the musicianship is as good as anything they've done.

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Final Score: 6.98 (87 votes cast, with a total score of 608)

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