If you read my last album review, you might be picking up on the fact that I’m a huge prog fan, metalhead, and concept album lover. It’s fitting, then, that the next album I’m chosen to share with you all is Dream Theater’s 1999 prog-metal concept masterpiece, Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory. The album has a fairly complicated storyline and even more complex orchestration, coming together to create what is widely considered to be one of the greatest concept albums of all time, and what was voted by Rolling Stone as the greatest prog album ever.
You might be asking yourself, if this is Part 2, shouldn’t I listen to Part 1 first? I didn’t, partly because I didn’t think about that until I sat down to write this. However, if you feel so compelled, you can, because Metropolis, Pt. 1: The Miracle and the Sleeper, is only one song. Of course, it’s nine minutes of song, but you should expect that when you’re dealing with progressive music. Get with the prog-ram. I will note, however, that you don’t have to listen to Pt. 1, and I did, and I don’t really think it’s super relevant to the plot of Pt. 2.
I suggest you start listening to the album here, and I’ll explain the plot as best I can:
As far as the story goes, it’s definitely a bit confusing at first. The album is comprised of nine scenes across twelve songs, with scenes two, three, and seven being split into two. We begin with the short introduction, Scene One: Regression. This opener consists of the Therapist hypnotizing the main character, Nicholas, into a subconscious past-life state of some sort. Apparently, in his past life, he was a girl named Victoria who was murdered. Across the course of the album, Nicholas tries to solve the mystery of her death.
I know, that’s a bit odd, but suspend your disbelief for all of the two minutes and six seconds of Scene One. I promise you, you will not care about the logistics of hypnotism and past lives when Scene Two: I. Overture 1928 starts. The instrumental Scene Two is the real intro to the album, starting off with a heavily distorted buildup towards an orchestrally backed climax and a beautiful solo that tapers off into pure proggy, weird time signature-d goodness.
It transitions effortlessly into Scene Two: II. Strange Deja Vu, which details Nicholas’ repeated sessions with the Therapist and his increasing obsession with understanding Victoria and the circumstances of her death. There’s a notable musical shift between Nicholas in the hypnotized state and Nicholas in the real world with: “Back on my feet again, eyes open to real world. Metropolis surrounds me; the mirror’s shattered the girl.”
Moving into Scene Three: I. Through My Words and II. Fatal Tragedy, the pace slows and the tone progresses from softly mournful into menacing and dark. In this scene, Nicholas develops his connection with Victoria and meets an older man who is more familiar with the murder. Nicholas inquires to no avail:
“As the night went on I started to find my way
I learned about a tragedy, a mystery still today.
I tried to get more answers but he said, ‘You’re on your own.’
Then he turned away and left me as I stand there all alone.
He said, ‘You’ll know the truth as you future days unfold’”
The scene ends with the Therapist’s voice:
“Now it is time to see how you died.
Remember that death is not the end but only a transition.”
With that, Scene Four: Beyond This Life, begins. The song details the tragedy, in which Victoria was murdered, her killer apparently committed suicide, and afterwards a witness appeared on the scene, calling for help. The dead man was her former lover who was found with a love letter in his pocket. The letter is suggested to have been a suicide note.
The bulk of the song is intense, but the chorus is what really stands out to me:
“Our deeds have traveled far, what we have been is what we are.
All that we learn this time is carried beyond this life.
(What we have been is what we are)”
The juxtaposition of the very soft and beautiful chorus with the dark chaos of the rest of the song is fascinating and jarring at the same time. After an intense solo, we move into the surprisingly non-proggy soft song that is Scene Five: Through Her Eyes. The title mirrors Scene Three, I think to illustrate the progression of Nicholas’ identification with Victoria. This song actually would make a perfect radio ballad, which I find kind of amusing compared against the rest of the album. This is one of the weaker songs in my opinion, but only because the rest of the album is so technically and musically impressive.
Scene Six: Home, on the other hand, is anything but soft. The slow, sitar-infused beginning smashes into a fantastically heavy wah-wah riff, which carries through a solo until the vocals come in:
“Shine- lake of fire, lines take me higher.
My mind drips desire, confined and overtired.”
The song covers three perspectives: Julian (the Sleeper,) Edward (the Miracle,) and Nicholas, respectively. Each section ends with a variation of the chorus:
“Help – I`m falling, I`m crawling, I can`t keep away from its clutch
Can`t have it, this habit, It`s calling me back to my home.”
“Help – he`s my brother, but I love her, I can`t keep away from her touch
Deception, dishonor, It`s calling me back to my home.”
“Help – regression, obsession- I can`t keep away from her touch
Leave no doubt, to find out, It`s calling me back to my home.”
Julian is Victoria’s gambling, drug addicted former lover, who is losing himself in his vices. Edward is a senator and Julian’s twin brother, who started an affair with Victoria when she was weak after leaving Julian. Here we also see Nicholas’ increasing obsession with reliving the memories of Victoria, driven to find the truth. Julian and Edward’s titles of “The Sleeper” and “The Miracle” are a reference to Part One, although I have not been able to discern exactly what that means for this story. The important thing here is that one of the brothers was also the witness who was at the scene of the tragedy. The plot thickens.
Scene Seven: I. The Dance of Eternity is a fantastic instrumental, which continues into II. One Last Time. In One Last Time, Nicholas, having visited the scene of the tragedy, believes he has solved the mystery: Julian, spurned, discovered Edward and VIctoria’s affair, killed the pair and framed Edward, then posed as the witness to the crime. Satisfied, he leaves the house and muses on his experience in Scene Eight: The Spirit Carries On. This song is probably the high point of the entire album, (although it’s probably tied with Scene Nine.) The lyrics and vocals here are beautiful:
“Safe in the light that surrounds me, free of the fear and the pain.
My questioning mind has helped me to find the meaning in my life again.
Victoria’s real, I finally feel at peace with the girl in my dreams
And now that I’m here it’s perfectly clear I found out what all of this means
If I die tomorrow, I’d be alright
Because I believe that after we’re gone, the spirit carries on.”
We head into Scene Nine: Finally Free, opening with the voice of the Therapist:
“You are once again surrounded by a brilliant white light
Allow the light to lead you away from your past and into this lifetime
As the light dissipates you will slowly fade back into
Consciousness, remembering all you have learned
When I tell you to open your eyes you will return to the present
Feeling peaceful and refreshed
Open your eyes Nicholas”
Nicholas has completed his task and has figured out the mystery of his own past, having solved the murder of his prior self, Victoria.
“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.”
Julian and Victoria had begun to reconcile, (“I’ll break free of the Miracle, it’s time for him to go”) but Edward, wanting more than a simple affair, found the couple and shot Julian twice. Turning to Victoria, he commands, “Open your eyes, Victoria,” then fires two more shots at his former paramour.
Nicholas comes home, unaware of the true story, only to find his television and radio are both on. As he moves to shut them off, a familiar voice says, “Open your eyes, Nicholas.”
The Therapist is revealed to have been Edward in his past life, and he snuck into Nicholas’ home to kill him and complete the cycle again.
If you’ve listened to the album, you’ll know that I don’t have to say anything about the quality of it. It’s truly a masterpiece, and I don’t know that I’ve ever heard anything like it. It somehow gets better every time you listen to it, and it’s one of those albums that are so good you won’t skip any of the songs. Absolutely amazing.