Falling into Infinity  
Artist: Dream Theater 
Label: Eastwest Records 1997 
Despite a rather lame cover, this is a first rate album. Like the cover, the first track ("New Millennium") opens with a nondescript synthesizer riff which grows more interesting as the remainder of the band joins in and develops the theme into a driving metal-edged rock song with shifting rhythms and time signatures. While Dream Theater uses some tired and overused chord sequences, the band manages to make them sound fresh and new with imaginative instrumentation, clever rhythmic variations, and substantial texturing of vocals, guitars, and keyboards. So much so that this album defies any categorization. At times the sound is metal, then bluesy, a bit jazzy, then a bit fusion. While James LaBrie (vocals), John Petrucci (guitars), and Derek Sherinian (keyboards) are marvelous at their respective instruments, Mike Portnoy does an amazing job on percussion, driving this band with the force of a sledgehammer (ably assisted on bass by John Myung), yet with subtle twists and excellent technique that shines without detracting from the music. Most rock drummers wish they could play this well. The band is not afraid to follow themes to a logical conclusion (three tracks run over eight minutes), and on "Lines in the Sand" they deliver a killer cut, a superb blend of power rock, blues, and fusion. With so many vapid lyrics in the world, Dream Theater manages to turn out some original and thoughtful words, though I had to frequently refer to the liner notes to catch them all. "Peruvian Skies" is perhaps the best lyrically, a song that opens with a haunting guitar theme and ends with a double-barrelled blast. "Burning My Soul" and "Just Let Me Breath" just plain kick with enough energy to launch half a dozen space shuttles. Only "Anna Lee" seems out of place on this album, a bit too melancholy, a bit too drab.  The production and engineering is excellent, Falling into Infinity best served up on a big system with an equally big subwoofer.-----Don Lloyd