Dream Theater Chaos in Progress: The Making of Systematic Chaos 2006

Systematic Chaos front cover

Systematic Chaos is the 9th studio album by American progressive metal band Dream Theater. Released in 2007, Systematic Chaos was the band's first release through Roadrunner Records. The album was recorded from September 2006 to February 2007 at Avatar Studios in New York City, after the band's first break from summer touring in 10 years. The lyrics of the album were written by John Petrucci, James LaBrie, and Mike Portnoy about fictional, political, and personal topics, respectively. The album peaked in the top 20 in eight countries' sales charts; in addition, the album peaked at the 19th position on the Billboard 200, making it the highest peaking Dream Theater album in the United States until the release of Black Clouds & Silver Linings (2009), which debuted at the 6th position. Critical reception of the album was generally positive. Dream Theater promoted the album on their Chaos in Motion world tour, which lasted a year and spanned 35 countries. The album was released in regular and special edition formats; the 2 disc special edition included a 5.1 surround sound mix of the album, in addition to a 90-minute making of documentary about the album, titled Chaos in Progress: The Making of Systematic Chaos. The album's art director was Hugh Syme, the Canadian graphic artist who designed all of the Dream Theater album covers since 2005.

Systematic Chaos special edition front cover


After recording their 20th anniversary concert, Score, on April 1st 2006, Dream Theater rested for its first summer in ten years. The band would reconvene at Avatar Studios, in New York City, in September 2006. Mike Portnoy stated that the relationship between band members was "the best it's ever been". The band hired Paul Northfield, who had previously worked with bands that had inspired Dream Theater, including Rush and Queensrÿche, to engineer the album. As with previous albums, Dream Theater simultaneously wrote and recorded Systematic Chaos. Mike Portnoy and John Petrucci co-produced the album; Portnoy said that the band hires an engineer and a mixer to act as an "objective outside ear", but the members ultimately "call their own shots". Previous Dream Theater albums shared planned themes throughout, such as Metropolis Pt.2: Scenes from a Memory (1999) as a concept album or Train of Thought (2003) as a heavy album. Though Portnoy had some preconceived ideas for Systematic Chaos, he decided not to tell the rest of the band; leaving them to start with a "completely open palate". However, Portnoy did want to retain a "cutting, aggressive, modern" mood throughout. The album was titled Systematic Chaos after Portnoy and Petrucci picked phrases from song lyrics that they felt would be a fitting title, in similar fashion to previous albums like Images and Words (1992) or Awake (1994). The pair selected the word "chaos", which appears in "The Dark Eternal Night". Petrucci and Portnoy were also attracted to the phrase "Random thoughts of neat disorder" which appears in "Constant Motion". Inspired by the "duality" of the phrase, opposites of the word "chaos" were discussed, resulting in the word "systematic". Portnoy said that in addition to the album, "systematic chaos" is also a "fitting description of the band in general".


"In the Presence of Enemies" was the first song recorded; the 25-minute epic was described by Petrucci as the "epitome of a Dream Theater creation". He went on to describe the track as "very progressive, very long", also noting that it set a good tone for writing and recording the rest of the album. The song was split into two parts for the album, due to its being a good opening and closing to the album. It is normally played in its entirety in live shows. During recording, the song was titled, "The Pumpkin King". An animated music video of the song "Forsaken", produced by Gonzo and directed by Yasufumi Soejima, was released on January 26th 2008. The band allowed Soejima artistic freedom with the design of the video, which was set in a science fiction future instead of the present day. During the production of the album, the working title for this song was "Jet Lag", and it was the 6th song to be written. Constant Motion was released as the first single from the album on April 27th 2007. It was first made available as a free download the same day by Roadrunner Records; it could be found at Roadrunner Records' Dream Theater sub-website for a limited time. This song was also made available to download for the music video game Rock Band. Its working title was "Korma Chameleon", and was the 2nd piece written. The song was also accompanied by a music video, the first the band had produced in over a decade. The video clip premiered on July 13th 2007 and was released as a free download, in two different formats, also for a limited time. The band hadn't produced a music video since "Hollow Years" from Falling into Infinity (1997), citing lack of interest and lack of rotation on music channels for the latter. The video received considerable airplay on MTV2's Headbangers Ball and was voted as the second best music video of 2007 by the same; it is arguably Dream Theater's most popular video since "Pull Me Under" in 1992.

Constant Motion

Petrucci wrote the lyrics to "The Dark Eternal Night" about a pharaoh who has returned after dormancy to haunt a town. The lyrics are heavily influenced by the short story Nyarlathotep by American horror fiction writer H.P. Lovecraft, even borrowing a lot of specific phrases from this story. The song contains an improvised continuum solo, performed by Rudess while the drum tracks were being recorded; the band members liked the solo enough to keep it in the final recording. In the October 2010 issue of Total Guitar Magazine, its readers voted the main riff of "The Dark Eternal Night" as the 4th greatest riff of the decade. During the making of the song, the title was, "N.A.D.S." ("North American Dream Squad") and it was the 5th song to be written. The sprawling, progressive midsection was not featured in the song's original edit, but is based around a riff that Rudess came up with in the control room, when listening to the original, more conservative instrumental section. The Dark Eternal Night was the 2nd of two songs released to the general public in advance of the album's release, with an in-studio video being released to YouTube in May 2007. Portnoy wrote "Repentance" as the 4th part of his 12-step Suite, a collection of songs from various Dream Theater albums. The song discusses steps 8 and 9 of the process, which deal with making a list of people whom one has wronged and, if possible, making direct amends with them. Portnoy invited friends and fellow musicians such as Jon Anderson, Daniel Gildenlöw, Neal Morse, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, and more to record spoken apologies, regrets, and sorrows of their own, which were featured throughout the song. During recording, the title of the track was, "Fisheye" and it was the 7th song to be written. This saga is concluded in the band's 10th studio album Black Clouds & Silver Linings with "The Shattered Fortress". "Prophets of War" was written by James LaBrie, who based the lyrics loosely on Joseph C. Wilson's book The Politics of Truth. The lyrics talk about possible ulterior motives behind the Iraq War. The title is a play on words, where the "prophets" of the war, could also be gaining a "profit" from the War. During the recording of the song, Portnoy suggested fans could voice certain lyrical chants. In response to a message posted on the band's website 400 fans gathered outside the recording studio to record the chanting, however only 60 could fit into the studio. The title of the track during recording was, "Carpet Babies" and it was the 3rd song to be written. At 14:57, "The Ministry of Lost Souls" is the album's second longest track. Throughout the song's lyrics, Petrucci tells the story of a person who dies in the process of saving a woman from drowning. However, the woman who is saved is filled with "regret and sorrow" until she is able to re-unite with her rescuer. The title for the track during recording was, "Schindler's Lisp" and it was the 4th song to be written.

Track listing:
1. In the Presence of Enemies Part I
I. Prelude
II. Resurrection
2. Forsaken
3. Constant Motion
4. The Dark Eternal Night
5. Repentance
VIII. Regret
IX. Restitution  
6. Prophets of War
7. The Ministry of Lost Souls
8. In the Presence of Enemies Part II
III. Heretic
IV. The Slaughter of the Damned
V. The Reckoning
VI. Salvation


Dream Theater:
John Myung–bass
John Petrucci–guitars and backing vocals
Mike Portnoy–drums, backing vocals, percussion, co-lead vocals on "Constant Motion" and "The Dark Eternal Night"
James LaBrie–lead vocals
Jordan Rudess–keyboards and continuum

John Petrucci and Mike Portnoy–producers
Paul Northfield–engineer, mixing, vocal track co-producer
Chad Lupo–assistant engineer
Hugh Syme–art direction, design, illustration
Daragh McDonagh–photography

Guest spoken words on "Repentance":
Corey Taylor
Steve Vai
Chris Jericho
David Ellefson
Daniel Gildenlöw
Steve Hogarth
Joe Satriani
Mikael Åkerfeldt
Steven Wilson
Jon Anderson
Neal Morse

This is Chaos in Progress: The Making of Systematic Chaos documentary filmed at Avatar Studios in New York between September 2006 and February 2007 when the recording sessions of the album took place and contained in the special edition of Systematic Chaos (2007).