- Mike Portnoy - Drums, co-producer, vocals
- John Petrucci - Guitar, co-producer
- John Myung - Bass
- James LaBrie - Vocals
- Jordan Rudess - Keyboards, continuum, lap steel guitar
1. In the Presence of Enemies: The Heretic and the Dark Master Pt 1 (Petrucci) 9:00
2. Forsaken (Petrucci) 5:35
3. Constant Motion (Portnoy) 6:55
4. The Dark Eternal Night (Petrucci) 8:53
5. Repentance (Portnoy) 10:43
6. Prophets of War (LaBrie) 6:00
7. The Ministry of Lost Souls (Petrucci) 14:57
8. In the Presence of Enemies: The Heretic and the Dark Master Pt 2 (Petrucci) 16:38
Unlike most of their previous albums, Dream Theater did not immediately enter the studio to write and record their next album after finishing the tour to support Octavarium. The band instead opted to take a vacation, a rarity in their career. The result can be seen, as Systematic Chaos is often considered to be a more focused effort than Octavarium.
The album was notably written and recorded at Avatar Studios in New York City. During the recording sessions, Portnoy invited fans to come to Avatar Studios to be a part of the recording process. Strict rules were set in place for arrival of fans, with Portnoy claiming "only 30 or 40" would be allowed in and warning fans not to camp out and that people standing outside the studio prior to the allotted time would not be allowed in.
Avatar Studios, perhaps fearing a "land grab" type situation where many fans rushed towards the studio at the allotted time, instead ignored Portnoy's request and fans who did line up prior were allowed in, leaving some fans who followed the rules not able to get in.
About 50 fans were allowed into the studio where they recorded chanting vocals for "Prophets of War" and "In the Presence of Enemies". Some of the fans were given copies of Romavarium as prizes.
Afterwards, there was a substantial amount of backlash due to Avatar's deviation from Portnoy's posting, claiming that those who followed the rules were punished and those who broke the rules were ignored. Portnoy denied responsibility, claiming the studio chose to do this as a safety measure.
Pre-release promotion for Systematic Chaos was much stronger with RoadRunner Records, which led the album to initially chart at #19, much higher than any previous Dream Theater album. A video was shot for "Constant Motion", which was released prior to the album. A second video was shot for "Forsaken", which is notably the band's first and so far only foray into animation. Forsaken was also released as a digital EP, containing live tracks from the band's tour.
The tour to support the album saw Dream Theater abandoning their "An Evening With" format, instead exclusively using opening acts such as Redemption, Into Eternity, Opeth, Between The Buried and Me, Dominici, 3 and Megadeth. The latter portion of the tour comprised Progressive Nation, a now-annual festival tour that Dream Theater headlines.
Systematic Chaos has been received well both commercially and critically. The album sold well, charting higher than any previous Dream Theater album. Although the album has not been certified Gold by the RIAA, many fans believe that it has met the sales criteria, but the RIAA chose not to certify the album for whatever reason.
Critially, the album was received very well by fans and the press, getting rave reviews and being called some of the band's finest work. The album is not without its detractors, however, as after the initial swell of adoration, the album did receive some criticism, though critics seem to just say the album is bad without giving specific reasons.
Tone and Lyrics
Systematic Chaos is notable for being ecclectic and a mix of Dream Theater's various sounds. All four tenets of Dream Theater's sound (progressive, metal, melodic and pop) are present. The progressive aspect is most seen on "Repentance" and "In The Presence of Enemies". The metal aspect can be seen on "Constant Motion" and "The Dark Eternal Night". "The Ministry of Lost Souls", as well as other tracks to a lesser extent, is seen as being the most melodic song, with some noting it as being a throwback to Images and Words. Both "Prophets of War" and "Forsaken" are strong pop songs, with the latter receiving both an EP and video release.
For the first time in quite a while, the band utilized fictional and fantastical aspects in the lyrics, though this has been exaggerated by some in interpretation. As an example, "In the Presence of Enemies" tells an epic story of lost faith and redemption. However, Petrucci has since claimed that the song is metaphorical and that the grand battles depicted in the lyrics happen in the person's head. More fantastical are "The Dark Eternal Night" and "Forsaken", both of which deal with horror themes, with the former being about a monster terrorizing a village and the latter being about a man discovering he's in love with a vampire. "The Ministry of Lost Souls" deals with themes of death and the afterlife, through a story where one person sacrifices their own life to save another person.
With all the fictional and fantastical elements, the album still has its share of personal themes. "Repentance" continues The AA Saga and is notably more somber in tone. For the "9th step" section, Portnoy asked several of his friends to come to the studio and record ad-lib spoken word, asking them to give apologies to anybody they wanted to. Among the many that responded were Mikael Akerfeldt, Daniel Gildenlow, Corey Taylor and Steve Wilson. Other personal issues can be seen in "Constant Motion" which Portnoy wrote about his obsessive compulsive disorder. Finally "Prophets of War" is said to be about the war in Iraq, with LaBrie questioning the reasons behind it.
Systematic Chaos is notable for having three differing covers, all drawn by Hugh Syne The common thread that links them is the ants, which Dream Theater also used as props for their live show. The theme of "Systematic Chaos" can be seen on the standard cover, which shows both ants and a very complex and seemingly chaotic system of highways. The special release had a slipcover featuring an embossed cover with the reversed stoplight on a backdrop of clouds. The interior cover features a variation of the standard cover with the stoplight present.
Much like Images and Words, Systematic Chaos has devloped into a "love it or hate it" album, with most fans either ranking it very high or very low, with very little in between. Also like Images and Words, most fans seem to favor the album, with the detractors being few and far between. Systematic Chaos is seen as being indicative of a new direction and energy for the band, being the first album on Roadrunner Records. Due to this, the album has the reputation of being the standard by which to judge future Roadrunner releases both in terms of quality and amount of promotion.
Re-releases and Alternate versions
Released silmultaneously with the album was a special edition, which included a slipcase and altered cover art. The special edition contained a bonus DVD which contained 5.1 mixes of the entire album as well as a "making-of" documentary.