It's a strong effort. A bit disjointed after three albums that, in each album, felt very much the same across the board in terms of feel and idea, and each of which had some sort of theme or concept (SDOIT's battles personal battles of emotions/feeling/mental issues, TOT's balls-to-the-walls heavy metal, and 8VM's musical/interval concept).
Systematic Chaos has some strong songs on it (ITPOE, TMOLS, Repentance), some very good songs (Constant Motion and TDEN), and a couple average/just-under-par songs (Forsaken and POW). I guess it's no coincidence that the three longest songs happen to appeal to me the most (as I do love my epics and long songs), but it's a bit surprising that the shorter songs didn't really (and still haven't) really latched on to me or really impressed me. I like listening to POW every now and then if I'm in a dance-y sort of mood with it's disco-beat, but that's not TOO often.
I will give DT credit for trying to throw in some new ideas and be a bit more experimental with songs like TDEN, Repentance and POW.
With TDEN, the heavy crunching riffs and distorted vocals really put the
into this album, and the lyrics are also pretty f'ing
With Repentance, it instantly brought to mind softer Opeth, Porcupine Tree and some Floydian tones, something that DT has touched on but never made a full-fledged song out of it, and it really appealed to me.
With POW, the band saw itself engaging in more Muse-influence, but this time, adding MP's vocals to the bridge and excluding a guitar solo (gasp!), as well as adding crowd-chants! Very different, very unusual and very NEW for DT at the time.
The longest songs, TMOLS and ITPOE, are more or less DT-by-the-numbers but with a couple twists. Of course, there's always the discussion of JP's manga-inspired fantasy lyrics which, before fans found out what they were based upon, I thought were pretty interesting in of themselves. To find that JP was influenced (or as some would dare say had plagiarized) was a neat tidbit in my eyes. Maybe he was running out of ideas? Or perhaps that's just what he was into at the time? Every lyricist can go through periods of certain inspiration that influences their creative output, many of which have lead to great (or flopped) lyrical concepts (like those of Neil Peart, who's album's lyrics often carry themes throughout based upon his life's experiences, ideologies and feelings).
Despite all of that, I think the fantasy lyrics are fitting to the music presented here. It'd be kind of hard to imagine any other lyrics to the music of "The Dark Eternal Night" or "In The Presence Of Enemies". Overall, I'd say this was a strong effort, but it falls a bit short in my album-rankings due to some feelings about the shorter songs and it's disjointedness. I'd give it a C+/B-, on par with FII, ahead of WDADU, but just under SFAM and TOT (still leaving IAW, Awake, SDOIT and 8VM above them).