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There is a question that has been on my mind in the aftermath of experiencing a host of Dream Theater emulators, and that is “How does one actually outdo Dream Theater?”. For a long time there was no answer to this, as I was completely convinced that “Images And Words” was the pinnacle of pure progressive metal as it has existed since it broke away from its Power Metal roots in the late 80s. Upon bumping into Dominici’s “O3 A Trilogy - Part 3”, I got the answer in the most unsubtle of ways, by none other than the man who was at the helm of the original progressive powerhouse himself in their early years.
Charlie Dominici experienced a sudden resurrection in the past couple of years, which took everyone by surprise as he hadn’t been seen anywhere in the metal world for 25 years. Nonetheless, this revival came to a head when this album was put out and every band that has ever picked up their instruments in the name of DM was schooled in how this style can truly be manipulated into something dark, thought provoking, complex, heavy, and still within the realm of general accessibility. One could dare assert that this album could have more appeal to non-progressive fans than about 95% of the albums that have been put out under the label.
The first lesson that is learned in this advanced course in metallic perfection is to create a compelling story to fit you’re concept. Given the heightened turmoil in the world today and the mad speculation going on in all social circles about where it came from and where it will end, what better way to grab your average socially conscious thinker than with a tale of world destruction and rebirth. This story could easily appeal to any ideological and theistic persuasion, though the template is told through a story running parallel to Armageddon as told in Christian scriptures. It is also interesting to note that the story is told in reverse of the events in the bible, from the beginning of man’s destruction to the new beginning. To make a long story short, this is one hell of a mind trip, and will mess with you in ways that few apocalypse sci-fi movies could hope to.
The second lesson is to never underestimate the power of a straightforward, gavel pounding riff in keeping a complex style of music centered. Sure, there’s plenty of fancy keyboard playing that dredges up memories of Kevin Moore’s work with Dream Theater and guitarist Brian Maillard can blaze across the fret board with the best of them, but all of these songs are pretty well riff driven. “Liquid Lightning” and “Hell On Earth” are both excellent examples of a mid-tempo, darkened, quasi-thrash approach to this style that could rival the heaviness of Overkill’s mid-90s material. Granted, the odd time signature usage and the heavy keyboard presence tilts things towards recent Symphony X releases, but the riff character definitely has less of a neo-classical and more of a basic nature to it.
The third lesson is to make sure that the vocalist can pull off a semi-aggressive tone and still sing cleanly, all without coming across like he’s trying too hard to be one or the other. James LaBrie does not pull off the former style very well, as a quick listening session of either “Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence” or “Train Of Thought” will tell you. Charlie, by a surprising contrast, is able to sing aggressively and also sing in a lighter and more somber tone than LaBrie usually does. Every song on here gives a wide array of examples of half-gravely, half-clean yells done in a tuneful yet aggressive manner, but “So Help Me God” stands alone as probably the most amazing straight clean vocal job I’ve heard. The character of Dominici’s voice is a little different here than on “When Dream And Day Unite”, coming off a bit more experienced and reserved, yet still remaining familiar to any who’ve heard it before.
The fourth and final lesson is to leave the listener with a lasting impression by closing off the concept album with a hell of an epic finale. As far as I’m concerned, “Genesis” rivals if not surpasses “Pull Me Under” and “Under A Glass Moon”, as this song just attacks the ears mercilessly with one amazing idea after the next. The riff set stays fairly basic, but right from the beginning this thing just oozes with climactic moments, trading one or more riveting solo section with a series of instrumental build up sections. It’s basically the 246 riffs principle of Dark Angel’s “Time Does Not Heal” for the first 4 minutes and 30 seconds. Afterward, a very memorable set of verses and choruses guide the listener to the final revelation of man’s fate.
So what we have here is a darker and heavier answer to the question posed by “Images And Words”. I can’t really say it surpasses or falls short of said album, but I personally view it as a different yet equal album. It basically surpasses every other Dream Theater album, and definitely runs rings around the bulk of the progressive scene as it exists today. They say that if you want the best out of a style, you have to go to the originators. Well, Dominici is technically one of them, and this is their finest moment, and definitely one of the finer moments for this often inaccessible genre.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on April 9, 2009.