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I first heard of Dream Theater from a music student at college. The band's fan base is composed less of metalheads and more of music students and guitar nerds. There's no mystery why that's the case: The band's musicians--who met at Berklee College of Music--are consistently named to be among some of the best in rock music.
So music geeks love them. But Metalheads, as a rule, hate them. Online discussions can be pretty contentious, given the extreme reactions they've inspired. Today is the 20th anniversary of the band's best-known album, Images and Words (March 28, 1992, per some sources, although other sources place it on July 7). I thought it would be a good time to examine the record's merits with as little bias as I can.
I&W begins on the excellent "Pull Me Under," still the band's most successful song. It's fairly heavy considering how commercial it is, and the chorus is pure gold. Examine this song closely, and you'll have the band's formula, a formula they still follow today. The music combines Fates Warning style prog metal with glam metal. They drop the shtick of glam, but sadly they don't manage to avoid the cheese factor. But it's that commercial, glam metal influence that makes the music accessible. Without the hooks, no one would give a damn about Dream Theater, regardless of how good the riffs and solos may be.
They follow "Pull Me Under" with a ballad. "Another Day" features saxophone more befitting of a Kenny G smooth jazz record than something in the "metal" bin. This one brings a major criticism of the band to the forefront: James LaBrie's vocals. If you heard this guy at a karaoke contest, you would think, "Damn, he's pretty good." Heard in the context of a record, it's a different story. His clean vocal delivery unsuccessfully reaches for the highs, and lacks any kind of soul. Ironically, this only weak point in the talent deparment is also the main reason they've been more commercially successful than other prog metal bands. Since he's not that great, you feel like you can sing along. He's a blessing and a curse.
They quickly redeem themselves after the ill-advised ballad. "Take the Time" is another fantastic song with some heavy riffs, flashy solos, and an incredibly catchy chorus. But, after that, they seem bent on destroying themselves with second ballad "Surrounded." Besides the vocal issue, it brings to light another major issue with the band. The keyboard parts have not aged well. "Surrounded" has the worst of the synth problems, but they pop up in a lot of other places as well.
The second half of the record sums up the remainder of the highs and lows of Dream Theater's music. Like much prog, it devolves into wankery, with long, meandering songs and another ballad (which is thankfully not as bad as the other two). There are cool riffs and cool solos (check "Under a Glass Moon" for the best of both), but no great songwriting and no great hooks.
Images and Words sums up the best and the worst of Dream Theater. They've got a couple of great songs with awesome riffs, showy solos, and huge hooks that beg you to sing along. But they've also got crappy, fondue-dipped ballads and heavy doses of prog wankery.
The Verdict: Both the anti- and pro-Dream Theater camps have seriously overstated the case. Dream Theater have some very good songs. They also have some really shitty songs, and others that probably sounded better twenty years ago but have lost their freshness. They belong more to the Guitar World than to the world of Decibel and Terrorizer, but in the end, every metalhead should own at least one of their albums. But that one album should be Train of Thought, not Images and Words.
originally written for http://fullmetalattorney.blogspot.com/
So many reviews have been written for this album, and not just on Metal Archives, and yet I feel the need to review this. Why? Well, basically because this album as had one of the biggest influences on my life. I love music deeply. Music is one of my biggest ties with the world. I find musicians who can express emotions and life events through music to be some of the greatest human beings on the Earth. I need to review this album because Dream Theater have summoned some of the most powerful emotions I have ever felt in my life, and this is why Images And Words is one of the greatest records in the world.
I have heard so many records in my life, and I have heard every single Dream Theater album, and even though I know all the musicians from this band and their other projects with other bands, but it seems that this one time they sat together and started working on this magnificent record, they had something going on between them that was so beautiful, so perfect, that it managed to create one of the most beautiful pieces of art of this world. Some might think this is an overstatement, but I don’t. I think music is about what objectively exists, of course but it is also about feeling. One might not listen to this record like I do, so this is why I feel the need to review this. I need to express my own feelings toward this album and explain why I think this is one of the best records I have ever heard.
Even though Dream Theater has been one of the most unbelievable and fantastic band throughout their whole career, this one record stands out. You cannot find the feeling, emotion and uniqueness of Images and Words on any other Dream Theater record. This is to me, their best album. On this album James LaBrie seems to be telling the listener a story, a tale. As you embark this journey, you will feel all of the vocalist’s emotions and stories, and this is one of the reasons why this album is so good. James LaBrie doesn’t just give one of his best performances, he lives it. If the music just isn’t enough, you will feel the lyrics penetrating your subconscious and you will feel touched. That is at least what happened for me. I felt touched. Whenever I listen to Surrounded at night, I feel just like I am in Dream Theater. I love living my life at night, looking at the stars and feeling the cold wind as I watch the moon. Surrounded makes you feel like walking in the streets at night and watch the world as it sleeps. Metropolis, Pt. 1: The Miracle And The Sleeper also has an amazing impact with its progressive melodic music, but also with the lyrics. This particular section makes my heart beat very fast: “As a child, I thought I could live without pain, without sorrow. As a man I've found it's all caught up with me, I'm asleep yet I'm so afraid.”
I have talked about the lyrics, but haven’t talked about the music yet. I cannot describe every single instrument and explain why they are all amazing on this record because every single track is unique. This might sound like a cheap excuse not to dig deeper and explain why every musician makes an amazing individual effort to make this album unique, but I’m absolutely serious about this. You really can’t even hope to be able to explain why this album is amazing if you analyze every single instrument one by one throughout the whole album. Let’s just say that this album is all about synergy. This album isn’t great because the guitar stands out, or the bass or vocals stands out, but rather because none stands out more than the other. All of them just fit perfectly together. Never ever through your listen you should feel like any of the musicians is stealing the show. And this is why the album is so beautiful and amazing. Images And Words is all about harmony and cooperation.
Listening through Images And Words, you never feel bored. Every single track is unique. Some of the tracks are more melodic, some of them are more progressive and some of them are less complex and more emotive. Most amazing thing about this album is that some of the tracks are so diversified, they manage to be simple, than more complex or aggressive than very smooth. This is the case for tracks like Metropolis, Pt. 1: The Miracle And The Sleeper and Learning To Live which are both fantastic for all the beautiful melodic parts with great vocals and emotive crescendos and also magnificent instrumental and progressive parts where the musicians all just jump into the tracks to show off some of the most amazing technical but also great song-writing skills ever heard.
The simple complexity of this record is what makes it an outstanding album. Simple complexity might sound like a pleonasm but it really isn’t. What I mean by simple complexity is that Dream Theater manages to write very elaborate music while keeping is simple enough to be catchy, melodic and accessible. While accessible is for a lot of people often a synonym of commercial mediocre music, it isn’t the case for Images And Words. This one records manages to be accessible, elaborate and intelligent all at the same time.
Images And Words is also beautiful because of a reason I have previously stated. If you listen to the whole album in one sit, you will feel like you are getting told a story. Not that the tracks all assemble as one big story, but the feeling of the music just flows perfectly and never creates an unwanted and unexpected breakdown. The music just flows perfectly through the whole album as it was meant to be. Even the sudden ending of Pull Me Under won’t seem to be out of place when the last note of the album stops ringing in your ears. Everything on this record is at the perfect place at the perfect time.
And if it wasn’t enough already, the albums ends with Learning To Live, right after the beautiful and so emotive track Wait For Sleep. Learning To Live is one of the most mind-blowing progressive tracks in the history of music. For this track alone, Dream Theater deserves to stand beside bands like Gentle Giant, King Crimson and Symphony X. Fans of progressive metal all probably knows about Symphony X’s track named The Odyssey, which is an amazing progressive odyssey. The track Learning To Live is just like The Odyssey. It’s a whole journey on its own and it also happens to be the last track of the album. For a listener like me, this if the fatal blow. Dream Theater will just kill you with this masterpiece. Once you get there you will have already heard some of the amazing records of all times, but Learning To Live doesn’t have any mercy. It will bring your higher and higher. It will bring you higher than you ever expected. To keep up with the good job they have done on the rest of the record, the musicians of Dream Theater deliver one of the most complex yet very melodic and accessible tracks to close this gem of an album.
When the album ends, you just want more. You want to hear more of this musical beauty. This might be why the track Metropolis, Pt. 1: The Miracle And The Sleeper got itself its own sequel. That’s right; Dream Theater released an album named Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From A Memory as a sequel to this one masterpiece of a track that is Metropolis Pt. 1. If this isn’t enough to tell you how much of a beauty this track is, then I guess nothing will convince you to listen to this album. For all the others, just don’t wait and give this masterpiece a listen... or twenty!
Images and Words was the first album that brought critical and popular attention to the Long Island-based progressive metal band Dream Theater, although to simply label their music as Progressive Metal is disingenuous to say the least. Dream Theater’s work runs the gamut from virtuosic instrumental jams to gentle piano ballads, and nearly everything in between. The band’s many influences are always in the forefront of the music on Images and Words.
In the progressive rock tradition, Images and Words appears to have less music than actually is present. There are only 8 songs, which might lead one to believe that it is lacking. But out of these 8 songs, half are over 8 minutes long, which shows just how serious these guys are about their songwriting. The record is littered with extended instrumental breaks and solos on every instrument. For a listener who isn’t already accustomed to the constant key and time signature changes in progressive metal, this album might be a little disconcerting, especially on cuts like “Metropolis Pt. I”, where numerous polyrhythmic shifts leave even the most jaded prog fan dazed.
It is clear that Dream Theater delivered on the “progressive” end, but it is less clear whether or not they fulfilled their requirements in the “metal” department as well. Images and Words has an unabashedly “smooth jazz” feel throughout, which initially seems out of place in a metal album, but which the listener soon begins to appreciate and integrate into their definition of the genre. The chorusy steel-string guitar on the first verse section of “Take the Time” and the soprano sax solo on “Another Day” reek of Spyro Gyra, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it is kind of refreshing to see a metal band absorb influences from other genres. This record was the first to feature now-customary “inspirational songs” by the band. Their unique ability to pen anthems for empathy and self-esteem make them stand out in the genre. Many consider them wimps, but I think that their softer side gives them a dimension that is hard to find in the modern metal landscape. And despite all of the softer songs on the record, one must not overlook the rockers. “Under a Glass Moon”, with its heavy guitar riffs and double-kick action drumming, seems to loom over the rest of the album like an ominous thundercloud. And while songs like “Take the Time” and “Pull me Under” may not feel like the typical hard-rock that you’d expect from an early 90’s metal release, they still have an unignorable drive and energy.
Thematically, Images and Words is inconsistent, to say the least. Most of the tracks’ lyrics make little or no sense, and come off as vague attempts to generate some sort of mood by using poetic lyrics and utilizing the polyphonic potential of Kevin Moore’s state-of-the-art synth pads (see “Under a Glass Moon” and “Surrounded”). Although the single from the album, Pull Me Under, is considered the most lyrically consistent by most rock critics, I personally have gravitated towards the more political tracks on the album. At a time when even the most hard-edge punk bands were diluting their values for the sake of record sales, it is nice to see a band such as Dream Theater attempt to tackle such issues. They don’t come off so much as firebrand activists as they do frustrated citizens (see “Take the Time” and “Learning to Live”), and although they really don’t offer any real solutions or seem to fully understand the issues that they are shedding light on, there’s still some real sincerity there that cannot be overlooked.
This is the first album on which James LaBrie sang vocals, and his performance is outstanding. Another high tenor in the prog world might warrant some eye-rolling from the wider rock critic community, but I find his voice to be especially conducive to the content on this record. I am, by no means, a James LaBrie fan; his vocal phrasing pales in comparison to many other rock singers. Yet I think he really pulled it off on this record, with stunning accuracy and perfect tone. The high notes on songs such as “Take the Time” and “Metropolis Pt. I” are hauntingly impeccable, and thanks to the factored-in instrumental breaks, one never feels he oversings.
There are many aspects of this record that I find very irritating. My primary qualm is with the production. The heavy reverb on all of the instruments, the extremely loud guitar tone and Portnoy’s triggered snare drum are all highly irritating to me as a listener. At times, these aspects almost make the record feel fake and inhuman. The main problem with this production trend is that it leads to musically-perfect but otherwise sterile recordings. Then again though, Dream Theater as a band isn’t all that energetic, even live. Another thing that I find maddening is the band’s love affair with instrumental unisons. One of the reasons I became intrigued by earlier prog bands such as Rush, Yes and King Crimson were their ability to write countermelodies and jam in a synergic way. I see much less of this in modern progressive metal, and I feel that Dream Theater is, in a way, the antithesis of the Jam Band, which is sad because had there not been jam bands, prog wouldn’t have come to be. Maybe I’m just ranting here, but I find it odd that the pinnacle of progressive music is making something as simple as a 3-instrument unison the cornerstone of their musical riff breaks.
Overall though, Images and Words is a very worthwhile listen. It’s musical complexity and performance are hard to rival, and the songwriting, although shoddy at parts, is quite unique and has its own flair that DT fans have come to love over the years. Listen to this record, especially if you are a musician. You won’t be disappointed.
“Images and Words” is Dream Theater’s second, and most famous release. This marked a pretty major change from their debut for a variety of reasons, the most obvious being the new vocalist James Labrie, the clear production, and the evolution of the group's composition and performance.
First off, the band. The old vocalist, Dominici, sounded like a really good impression of Geddy Lee, whereas James Labrie has more of a distinct sound and versatile range. If you've heard his singing before, this won't be much different as he utilizes the same melodic, emotional style he's focused on on future albums. John Petrucci's guitarwork is excellent, ranging from the magical acoustic sound on Pull Me Under to his diverse and stylish solo on Under a Glass Moon. John Myung’s bass is very heavy and audible, and he notably contributes to the album which always gets my respect for a bassist. My favorite member of the group however is Mike Portnoy, who still stands as my favorite drummer of all time. His work on the album is generally AMAZING so look forward to it drum enthusiasts! Lastly Kevin Moore’s keyboarding is wonderfully atmospheric and adds some amazing new layers to the already amazing compositions. He does a lot of soloing on the record as well, usually in duels with Petrucci which also kick major ass. Keep an ear out for these on the most progressive songs such as Metropolis Pt. 1 and Take the Time.
Production is perfect and incredibly atmospheric and not only can the whole band be heard, the heavenly quality of the album owes a lot to its excellent production. Stylistically, this album goes all over the place. Opener, Pull Me Under is a great example of this, starting off with Petrucci's incredible acoustic guitar and Portnoy's exotic drums and then transitioning into a heavy riff section that backs up the verses. The bridge to the solo shows even more variation with its atmospheric and mellow keyboard lead. The shorter songs like Another Day and Wait For Sleep even discard metallic influence completely, going for a piano ballad style. (Which they do very well thankfully) Other songs are just full-on prog fests such as Metropolis Pt. 1 and Learning to Live, these being perhaps the most amazing songs on the album. So yeah, this is incredibly diverse as a great Dream Theater release should be.
While every song on here is a gem, my personal favorite is the epic closer, Learning to Live. It would look like a pathetic mess to try to describe the structure of it, so I'll just sum it up with the words transcendal and heavenly. Also, that interlude in the middle of the song has got to be one of the most magical moments in metal history, it's just... mindblowing.
Metropolis Pt. 1 also deserves special mention. This song is often considered their most definitive and with good reason. It perfectly showcases the group's atmospheric and emotional style in its opening and conclusion, as well as their thought-provoking lyrical talents. Furthermore, the mid-section of the song is an absolute technical joy and further defines what the band would go on to do in the instrumental sections of later compositions, such as the keyboard/guitar duels and frequent tempo changes.
In the end, this album is a masterpiece. Dream Theater truly outdid themselves on this record, and it's an obvious must-hear. It easily makes my top ten metal albums of all time, and never ceases to be as impressive as it was on the first listen.
I first became introduced to Dream Theater when I heard Panic Attack from Rock Band 2. It was a cool song, so naturally I was interested when I received Images and Words, but I did not know what to fully expect. And then the slow guitar intro of Pull Me Under began, and I entered a world of music that which I've never experienced before. Simply put, the sophomore effort by Dream Theater is a true example of musicianship at its very best. Each member has his moment to shine and yet each instrument and solo blends perfectly with everyone else.
First to note is the vocals of James LaBrie. This was his first album with the band after Charlie Dominici's departure. Whereas Dominici had a stellar voice but couldn't match his style with the band, LaBrie's range and majesty made his voice nearly synonymous with the band. Whether it's his fast-paced aggressive verses leading to a high-powered scream in Take the Time or his hushed voice in Wait for Sleep and Another Day, his tenor does wonders. Kevin Moore's keyboards are stunning and melodic in Metropolis Pt. I and Learning to Live, Mike Portnoy's drumming is both rapid and fluid (not mere background sound like most bands), John Petrucci's riff on Pull Me Under is hypnotic and his solo on Under a Glass Moon is among one of his best. Even the normally silent John Myung shines with his fast-paced and stunning bass solo on Metropolis.
But musicianship is only successful if properly integrated into each song, and thankfully it is. Each song is unique in its own way and is nearly impossible to slap a genre onto. While a "progressive metal album", each song transcends any type of label. Another Day features a soft piano melody with a surprising but fitting saxophone solo and metal guitar riffs. Wait for Sleep is composed entirely of a piano and LaBrie's voice. Surrounded starts off with a quiet keyboard intro before gaining sound with a wailing guitar and bongo-like drums and exploding into a heavy metal riff with a still-prevalent keyboard. Learning to Live is keyboard-heavy and features a Latin-styled acoustic guitar solo. Under a Glass Moon features a strong riff with a light keyboard in the background, followed by Petrucci's stunning solo. Metropolis starts with an angelic keyboard that explodes into a powerful riff and features each member taking the spotlight during the bridge. And the band's biggest hit, Pull Me Under, features a steady riff that doesn't pick up in speed but rather, gains momentum in terms of intensity and power.
The lyrics of the album truly stand out as well. Often full of metaphors and symbolism, there is also much emotion and energy carried out by LaBrie. Pull Me Under takes the point of view of Shakespeare's Hamlet, Metropolis Pt. I tells the beginning of a story about love and murder (further explained in the the album Metropolis II: Scenes from a Memory), and Surrounded concerns leaving a world of darkness and embracing the light. The only downside I can possibly think of is that with such frequent symbolism, it can be difficult to understand the meaning of the song. On the upside though, it inspires and encourages one to think and determnine their own explanation.
Each song on this album is excellent. With five of the eight tracks over seven minutes long, the songs often change tempo or melody midway, often in the bridge. This is a style Dream Theater has been known for and has allowed them to be at their most creative, but sometimes the melody before was so captivating and entertaining that I sometimes didn't want it to change. But this a very, very insignificant gripe, as the songs changing up really show the band's creativity and musicianship, as I mentioned before. Songs like Another Day and Wait for Sleep may not have captivated me as much as Pull Me Under, Metropolis Pt. I, or Under a Glass Moon, but they are by no means uncreative, boring, or bad in any way.
This is Dream Theater at their deepest and most emotional, resulting in their finest work. Words can hardly describe what the band did here, and one truly has to hear it for themselves. This is not just one of the best progressive metal albums or even one of the best metal albums, but rather, one of the best albums of all time. No matter how many times you listen, it never gets repetitive, and there's always something new to hear or pick up on. This is a masterpiece that can never or will ever be duplicated.
Three years after the convincing and very strong first album "When dream and day unite", Dream Theater came back with a new vocalist and created a new masterpiece of progressive rock or metal. While this album is maybe not as diversified as the first strike, "Images and words" is able to create some really magic moments and has even some very catchy songs.
The magic moments are presnet on the calm songs of the record like the wonderful ballad "Another day" that is brilliantly sung and convinces with some strong piano leads and a soprano saxophone that adds a very special note to the song. "Surrounded" is even better with its amazingly harmonic and chilling keyboard sounds and James LaBrie that delivers on of his strongest performances of all times in my opinion.
The catchiness that was lacking on the last record is now present with the opener "Pull me under" that has a very simple but strong chorus and some mystical and exotic rhythms. But to be honest, I think that this track is one of the less profound on the record and is a little bit too long in the ending just to end in a very abrupt and senseless way.
I rather prefer the progressive side of Dream Theater like in the very diversified "Take the time" or the interesting "Learning to live". But both of the songs are just good average on this record because they share the album with the masterpiece "Metropolis", maybe the best song the band has ever written. In almost ten minutes ever instrument gets the place it deserves and everyone is working over the top, beyond all limits to create a very diversified surprising and still logical and atmospheric track. This memorable piece of music unites everything what the band stands for and if I had to present Dream Theater to a good friend with just one single song, then I would chose this masterpiece that isnpired the band to write a whole album around this track a couple of years later.
All in all, there is not much to argue about this album. It has some magic moments, every musician is doing his very best and the production and sound is more accurate than on the first record. There are a couple of songs that I would rather describe as average tracks that I like less, especially the complicated and somewhat faceless "Under a glass moon" or the overrated "Pull me under". This album is not as consisant as the underrated debut album and has some other strong points. But on the other hand the band puts two of their best songs ever on this record with the unforgettable "Surrounded" and "Metropolis" and that's why this album is surely and easily in my top five ranking of the best albums in the band's biography even I would not put this record in the first places. But for any fan of progressive music, this masterpiece that somewhat reanimated a whole genre is a definite must have that offers a lot to discover. I would put the band's first to albums on the same level even though the have all different forces and weak points.
My first exposure to Dream Theater was the now well-known single/solitary radio hit, Pull Me Under. After hearing it, I wasn't completely blown back on my ass, but I decided to order Images and Words anyway. This was (and still is) a great decision. This is one of those CDs that beyond a shadow of a doubt, forms such a precedent for a genre that legions of copycats are inevitably spawned. I'm talking influence on par with Reign In Blood, Altars of Madness, Keeper of the Seven Keys, and any other famous genre-definers you happen to love. IAW has become a genre standard for prog because it completely embodies everything prog is supposed to be: progressive.
Some would be willing to argue that this kind of "progression" begets cries of "pop" and "untrue metal" but I don't think this could be farther from the truth. True, you won't find Cannibal Corpse level brutality, or any kind of "faster means better" mentality, but you'll find something better: a time when Dream Theater wrote memorable and tight songs. GASP! Many say that keyboardist Kevin Moore was a large part of this level of unsurpassed songwriting this band used to be renowned for, and I'll side with them any day of the week. Never feeling a need to show off for 12 minutes on a 16 minute song, Moore knows how to make emotional key melodies that actually form a valid component of the music instead of substituting for lackluster songwriting. Apparently his sense of self-control and emotion seem to have rubbed off on the other band members, as they only really replicated this level of perfection once more on Awake.
Every member is in their top form, all contributing the best material they have to offer to make songs that maintain an abstract focus that you could only truly understand if you heard the album. Yes, there is still TONS of interplay between guitar, drums, and keys, but unlike on other albums where they became obsessed with technicality, every instrumentalist seems compelled to make you run the entire emotional spectrum in every song. Tracks like Pull Me Under, Another Day, Under A Glass Moon, Metropolis, and Learning To Live truly show this off, John Petrucci playing intricate riffs that dance on the border of wank, then rapidly swing back into you with full emotional impact, all within a matter of seconds. When an album has 9 songs with an average length around 7 minutes, this seems like it might get annoying or rambling, but it almost always feels too short. Oddly enough, I'm reminded of Bal-Sagoth's tendency to write 7 minute songs that feel like they're 3 minutes. It's enough to bring a tear to my eye knowing that DT will never make anything like this again.
I can't truly explain what this album sounds like, there's too much there (i.e. saxophone in Another Day, weird decomposing instrument collision in Metropolis, mood switches in Pull Me Under). However, I know you've heard at least a million prog bands who simply try to get by by attempting to replicate this album. Imagine the often aped sound, but played with a level of conviction and emotion not possible for the mere imitators to create.
One more thing: give the album several tries. I wasn't blown away by this or Awake on first listen; now that I've LISTENED to them a few times, I can't go more than a day without listening to one song off of either. This album is truly prog metal at its peak of originality and creativity.
'Images and Words' is often hailed as a milestone of progressive metal. In reality, though, not only is it hardly progressive, it is less than decent in quality. Okay, it is "progressive" - in the sense it sounds like what is called progressive these days. Strictly, though, it is little more than an incohesive combination of power metal, Rush, and pop that allots more room to pop than power metal.
The pop allegation is the one that would raise the most eyebrows, but poppy sections are certainly more abundant than power metal sections. While he sounds a bit hysterical, LaBrie is a decent singer. However, the vocal lines he sings are not decent. Sometimes they are - in Pull Me Under, for example, he has some power metal lines, though the "power metal" here is closer to Helloween than Fates Warning. But most of the time his lines are poppy whether he sings quietly or loudly. The quieter songs here hardly sound like metal for the majority of their durations, and the decent power metal moments are sparse.
Song structures are not as simplistic as pop, but they are not the advanced progressive grandeurs that one might expect from the hype (look at 'My Journey to the Stars,' for a 1992 example of real structural brilliance). Transitions are awkward, structures amorphous, and development barely present. The Rush-inspired, sometimes not only in principle but also in the specific form of melodic execution, instrumental sections have little if any relationship with the song at hand, and are seldom consistent within themselves, feeling more like a rock band jamming on stage than a thought-out composition.
As it would be expected on this type of wandering but essentially easy-listening album, there is no emphasis on the riffs. The riffs are mostly some chugging and chords, when they are present at all. There are some little technical instrumental interjections, but these, rather than complementing the main themes, work to interrupt them, as in Under A Glass Moon, serving to prove at once both the band members' high instrumental proficiency and their poor songwriting ability. Even during the long instrumental sections the keyboards generally take the lead role, leaving little room for riffing. Overall, the instruments and the vocals are not integrated well. There are vocal sections and then instrumental sections, working separately (i.e. the instruments seldom do anything meaningful while the vocals are on display, and vice versa) and not even continuing on with what the other has been doing but starting something irrelevant.
Another attempt at progressiveness resorts to the old, useless trick: diversity. From the jazzy saxophone usage of Another Day to the almost rapping vocals of Take the Time, none of this trick adds anything of substance to the songs. Unfortunately, this is an aspect that many bands took influence from, perhaps because it is one of the easiest ways of sounding prog without real effort (or being actually progressive).
'Images and Words' indeed was a highly influential album, setting many connotations of the term "progressive" today as it is used in metal music - lack of integration, flashy instrumental techniques, and variety of transparent influences irrelevant to the rest of the music (note that "innovative artistic achievement" has not been mentioned). These are characteristics exhibited not only by the style of music directly under the influence of Dream Theater, but also by extreme metal bands, especially former black metal bands that claim to have evolved. While I do not hold Dream Theater solely responsible for this, I curse it nonetheless.
This album is beautiful. If Dream Theater themselves called me on the phone and told me I was allowed to change one thing about Images & Words, I wouldn't. It is an untouchable masterpiece that any prog metal artist (except for maybe Opeth's Still Life) has yet to surpass. I first heard this record about six or seven years ago and it forever changed my opinion about music. Dark Side of the Moon may have been the first progressive rock album that I absolutely loved, but Images & Words is the prog album that broke me out of my ignorant music listening world. Everyone in the band is at the their most experimental, technically talented, and emotionally powerful state in their career.
There is much talk about Dream Theater being very pretentious and soloing for the sake of showing off their individual talents while the music remains soulless. If they were referring to Train of Thought, Systematic Chaos or some other Dream Theater release then I would absolutely agree with them. But I don't think anyone can tell you that they were not moved by the instrumentals in "Metropolis Pt .1", "Under A Glass Moon", or "Another Day." There is so much emotion within each one of these songs that you can't help but feel moved. Unfortunately, it seems that LaBrie became much worse with age, but his range back in 1992 is unheard of. He hits high notes I didn't even know existed, without sounding incredibly irritating like Dani Filth.
As I have stated endlessly, Mike Portnoy is my favorite drummer in all of metal. If someone were to ask me why, I would tell them to listen to "Learning to Live." If someone were to ask me why Myung is one of my favorite bassists and lyricists in metal, I would once again tell them to listen to "Learning to Live." I dare you to put all of your emotion into every line as Myung has for this song: "Another chance to life my life, Free the sensation in my heart, To ride the wings of dreams into changed horizons, It brings inner peace within my mind, As I'm lifted from where I've split my life, I hear an innocent voice, I hear kindness, beauty and truth." And yes, it sounds a billion times more powerful when paired up with LaBrie's flawless vocals.
There is not one song where Moore's or Petrucci's soloing sound out of place or overlong on this entire album. I cannot say as much for Petrucci's later work, but on Images & Words he perfectly balances his technical skill, pure emotion, and appropriate time lengths. Every single note sounds unbelievably powerful. Yes, "Pull Me Under" was played on MTV and was their hit single, but it is unlike anything off of Falling Into Infinity. It is not poppy nor out of place with the rest of the album. In fact, it fits in wonderfully.
The album has a consistent jazzy, majestic feel to it throughout. It is incredibly unique to any genre of music and I recommend it to anyone who isn't deaf. This album is just as essential to music as any album recorded by Pink Floyd, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, or any other musical artist that you can think of that has had a major impact on music. If you haven't already, get this album as soon as possible. I warn you though, this may make you cry because of how stunningly outstanding it is. If only I could rate this higher than 100%.
Highlights: Everything. Okay, fine- "Metropolis, Pt. 1: The Miracle and the Sleeper", "Under a Glass Moon", "Learning to Live"
For any familiar with Dream Theater’s extensive history as the most influential force in the 1990s progressive metal scene, this album is always seen as the turning point towards the high period that the genre enjoyed throughout the decade. I’ve always likened this scene’s activity as a sort of aristocrat’s revolution against the tyranny of mainstream music at the time. It contrasts from the minority populist revolution concurrent in the extreme metal scenes of black and death metal in that instead of decrying a lack of legitimate aggression and discord in the general music scene, it was appalled by the utter idiocy that was passing for art, wishing instead to explore the possibilities yet untapped in both lyrical and instrumental composition work. Thus instead of grabbing the torches and household weapons to have a good old glam/grunge rocker lynching, bands like this one elected simply to treat mainstream sentiments with a quiet aura of apathy.
This apathy is expressed through a simple concept, and that is writing songs based on what the song requires rather than what fits into a 3 minute, 45 second block of time on the radio waves. Songs are both long and short for the sake of painting an elaborate musical picture and articulating thoughtfulness through whatever subject fit’s the sounds it accompanies, hence the name “Images And Words”. The lyrics have both a keen sense of descriptiveness, particularly when dealing with the details of the song’s setting and the interaction of the subject’s character. The vocal melodies and performance play off the mathematical precision of the accompanying rhythmic figures as raw emotion does with logical discourse, resulting in an all too human sound (apologies to Nietzsche for the partial paraphrase).
The reason why the non-conformity that this album comes across as more of an indifference towards convention rather than outright hatred for this is that despite being unapologetically unsuited for universal accessibility, it does not openly seek to make itself inaccessible. Many of the themes presented in here are quite catchy, though they do take some effort to get into. The production is clean and polished enough to pass for a more elaborate version of Rush’s “Grace Under Pressure” or Queensryche’s “Rage For Order”. Likewise, the instrumental work on here is quite involved, but never crossed into being overbearing or pretentious. But most of all, despite often clocking in at over 8 minutes half of the time, there is a clear effort at maintaining an actual song oriented composition style, rather than an attempt to outright shun a larger audience with too much music to follow.
The most difficult music to really get into on here is when the band really stretches the genre boundaries and tries to compress about 3 or 4 stylistic fusions into 9 or 10 minutes of music. This is particularly the case with “Metropolis - Part 1 “The Miracle And The Sleeper”, where ambient keyboard work, jazzy interludes, off beat and quasi-tribal sounding drumming, and a rather large collection of memorable riffs all find a happy home. Things remain relatively easy to follow until about halfway into the song where things just completely change feel and we’re introduced to a Rush interlude on steroids. This approach to a contrasting instrumental section after a series of discernable verse and chorus themes is as old as the earliest of Baroque era compositions, although when presented in an extremely complex manner, is usually lost on most who have less than a regular interest in instrumental music. This same fact holds true for the even longer “Learning To Live”, only at a slightly longer duration with a less chaotic sense of rhythm.
Where the band really shines yet also maintains a stronger sense of accessibility is on the shorter and simpler epics. “Pull Me Under” is the catchiest and the most remembered of this album’s 8 parts, but is really no less complex than any of the others on here. It works a little easier than the others in that it concentrates on a more gradual development of ideas and avoids too much stylistic variance. The principle theme that kicks off the song is heavily reminiscent of Queensryche, droning on a simple clean guitar line as everything around it develops into a fast paced, heavy edged riff monster. The chorus just saturates itself in catchiness, anchoring the song in a sense of balance that is utterly undisturbed by Mike Portnoy’s perpetually developing beats. This same approach holds true on my personal favorite song on here “Under A Glass Moon”, but with a more abstract sounding principle melody that likely inspired a couple of Symphony X songs, most particularly “The Relic” and “Through The Looking Glass” off the “Twilight In Olympus” release. The chorus is basically an elaborate variant on speed metal, cruising along with the double bass drums and palm muted guitars blazing as LaBrie’s vocals soar like a triumphant golden eagle. But the finest moment on here, and in my own humble opinion the finest Dream Theater has ever had, is Petrucci’s guitar solo. It’s one of the most technically and stylistically multifaceted works of expressive lead playing ever conceived, and knows when it’s time to go and leave its final impression rather than continuing to linger in hopes of outdoing itself.
Although I’ve become a bit guarded about the concept of ascribing legendary status to a singular album by a band with a pretty solid total body of work, this is one of those cases where it is unavoidable. Although this is often seen as an inferior work to “Awake”, this is where the band truly found their niche and exploited it to its fullest, right smack in the twilight of the glory days of 80s metal. It is widely imitated by a large host of progressive and power metal bands, with varying degrees of success, and enjoys a wide audience among even those who don’t care much for the bands that influenced this album. It’s popularity is less a manner of the band catering to any particular collective sentiment, but more a credit to it’s ability to transcend all preconceived notions of greatness.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on April 22, 2009
Frankly, I am a casual Dream Theater fan at best. I certainly appreciate their technical virtuosity, and realize that they are the essential prog metal band, but I find that too often their releases degenerate into a technically perfect but spiritually soulless record.
Not so for Images & Words. This album, being their second studio release (and first with singer James Labrie), is to me, the pinnacle of Dream Theater's achievements. Though many would argue that further releases, especially Awake, would improve upon their patented heavy/progressive metal sound, I prefer Images & Words for a number of reasons.
Firstly, the album contains some of the strongest songs Dream Theater has ever produced. With the exception of "Another Day", every song is well executed, and more importantly, engaging and interesting (something that cannot be said about some of their latter works). Great slabs of metal like "Pull Me Under" (Dream Theater's only significant radio/video hit), "Under a Glass Moon" (containing arguably John Petrucci's best solo), and "Metropolis" (my personal favourite Dream Theater song) are offset perfectly by the less agressive songs, particularly the beautiful and melodious "Waiting for Sleep", one of Kevin Moore's best contributions in his short tenure with the band.
Secondly, the album contains great performances by all the members. John Petrucci lays down chugging riffs and amazing solos, Mike Portnoy is furious with his fills and beats, John Myung is as consistent and awe-inspiring as ever, and Kevin Moore provides some truly memorable performances, specifically the piano-drive "Waiting for Sleep". And, with his first studio album with the band, James Labrie delivers a standout vocal performance, one that, ever since the rupturing of his vocal chords, he has not been able to reproduce.
Lastly, the production, as is with every Dream Theater album, spotless. Whereas some bands seem to have problem with continually producing albums with great sound, Dream Theater has no such problem.
In conclusion, regardless of your affinity to prog metal, this is an essential album to have. If you buy one Dream Theater album, make it this one.
Albums that I like fall into one of two categories: listenable at any time, or listenable only when I’m in a certain mood. While albums in the former category get more spins, albums in the latter category are typically more rewarding. Dream Theater’s Images and Words, the band’s most influential and commercially successful output to date, falls into the latter category, and is one of the most purely entertaining releases in the band’s catalog.
I cannot listen to Images and Words at simply any time because of the record’s flamboyance and technicality. Moreso than any other Dream Theater album, Images and Words is filled to the brink with long instrumental breaks and guitar-keyboard duels. Three-minute instrumental sections are not uncommon here, with songs like “Metropolis” and “Under a Glass Moon” halting at their mid-sections so that each Dream Theater member may showcase his considerable skill.
What makes these barrages of self-indulgence bearable is the thought that goes into each note of each solo. There is no experimentation or overwrought shredding to be found on the album; instead, all instrumental segments are used to make their respective songs better, as opposed to making their respective songs more ‘prog’.
It is funny that this, the band’s craziest record, also happens to be their most popular. The album struck gold with its opening track “Pull Me Under”, which became a hit song and propelled Dream Theater into a realm of borderline mainstream acceptance. The appeal of “Pull Me Under” and its addictive melodies put the band at the top of the progressive rock world in 1992 and established Dream Theater as the progressive metal band of the decade.
In truth, the rest of Images and Words doesn’t get much better than its opener. Only two songs on the album surpass the mastery of “Pull Me Under”, those being “Take the Time” and “Learning to Live”.
“Take the Time” is a rare example of metal being driven by keyboards, and the song is all the better for it. Kevin Moore glides above John Petrucci’s frantic riffage to create perhaps the band’s best pure rocker while then-new vocalist James LaBrie enhances the song with his operatic voice, and Mike Portnoy takes things to otherworldly levels with his greatest performance ever. Don’t forget about John Myung, folks; he’s just as prominent a force here as any of his bandmates.
“Learning to Live”, which follows Kevin Moore’s beautiful companion piece “Wait for Sleep”, is the best song on the album. It traverses across all genres and climaxes towards its conclusion with the best instrumental break on the record. LaBrie shines here, showcasing range, power, and emotion that is only rivaled elsewhere on the CD by the fantastic “Surrounded”.
Much has been made of the album’s ‘80s-ish production and Mike Portnoy’s triggered snare. While the record does indeed sound like a product of its time, it is a wonderful sounding record with each instrument organized into dutiful layers. In fact, it’s a shame that more CDs today aren’t produced like Images and Words. The drum sound on the album is strange, but in no way does it detract from the quality of the work as a whole, and it is often forgotten about over the course of the album’s (perfect) running length.
Images and Words is Dream Theater’s quintessential release. It features every ingredient that has made the band a success, from their mild cheesiness to their fluctuations in subtlety to their great vocal melodies to their infectious individual abilities. Days that call for Images and Words, as rare as they may be for me, are always great days because IAW is a great, great album. It is perhaps the greatest progressive metal record ever made, and is certainly a force to be reckoned with in the genre’s history.
© Kevin Martell (TheOutlawXanadu)
This album is perfect in every way conceivable to the human mind. From beginning to end, this album never fails to deliver. The impeccable musicianship of these boys from New York shines on this album more than any other. LaBrie's vocals are emotional and powerful. Petrucci's guitar playing, and Myung's bass playing are top notch, and Portnoy and Moore deliver epic performances on drums and keys. Now that I'm done felating the band members, maybe I can get to the album.
This CD starts off with the progressive metal masterpiece "Pull Me Under." As to expect, the technical prowess of Dream Theater shines on this song. From beginning to end, the lyrics drag you under, and the solo from Petrucci is definitely one of his best. The lyrical theme in this album seems to take heavy influence from Kansas' "Dust in the Wind." An excellent intro to an excellent album.
Next up on our metaphorical journey through this album, is the beautiful "Another Day." From the Petrucci's melodic, emotional guitar intro, I knew that this song was less "metal" than many of the other songs on this album, but that doesn't detract from this song in the least. Complete with Soprano Saxophone and LaBrie showing off in his mid to upper range, this proves that not all progressive metal bands need to be face-meltingly heavy.
Then we have what I feel is the "worst" song on the album, though "worst" on this album is "best" on their others. "Take the Time" starts off slow with Synth. work from Moore and a nice bass line from Myung culminating up to the full band playing. LaBrie's vocals at the beginning detract from this song, but not enough to keep it from losing it's "classic" status. Once again, he stays in his upper registers other than the mid-range at the beginning. As again, musically this song is perfect.
After the final notes of "Take the Time," we have "Surrounded." From the sublime piano and LaBrie's mezzo-piano vocals at the beginning, I could tell it is another song in the vein of "Another Day." Petrucci's melodic guitar playing in the middle of the song is perfect. Once again, LaBrie shows off his upper octaves.
After LaBrie's voice fades away, we hear the opening of what is, in my opinion, the best song Dream Theater has ever performed. "Metropolis Pt. I: The Miracle and the Sleeper." It is easily the most "progressive" song on the album in my opinion. Starting off with tambourine, we know that this song will be different. But as is the case with Dream Theater, "different" typically means "amazing." On this song, LaBrie parks himself in his upper register, and stays there. The drums in this song, make me proud to know the name Mike Portnoy, absolutely perfect. Moore's keyboards, the guitarists once again prove their worth. The progressive interlude in this song is absolutely stunning. It contains a ridiculously insane keyboard solo from Moore, and two guitar solos from Petrucci. It's absolutely breath-taking.
As we drive out of the "Metropolis," and hear the opening keyboard/guitar duet that opens up "Under a Glass Moon," I experience an aural orgasm. Yes, it's that amazing. Lyrically, this song is the best on the album, musically, it's the second best on the album. However, no review of this song can be complete without mentioning Petrucci's amazing solo where he shows his blistering speed. It takes breath-taking to a whole new level. Absolutely amazing.
Closing out this amazing CD is the interlude song "Wait for Sleep," and the progressive epic "Learning to Live." The premiere is a beautiful ballad lead by LaBrie's golden voice. However, "Learning to Live" is simply... amazing. A progressive metal masterpiece in every sense of the word, it is mind-shattering, 11:30 of these boys exhibiting their prodigious skill.
None of Dream Theater's subsequent works will hold a candle to their Sophomore effort. In fact, I don't think that any progressive metal album ever recorded comes close other than Pagan's Mind's "Celestial Entrance." If Dream Theater, no, if ANY progressive metal band is able to overcome this standard of the genre, I will be awed.
This is one of the key albums to understand the development of the progmetal over the 90's and why not, the explosion of progressive metal/rock on the last decade. Althought have been a lot of discussions whereas DT is responsable for that, I have to say that even if they are not 100% responsable, a big part of that is due to them (and especially because of this album and Awake).
And well, this album deserves all the hype it has created. For the time of its release this kind of music was striking original and fresh (today the sound is somehow dated), and produced a huge amount of copycats bands all over the world. The best way to describe this album is just plain "prog-metal". This is how it is suppouse to sound, and in many ways, the music in this album became a necesary point of reference when talking about the genre. When the people say that the music in here is like a blend of 80's heavy metal and thash with ideas of the 70 progressive acts (Yes, Gentle Giant, Genesis, ELP), they are telling the most accurate description of this music in words, and is quite satisfactory tho give that precise description is that few words.
In case you don't know, the musicanship of the band members is top notch, and whereas this is a very melodic album, there are a lot of highly technical aspects. The main song in here: Metropolis pt. I is an excelent showcase for that. A somber melody sound it's listened at the beggining (joined for the rest of the band), then the middle part begins, and well, that is what technical metal is all about: crazy riffs, complicated tempos, constant and abrupt changes of time signatures, interaction between all instruments, incredible soloing, unexpected things, etc,etc. And then a slower and very melodic part ends the song. The other longer tracks in here, except Pull me under (which arguably is more hevy metal with hints of prog metal), have a similar estructure. The shorter songs however have a different approach. There is a forgetable ballad (Another day), a beautiful moody 2 minute piano & synth piece (Wait for Sleep), and Surrounded, which is a very orginal song, when melody, technical stuff and excelent songwriting meet (the tension is built over the first minutes and released in the fourth), it really can't get better than this and Metropolis.
One of the surprising thing about this album is that is quite easy to digest, once you've listened this a couple of times, probably you will be hooked up for a long time, even for a very very long time. Thats because the music is complicated and interesting enough to keep you coming back for more. There are not dull moments, or uninteristing tracks, and the album runs from the beggining to the end without becoming annoying.
The production is a great step forward from their last album, but it's not their best. The drums sound very mechanic and the guitar lacks a little bit of the bass espectrum, the bass is not very thick and the keyboards (specially the strings) sound quite dated. The overall sound obtained is somehow dry and mechanical, just like the drums. In some other genres, or albums, this would be a terrible thing, but in here the sound helps to set the mood, and give the music a lot of distinction. That is a very interesting thing. In fact the band returned to the I&W recording studios to record A Change of seasons. The reason for that was indeed
to regain the sound of the I&W sessions.
As I said before, many bands of the genre at some point of their carrer copied ideas from this album, or just make a lot of references (even in the production) to it. 14 years have gone and it have passed the test of time, retaining its place on the royalty of prog metal albums. This album reestarrted a revolution and its influence can be still listened to this days. Very good stuff, Higly recommended for anybody (except possible if you are a enemy of the melody and keys).
As everyone knows Dream Theater are the definitive prog metal band and this is their definitive album. Turns out it happens to be their best album as well. The band became fairly popular with this album and therefore became the flag bearers of proggessive metal.
Moving on to the album itself. It's metal, very metal. At this point Dream Theater still had an approach that while amazing you with the instrumental sections, could also kick your ass. The best example of this is Pull Me Under. Dream Theater's most recognizable song is one hell of a killer tune. The riffs are heavy, the vocals powerful and slightly agressive, and even the keyboards tear shit up.
After Pull Me Under we come to the ballad. Another Day was thought by the band and label to be the big hit from the album. Kind of ironic how the heaviest song on the album was a much bigger hit. Well it's a good song and fits the album. James LaBrie, the new singer at this point, shows off his ability. Nothing spectacular but makes sense. Then we get to a bit of a lull with Take The Time and Surrounded. Both are very good songs but seem to just keep the album at the same point, not moving ahead. Still I really like those songs.
Images and Words really sets off now. Metropolis is one of the best Dream Theater songs, if not the best. This song was actually written as far back as 1989, too bad it wasn't on When Dream And Day Unite. It's a long epic song that covers alot of styles. Some of the song is slower with keyboards as the lead, and then it builds up to a nice riff. LaBire's vocals are top notch here. The instrumental section in this one blows me away every time I hear it.
Under A Glass Moon is next and is a good song but not really woth talking about much. It's heavy and fast, the fastest song on here in fact. Then we move on to the highlight of this album. The epic, beautiful, chaotic, amazing masterpiece that starts with Wait For Sleep. Wait For Sleep is basically a piano and vocal intro to Learning To Live. Learning To Live is probably Dream Theater's greatest achivement next to A Change Of Seasons. This song has everything you could want. Long insturmentals run throughout, softer melodic sections flow into heavy parts. Toward the end the song gets so good, with a dueling gutiar, keyboard, and even bass part. You can just feel so much emotion being put into every note.
So this is Dream Theater's best album. For the second time they put out a great album that pushes the boundaries of prog metal. At this point they really haven't doen any wrong, and won't until Falling Into Infinity. So do yourself a favor and get this. Even if you don't like prog metal there is something here to get you. Truly an awsome album.
If I were a metal fan back in 1992 and I heard this album, brand new, for the first time I believe that the only thought that could come through my head would be “Wow… the true masters of the craft have arrived.”
For Dream Theater (DT) truly are the masters of their craft, that craft being the realm of heavy metal. DT are, to me, undoubtedly the most talented coalition of metal musicians on Earth. The technicality of their brand of progressive metal, combined with the complexity of their songs and James LaBrie’s uncanny voice make for a contribution to heavy metal that America can truly be proud of.
Although they’ve made a few keyboardist changes over the year, the remaining four members of the band have consistenly performed excellent, enthralling audiences with their truly masterful approach towards metal, all beginning with this album, Images and Words.
Although Images is DT’s second album, it was the first time when you could really feel the emotion and true capabilities of this band. The songs are much longer and more complex from their previous offering, churning out many of the DT classics we all know and love today. The replacement of Charles Dominici, the singer from their first album When Dream And Day Unite, proved to be one of the best decisions DT has ever made. James LaBrie made his debut on this album, and the emotion and skill he puts into the songs on this album is a key factor what truly catapulted this album and DT in general to greatness.
Of course, the amazing capabilities of guitarist John Petrucci, drummer Mike Portnoy, bassist John Myung and keyboardist (at the time) Kevin Moore are nothing to scoff at. Musically, these guys are unparalleled by metal or by artists in any other musical genres. Dream Theater albums, as far as skill and complexity are concerned, are often head and shoulders above the rest. That’s why pretty much any album to come from these guys will become an instant metal classic, but Images and Words is the album that stood before them all, and still stands pretty damn tall when compared to the rest of their works today.
The opening track, “Pull Me Under”, is to me the quintessential Dream Theater song, it was also the song that first introduced me to the band. What comes from this track is an 8-minute combination of heavy riffing, cool melodies, soothing sounds, complex keyboarding and guitar work and just plain amazing songwriting. My words cannot do justice to this or many other DT songs, but I’ll try my best. This song would most likely be DT’s version of “Run to the Hills” or “Master of Puppets”, the song that everyone does or should know and love. It’s got a catchy, memorable refrain within a nice slow to mid-tempo composition that never gets too overly heavy, but doesn’t let up at any point. It’s the prime example of how to make a song that can appeal to all metal fans, from the most hardcore death metal fan to the Slipknot-hugging metal teeny-bopper, this is a song that any metalhead can listen to and at the end say “That was pretty damn good”. I dream of the day I get to see DT perform this one live.
Then, the mood completely changes going into “Another Day”. From progressive metal to what could be considered almost adult-contemporary. It was a bold move from DT to put this as the second track, but it’s a good example of the range of music that this band can perform. I didn’t care for it at first, but found myself singing along after a few listens through. Saxaphone solos and calm, moody keyboards along with a smooth quiet sound are not often metal band trademarks, but DT manages to come off this track sounding cool. It just shows that your band is pretty damn talented if they can come out of some kind of “prog-metal meets Kenny G” track with their heads held high.
Another long, complex, indescribably beautiful track arises from “Take The Time”. It begins with a forceful beat, guitar and ominous keyboards, but then turns into a high-flying keyboard solo and into a slow, jazzy kinda tune… and that’s just the first 60 seconds, and there’s 7 and a half more to go. It’s songs like this that make DT hard to review, there’s so many components and influences in the music it’s hard to say “This song sounds like this”. This song is jazzy, bluesy, poppy, epic and metal all at the same time, catchy yet complicated, that’s the essence of this song. Trust me, just take the time to listen to “Take the Time” a few times in order to truly grasp all that’s in this DT masterpiece, it’s quite possibly one of DT’s all-time greatest technical achievements.
“Surrounded” is the next track, and while not quite as long as some of the other tracks on the album, it’s not less beautiful or complex. It starts with just LaBrie’s enchanting voice and some nice piano medley work before erupting into another smooth and jazzy kind of track. It proves you don’t need to be the heaviest or angriest band on Earth to produce some quality rock music. It’s a kind of poppy, happy ballad but still retains a DT edge. It doesn’t sound like metal, but it still sounds good enough to satisfy someone who may be a metal fan. “Surrounded” in all the DT goodness.
Next, a true Dream Theater classic and all-time metal achievement hits your ears. If you don’t consider this next song a classic, tear up your “Music Fan Card” right now, because you quite simply don’t belong in a group of people known as music enthusiasts. That song is of course, “Metropolis Pt. 1 – The Miracle and the Sleeper”. It’s a ride through an obviously classical-infulenced piece of metal excellence. From it’s heavy riff-work to complex drumming, emotional lyrics and abundance of time and mood changes, it is a track that Dream Theater can look back to twelve years ago and be proud of. It’s got some of the highest of the metal highs and calmest metal can get and still hold the attention of its listeners through the entire track. The instrumental parts of the song are fantastic, the soloing is unparalleled and once again, my words cannot do this song justice. Just give it a listen, it won’t be 9 wasted minutes, trust me.
The album doesn’t lose any steam going into “Under A Glass Moon”, which, while not as complex as some of the other songs on this album, probably is my favorite song on this album, if not one of my favorite DT songs of all time. What begins as a beautiful melding of guitar and keyboards soon turns an awesome combination of heaviness and soothing sounds. It’s also one of the tracks where you can really hear the passion and emotion in James LaBrie’s voice, and it’s something that really gets to me. It’s definitely beauty pulled from aggression, which is something I love to hear in music. Not to mention it has John Petrucci doing what is probably one of my favorite guitar solos in ANY song ever. It’s a song that holds the same power and emotion for 7 minutes, never letting up once and in all honesty, I think it could’ve been longer. There’s too many great elements in this song to squeeze in 7 short minutes!
“Wait for Sleep” is kind of the break to catch your breath after the previous two tracks. It’s no more than some haunting keyboard work, which gives you some beautiful imagery, like a cold, winter night. LaBrie’s soothing voice complements the piano perfectly, just a short, calm track you can sit and relax to and regain your composure before this album’s finale.
It took me awhile to shine up to “Learning to Live”. It’s a long, winding track which isn’t a problem for most DT songs, but this one it just took some time for me to get accustomed to it. It sounds very different than anything else on the album, which isn’t unusual because nothing else on the album sounds quite like eachother, but this song sounded particularly “out there”. It’s got almost a kind of spacey quality to it, something not very easy to immediately hear and appreciate. While most of DT’s long epics are heavily charged and a combination of heavier sounds, this song for the most part is much more subtle, much more ballad sounding than their other epic tracks. I think that’s why it took me awhile to get used to this song, but now I have a deep appreciation for the skill it took to make this track and the guts it takes to record something like this and put it on an album. In the end, it may take a few times to “get” this track, but once you get used to it, you’ll find yourself skipping ahead to it. It’s not the heaviest or most memorable song they’ve ever done, but it’s another one DT can be proud of.
Images and Words to me is the quintessential Dream Theater album. It’s got songs of all lengths and styles, from the short piano-only “Wait for Sleep” to the epic, energetic masterpiece of “Metropolis”, this album is a prime example as to why DT is a success and loved by so many the world over. This is an album that should be in any metal fan’s collection, whether they love death metal or rap-metal, this is one of those albums that can reach and move any listener. It is truly a classic in every sense of the word, every song on it being special and awesome in its own way. Please, if you haven’t heard any Dream Theater, do yourself a favor and go track down this masterpiece. Dream Theater shows us what aggression, complexity, beauty and some damn fine talented musicians can accomplish.
It seems to me that Dream Theater is one of those bands that you either love or you hate. Yet, personally, I don't do either. While I don't think they're the greatest band of all time, I don't their they're terrible wankers, either. I guess there must be something wrong with me...
Anyways, Images And Words, albeit the quintessential Dream Theater album, was not my first purchase out of their discography. That would be 1999's Scenes From A Memory, which I bought with a gift card at Future Shop, a store with limited metal selection. Well, once again, I used a gift card to buy Images And Words, this time at HMV. I guess that DT are my "band to buy with gift cards at shitty record stores", or something...
To be honest, the band that played on Scenes From A Memory seems a lot different than the one featured on Images And Words, seven years earlier. Of course, they did lose keyboard player Kevin Moore, who wrote the lyrics to three of the songs on Images And Words, including the smash hit Pull Me Under. Actually, I think their songwriting has improved since then, as Scenes From A Memory told a story that was easy to follow. I even read the lyrics to Images And Words, and still couldn't figure out what the album was supposed to be about, if it was a concept album at all.
Of course, when it comes to musical ability, Dream Theater are undoubtably one of the more talented bands out there, and they know it. There are definitely a lot of great musical moments on this record, but as far as great songs, go, well...
There's no doubt that the opening track, Pull Me Under, is great. I think that part of the reason it stands out from the rest is the heavy guitar riff. To me, it almost sounds like 80's Metallica with keyboards and high-pitched vocals. At least, that was my first impression, anyways.
Of course, leading off your album with your best track isn't always a good thing, especially when you follow it up with your weakest. I dunno what made Dream Theater think that the use of saxophone on Another Day was a good idea, but it isn't. The only rock song I've ever heard that made good use of sax was Meat Loaf's All Revved Up With No Place To Go, and that wasn't metal by any stretch. While power/prog metal often makes effective use of unusual instruments, (the xylophones on Blind Guardian's Nightfall on Middle Earth, for instance) the saxophone is an instrument that should never be heard on any metal song. Especially the watered-down, 80's adult contemporary style sax. That's just wrong...
So, after going from enjoyment to annoyance in the first two tracks, I wasn't sure what to expect from the rest of the album. As it turns out, there wasn't anything else that was memorable about Images And Words, aside from that fact that fourth track Metropolis - Part 1 contains a solo from every single instrument. I don't think I've heard that on any song that wasn't jazz, which was kinda cool.
Final track Learning To Live was also a master display of musicianship, but putting a song that's eleven and a half minutes long at the end of a record isn't usually a good thing, especially when the listener is waiting for said 8 track, 57 minute opus to end. Perhaps a true fan would find it masterful, but not me.
So, in conclusion, Images And Words will probably end up beside some Yngwie records in the category of "Stuff That I Can't Listen To More Than Once A Month". I don't mind great playing, but when it comes at the expense of song structure, I don't wanna hear it too often, no matter how good it is.
And, I must say that I prefer Scenes From A Memory to this record, which hardcore Dream Theater fans might find a bit unusual... I guess I'll just rip Pull Me Under to my computer, and pull out the album whenever I forget what the other tracks sound like. Maybe I'll pick up on something that I missed the first time around...
The beginning of modern progressive metal lies in Images & Words. Although Queensryche, Fates Warning, and good ol' Crimson Glory were the first to "take hold of the flame" and marry Black Sabbath with Rush, Dream Theater took it to the next level with this release. Really, it'd be fair to say that all modern prog metal takes it's cues from Images & Words, Cynic's Focus, or Savatage's Streets: A Rock Opera, with the majority going the way of the flying-digits and warm melodies.
Although I love Images & Words, it is a somewhat flawed record. First, the lyrical content is very much in the power metal vein, with lots of the fantastical imagery and simplified emotions that power draws upon. Bands like Symphony X and Stratovarius would take this to heart, but Dream Theater would shirk these for the most part on their masterpiece Awake, and become a better band for it. It's also a bit uneven, the good songs being literally some of the best ever, and the weak songs being just sort of there. It's also true that there is a LOT of soloing, between the frankly ridiculously proficient Moore and Petrucci they swallow up literally half of a song on occasion, and Myung gets a few cool bass runs to play with on top.
"Another Day" seems a little too laid-back sometimes, although subsequent live versions would add force that the song requires to build to its substantial climax. In its defence though, James LaBrie is absolutely brilliant and those powerful vibrato-filled vocal solos are literally inimitable. Petrucci is in his element, particularly with the opening jazz-style solo and semi-duel with the guest saxophone player. On a trivia note, this was actually the first single and they shot a video for it, but it failed to break out and when "Pull Me Under" was released on a lark and became a hit, the band was as shocked as anyone.
I've never particularly been a fan of "Under a Glass Moon" despite the truly crazy solo, as the song simply seems to not work on a certain level and never really get started. Dream Theater's music is very emotional, and this seems to lack that, Petrucci's poetic lyrics falling flat in a way that Myung's never seem to. Still, nothing really wrong with it, just lacking any edge and anything to really make it great, and I like the way it just builds and builds to the climax. Check out the ï¿½swingï¿½ version called ï¿½Fly Me to the Glass Moonï¿½ for a real laugh.
Okay, criticism over, time for raving.
"Take the Time" is arguably the best song in Dream Theater's catalogue. Hell, I argue it myself, but time and time again this song is the only one that remains as constantly fresh as the Awake material. There is just so much energy! From the opening groovy bassline and ascending solo's, the first a fiercely metallic guitar storm and the second a truly formidable sounding keyboard solo onward, this song is so chockfull of invention and incredibly inspired hooks, riffs, solos, lyrics, and overall performances that it's almost inhuman. I love the opening sound-bites that Moore effortlessly layers until they achieve a rap-styled rhythm that James follows with his usual confidence and precision. People bitched about "Honour Thy Father", but they were doing it even back on this record. Of course, it was followed by an effortlessly mighty "chaaaaaaaaaaaaaange" that I'm sure even they'll forgive him.
We then counter the rapped lyrics with a metallic construct of considerable density before changing yet again into a thoughtful and sparkly pause before the chorus which features some more very memorable words. The chorus churns and really hits the sky, and the lyrical message is actually rather profound in a way. Plus, it's interesting to hear the band not going the usual way as far as the vocal melody goes. They elect not to do a measured progression and have the first "take the time" be very high and the second very low. I realize that I'll be here forever if I try to describe all the myriad twists and turns of this epic, so I'll just quietly point out the perfection of the false ending ride-out solo, the stark Wings-y perfection of the piano alerting you to the fact that it just isn't over, and the final triumphant charge to the endzone that marks a total contrast to the abrupt ending of "Pull Me Under". And all that in a little over eight minutes, as they manage to pack more into single digits than the entire 20 minute "A Change of Seasons"(not that I don't love that one too).
I love "Pull Me Under" of course, which is really an unabashed rocker at heart. I love the stuttered intro, repeating over and over and actually foreshadowing the ending. That kind of narrative in music is hard to come by. Kevin Moore really restrains himself to a pulsing squawk that cruises over the chunky main riff, leaving the floor to LaBrie and his shamelessly dramatic interpretation of Moore's lyrics, up until the iconic chorus that really affirms everything that is good about metal, relentlessly anthemic and earthshakingly heavy. The solo is brilliant, a brethren to the "Take the Time" solo that actually manages to get better as it ends, a sublime little tag that lasts maybe five seconds before hitting that chorus again. And the quick cut-off? Brilliant and almost unprecedented. I've certainly never heard the like.
I think Dream Theater's most famous song is probably "Metropolis", and with good reason. This is the most squarely metal song on the disc (call it a draw with "Pull Me Under"), and it's truly unbelievable solo blitzkrieg around four minutes in is insane. I repeat insane. Awesome guitar solo, awesome keyboard solo, awesome guitar and key run, BASS SOLO, more guitar and keys before cruising back in for the weighty finale. I skipped the opening of the song, which manages to be great on the strength of a recurring riff rather than simply blindsiding you with stupefying power like a "Raining Blood" or an "Iron Man". It leads to some tastefully crazy drum work from Portnoy and an understated yet complex riff/solo from Petrucci followed by one of James LaBrie's all time stand-out performances. "There's no more freeeeedom..." I have a slight problem with some of the wonky vocal melodies, but the rest of it is so damned good and so damned epic that I feel ashamed of complaining.
"Surrounded" is catchy as hell, particularly the syrupy and infectious keys and perfect vocals. Kevin Moore always wrote very musically when it came to lyrics, and he achieved a real flow, particularly the "light to dark dark to light etc." parts. I am sometimes a little bored with the intro to the song as well as the outro, but the glorious and joyful middle is more than compensation.
The final song, John Myung's "Learning to Live" really encompasses the rest of the album in a way. The bass runs in this song are genius, particularly the higher tone on the "droopy" bass licks in the first verse and towards the end. I love the way the thing segues from "Wait for Sleep" too, into that tricky drum beat and awesome keyboard run. The song is possessed by a very powerful chorus too, especially when James just takes flight followed by the truly unique guitar and key weaving that apes the intro keys. And man, that "listening to the city" part is serious doom and gloom "Metropolis"-style, with some very cool dark lyrics and crunchy riff. Skip past some awesome choruses and we reach a sublime ride-out, with some classical-styled keyboard and guitar solo's ending things over a gradually increasing sea of voices singing the main melody.
I docked it points because it isn't something I can listen to all the time, but when I'm in the mood for it and I'm listening to the best parts of it... this is pure magic.
Stand-Outs: "Take the Time", "Metropolis", "Surrounded"
Dream Theater's sophomore album Images & Words is especially noteworthy because it marks the first album without WDaDU(When Dream and Day Unite) vocalist Charles Dominici, who, in my opinion, was vastly inferior to James Labrie and much more generic sounding. It's also noteworthy because it's the first and most likely only album of theirs that went gold(500,000 + albums sold). I've checked the sales of most if not all of their albums on metalsludge.com and none of them have come close to matching Images & Words as far as sales go.
I guess the prog listeners all around the world(at least in The United States) were just overwhelmed with relief that James Labrie took over vocal duties and this album in particular is very restrained without having too much of a commercial sound. In other words, it's like Falling Into Infinity in its discrete use of soloing but is very similar to Awake and Six Degrees in its overall scope. There is plenty of great soloing to be found on this record, but it doesn't go all over the place like it does on Scenes From a Memory.
Images & Words opens with the classic prog epic Pull Me Under, which UltraBoris even likes. I suppose there is sort of a power metal feel to it because of a very speedy interlude, but overall, it's just a great progressive metal song. Dream Theater has never done a song that just blatantly screams power metal, at least in my opinion. Nice song---long length, but it doesn't get boring. Lots of emotion and nice outro.
The second song, Another Day, is a short and sweet ballad that really wouldn't sound too out of place on a light rock station alongside the likes of Phil Collins, etc. It's a little under five minutes and it just sounds great. Also very emotional.
Following this is the jazzy song Take the Time. This song has a lot of gritty attitude from Labrie and reminds me much of Lie from Awake. There's some really nice keyboard work here. Very flamboyant.
Surrounded is next, and though many people don't like it much, I love it. It has an especially dreamy, nursery-rhyme type atmosphere that's very conducive to reflection and even napping. There's a very fast guitar solo on this song, but it doesn't have much of a foreground presence to it. It's hard to explain, but basically there are a series of very quickly plucked notes that happen over and over again for a minute or two. It's like a hurricane that sucks you into the emotional vortex of the song.
Metropolis Part I- The Miracle and the Sleeper comes next and it is VERY impressive musically without getting on my fucking nerves. It begins with a smoky keyboard intro that is used often, to my surprise, at the beginning of certain professional basketball games to boost morale. I suppose it's just really damn catchy and inspiring.
In my opinion, to use that intro, even though it may be flattering to Dream Theater fans and Dream Theater themselves, it's almost blasphemic because I doubt most of the players on that court and even the vast majority of the people in the stadium could care less about the band and probably haven't even heard of them. Eh, it's just a little bothersome. I love the soloing on this song. Part of it reminds me of Sonic the Hedghog and then later there's this huge syncopated interlude that just bludgeons you in the head with its overall drive and it also stops and starts a lot until finally it winds down to a very abrupt couple of notes that give way to the calm atmosphere preceding it. The theme of this song would be revisited once again in Metropolis Pt. II- Scenes From a Memory, obviously, though I have no idea who "The Miracle and the Sleeper" are.
Under a Glass Moon is a very nicely paced song that's equal parts regular and epic. Much interesting guitar work is to be found here...some of it sounding suspiciously similar to Steve Vai. This is not as impressive as Metropolis Pt. I, but it's still excellent.
Wait For Sleep is Dream Theater's shortest song ever, clocking in at 2:31, and it's very emotional and nicely done. I'm glad that it wasn't some technical instrumental or anything, because technicality should be spread out over a longer duration in my opinion. Otherwise, there's often not enough time for interesting transitional moments and such. This song has very moving piano-playing.
Learning to Live is a nice closer that utilizes the melody from Wait to Sleep to help drive the concept of the album home. This is the only instance of the reusable riff phenomenon on this album. Whereas on Awake, it appeared several times, it only happens once on this album, and I respect that. I don't recall this song being particularly technical, but it has quite a lot of drive and it fits the album well.
This isn't my favorite Dream Theater record(that honor goes to Awake), but I do like it quite a lot because of its tasteful use of soloing and emotion. It's a little hard to get into because it's so mellow though. I know all of Dream Theater's stuff, generally, is mellow, but this album is especially mellow and probably will appeal more to the baby-boomer generation who grew up with bands like Yes, Be Bop Deluxe, King Crimson, etc. Unfortunately, though, it seems as though older people mostly are the ones who like Dream Theater and are highly familiar with them. I consider it a duty of mine to spread the word about Dream Theater and progressive metal, currently my favorite genre of music.
Some may complain that this cd isn't the typical 70 minutes that Dream Theater usually throws out, but what it lacks in quantity, it makes up for in quality. The production of David Prater, as some would say, "is just as good if not better than that of Kevin Shirley". Images and Words is an even more technically extreme album than nearly all other Dream Theater albums. It possibly contains the three best songs to begin an album ever.
The album begins with Dream Theater's signature song Pull Me Under. It is possibly one of the greatest progressive metal songs of all time. Even Ultraboris loves this song, and that is really saying something. It is one of the bands few heavier songs that doesn't really do that much technical "wankering" as it is referred to by some. A beautifully written song which makes a great introduction for Images and Words.
Another Day is usually criticized because of the use of the saxophone. The band thought this song would be their biggest hit instead of Pull Me Under since it sounded rather charateristic of the music of that time period. It is personally one of my favorite songs of all time and without a doubt my favorite ballad by Dream Theater. It is just very soothing to hear Kevin Moore's brilliant keyboarding mixed with the saxophone.
Take the Time goes back to the band's forte, extreme technicality. Its pretty hard to distinguish the keyboards from the guitar on this track, simply because they sound similar, but nonetheless it is an all around excellent upbeat effort by the band. This song contains some of LaBrie's best vocal work and also shows many people why John Myung is considered one of the best bassists in progressive metal.
Surrounded is just a bit of a sleeper compared to the first three tracks, but is still rather enjoyable. This is another track where extreme technicality is not blatantly practiced. This is sort of a midpaced song that is more focused on lyrics and the voice of James LaBrie than anything else. Not musically one the best, but lyrically it is rather exceptional.
Metropolis is another one of the premier tracks on this album. It contains a fantasic intro that amazing is occasionally used at the beginning of Los Angeles Lakers basketball games, it is that inspiring! This track focuses more or Mike Portnoy than anything. The drumming on this is track is technical enough to make Neil Peart proud. Although nearly a ten minute song, I don't think its possible to get bored with the song.
Under a Glass Moon is not one of my personal favorites, as it just seems awkward on this album. It has a bit of an ancient asian civilization feel to it, just doesn't sound very metal-like. All in all not a bad song, just not really a good Dream Theater song.
There is only one reason that I am disappointed with Wait for Sleep and that is because it is too short at under three minutes. This is also one of the premier ballads of the band and once again displays some beautiful keyboarding from Kevin Moore. A very relaxing song that is once again lyrically beautiful.
Learning to Live is the typical ten minute plus song of Dream Theater. There are times on this song where they just seem to drift into a different song, something that Ultraboris likes to call "wankering for the sake of wankering". I enjoy the bands more technical work, but not even I can really understand this one.
If you are looking for something different, but something that won't make you want to go skeet shooting with the cd, i recommend checking this one out. If you really liked Awake or When Dream and Day Unite, you'll probably want to make this a part of your cd collection that recieves regular play.