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Whoa. Colour me skullfucked by the sheer verve, grit, and above all monstrous heaviness of this record. Yeah, heaviness. Dream Theater has never been afraid to drag the waters of heaviness, but when do they get credit for it? From the neoclassical shred of When Dream and Day Unite to the emotional holocaust of Awake and even up unto the holy havoc of "The Glass Prison" and Train of Thought, DT have been remarkably loudly and proudly metal over the years, but as with Rush in the 70s and Fates Warning in the 80s they don't get enough credit for it.
I know that, I've been bitching about it for years. But this thing still took me by surprise. Because it is live and loud and HEAVY. Over a scant six tracks Dream Theater transforms a handful of their classic tracks into monsterliths, in the proud tradition of no less than Unleashed in the East. Live at the Marquee isn't the easiest record to find around these parts, and I held off on actually going out and getting it for many moons because its just a six track record and Dream Theater has no lack of quality live material (one two-disc, two three-discs, and a wealth of bootlegs). But then I downloaded "Another Hand - The Killing Hand".
"The Killing Hand" has always been a fine track and I really dug the Fates Warning-ness of it all, but I never imagined how it could be so much improved by five years of touring and a singer at the height of his abilities. I was interested in hearing the "Another Hand" jam that opened the song more than the song itself, but as good as it is "Another Hand" is merely an appetizer. "Another Hand" is a cool little melodic interlude that sounds almost exactly like the intro to "Through Her Eyes" with some tasteful soloing from Kevin Moore. It is in fact a wonderful little instrumental that would've been a great addition to Images & Words but then it builds up into that iconic intro to "The Killing Hand".... and we're on another plain of metal excellence.
By being free of the limiting factors of Charlie Dominici and poor production, the regal heaviness of this stuff breathes free, rocking hard and riffing tightly like the bravura power-prog that it is. This is rooted in the pre-power metal genius of bands like Fates Warning and Savatage, and as a result there is a heady grandeur in the blazing violin-like guitars that rip through the up-tempo section en route to a killer solo, old school John Petrucci to the hilt. And then the melodic sections, rather than taking away from the power of the thing or even adding metal-diluting emotion simply build up more to the shrieking, pounding, ear-drum bursting climax.
Oh and James LaBrie? He's fucking badass on this thing. No bullshit. I've heard Images & Words, I know how fresh and lively and pure his performance is on that record is. You almost expect rainbows to burst from his vocal chords at times. Here he basically stands there screaming his balls off. It is difficult to call any performance more metal than this without resorting to truly abstract trains of thought to disqualify it. And even if you try that, it won't work. But James will just scream "Remembered is the sacrifice/but the praisal of blood is still flowing!" or "I am the KILLING HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAANNNNNDDDDDD!!! UAAAWAAAGGGHHH!!!!" and you're forced to be silent and admit that Dream Theater know how to put down their calculators and rock royally.
And that's just one track. Every other track is knocked right out of the park. From the first guitar riff of "Metropolis" every even vaguely heavy chord is turned into a leaden 16-ton weight, every aching dewy-eyed high note screeched like LaBrie is coming after Bruce Dickinson with a garrotting wire. Petrucci emphatically proves his love of metal guitar by crunching massively but with an eye for the song (which he often loses track of these days) while Portnoy and Myung enthusiastically bash along. In fact, the only one who retains his usual sound is Kevin Moore, but this works perfectly even amongst the heavier portions and in general he provides an interesting counterpoint to the guitar-fuelled chaos elsewhere, particularly on tracks like "Metropolis". And yet, even he gets his metal fix on "Pull Me Under", where his propulsive lead work is headbangable and thickly grooved.
And for those of you afraid to be smothered by such devastating metal might, a beautiful rendition of "Surrounded" proves that Dream Theater hasn't forgotten how to play emotionally effecting but propulsive prog (Moore is a dominating force on this track), and LaBrie outdoes himself on one of his most technically demanding vocal workouts. But then you'll probably be using this track (as well as the stunning "Bombay Vindaloo" jam) to recover from the carpe jugulum overkill of "A Fortune in Lies" another WDADU stalwart that gets juiced up with the power of an entire hydroelectric plant. Like mad chemists, Dream Theater cooked up a volatile mix of tight-as-thrash riffing and claustrophobic alien grooves that showcased jaw-dropping finesse and blazing metal insight and out came the studio edition of "A Fortune in Lies". Now, if you take this perfect mixture and toss in an unhinged James LaBrie and a manic hyperspeed reshred of one Petrucci's most insane solos you get pure godliness.
This is Dream Theater in those magical days prior to the release of their undeniable masterwork Awake, and the subsequent loss of Kevin Moore and their original magic. This is Dream Theater in love with prog and metal and playing it damned well. Live at the Marquee is only six tracks long, but even at this length it is perhaps their greatest live performance on record and it is all definitely worth owning. Seek it out, even if you didn't like Images & Words much. You may be surprised.
Stand-Outs: "Another Hand - The Killing Hand", "A Fortune in Lies", "Bombay Vindaloo"