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...And Prog Would Never Be the Same - 95%

Joseph_Leap, January 16th, 2010

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.