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Parts of this are unbelievable - 80%

OlympicSharpshooter, April 22nd, 2004

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 �swing� version called �Fly Me to the Glass Moon� 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"