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Images and Words can't do this work justice - 99%

octavarium, February 25th, 2011

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.