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Majestic - 94%

DawnoftheShred, January 12th, 2007

Every once in a while, a band comes along that redefines their genre. Be it through sheer innovation, unbridled passion, or unbounded technical skill, they manage to set a precedent by which all future bands are compared. In the case of progressive metal prodigies Dream Theater, they present all of the above, paying homage to their influences and expanding that influence beyond comprehension. And this is just their debut album (and far short of their best work).

When Dream and Day Unite had to grow on me. This was an unfortunate byproduct of my adoration of their later releases, which this album sounds quite detached from. Dream Theater's first album is their only with vocalist Charlie Dominici and has a far less refined production than every album that comes after it. Those two factors add to the most apparent observation about this album; that is, that it sounds like Rush. But it's a much heavier and, dare I say, an even more technical Rush if at all. I'll discuss that further later on.

One thing that is certainly undeniable about this album is the raw talent of the band members. Even on their debut, Dream Theater is leaps and bounds ahead of everybody else out recording albums in 1989. John Petrucci is unbelievable, showcasing a much more metal side to his playing than on later albums. His shredding prowess is mighty: the solo section on the album's first track, "A Fortune in Lies," features a magnificent tap arrangement, tasteful sweep picking, and a furious pairing of mastery and melody. He plays with as much emotion as bravado and is equally skilled at writing heavy riffs as he is at clean ones. John Myung is a fantastic bassist, probably one of the bests. His playing is fast and articulate. To say Mike Portnoy's rhythms are intricate would be a vast understatement. Years before he was universally declared one of the bests in the business, he was giving Neal Peart a run for his money, shifting between dynamic time signatures like he invented them. Kevin Moore is a top-shelf keyboard player, balancing atmosphere and technical fury with a sense of restraint that's very uncommon amongst progressive keyboardists. The only thing that usually turns people off, especially fans of later Dream Theater, is the singer, usually just because he's not James. Dominici has a very Geddy Lee-like voice (pretty much the single greatest reason this sounds like Rush in their prime) that isn't far inferior to LaBrie (or Lee for that matter) and his melody lines for the lyrics range from impressive to inspiring. I'm not going to discuss the lyrics, as hells_unicorn has already provided way more insight into them than I ever could, but I'll say that they're very good, despite being less personal than some of the more introspective passages on their later works.

While the band members have yet to reach their musical peak on this release, their sense of songwriting is already fully matured. Complex arrangements, technical showmanship without losing melody or catchiness, epic movements and atmosphere. All of these are present in full glory. Every song is a masterpiece in its own right, with my only complaint being against the slighty too-extended intro to "The Ones Who Help to Set the Sun." I can harbor no other complaints against any part of this album, even the production, which is sub-par in comparison to their later works, displays immense charm after just a few listens.

This is one of progressive metal's most unheralded, yet quite deserving masterpieces, the glorious union of 80's metal and 70's progressive rock. I can't think of anyone to whom this cannot be recommended. Even if it takes a listen or two, the majesty of this album is undeniable.