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Stupendous - 80%

OlympicSharpshooter, July 6th, 2005

Now here's an album for which my appreciation grows every day. Look beyond the strange, malnourished production (which I might add, sounds great when you crank it) and the emphatically un-James singer and you'll find one of the coolest damn debuts in metal history. This is insane, intricate, thoughtful, and theatrical power metal of the highest order, a progged-out feast for the ears and mind as these hyperspeed technicians bounce around the studio totally unencumbered by such concerns as restraint and maturity. Unlike later overburdened and underthought platters like Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence and Train of Thought, When Dream and Day Unite combines bohemian wankfest excess with structures that support, nay, demand their existence and melodies that pulsate with life and a burning heart full of love for fast, epic heavy metal.

This is like the culmination of early Queensryche and Fates Warning, combining the speed and frightwigged over-the-top neoclassical assault of 'Ryche (think the Queensryche EP or an amphetamized The Warning) with Fates' mist-shrouded mood, complex and bent structures, and overarching impression of size and power. "The Killing Hand" is a damn near awe inspiring example of how to take somebody else's characteristics and then blow them out of proportion and make them into something new and exciting. The blistering solos seem oddly weightless, keys and strings dancing through the night sky as if gravity were no concern. Other than one oddly disconcerting moment where we drop out of a truly amazing riffset into a melodic interlude, this song is a perfect example of how to build tension through dynamics. We've got a delicate intro, big-time power chords, epic vocals over acoustics, start building up the intensity, and then... riffs, riffs, glorious handfuls of golden riffs being tossed around willy-nilly while Dominici skulks around the laboratory mixing strange fizzing chemicals and cackling wildly.

The really effervescent thing about When Dream and Day Unite is how fresh all of the players are. Here's Kevin Moore experimenting with his canny atmospheric work, his regal leads, and of course his majestic and buoyant melodies that will soon bloom into the joyous conglomeration of Images & Words in which he is omnipresent and unforgettable. There's John Myung before producers and band pressures toned him down, providing an unshakeable rhythmic foundation but also playing some of the best bass leads I've ever heard. Seriously, the man is absolutely all over the neck here, refusing to be shunted aside by the traditional lead instruments and doing some jaw-dropping stuff whenever a space opens up. Mike Portnoy, bless his heart, cannot play a wrong beat. Even early on, in spite of the complexity of his play the guy had a great sense of feel and he manages to make his presence known without grandstanding quite as much as he does on later recordings. Check the solid stomp of "The Ones Who Help the Sun" (some of the coolest sounding kicks I've ever heard), the excellent little drum solo in "Ytse Jam", or the schizoid time changes in "Light Fuse and Get Away". And last but not least, Mr. John Petrucci on skullfrying axe-work. This stuff is passionate, headbangable, memorable, and unique and frankly, puts the similarly note-dense Train of Thought leads to shame. Every song has an incredible solo spot, from the swinging guitar heroics of "A Fortune in Lies" (absolutely godly shredding) to the "Afterlife" unison (along with that 'can do no wrong' riff, absolutely spot-on Shea), or in "The Ones Who Help to Set the Sun" where the usual shred showcase seems to go up and up until it explodes and surrounds the listener with shimmering notes aplenty.

Oh, I didn't mention the singer? Well, Charlie's excellent. His voice is willowy as hell and he partakes in one of DT's cheesiest moments "I am the killing haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa...", but otherwise the guy does a hell of a job with the material. �Status Seeker" features some extremely passionate delivery, and the man brings life to some really difficult stuff such as Moore's hyperverbose "Only a Matter of Time" and "Light Fuse", as well as the bizarre fandango-thrash of "A Fortune in Lies". I grant you, his voice takes some getting used to and lacks force, but you couldn't ask for more emotion or sincerity than this guy provides. And hell, he's aged better than LaBrie has if the When Dream and Day Reunite DVD is any indication.

Oh, and I should add that lyrically this album is excellent. Although it is a bit stilted and leads to some interesting choices melody-wise, this is some cool poetry and leads to some really memorable lines. In general, obscure lyrics own the hell out of blatant, unimaginative lyrics. I'm looking at you "Endless Sacrifice" and "The Answer Lies Within".

Before I close this review out, I'll go into a little depth on the best track on the CD which is "Only a Matter of Time". While the first seven tracks on this album represent a strange proto-Dream Theater that would only sporadically pop-up in later years ("A Change of Seasons" is the last of the major Fates Warning influence, for example), "Only a Matter of Time" is a test-flight for the shining ebullient epics all over the next album. It begins with a brilliant symphonic keyboard introduction, almost like a fanfare, that gradually fuses with an aching guitar which dovetails nicely into the beginning of the first verse. It is on this song that Moore really defines the role of keyboards in Dream Theater's music. On previous tracks, he is a force and plays an important role in the song but on "Only a Matter of Time" he becomes a dominant force. Moore is absolutely everywhere, weaving brilliant melodies and breaks around his own amazing lyrics. This is a storehouse for some brilliant riffery, each verse given a different riff and vocal phrasing, constantly growing better and better as it rushes towards the massive outro with its imperative keys seeming to scream that time is running out on this stupendous record... the only thing I can about this song is that sometimes it is absolutely breathtaking. And so is this record.

Although they sometimes express some disdain for this record and these songs, and while it is emphatically the least popular Dream Theater record amongst fans, When Dream and Day Unite ranks as one of their absolute best works and is a must for any power, prog, or straight-up heavy metal fan. I tend to stay away from such recommendations, but this record has to face apathy from the band's fanbase and the lead weight of being released under the Dream Theater name, which might bar those who would get the most out of it from giving it a shot. This album rules.

Stand-Outs: "Only a Matter of Time", "A Fortune in Lies", "Light Fuse and Get Away"