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Dream Theater - Images and Words CD (album) cover


Dream Theater


Progressive Metal

4.29 | 2963 ratings

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Marc Baum
Prog Reviewer
5 stars 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.

For Dream Theater (DT) truly are the masters of their craft, that craft being the realm of heavy metal. DT are, to me, undoubtedly the most talented coalition of metal musicians on Earth. The technicality of their brand of progressive metal, combined with the complexity of their songs and James LaBrie’s uncanny voice make for a contribution to heavy metal that America can truly be proud of.

Although they’ve made a few keyboardist changes over the year, the remaining four members of the band have consistenly performed excellent, enthralling audiences with their truly masterful approach towards metal, all beginning with this album, Images and Words.

Although Images is DT’s second album, it was the first time when you could really feel the emotion and true capabilities of this band. The songs are much longer and more complex from their previous offering, churning out many of the DT classics we all know and love today. The replacement of Charles Dominici, the singer from their first album When Dream And Day Unite, proved to be one of the best decisions DT has ever made. Age-wise he hasn't fit to the band well, since he was about ten years older than his young band colleagues. I've liked his voice though, specially his amazing performance in "The Killing Hand". James LaBrie made his debut on this album, and the emotion and skill he puts into the songs on this album is a key factor what truly catapulted this album and DT in general to greatness.

Of course, the amazing capabilities of guitarist John Petrucci, drummer Mike Portnoy, bassist John Myung and keyboardist (at the time) Kevin Moore are nothing to scoff at. Musically, these guys are unparalleled by metal or by artists in any other musical genres. Dream Theater albums, as far as skill and complexity are concerned, are often head and shoulders above the rest. That’s why pretty much any album to come from these guys will become an instant metal classic, but Images and Words is the album that stood before them all, and still stands pretty damn tall when compared to the rest of their works today.

The opening track, “Pull Me Under”, is to me the quintessential Dream Theater song, it was also the song that first introduced me to the band. What comes from this track is an 8-minute combination of heavy riffing, cool melodies, soothing sounds, complex keyboarding and guitar work and just plain amazing songwriting. My words cannot do justice to this or many other DT songs, but I’ll try my best. This song would most likely be DT’s version of “Run to the Hills” or “Master of Puppets”, the song that everyone does or should know and love. It’s got a catchy, memorable refrain within a nice slow to mid-tempo composition that never gets too overly heavy, but doesn’t let up at any point. It’s the prime example of how to make a song that can appeal to all metal fans, from the most hardcore death metal fan to the Slipknot-hugging metal teeny-bopper, this is a song that any metalhead can listen to and at the end say “That was pretty damn good”. I dream of the day I get to see DT perform this one live.

Then, the mood completely changes going into “Another Day”. From progressive metal to what could be considered almost adult-contemporary. It was a bold move from DT to put this as the second track, but it’s a good example of the range of music that this band can perform. I didn’t care for it at first, but found myself singing along after a few listens through. Saxaphone solos and calm, moody keyboards along with a smooth quiet sound are not often metal band trademarks, but DT manages to come off this track sounding cool. It just shows that your band is pretty damn talented if they can come out of some kind of “prog-metal meets Kenny G” track with their heads held high.

Another long, complex, indescribably beautiful track arises from “Take The Time”. It begins with a forceful beat, guitar and ominous keyboards, but then turns into a high-flying keyboard solo and into a slow, jazzy kinda tune… and that’s just the first 60 seconds, and there’s 7 and a half more to go. It’s songs like this that make DT hard to review, there’s so many components and influences in the music it’s hard to say “This song sounds like this”. This song is jazzy, bluesy, poppy, epic and metal all at the same time, catchy yet complicated, that’s the essence of this song. Trust me, just take the time to listen to “Take the Time” a few times in order to truly grasp all that’s in this one, it’s quite possibly one of DT’s all-time greatest technical achievements.

“Surrounded” is the next track, and while not quite as long as some of the other tracks on the album, it’s not less beautiful or complex. It starts with just LaBrie’s enchanting voice and some nice piano medley work before erupting into another smooth and jazzy kind of track. It proves you don’t need to be the heaviest or angriest band on Earth to produce some quality rock music. It’s a kind of poppy, happy ballad but still retains a DT edge. It doesn’t sound like metal, but it still sounds good enough to satisfy someone who may be a metal fan. “Surrounded” in all the DT goodness.

Next, a true Dream Theater classic and all-time metal achievement hits your ears. If you don’t consider this next song a classic, tear up your “Music Fan Card” right now, because you quite simply don’t belong in a group of people known as music enthusiasts. That song is of course, “Metropolis Pt. 1 – The Miracle and the Sleeper”. It’s a ride through an obviously classical-infulenced piece of metal excellence. From it’s heavy riff-work to complex drumming, emotional lyrics and abundance of time and mood changes, it is a track that Dream Theater can look back to twelve years ago and be proud of. It’s got some of the highest of the metal highs and calmest metal can get and still hold the attention of its listeners through the entire track. The instrumental parts of the song are fantastic, the soloing is unparalleled and once again, my words cannot do this song justice. Just give it a listen, it won’t be 9 wasted minutes, trust me.

The album doesn’t lose any steam going into “Under A Glass Moon”, which, while not as complex as some of the other songs on this album, probably is my favorite song on this album, if not one of my favorite DT songs of all time. What begins as a beautiful melding of guitar and keyboards soon turns an awesome combination of heaviness and soothing sounds. It’s also one of the tracks where you can really hear the passion and emotion in James LaBrie’s voice, and it’s something that really gets to me. It’s definitely beauty pulled from aggression, which is something I love to hear in music. Not to mention it has John Petrucci doing what is probably one of my favorite guitar solos in ANY song ever. It’s a song that holds the same power and emotion for 7 minutes, never letting up once and in all honesty, I think it could’ve been longer. There’s too many great elements in this song to squeeze in 7 short minutes!

“Wait for Sleep” is kind of the break to catch your breath after the previous two tracks. It’s no more than some haunting keyboard work, which gives you some beautiful imagery, like a cold, winter night. LaBrie’s soothing voice complements the piano perfectly, just a short, calm track you can sit and relax to and regain your composure before this album’s finale.

It took me awhile to shine up to “Learning to Live”. It’s a long, winding track which isn’t a problem for most DT songs, but this one it just took some time for me to get accustomed to it. It sounds very different than anything else on the album, which isn’t unusual because nothing else on the album sounds quite like each other, but this song sounded particularly “out there”. It’s got almost a kind of spacey quality to it, something not very easy to immediately hear and appreciate. While most of DT’s long epics are heavily charged and a combination of heavier sounds, this song for the most part is much more subtle, much more ballad sounding than their other epic tracks. I think that’s why it took me awhile to get used to this song, but now I have a deep appreciation for the skill it took to make this track and the guts it takes to record something like this and put it on an album. In the end, it may take a few times to “get” this track, but once you get used to it, you’ll find yourself skipping ahead to it. It’s not the heaviest or most memorable song they’ve ever done, but it’s another one DT can be proud of.

Images and Words to me is the quintessential Dream Theater album and the best one to get into them. It’s got songs of all lengths and styles, from the short piano-only “Wait for Sleep” to the epic, energetic masterpiece of “Metropolis”, this album is a prime example as to why DT is a success and loved by so many the world over. This album is especially mellow by Dream Theater standards and probably will appeal more to the baby-boomer generation who grew up with bands like Yes, Be Bop Deluxe, King Crimson, etc. Unfortunately, though, it seems as though older people mostly are the ones who like Dream Theater and are highly familiar with them. I consider it a duty of mine to spread the word about Dream Theater and progressive metal, currently my favorite style/type of music.

album rating: 10/10 points = 98 % on MPV scale = 5/5 stars

point-system: 0 - 3 points = 1 star / 3.5 - 5.5 points = 2 stars / 6 - 7 points = 3 stars / 7.5 - 8.5 points = 4 stars / 9 - 10 points = 5 stars

Marc Baum | 5/5 |


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