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Dream Theater - Images and Words CD (album) cover


Dream Theater


Progressive Metal

4.29 | 2963 ratings

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3 stars Heavy Metal with frilly bits - but NO PROG

This is in no way a masterpiece of prog rock - it's a very good and progressive metal album, but the influences are so obvious and the style so narrowly in the metal vein that it is impossible for me to consider it a prog rock album.

Some people say this is a masterpiece, mainly because of the virtuosic playing and because people like it, which is fair enough - but leaving opinion aside and recognising that virtuosity does not a prog album make, let me start my review with my customary yardstick: Can I tell from the first 5 minutes the overall style of the rest of the album? If I can, then it's clearly not a prog album.

Pull Me Under mixes Yes, Diamond Head and Metallica (a riff from "...And Justice For All") with a strong melody - but, virtuosic musicianship apart, a surprisingly unremarkable track, given the strong support. There are progressive moments where the riffs go noticeably into Yes territory - but nothing particularly inventive or truly progressive.

Another Day is, on the surface an FM rock ballad replete with sax. It is an interesting interpretation of the standard rock ballad, but not a prog song.

Take the Time starts with a nice keyboard wash, leading to some interesting rifferama which sounds quite close to the first track. A little Steve Vai guitar and rolling bass leads to a section which sounds remarkably like Skid Row. The chorus is what really destroys any prog pretensions for me, and the busy, over-powerful drums seem somewhat unnecessary. There is a nice developing riff section from about 4", which reminds me somewhat of Twelfth Night (Live at the Target), but the keyboard lead is quite horrible. More riffs follow in an unrelated mish-mash forming a kind of bridge between keyboard solos which are unnecessary as well as naff-sounding. Wearyingly back to the chorus, this track shapes up to be an overlong standard rock song with prog pretensions. A piano heralds a sudden change, with a lovely, fluid guitar line, but the overbearing drums soon herald a coda section which quotes the chorus and a predictable fast'n'furious but very melodic guitar solo draws the piece mercifully to a close.

Surrounded starts like another FM ballad replete with naff string synths and this album begins to shape up like an REO Speedwagon or Foreigner album albeit with slightly odd prog and metal-orientated rhythms.

A simple riff kicks off Metropolis - Part I, quickly followed by another riff from Metallica's "...And Justice For All" album (the bridge section of "One"). It gets kind of interesting around 2:40, reminding me of part of Les Miserables, but the style is now extremely predictable and limited to the simple riffs interspersed with chumking metal riffs. The vocals are stubbornly in the realm of Sebastian Bach. Around 4:20, some odd timings are thrown in, in what seems like a futile attempt to say "we are a prog band, you know", but these sections do not add to the drama, only the length and percieved complexity of the piece. Anyone can tack a bunch of unrelated riffs together - the skill comes in making seamless music and getting unrelated riffs to sound related. Listen to Supper's Ready to get an idea of how this is done. The patchwork quilt of this piece lacks overall artwork and is wearying and annoying to listen to. An extended bridge in a standard rock song structure does not make a prog song.

Under a Glass Moon confirms that there is a single style running through this entire album, and that it does not, ultimately progress. We have keyboard washes, Metallica riffs, Yes and possibly King Crimson quotations, and basic rock-song constructions, with the familiar Seb Back vocals. Short bridges underline the prog wannabe style - it's really good to hear a band desire the prog status, but, for me, good prog does it without trying, and the mistake that this album makes time and time again is that it tries too hard.

Wait for sleep opens with an extremely simple piano line and synth washes, and the ballad style (again). This continues throughout, developing slightly - making this the closest this entire album comes to real prog!

Finally Learning to Live. I think the Metallica riff comes from "Ride The Lightning" in this case, but there's also a touch of "...And Justice for All". After the predictable riff, the snare sounds so 1980s that a feeling of neo-prog arises; a kind of mix of Pallas and IQ. This is followed by the riff from "Justice..."'s title track. Around 4:40 there are some interesting texture changes, but those keyboards sound so horrible! The guitars sound good though, but this is yet another patchwork quilt bridge section - not real progression, as the musicians take us on an arbitrary journey with no real drive, rhythm or drama in the structure - indeed, what is so wearying is the lack of any real structure to these sections.

This is NOT a prog album, let alone a masterpiece of the genre!

To hear a real progressive metal band at its best, go back 4 years to Metallica's "...And Justice For All" (1988). The latter is a superlative for all that progressive metal would become - but without the keyboards, although it was the earlier "Master of Puppets" (1986) that first established the prog metal sound. Also worth investigating are Megadeth's "Peace Sells, But Who's Buying", Slayer's "Reign in Blood" or "South of Heaven", Kreator's "Extreme Aggression", Napalm Death's "Scum" and Helloween's "Walls of Jericho".

To really dig into progressive metal's past, check out Diamond Head's "Living on Borrowed Time" and "White Album", then any Budgie album from the early 1970s. The fluid and imaginative riffs, grounded in Led Zeppelin but escaping the shackles of blues/folk rock in a way pioneered by Uriah Heep, will show you clearly what is meant by progressive as opposed to the more patchwork approach we see here (sic).

Re-interpreting other band's material is one way of producing prog rock, as some of the "real" prog bands will testify (e.g. Yes's use of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and the Beatles as springboards), but the overall feel of the music on this album is of Heavy rock with metal and progressive leanings - there are not enough elements present to make a fully-fledged progressive album let alone a masterpiece! There are far more progressive metal bands out there - for example, Cradle of Filth.

So I rate it as Good (with some excellent technical and melodic playing), but not essential for a collection of prog rock, as it does not sit easily alongside the prog greats.

Certif1ed | 3/5 |


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