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Dream Theater - Images and Words CD (album) cover


Dream Theater


Progressive Metal

4.29 | 2963 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars Extremely Uneven Album Foreshadows a New Genre

Dream Theater's second album IMAGES AND WORDS, their first with singer James LaBrie, has now achieved iconic status as the official beginning of progressive metal. I distinctly remember when the single "Pull Me Under" was being played on rock radio, and my surprise that a distinctly late 80's sound was still viable in the face of the bludgeoning force of grunge that was going on at the time. Indeed, Dream Theater was combining several of the dominant musical forces from around 1988-89: Over-wrought pop balladry in the vein of Bad English / Journey, faux-operatices vocals a la Iron Maiden / Judas Priest, shred guitar a la Steve Vai, and some heavy riffage a la Metallica. Two new elements were folded in, however. The first was a drummer whose showmanship, virtuosic skills, and love of odd time matched or surpassed the guitars. The second was that Dream Theater was a BAND. Every member had a significant part to play and no one really upstaged the other. For guitar junkies like me, this was probably the freshest aspect of DT. Joe Satriani's great albums were basically guitars over lifeless drum machine grooves, and vocals were often an afterthought on shred albums. At best, keyboards would emerge to swap solos with the guitarslinger (Yngwie Malmsteen). But with Dream Theater, the songs had clearly been developed as a collective.

However, the band was clearly still was trying to find their identity. The band's best songwriter, keyboardist Kevin Moore, was clearly more interested in melody and texture, while guitarist John Pertucci loved heavy riffs. Where everything seemed to come together was during complexly composed instrumental sections, which would become their signature and become the basis of the entire prog metal genre.

1. Pull Me Under - This is simply a great metal anthem. It's not particularly complex or recognizably "prog." It combines some riffage and firebreathing from Pertucci and a superb soaring chorus hook from Moore that deservedly became an anthem. "Pull me under, I'm not afraid" is such a great line. Sadly, the band would never produce another song quite like this.

2. Another Day - A completely generic radio power ballad, though adequate for what it was. The Kenny G-ish solo simply capped off that this was supposed to be the one that made them millionaires as the style had for many bands in the previous years. If it had been 1990, it might have worked.

3. Take the Time - This is the first time that we actually get a glimpse of what the band was to become. A slightly funky beginning with a sing-a-long chorus really grabs the attention at 3:50. The off-time break and solo would become the blueprint. Though not my favorite song, this is where it began.

4. Surrounded - Starting as another pop ballad, Moore actually lifts Jonathan Cain's intro from Bad English's huge hit "When I See You Smile." Instead of being another snoozefest, the song evolves again and again into unexpected places. The syncopated vocal of "Light to Dark, Light to Dark," and the delightful fast solo section make one forget where the piece began by the time it finishes.

5. Metropolis, Pt 1 - For diehard fans of the band, this is the song that defines IMAGES AND WORDS. The extended composition would become the blueprint for the remainder of the band's career. Pseudo-intellectual lyrics with minimal melody are offset by odd time riffs and multiple instrumental sections and solo spots. Ultra-fast leads are played in unison between guitar and keys, and the bass even gets an impressive solo section.

6. Under a Glass Moon - A fairly straightforward Pertucci song that supposedly contains one of his best solos. Here I must mention that though Pertucci now has a reputation as one of the best shredders of all time, in 1992 he was just another face in a crowd. This solo is basically a poor man's Steve Vai solo, with none of the otherworldly tonality. Though JP would improve his technique on subsequent albums he has never to my ear matched the giants of guitar. However, the way he has been able to interweave with his various keyboard partners in crime is fairly unique. I would argue that that element is about all that's left of the band at this point.

7. Wait for Sleep - This jazzy Kevin Moore composition is probably the best song, in the true sense of the word, ever to be recorded under the Dream Theater name. Like all good songs, I can imagine any number of vocalists tackling this and making it their own. LaBrie pulls in the screams and does a good job. The difference between this piece and Metropolis makes it easy to understand why Kevin Moore left the band. I would argue both were worse for the separation, however.

8. Learning to Live - Another extended piece, this one announces itself as prog metal from the first notes. While this song offers a number of tasty morsels, there really isn't a signature hook or riff that stays with me. It's really a typical prog metal album track, though this album is really only about half prog metal. Therefore, it was quite interesting when the album first came out but has lost a little luster with all the imitators that have followed.

IMAGES AND WORDS is really a record of two bands - a Kevin Moore led melodic rock band and the Pertucci / Portnoy led prog metal band that would ultimately define DT. I still think most would argue that the band was best when both were active. For this reason, I think AWAKE is the definitive DT album, with this one being a less developed version showing lots of promise.

To deny the historical importance of this album is folly, and so I am rounding up a 3.5 to a 4 star rating. But it's simply too uneven to truly reach masterpiece status.

Negoba | 4/5 |


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