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Dream Theater - Awake CD (album) cover

AWAKE

Dream Theater

 

Progressive Metal

4.11 | 2003 ratings

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Frankingsteins
3 stars With 'Awake,' Dream Theater faced accusations by fans of commercialising their sound. Selling out by crafting an often brutally heavy and musically complex collection of mostly long songs? Whoever said progressive metal was simple.

Awake isn't one of my favourite Dream Theater albums, but is certainly the peak of the period between 1992's 'Images and Words' and 1999's 'Scenes from a Memory,' the former a landmark release that paved the way for popular prog. metal bands such as Tool and the latter a perfect culmination of a decade's work. Perhaps Awake is looked down upon for its lack of an over-arching concept; the first track, '6:00,' with its introductory-sounding title and use of sampled voices suggests some kind of storyline, but what we get are eleven distinct and complimentary songs dealing with themes such as anger, estrangement and alcoholism (again).

In terms of length, Awake is immediate value for money, coming in as close to 80 minutes as possible with the bonus track, not to mention the fact that this CD has been in sales on Amazon.co.uk and Play.com on and off over the years for around 6.99.

Dream Theater count their influences among both progressive rock, especially Rush, and metal bands of the 80s such as Metallica and Iron Maiden, both of whom they have paid special tribute to in recent years by performing some of the bands' most acclaimed albums in full at their live shows. The music here is no 'less prog' than before, but the variety of songs and tendency to cut songs off once they are established, rather than extending them with instrumental sections, makes this potentially more accessible. But the anger here is clear: some of the tracks are surprisingly headache-inducing in their brutality, like a version of Slipknot or Korn who can actually play music. Sorry, couldn't help myself. 'Lie' and 'Scarred' give Metallica's most thrashy period a run for its money, while songs like 'Caught in a Web' combine this raw energy with more delicate keyboard and high guitar sections to reaffirm the band's progressive heart.

The only truly 'stripped-down' song on here is the light acoustic number 'The Silent Man,' quite REM-like but still fitting for the album. Other melancholy pieces are spiced up with high electric guitar, most notable in the excellent 'Innocence Faded,' or, in the case of 'Space-Dye Vest,' distorted so much through samples and keyboard effects that it's difficult to concentrate on anything other than floating out of the room. 'Erotomania' isn't an entirely successful instrumental, relying a little too much on Medieval sounding keyboards (oxymoron noted) that sound out of place on this collection, and James LaBrie's angry vocals sound a little strained and unpleasant in contrast to his usual softer vocal style.

Progressive metal isn't something for everyone, realistically finding its fan base only in fans of both seventies prog rock and more contemporary metal, but Dream Theater are clearly the pioneers and leaders of the increasingly expanding genre. Dream Theater's sound is unique and very distinctive, unlike some of their contemporaries; as interesting and bizarre as Ayreon (Arjen Lucassen)'s 'space operas' are, they can't shake off the very obvious 'Dark Side of the Moon' and 'War of the Worlds' influence. Dream Theater's only evident debt to bands such as Pink Floyd are their reliance on sampled dialogue, usually with a dubious political bent (their later song 'The Great Debate' is a ten minute song about stem cell research that divides speakers with left and right wing opinions to the relevant side of the speakers - now that's prog!)

Maybe Awake would be an easy place to start for fans of contemporary metal, although I was put off at first, despite already owning music from bands who count Dream Theater among their influences. 'Images and Words' remains my favourite album, based on a more melodic sound overall and remaining memorable throughout unlike Awake, which sounds a little rushed and unoriginal in places. Many songs on here became immediate and long-lasting crowd favourites, and it's important that Dream Theater cater for all occasions. When I want to lose myself in an intricate and arguably over-the-top prog landscape I'll play 'Scenes from a Memory,' but when I'm in the mood for screaming, weeping guitars, nothing betters 'Innocence Faded.'

Dream Theater have produced some exceptional albums and some quite poor efforts that hold very little of interest, but fortunately 1994's Awake is closer to the high end of the spectrum. The order of songs is sometimes a little dubious, and whether the varying styles is a good or bad thing is down to each listener's taste, but this was nevertheless an important release for 90s metal after the decline of grunge. Even if American bands can't spell their names properly.

Frankingsteins | 3/5 |

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