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Dream Theater - Images And Words CD (album) cover

IMAGES AND WORDS

Dream Theater

 

Progressive Metal

4.29 | 1971 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Neo-Romantic
5 stars Before writing this review I took a minute to read over what was written about the album by reviewers who assigned it a low rating. Words like "unemotional" and "cheesy" seemed to pop up fairly often. For the life of me I simply can't fathom how someone couldn't be stirred by these songs. Sure, some people make the statement that feeling is sacrificed as technical proficiency is increased, but I've never believed that idea even for a split second. This album hits emotional peaks in each track, stirring my feelings in a truly unique and profound way. This album balances the drive, bombast, and wild technical figurations of metal with the atmosphere, diversity, and adventurous spirit that are to me quintessential elements of prog. If this marriage sounds too cheesy for one to appreciate, that's just a reflection of their taste, and that cannot be disputed. But don't ever say this music is unemotional, even for a second. At the end of the day, pushing the envelope is a quality integral to the progressive genre, and this album did just that. It leads you into a world all its own. Every time I listen to it, I discover something else, feel emotionally satisfied, and can barely believe that much time passed, as it only seems like I've been listening for mere moments.

Pull me under starts with a dark and melancholy atmosphere. The energy picks up as the track winds through multiple changes of mood and texture, demonstrating strong form and technique. Even though it may have hit-like qualities, given its verse-chorus-solo-etc structure, there's enough going on to keep you from getting burnt out with repeated listens and is an undeniably appropriate and effective album opener.

Another Day is a song I have a real soft spot for. This song opens with such a powerful, uplifting theme on the guitar that is later repeated by soprano sax. The mood is very calming and reflective throughout, crescendoing to a powerful climax with Petruci's solo, perfectly marrying technique and emotion. The atmosphere evokes such powerful images every time I listen to it, and while some find it cheesy for whatever reason, I believe it to be an indispensable track.

Take the Time is one of the grooviest metal songs ever. The rhythm section and sparse guitar comping in the verse is really tight. This song, like several others on the album, showcases the unique talents of each member while presenting a tight, unified tune where the whole of the mix is ultimately greater than the sum of its parts. The unison guitar and keyboard work is really tight, and the balance in each passage is remarkable considering the activity of each part. This is a track you're guaranteed to continue learning new things about with each listen, and your appreciation for it will undeniably increase every time.

Surrounded took me a few listens to appreciate admittedly. The 9/4 meter after the beautifully calming and reflective keys and vocal intro didn't quite gel with me at first, but after I got used to it the song became more cohesive. The lyrical delivery by LaBrie is quite remarkable here, not because it's overtly technical or virtuosic, but because it fits with the more subdued (by comparison) approach exhibited by the band, giving the words a chance to stand out more. The rhythmic delivery is quite catchy and seems very natural, which is an impressive feat considering just how precise the articulation becomes in the second verse over the asymmetric meter.

Metropolis Pt 1 is an over-the-top display of virtuosity by each instrumentalist between the vocal passages, and I love every minute of it. The level of playing on the whole album is already top-notch, but this is a milestone achievement in all of music for both individual and collective technical talent. I won't take the time (pun intended) to dissect the song given its dense nature and innumerable changes in meter, key, and texture, but I will say it's a truly remarkable song with some of the best playing you'll likely ever hear. It's an auditory workout, for sure, and absolutely impossible to digest on the first, or even tenth, listen, but it's fascinating on all accounts and shouldn't be missed by any prog fan, whether or not you like the metal aspect. I feel it's important to see just how far the envelope is being pushed by this powerful sub-genre.

Under a Glass Moon is a track I absolutely love. Of all tracks on the album, this one has the greatest sense of drive and focus while retaining that adventurousness characteristic of all the others. Each section has a unique power all its own, propelling the action forward to one of the most exciting breaks on the whole album, if not the most exciting one. The unison key and vocal part peaks above Myung's most solid groove ever as the guitar adds a colorful counter-melody in the background. The guitar solo that comes later is one of Petruci's best, and the support by the rhythm section is so solid. Of all the songs I've listened to in my life, this is undoubtedly one of the best examples of balance within a solo passage. The solo is powerful, inventive, and memorable. I don't think it could've been any better with 100 more takes. To exit the passage, the band regains their unified status and keeps the energy going up in a driving 7/8 passage with the keyboard soaring above the action, pulling you further and further in. What a tight song! So strong yet so balanced. Every member contributes something truly exemplary to the track, but if I'm picking an MVP, it's Myung. His bass groove was so tight in the pre-solo and solo-sections. It's one of my favorite grooves ever and it stands out so well without dominating the mix. Basically, if you're a bass-lover like me, you'll latch on to that and love every second, but if you want to focus on everything else, you won't have to feel like it's standing in your way.

Wait for Sleep brings you to a whole new emotional place. Its melancholy atmosphere wraps around you, as opposed to the forceful delivery of every other track. The only instrument to accompany the vocals is keyboard in a frequently shifting meter that somehow doesn't detract from the more reflective, ambient quality of the music. LaBrie delivers the vocals in a restrained, emotional style similar to the other more laid-back songs on the album. Even though I liked the power behind his higher wails, it was great getting to hear this instead to show he has a broader expressive range, and I really connect with the somber approach he adopted here. The keys end on a minor chord and the atmosphere dissipates before the final track begins.

Learning to Live is a truly phenomenal track from start to finish. It serves as a terrific culminating statement for everything this album encapsulates. The first section begins in a driving, asymmetric 15/8 meter where the keys play a theme that will serve as a foundation for future passages. The activity subsides and the vocals begin over a calm pad of background keys, a leaping bass part, subdued yet still interesting drums, and interjections of guitar between lyrical phrases. The vocals here are the best on the album. LaBrie's layered part is so strong, so compelling. Every time I hear it, I reach an emotional peak unlike any of the other tracks. The range of feelings and expressions he uses from verse to chorus to following verse to bridge is so great that you can't help but run the gamut from positive to desperate feelings with everything in between. Following many transitions and unique instrumental passages demonstrating just as wide a variety of moods and textures as the preceding vocal ones, we are treated to one final reprise of the chorus and an outro that sums up not only all we've heard in this track, but the prevailing atmosphere and energy of the album as a whole. As the final passage fades while the lead guitar strums its penetrating part over the focused rhythm section, ambient keys, and layered vocal harmonies in the background, you are brought out of the magical world this album creates with a sense of satiation and invigoration. Paradoxically, it seems to beckon you back again just as easily, as if to say you'll never truly discover all its secrets, but you're welcome to try.

I've heard other dream Theater albums since, but this one still sits above each of them in my list of personal favorites. This album represents the perfect union of the boundary- pushing spirit of the early prog masters and the drive of the newer generation. I can't recommend this album highly enough, and insist that each listener be willing to give it more than one honest listen. There's a lot to discover here, and it continually rewards those dedicated enough to revisit this wonderful album. There's a lot of depth here, no matter how some people like to make a habit of maligning such a high degree of technical prowess by writing it off as unexpressive and unnecessary. 5 stars for this sensational masterpiece.

Neo-Romantic | 5/5 |

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