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Dream Theater - Awake CD (album) cover

AWAKE

Dream Theater

 

Progressive Metal

4.12 | 2069 ratings

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TheOutlawXanadu
5 stars Say what you will about Dream Theater, but when these guys so desire, they are capable of crafting truly masterful music. Awake, released in 1994 and produced by John Purdell and Duane Baron, is the epitome of this statement. Every song is related, the most antithetical compositions somehow married through tone and intent. Gone are the power metal lyrics and missing are the endless keyboard-guitar duels; in their place appear flawless demonstrations of songwriting that are complex in execution rather than flamboyance.

Although the band definitely holds back, to call the record "restrained" would be a somewhat misleading statement. It could be argued that throughout Awake the band demonstrates more precise instrumentation than ever before, and I'd be selling their efforts short without mention of several eye-opening solos throughout. John Petrucci is at the top of his game here, educating the listener with ingenious placement of riff and rip while never crossing the line into self-indulgence. Mike Portnoy showcases a flurry of chugging and blitzing on the kit that is always excellent, his virtuoso bones shuddering at the precise "Erotomania" and everything in him that is heavy grimacing in the raw power of "The Mirror". John Myung is, as usual, turned down a tad low in the mix but his presence is always felt (especially on rockers "6:00," "Caught in a Web" and "Lie").

The stand-out performers on the disc are unquestionably James LaBrie and Kevin Moore. LaBrie roars and howls his way through every track and ends up stealing the show. It would be fair to claim that, had LaBrie not turned in a flawless studio performance, Awake would have failed. Each song on the record deals with an intimate issue - be that relationships, doubt, or faith - and without a convincing vocal performance, the lyrical matter would come off as melodramatic (I'm still not sure how he pulls off "Innocence Faded" without sounding cheesy). Most vocalists would grimace and flutter at the need for this kind of depth, but whenever needed LaBrie answers the call and takes several solid songs to otherworldly levels.

Kevin Moore, in his last Dream Theater performance, is an absolute monster. Moore thrives on moody, bleak, well thought-out music, and so one can imagine just how apt his abilities were for these songs. Moore doesn't strive to stand out like Jordan Rudess or (to a lesser extent) Derek Sherinian. He blends all sounds and ideas seamlessly within a grander scheme, always adding texture but rarely straying from the backdrops. As scenarios evolved with the rest of his comrades, Moore decided, among other things, that his interests were evolving while the rest of the band narrowly focused on individualism and wankery and therefore he needed to bolt. Strangely, Awake fits that bill least of anything Dream Theater has done to date.

Just take a look at "The Silent Man" or "Lifting Shadows off a Dream". These are two breathers, two mellow pieces that aim to sooth rather than astonish. They are never taken over by instrumental sections in excess like later Dream Theater ballads (perhaps "Endless Sacrifice" or "The Ministry of Lost Souls"), but are instead tame throughout. The only soloing here is done to add flavor and color, not to change tone or to speed things up.

Everything the band has strived for and will ever strive for comes together on two occasions: "Voices" and "Scarred". The former is John Petrucci's tale about just how hard it is to have faith at times, boasting great lyrics and remarkable keyboard work. "Scarred" is perhaps the greatest thing Dream Theater has ever done, Petrucci again exploring his soul and doing so with breathtaking relation. These words echo with familiarity and you always know what he's aiming for. You always know what he's going through.

As a final ode, Kevin Moore contributes "Space-Dye Vest", a blatant lyrical antithesis to Petrucci's accumulation of hope. With "Caught in a Web", "Innocence Faded", "Voices", "The Silent Man", and "Scarred" JP tells a slow-churning tale of eventual self discovery and escape from pity. At the beginning of our journey this protagonist is wounded, unsure, and alone. By the end of his crisis, he is content, driven, and confident in the support around him. Kevin Moore's penwork with "6:00", "Lie", and "Space-Dye Vest" paints a less optimistic picture for the listener. The words he writes leave us distraught even as our anecdotes come to a close, which, sadly, is very congruous with the point KM himself was at when he left the band.

Awake is the pinnacle of what Dream Theater music can be: five musicians, each being one of the forerunners of their respective instrumental (or vocal) nuances, uniting as one in the name of song. There is nothing immature or feeble about this album. Awake contains eleven songs of considerable quality, depth, and achievement. In the world of progressive metal, much material is often overlooked (many times rightfully so), and because of this many never realize what a gem Awake is.

Simply put, it is one of the most emotionally stirring, relating, and powerful records ever made in the world of heavy music.

Kevin Martell (TheOutlawXanadu)

TheOutlawXanadu | 5/5 |

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