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Dream Theater - Awake CD (album) cover

AWAKE

Dream Theater

 

Progressive Metal

4.12 | 2068 ratings

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MrMan2000
4 stars My discovery of A Change of Seasons in the Spring of 1997 renewed my interest in Dream Theater, a band I had long forgotten. Thus I found myself trolling the local music store looking for yet more DT material. I quickly came across Awake and purchased the disc without hesitation. As soon as I arrived home I slapped the purchase in my disc player, not really sure what to expect.

The hammering drum opening of 6:00 quickly proved the band had not backed away from their hardcore progressive efforts of Images and Words. The song is darker in tone than IandW, especially LaBrie's voice, which has a menacing edge to it. LaBrie employs this technique throughout the disc, giving Awake a different sound than that found on virtually any other DT release. The song also employs a number of samples, which are also used throughout Awake. These unique qualities (for DT) give Awake a sound unlike any other DT disc. Not that Awake is a huge departure from the DT sound or theme, as progressive elements abound and religion is a constant topic (as on most of DT discs).

While I didn't care all that much for Awake during my first listens three songs stood out immediately: Voices, Scarred and Space-Dye Vest. Voices instantly struck me as a classic prog-metal song, with an epic feel to it. Clearly covering religious topics, the song includes signature time changes, a brilliant arrangement with smooth transitions, mood swings and a breath-taking closing. Presented with stunning musicianship (most notably Petrucci's searing guitar solo) Voices is one of my all-time favorite DT songs.

Awake also contains another DT trademark, which is the Big Concept. First hinted at with Metropolis Part I on IandW, Voices is part 2 of DT's first complete concept piece, entitled A Mind Beside Itself. Three songs make up the whole piece, Erotomania, Voices and The Silent Man. While Voices is stunning, the other songs don't work for me. Erotomania is an instrumental that starts off well but meanders too long (like most DT instrumentals). Logging in at almost 7 minutes, the piece could easily be cut in half without losing any effectiveness (though lots of hardcore DTers out there would vehemently disagree with me). The transition from Erotomania to Voices does, however, work wonderfully.

The Silent Man concludes AMBI and offers little. An acoustic-based ballad, the song itself simply isn't interesting enough to hold attention without the progressive elements found in most DT songs. Dream Theater's inability to write great songs is perhaps the band's greatest weakness. And by songs I mean tunes that catch your attention and keep your interest even when the musicians aren't shredding their instruments. Whenever DT gets away from their strength (superb musicianship) their work usual suffers and The Silent Man is a prime example. (To be fair, the live electric version found on Live Scenes From New York is a far superior effort.)

Space-Dye Vest was also an immediate stand out. A clear departure from the usual DT formula, Space-Dye Vest is dark and moody, dominated by a repeating piano phrase, samples and quirky machine-like sounds. Not exactly the usual prog-metal but it works wonderfully. It's a song unlike any other DT song and clearly has the signature of keyboardist Kevin Moore, who wrote the music and lyrics. It's a perfect closing song to Awake, as both the song and the disc are departures for the band. SDV represents a different side of DT, one I wish they'd explore further. This "experimental" sound can also be found on Speak To Me, another winning song that doesn't adhere to the traditional DT formula.

Scarred is my third favorite from Awake. An epic song in the tradition of Metropolis, Learning to Live and Voices, the song logs in at 11 minutes and contains all the elements that make a classic DT song: unique arrangement, superb progressive musicianship, smooth transitions from hard to soft and interesting lyrics. LaBrie again uses the more menacing tone to his voice, giving the song an edge that's frequently missing from DT songs. The one song that I really didn't like initially but which grew on me is Caught in a Web. For one thing, I've NEVER liked the opening....something about that keyboard sound irritates me; plus the initial stanza is pretty boring. The song doesn't really get interesting until the fist chorus but from there it's pretty strong. The musical break is especially outstanding, highlighted by the duel guitar-keyboard effort.

The other song that I didn't take to initially that eventually won me over is Lifting Shadows Off A Dream. I really like the light, airy feeling created during the song's opening, then the way the song slowly builds higher and higher. Still not one of my favorites but better than I originally thought.

The remaining songs each have good qualities but overall leave me wanting. The Mirror has a very cool intro (that appears on Once In A Livetime as Puppies on Acid) but meanders in the middle before concluding with a unique slow/heavy bit. Lie is solid throughout and is highlighted by a superfast Petrucci solo to close. Innocence Faded is a song I could do without completely.

I know that a lot of hardcore DT fans consider Awake to be the band's best effort but I cannot agree. Some of the musical parts simply drone on too long, lacking the captivating elements that are so evident in ACoS and some of IandW. That's just my opinion, I could be wrong.

MrMan2000 | 4/5 |

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