Dream Theater: Images and words
12/03/10 || Altmer
It’s times like being sick that one should cherish. It gives you extra time to write good reviews for the best site on the Internet, namely Global Fucken Domination. In today’s Class6(66), we are covering an album that is classic to all those that were into the less br00tal spectrum of metal, an album that bridged the gap between the old school hippie prog rock of the 70s, and the melodic metal of the 80s (think Maiden, Priest, and Metallica rather than Slayer, Death and Morbid Angel). Dream Theater wrote this album, called it Images and Words, and every “prog metal” band on the planet since has tried to rip this off. It’s a pity none of them ever bettered this album, because this is the one Dream Theater album in history that will go down as the benchmark for everything else released in this genre. They didn’t start it, but this album put the genre on the map, for better or worse.
9. The songs are hideously complex, with many change-on-a-dime sections, time signature changes aplenty, and solos that will make even the most ardent practitioner wipe the drool off their chin. There are no instrumentals, but there are quite a few long songs over the 8 minute mark (although the excesses of later albums were never hit here, with only “Learning to live” being over 10 minutes long). Many choruses are catchy and memorable, such as the one in “Pull me under”, and the slow soft moody sections tend to be heartwarming rather than irritating (Surrounded in particular benefits from a good buildup halfway, only to decrescendo into soft piano tinkering). This is where Dream Theater wrote songs, not extended jam sections for the duration of 80% of the track. A reason for this is that the songs were rehearsed over and over during the search for a new singer – all the arrangements could be polished and extraneous sections cut. Nowadays the band basically jam in a studio. I think they need to schedule more time per album to finish up the arrangements because as you can see here, it works better than the “let’s book the studio for six months and see what comes out” crap they have been doing lately.
6. Dated. The electronically triggered snare drum used at the insistence of the producer sounds hideous. A big plus is that you can hear the bass a lot of the time. The guitars would sound better on “Awake”, however, and the abundance of keyboard layers makes it seem more atmospheric than it really is (Kevin Moore was less of a soloing keyboard player, and certainly knew how to work within the concept of a song). Apart from the drums though, it’s mostly good. You can tell it’s old, though.
10. Petrucci is one of the best guitar players in the world, and only a fool would deny it. Here his solos are sometimes beautifully restrained and melodic (listen to Learning to Live for a perfect example), and his work on slower material is breathtaking. There isn’t much in the way of super-heavy riffing, though, but the good songs, “Pull me under” in particular, make up for that with solid songwriting and memorable choruses. Dream Theater would later attempt to go faux-heavy on their guitars, but this sound suits them very well (although the guitars were better on Awake with the addition of the 7-string).
8. Hate him or love him, James LaBrie is a good singer – most people do harbor an allergy for his vocals, which are extremely high-pitched. He would suffer ruptured vocal cords later on, making him unbearable at times, but on here he sounds excellent mostly, even with the insane notes he hits on Learning to Live and Take The Time (there is a verse from that song they don’t play anymore live because he can’t hit the notes anymore). I think he gets a bit too high-pitched for most people, but I can enjoy his vocals quite a bit, hence the 8.
10. The bass work on this album is insane. Even getting some spotlights in the mix should show you just how good of a bass player Myung is – and I generally barely even listen to the bass. This guy is fucken insane, on par with the abilities of the other members of the band. A ten if ever there was one. Plus the bass in the intro to “Take the time” is just too fantastic.
9. Mike Portnoy is a crazy, crazy drummer that really loves bashing every inch of his kit. The guy keeps time like a metronome, makes fills like a batshit psycho frog and really impresses behind the kit. The good thing is that his performance is reined in on the slower songs (and he is absent on “Wait for sleep”), so he doesn’t venture into overplaying (a common DT trait). The downside is that electrically triggered snare drum. It makes me want to kill a monkey with a crowbar. That is fucken terrible.
10. There is no keyboards section in class6(66), so I’m adding it – Kevin Moore was the best keyboardist this band has ever had. The reason was that he knew how to add to a song rather than ruin it with pointless soloing (Rudess, here’s looking at you). His synth work isn’t understated, but his playing is so fluid and nimble that the keyboards seem to creep up on you while he’s doing it. Also, his performances on the “ballads” are nothing short of stellar. This is a man that knows to use a keyboard as a keyboard, and not a guitar replacement with more twiddly knobs.
7. Dream Theater lyrics are usually pointless and cheesy (and “Another day” qualifies as cheesy), but it’s mostly weird metaphysical imagery and literature. “Learning to live” is a tribute to sufferers from the AIDS epidemic around this time, and Myung-penned (he was always more poetic than the others, apart from Kevin Moore). Moore’s contributions to for example “Pull me under” are fantastic too, and it’s only when Petrucci starts writing that things cock up, but he’s in better form here too. Petrucci’s best lyrics would be “Scarred” though, forever.
6. References a lot of the songs, very nugget-heavy. It’s nice if you are a collector of the band’s albums, like me, and the amount of time put into it to make it look good is phenomenal, but it doesn’t strike me as anything special still. It’s better than “When dream and day unite” though, that’s for sure. I do like how they mix the different locations into the artwork, and the heart logo is some pretty awesome shit. They’ve had better though.
6. The band name in a standard font. Whooptifuckingdoo. The Majesty logo with its Greek letters is pretty cool though, so bonus points for that. Other than that, not very original (and better than the “Falling into infinity” era logo, that thing was ugly as a motherfucking doped up tranny).
4. Lyrics, a band pic on the back, and a thank-you list. It’s all neat enough and shit, but it’s so standard. Also, I hate folding booklets, just make it into a book. Folding sucks. Fuck you guys. I like the little misspelling nods in the booklet towards Fates Warning. Mostly because they got misspelled in FW’s previous album. Pretty awesome, innit?
Overall and ending rant
This is one classic fucken album. Even if you don’t like anything the band has done after “Scenes from a memory” or even “Awake”, this album is a testament to the songwriting skills of the band, and not just their excellence as musicians (we already know they are about the most talented bunch of fucks around). Showy playing is everywhere but it always fits with the songs. There’s no filler and no bullshit. James LaBrie sounds fantastic (as not per usual). The keys aren’t solo-semen overload. This is what all progressive metal should sound like, but nobody has ever managed to reproduce it (and believe me, bands have tried). This is the seminal album by which one may judge all others in this genre. If you beat this album, you’ve made it. If you come close to this album, we may expect great things from you in the future. And if you fucken suck… you fucken suck. Dream Theater don’t, and this album shows it. Fucken fantastic.
- Released: 1992
- Label: Atco Records
- Website: www.dreamtheater.net
- James LaBrie: vocals
- John Petrucci: guitars
- Kevin Moore: keyboards
- John Myung: bass
- Mike Portnoy: drums
- 01. Pull me under
- 02. Another day
- 03. Take the time
- 04. Surrounded
- 05. Metropolis part 1: the miracle and the sleeper
- 06. Under a glass moon
- 07. Wait for sleep
- 08. Learning to live