Friday, February 15th By: John Campbell
Looking back in time, the American progressive metal band Dream Theater has had such a fulfilling career. Taking cues from their greatest inspirations such as Rush, Pink Floyd and Iron Maiden, Dream Theater has composed technically impressive pieces of progressive metal throughout their career. Starting under the name Majesty in 1985, the band built their chemistry with “When Dream and Day Unite” before they claimed the moniker Dream Theater in 1990.After finding a fitting vocalist (Kevin James LaBrie), Dream Theater released “Images and Words” in 1992.
This album is a showcase of all the musical prowess and creativity that Dream Theater has to offer and gave their fans a really great album to start with (If you pretend that WDADU never happened). As James LaBrie’s first album with the band, he doesn’t disappoint. In the midst ofall these amalgamations of metal and progressive rock ideas, you get this vocalist whose range and singing style could not be more fitting. But like Geddy Lee, I’ve noticed that James’ membership in the band is very polarizing. I’ve heard people say that the only reason they don’t like listening to Dream Theater is the vocals. This album is James’ high point in Dream Theater’s career, but only due to a vocal injury two years after this album.
Sprinkled into the start of the album, Dream Theater stays true to the metal side of their progressive flavor. “Pull Me Under” and “Take The Time” have heavy metal hooks with technical prowess lying in the foundation of the sound. These two songs show that they’re very proud of their heavy metal influences and thoroughly enjoyed using heavy riffs. In the ballad “Another Day” they also tackled a melodic sound, emulating pop ideas and even including a soprano saxophone solo by Jay Beckenstein. The song “Surrounded” had this mellow softer progressive track. This song is close to sounding like a Rush or a Styx track, but in a good way. By the time I got to “Metropolis Part I [“The Miracle and the Sleeper”]” I began to realize that Dream Theater doesn’t sound like anything. As in, they sound like Dream Theater.
The technical prowess displayed in “Metropolis Part I [“The Miracle and the Sleeper”]” was nothing short of absolutely impressive. This is one of the songs where Dream Theater indulges in their own ability to play technically impressive melodies and ideas, but in this one, all of the instrumental breaks are very engaging. You’ll see more of this kind of engagement in later albums like “The Glass Prison” on Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, or “Dance of Eternity” on the album Metropolis Part II: [“Scenes from a Memory”] (which is thematically similar to this track). To this day “Metropolis Part I [“The Miracle and the Sleeper”]” is a fan favorite, and if you attend a Dream Theater concert, there’s a very good chance this will appear on the setlist. In this album, you will find a lot of consistent and competent mixing (save for the bass part on “Pull Me Under”). I think the mixing on some of these tracks added a lot of focus on integral music ideas. These progressive ideas are prevalent in all of the album’s tracks, but can be exhausting at times. “Under a Glass Moon” is an example I would use where the instrumental breaks are just not as engaging (at least, not to me) and leaves my mind wandering. This is the one low point in the album for me besides “Surrounded” but keep in mind that these low points are still excellent compositions. Then there are the instrumental breaks in “Learning to Live” that fall in and out of different styles but hold the theme of the composition strong. Not to mention the “Wait for Sleep” reprise preceding the final chorus. This album is Dream Theater’s greatest compilation of progressive musical ideas to this day.
The lyrical work on this album is always literary in its approach to story-telling. Resorting to metaphors a lot of the time or talking about concepts that reflect reality. They’re all left up to a lot of interpretation by the listener with only a bit of guidance in the lyrics. “Wait for Sleep” is a song that Kevin Moore wrote about his friend that struggled with the loss of someone. But looking at the lyrics of this song, they could be fitted to a lot of different situations, and that’s what I’ve always liked about this record. The song “Metropolis Part I [“The Miracle and the Sleeper”]” had a few different interpretations before the album Metropolis Part II: [“Scenes from a Memory”] was released and the contents of the song were given meaning. John Petrucci (the lyricist for “Metropolis Part I [“The Miracle and the Sleeper”]”) has a tendency to use literary ideas to represent his lyrics in songs he writes for, and still writes like this today. I like the idea of lyrics that are up for interpretation, because it gives the listener more room to imagine things and project their own creativity to songs.
Dream Theater has openly revered their influences since well before their first studio album and they let those influences come through in this album. With the exception of “Surrounded” I felt that Dream Theater developed their own sound here and maintained it for decades. That being said, you can hear how much this band loved Rush, Pink Floyd, Yes, and other progressive rock bands of their respective childhoods. I think Dream Theater figured out their sound early on and capitalized on the niche they created.
Closing out this review, this is one of my favorite albums to come out of the nineties, but it isn’t without its minor flaws. I engage and adore almost every track on this record, and it is a shining gem among progressive rock and progressive metal albums to this day. “Images and Words” is an excellent album.
Favorite Tracks: Learning to Live, Metropolis Part I [“The Miracle and the Sleeper”], Another Day
Least Favorite Tracks: Under a Glass Moon, Surrounded