Awake is Dream Theater’s third release, their heaviest before Train of Thought.
In the early nineties, grunge was dominating the charts almost everywhere. Bands like Nirvana and Alice in Chains were becoming vastly popular and inspirational to many other starting bands.
However, Dream Theater avoided the grunge influenced nineties and released an album of pure progression, the year was 1994.
The progressive elements are eminent, from Myung’s grooving bass lines, to Moore’s atmospheric keyboards, to the riffing of Petrucci and Labrie’s dreamy vocals.
However, Dream Theater feature a much heavier feel than most progressive bands, perhaps it’s the almost thrashy sounding riffs found in songs like The Mirror
or it could even be the aggressive approach drummer Mike Portnoy uses in many of the songs. Needless to say, Dream Theater is an extremely talented prog metal band.
The album contains 11 tracks, yet runs a total of around 75 minutes. It’s quite the challenge to soak up all of the technicality in just a few listens. Quite honestly, I found this album incredibly boring in the first four or five times I heard it. It wasn’t until I had this album for a few weeks that I really began to appreciate it. Dream Theater puts a lot of emotion into all of their songs, whether it’s epic and mournful, angry and aggressive, or a spacey ballad, each of the tracks are great in their own right.
Petrucci’s riffing and soloing is top notch on this album. True, many of his solos can be considered pure wank, but most are delivered properly for bone chilling results. Mike Portnoy can be deemed one of the best drummers of all time, providing a solid backbone and adding technical fills and beats. Kevin Moore played keyboards on this album, which was unfortunately his last with DT. Like DT’s current keyboarder, he adds an eerie atmosphere to the compositions, it’s especially spacey on this release. Bassist John Myung is often overlooked like most bass players yet he is more audible than most of players of the same instrument in the genre, notably on the bass intro to Lifting Shadows Off a Dream
and the intro to Scarred
James Labrie proves to be a solid vocalist for the most part, and delivers a better vocal performance on this album than their previous outing. A few high notes may be a bit rough but I see nothing to fuss about with his vocals on this release.
Energetic album opener 6:00
is the catchiest on the cd and the first track that i loved on the album. A drum fill is executed before some chords are struck. Recorded talking excerpts are then played over fast tom rolls, followed by a bass fill before the first verse finally starts.
This is one of the shorter tracks on the album, but can still be considered lengthy by most bands’ standards at 5:31. The chorus of the songs features three different sections. First time through, only the first is played, second, the first and second, and so on. The first part is a little more upbeat than the other sections, while the second is a melodic treat, with the third basically being a continuation of the second. One of my favorites on the cd and an excellent opener.
Caught In a Web
is up next, and much like it’s predecessor. It’s similar in length (only three seconds shorter) and mainly energetic and upbeat. Intro features some interesting keyboard effects over a choppy riff. The verse mid tempo and not quite as forceful as the chorus, which is has more awesome keyboarding. Probably one of the more keyboard oriented songs actually. Track number three, Innocence Faded
is more radio friendly than the first two. The intro consists of a heartfelt solo (I can’t tell if it’s guitar or keyboard, but it’s probably guitar) and simple drumming. It quiets down for the verse before the catchy mainstream chorus. One of the weaker songs on the album, but it has some of Petrucci and Moore’s best soloing in the outro.
The next three tracks form a 20 minute suite called A Mind Beside Itself,
which can be translated as paranoia. Erotomania
is part one and an instrumental. It’s very complex, even by DT standards and is basically all soloing. Lots of wankery yes, but it’s effective, and is actually one of the best tracks on the cd.
is part two, and it’s one of the albums two epics, at just under 10 minutes. Each member shines through in this track, and many time changes and instrumental characters are explored throughout it’s length. The chorus is incredibly epic, and the solo sections are probably the best on the album. My favorite song on the ccd, some classic Dream Theater here.
Part three, The Silent Man
is a step down from the other two. It’s the shortest song on the cd at only 3:47 and is all acoustic, and it actually follows the standard song structure. It’’s a great song, but doesn’t stand out much after the epic. Voices
My least favorite here, but definitely not bad.
The two heaviest songs on the cd are next, and can stand up to the heaviness of Train of Thought. The Mirror
is written by Portnoy about his drug problems. The AA suite that started in 6DOIT has many lyrical references, and is consistently heavy as this track.
It’s actually one of the slower tracks on the album, and probably the heaviest. It starts with some extremely choppy and aggressive guitar work, and the bashing drums follow. Almost towards the end of the song, the theme to the closing song on the cd is played, before a heavy outro. The outro blends easily with the intro too Lie,
so well infact that i was unaware of the song change the first time i listened to the cd. Lie is more fast paced than the mirror, but every bit as heavy. However, unlike the previous track, Lie
is extremely catchy, and another of the cd’s highlights. The opening riff is a neck breaker and an easy one to love. For the verse, the riff remains the same, only becomes picked at and much quieter, as Labrie Whisper-sings, it’s ***ing awesome. The chorus is pretty basic, but great none the less as Labrie almost screams “Don’t tell me you wanted me, don’t tell me you thought of me.” The song ends with another one of the albums top instrumental sections.
Spacey ballad Lifting Shadows Off a dream
is a nice break from its aggressive predecessors. John Myung contributes with the lyrics to the song, and gets to open up the song with some slow bass. The keyboard work on this song is phenomenal. Its pretty simple, but an incredible amount of atmosphere is added. Only a few notes are played during the intro and many other parts, yet it adds an atmosphere that makes one feel as if he’s floating into space. The chorus is very emotional, and Labrie is able to maintain the vocals well throughout. I’d say this is one of Dream Theater’s top ballads, though it’s definitely not one of the cd’s highlights, despite the memorable keyboards.
The albums second epic, Scarred
is next, and it’s the longest song on the album running eleven minutes in length. It opens with some jazzy cymbal and some complimentary guitar chords and bass notes. This seems like the most experimental song, and even more time changes are used here than Voices
The verse is quiet with an almost jazzy vibe, but all changes as hell breaks lose with some sinister keyboards thanks to Moore. A new verse starts with Labrie using more aggressive vocals here. The tempo changes and the style changes yet again for the slower chorus, which isn’t quite as good as it could’ve been, but none the less very good. The instrumental section is almost as good as the one on Voices,
but just not quite as memorable. Overall, one of the best songs here.
FInally, the closing track Space-Dye Vest
opens with some beautiful piano which dominates the whole track. As on every other Dream Theater album, a piano ballad is present and this proves to be a very strong one. Its incredibly atmospheric and mysterious sounding throughout, and features very little guitar work. However, not much is needed. A single chord is struck at the beginning of one of the verses midway through the song, and it surprisingly proves incredibly powerful. This song doesn’t change too much until the last two minutes, in which is finally becomes a little more upbeat, though not much at all. The song ends the same way it began.
I’d say that this is one of Dream Theater’s top releases, but it will take a long time to grow on you, especially if you’re just getting into DT (this was only my second DT album but the first was octavarium, so this was kinda like my first)
+Bass is fairly audible
+Labrie delivers a strong vocal performance
+Ballads are stronger on this album than DT’s others.
-Not much replay value
-Hard to get into, need patience
Top five tracks