Review Summary: Less accessible, darker, and heavier than Images and Words, Awake is an album that favors songwriting over instrumental wandering, and the result is excellence.The Journey Through Dream Theater, Part 3
After a lackluster debut that went by unnoticed, Dream Theater quickly recovered by releasing Images and Words
, an album that is often considered one of the definitive prog metal releases, and for good reason: The strong songwriting and consistently excellent musicianship made the album an incredible listening experience that left many wondering what Dream Theater would do next. Following up Images and Words
, they took a different direction with Awake
. It’s one of their least accessible albums, and certainly a departure from Images and Words
. It’s darker, heavier, and low on long and flashy instrumental sections. It’s an album that requires more attention to realize its excellence.
James LaBrie has fittingly adjusted his vocals from the constant high-pitched stylings of Images
to an edgier, rougher vocal style here for a large part of the album, and while it definitely takes adjusting to after Images
, his performance is outstanding, and actually stronger overall than the previous outing. Awake
contains some of the heaviest material Dream Theater had written at the time, and they pull it off with relative ease. The album opener, 6:00
, is a rocker that makes prominent use of keyboards that keep the song moving along with Petrucci’s heavy riffs. The Mirror
is the rare heavy Dream Theater track that never veers off into flashy instrumental displays, maintaining mid-tempo chugging riffs alongside keyboards throughout its 6 minute duration. It’s the first of several songs Dream Theater would write about Portnoy’s addiction, and the darker tone of the song fits the theme well. The strongest of the straight out heavy tracks, however, is Lie
. Driven by catchy metal riffing and a powerful vocal performance from LaBrie, and complimented with two excellent guitar solos from Petrucci, this track is easy to enjoy and a major highlight of the album.
As a compliment to the heavier material, the diverse ballad material is some of Dream Theater’s best, in fact this is the strongest collection of softer material that the band has ever written, lacking any of the cheese that is often prevalent in their ballads. The Silent Man
is a simple acoustic number with fantastic emotion-filled vocals from LaBrie. Portnoy’s assisting vocals in the chorus make for a very pleasant melody. Lifting Shadows off a Dream
is a darker piece that thrives off of Myung’s slow-moving bass line and builds to a soaring chorus from LaBrie. Space-Dye Vest
is a powerful closing track, driven by a hypnotic piano line and an effective, understated performance by LaBrie.
Petrucci still has his solos on most tracks, but they’re not nearly as flashy or long as most other Dream Theater releases. He still busts loose occasionally, like in the wild instrumental piece Erotomania
, which goes through numerous tempo changes and gives Petrucci plenty of room to display his virtuosic talent. Overall, however, he refrains from getting overly technical most of the time. This doesn’t hold the album back at all, in fact it only makes the times where he does solo all the more enjoyable. The two epics, Voices
, both benefit from this. Led by LaBrie’s commanding vocals, both tracks begin softly and gradually build in intensity, only to climax with Petrucci’s solo. Both clock in at over 9 minutes but never lose focus, a true demonstration of Dream Theater’s songwriting abilities.
is an album that takes time to appreciate. It’s one of Dream Theater’s heavier albums, but not in the same vein as the flashy, metal riff-assault that they would later create with Train of Thought
. It relies on a darker, moodier atmosphere. The album is benefited by good lyrics, Myung’s simple but effective bass lines, and Moore’s effective keyboard use that doesn’t go over the top like his replacement Jordan Rudess would later do, but rather contributes to the atmosphere of each song. Even Portnoy is more restrained on this one, refraining from going too crazy on his drums when it’s not needed. Each band member contributes; no one is thrown away or pushed aside on this release.
As a starting album for Dream Theater, Images and Words
is more fitting, as it’s much more accessible. However, Awake
is still a very worthwhile listen that is very rewarding in the long run once one allows the subtleties to sink in. Proof that Dream Theater can
write great songs and avoid instrumental wankery, Awake
should not be overlooked.
Top Tracks: Lie, Voices, Lifting Shadows Off a Dream, Space-Dye Vest
, Dream Theater was:
• John Myung – Bass guitar
• John Petrucci – Lead guitar
• Mike Portnoy – Drums, Percussion
• Kevin Moore – Keyboards
• James LaBrie – Vocals
To Be Continued…