Review Summary: An excellent effort that more than redeems the band for their uninspired debut and hits soaring heights untouched by many progressive metal bands. Sadly, one or two weaker songs let this down a little and hold it back from the true classic status.
Dream Theater are a band who rose to the forefront of the metal scene through the technical proficiency of each member of the band, particularly guitarist John Petrucci and Mike Portnoy's incredible drumming. Despite their strong standing within the metal scene today, things did not really start out well for the band with a debut that felt immature and at times it seemed that whilst the band had a lot of talent clearly, they would not show it off save for rare moments. However, few could have predicted what their sophomore album would bring to the masses.
Images And Words was released in 1992, and this album is pretty much one of the definitive progressive metal albums. Whilst not quite hitting the soaring heights touched by such releases as Operation: Mindcrime and Still Life, Dream Theater's sophomore release showed the entire metal scene how wrong they had been by judging off of one album. This is a release in which every member of the band is on top of their game, writing numerous lengthy tracks that contain nothing but Grade A shredding from Petrucci, some marvelous bass work from criminally underrated member John Myung, beautiful keyboard work and a spectacular vocal performance from James LaBrie, not to mention some powerful drumming throughout. Indeed, the talent on display here was enough that one of these songs even spawned its own sequel album in the form of Metropolis II.
Absolutely every element of this album sets it apart from their debut to the point where this feels like an entirely different band. Album opener Pull Me Under rightfully stands out as one of the band's most popular numbers, with its amazing lead fills from John Petrucci, magnificent soloing and drumming that is leaps and bounds ahead of many of their peers. Whilst this album clocks in at eight minutes and thirteen seconds, it never once threatens to become boring or too repetitive, with numerous riff changes found frequently, whilst the guitar solo is placed perfectly for maximum effect. One thing that really sticks out to me about this song is the vocal performance from James LaBrie. Whereas their previous vocalist just sounded flat and uninteresting on the tracks that made up When Dream And Day Unite, LaBrie puts so much emotion into every single line. Be it the soaring highs or his calmer mid range vocals, his vocals bring so much feeling to the lyrical content wherever they are found.
Pull Me Under may be a magnificent song, but it is far from the best track here, with Surrounded and Learning To Live standing out even more. Surrounded opens up with a very emotional sounding introduction that just bleeds a mysterious ethereal feel that so many artists inspired by this band have been unable to reproduce. It takes a while for the distorted guitar work to kick in on this song, and in that time the band create such a devastatingly beautiful atmosphere that this track truly is a work of wonder. Meanwhile, LaBrie's vocals are as powerful as you should come to expect from this album, slotting in gracefully no matter what style the band are going for, be it the soft or the heavier parts of the song. The latter of the two mentioned songs is an eleven and a half minute epic that could never have been toppled by anything else on this release. It opens up in bombastic fashion with the first guitar work, whilst the keyboard dances around in the background, and throughout this song you will be taken on a thrilling musical journey. Portnoy showcases his supreme technicality with some amazing fills and rolls and some really creative beats all the way through this song, merely building off the work of the rest of the band to make for the most perfect track on the album.
Sadly, not all of the songs here are quite as good, with one in particular standing out as a real stinker in the band's catalogue. Many would disagree, but Another Day really feels irrelevant among such quality, especially given that it is sandwiched in between the mighty Pull Me Under and the also fantastic eight minute monster of a song Take The Time. LaBrie's vocals are really the only reason to listen to this song, and even he does not sound quite as powerful as on the rest of the tracks. Whilst this is not an awful song by any means, it definitely does not merit the name Dream Theater as its soft edge meanders around aimlessly, and Petrucci's futile attempts at keeping it interesting do not really help. When the distorted guitar work comes in this track just feels all the more boring, with the chords being left to ring out for long periods of time for a small section in the middle of the song being the low-point of the entire album.
Images And Words is a release that is rightfully considered to be among the best if not the best Dream Theater album and were it not for Another Day and Wait For Sleep, this would be the perfect album, although the latter can be overlooked due to its short running time. Still, this is a spectacular album, bringing together some of the finest musicians of the time to make a magnificent release.