Review Summary: An emotional descent and musical progression, Awake showcases Dream Theater at their pinnacle.
After a subpar debut, Dream Theater struck immediate gold with their sophomore success, Images and Words
. Reaching 61 on the Billboard Top 200, the album's key song, "Pull Me Under," remains the band's only song to become a Top 10 U.S. track. Naturally, the pressure was on to surpass such successes, but with the record label wanting both commercial popularity AND a more metal sound, conflicts were only inevitable. The album itself placed even higher on the Billboard Top 200, yet its singles couldn't recapture the draw of "Pull Me Under." Despite this debacle, Awake
has since become a respected entry in Dream Theater's discography, with very good reason.
Immediately evident is the darker, heavier transition from Images and Words
to this. Opener "6:00" is easy enough on the ears, but it also signals the rough and punctual guitar notes, borderline operatic keys and often angst-driven vocals. What's more is that the follow-up, "Caught in a Web," gives us the real shock treatment with an aggressiveness which recurs throughout the album, most notably in "Lie," the second of a two-part song that begins with "The Mirror." The two work so well together that hearing one without the other is like reading a half-finished book.
specifically emphasizes the metal part of progressive metal, especially when taking song structure into account. Curiously, while the album's sound is less accessible, each track is way more concise than just about anything else the band has put out; Awake
is mostly split up by five to seven-minute sections. While this wouldn't be a Dream Theater album without a 10+ minute song (the criminally underrated "Scarred"), even that showcases Dream Theater being self-aware. In other words, the band's characteristically compulsive tendencies are consistently contained. In this respect, Awake
is actually more approachable than its siblings.
might be one of the band's heaviest albums, but it isn't without momentary reliefs. "The Silent Man," with its simple yet effective acoustics, and the welcome melodic vocals in "Lifting Shadows Off a Dream" both come up at opportune moments to balance the scale. We're also treated to a bit of both worlds in "Innocence Faded," whose innocence leads us in before gradually escalating during the subsequent solos and outro. The small nod to "Another Day" in "Erotomania" (at 2:50) is also a nice touch. Also of note is Awake
's closer, "Space-Dye Vest," a peculiarity that turns into one of the band's most unique tracks. The use of quotes throughout the first half is odd, but the eerie keyboard creates a chilling atmosphere which, combined with LaBrie's surprisingly haunting vocals, leaves quite the impression.
For this listener, choosing standout tracks from Awake
is absolutely daunting because the entire album works so well. It truly keeps on giving, whether from song to song, or during repeat listenings. Just as Images and Words
was a different creature from When Dream and Day Unite
is another beast from its 1992 predecessor. Dream Theater pulled off their changes wonderfully then and they essentially perfect it here.