This next album comes from a band that has a long track record. Since the mid-80’s, this band has put out some of the most influential progressive metal album in rock music history. The band I’m referring to is Dream Theater.
This five-piece from Boston consists of some of the most influential musicians in their respective instruments. With twelve albums released, Dream Theater has sold millions of albums over their lifetime. Varying in styles from progressive rock, to progressive metal, to even glam rock, each album differs in some way from the rest, as you can hear many unique sounds from album to album. I believe of all the albums they have released, one of my favorites has to be their album “Awake.”
Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to see this band for the first time in Riverside, CA. When previewing the set list from their European tour earlier this year, I noticed that a sizeable chunk of their sets were dedicated to their album “Awake” in celebration of the 20th year anniversary of its release. Not having heard much of their older albums, I decided I needed to catch up on this album. After several consecutive listens, I found this album to be among one of my favorites.
I noticed immediately that this album was a step in a different direction from their last album “Images and Words.” Feeling more metal-oriented, songs like “Caught in a Web” and “The Mirror” are guitar-driven, featuring some of the bands heaviest riffs at the time. Guitarist John Petrucci is showcased in songs like “Erotomania” and “Lie,” with his flawless execution of sweep and tremolo picking. Although Petrucci has sections of each song devoted to soloing, they are much more toned-down than previous albums, but are not over-technical, and when they do occur, it is more enjoyable for the listener. Besides such heavy riffs lies songs like “The Silent Man” and “Space-Dyed Vest,” in which clean guitar is used and takes a back seat to other members of the band.
The vocals and lyrics are also fantastic in this album thanks to singer James LaBrie. Although he did not write the lyrics for every song on this album, his vocals give a distinct charm. LaBrie’s voice is much more controlled in this album, and can be considered much more rugged than high-pitched. His voice is displayed beautifully in voices like “Lifting Shadows Off A Dream,” “The Silent Man,” and “Voices,” which proves the range and quality of his voice.
Both the bass and keyboards help complement each song off the album. Bassist John Myung and keyboarder Kevin Moore have their own sections in this album dedicated specifically to their instrument, being “Lifting Shadows Off A Dream” and “Space-Dyed Vest” respectively. Coincidentally, these two songs happen to be my two favorite songs off this album, containing some of the best overall workmanship by the band as a whole. The darker and more melancholic themes that are so greatly expressed in this album are greatly increased with help from Myung and Moore.
As most of Dream Theater’s other albums, I cannot help but focus on the drum track for every song Dream Theater releases. Mike Portnoy, the drummer during the time of this album’s release, is magnificent. His flawless hits on the snare, the ease of his time signature changes, and the quality of sound off this album proves Portnoy to be one of the best drummers in progressive metal. His presence is known in songs like “6:00” and “Scarred,” where Portnoy relies on other percussion.
Overall, “Awake” is an album that does not give too much focus on one instrument, and equally displays the abilities of each band member. It is one of their darkest albums they’ve released, but in a way that is much more subtle than other albums like “Train of Thought.” Each instrument is flawless, yet restrained. The album contains some of each band member’s most memorable moments, but is still more-controlled than other albums. Because of all these factors, though, Dream Theater is able to create their most emotional and powerful album, one that is inspiring and sets a standard for modern progressive rock. I highly recommend this album to those who enjoy listening to progressive rock or metal.
Please check out this Youtube video of their song “Lifting Shadows Off A Dream”: