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Classic Review: Dream Theater - Images And Words
Dream Theater
Images And Words

Label: Atlantic Records
Year released: 1992
Duration: 57:08
Tracks: 8
Genre: Progressive Metal

Rating: 5/5

Review online: June 23, 2003
Reviewed by: Sargon the Terrible
Readers Rating
Images And Words

Rated 4.44/5 (88.86%) (88 Votes)

It isn’t every day that an album reaches such a pinnacle for its genre that said genre never really recovers. Swedish death metal has never gotten over "Clandestine", and prog-metal has never gotten over this one. "Images and Words" was only the second release from this New York band, and by far their best.

Do I really have to describe DT’s sound? Their debut "When Dream and Day Unite" was interesting but uneven, like a band that didn’t quite know what they wanted to be. "Images and Words" is even more all over the place, but the whole is taken to another level that somehow manages to give the whole thing some coherence. Even as they segue from prog/power monoliths like "Metropolis Part1" to almost radio-friendly pop-rockers like "Surrounded", they manage to keep a solid tone and a unified sound. A big help are the first-rate vocals of James Labrie, who carries every song with smooth tone and perfect control.

All the expected elements of prog-metal are here: mega-time changes, polyrhythmic drumming, insane guitar/keyboard dialogues and even a few trilling bass solos to keep the four-stringers happy. (Though be assured the bass was played on no less than a six-string – fretless of course.) Every dark progressive impulse is given full reign. No time break is too hairpin, no time signature too weird, no tuning variant too out there, no instrumental break too long.

What keeps this from being insufferable is that all of it – all the opulent over-the-top wankorama - is in service to some great fucking songs. Whatever you think of Dream Theater, there is no denying that songs like "Under a Glass Moon" "Take the Time" and especially "Metropolis" pack some of the greatest riffs ever laid down. All the trilling solos and elaborate musicianship don’t have to try and cover up bereft songwriting, they only enhance and gild the excellent music that’s already here. On later releases DT embark on a long parabolic slide down from this high point, and more and more the showy playing is just used to disguise that there is no song there at all.

This CD is great enough that it turned me into a prog-wanker for about two years after it came out, and that I wasn’t the only one is plain to see. With a single album Dream Theater turned "Progressive" into "Retro", as there is really nothing progressive about most prog-metal at all any more. A good 90% of so-called prog bands are just trying to sound like this album, while truly progressive bands like Gordian Knot are mostly overlooked. "Images and Words" defined the prog-metal sound so completely that neither the band, nor their imitators have managed to sound fresh or new for over a decade now. I can’t stand anything Dream Theater did after "Awake", but that shouldn’t tarnish this album: as complete a masterpiece of their genre as any band can ever hope to produce.

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