Dream Theater- Images and Words
Written on January 2, 2010
Dream Theater’s “Images and Words” was not the first prog metal album, but it was the first prog metal album that caught the attention of the prog community, and it was also the first one that caught my attention. It also contains my favorite progressive metal song, but more on that later…
The release of “Images and Words” in 1992 was perfect timing for the record to catch my attention. Rush had always dominated my listening time, but they were in kind of a slump with their 1991 release “Roll the Bones,” and although I was still listening to Rush’s back catalog and plenty of other classic progressive rock, there wasn’t much in way of new progressive rock that caught my attention. Metal was also in a slump at the time, and the term heavy metal had really become a dirty word in the early 1990’s due to the bad reputation that the hair metal bands had given the genre in the 80’s. So in terms of new music in the early 1990’s, I was mainly listening to grunge and alternative rock bands such as Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains, Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Jane’s Addiction. I liked all these bands (and still do), but I was never really blown away by their sound, but when Dream Theater released “Images in Words” in 1992, its sound completely blew me away. It took all the elements of classic progressive rock and merged them perfectly with the complex thrash metal sound of bands like Metallica and Megadeth.
The first element of the record’s sound that really caught my attention was the technical proficiency of each player. Progressive rock musicians have always topped the charts in terms of talent, but Dream Theater’s playing on “Images and Words” really took this to a new level. Not only were they playing complex progressive rock, but they were playing it much faster and more aggressively than any other band, and although the record was merging two existing styles of music (prog & metal), the result sounded completely new and fresh.
So, moving back to the individual musicians, you have James Labrie on vocals. On “Images And Words,” he sings mainly in straightforward falsetto. On later Dream Theater albums, he still sings in falsetto, but it’s a tougher, grittier falsetto. Labrie’s shining moment on this album (and maybe his shining lyrical moment on any DT album) comes on “Pull Me Under” when in perfect falsetto harmony he belts out the lines “watch the sparrow falling/ gives new meaning to it all/ if not today nor yet tomorrow/ then some other day”. “Pull Me Under” is the first track on the album, and when Labrie nails those lines at 2:57 into the song, it is nothing short of amazing (Click here to listen to Pull Me Under).
John Myung has always had bass duties for Dream Theater, and although he is never in the forefront of the mix like Les Claypool of Primus or even Geddy Lee from Rush, he is no less talented. His playing his incredibly intricate, and he really shines on the album’s epic finale “Learning to Live,” to which he also wrote the lyrics (click here to listen to Learning to Live).
Mike Portnoy’s drumming is also out of this world on every song on the album. His drumming is incredibly powerful and consistent on every track, but there is some controversy surrounding his drumming on the album. It is rumored that Portnoy used drum triggers on the album, which would certainly explain the consistency of his drumming. I’ve read that Portnoy has confirmed that some triggers were used, but it was the record company’s decision and not his. Either way, his drumming is phenomenal, and drum triggers aren’t uncommon in rock music, so it personally makes no difference to me whether they were used or not. Mike Portnoy is one of the greatest drummers of all time, and like I said, he sounds absolutely incredible on every track on the album.
Lastly, you have John Petrucci’s guitar work which duels with Kevin Moore’s keyboards on almost every song on the album, and this would become Dream Theater’s trademark sound on all future albums. There is not another band that can synchronize their keyboards and guitars to the point where they are indistinguishable like Dream Theater can, and this really is the key element of sound on “Images and Words” and on all future Dream Theater releases. This synchronicity of guitar and keys is most apparent on the album’s centerpiece track: “Metropolis- Part 1”.
“Metropolis- Part 1” is stunning in terms of its structure, instrumentation, technical proficiency of playing, and lyrics, and I can easily say that it is my favorite progressive metal track ever recorded. It’s not overly long for a prog epic clocking in just under 10-minutes. The real highlight of the song is the middle instrumental section, where the music continues to build up into a complete frenzy, and it reaches the point where each player’s instrument merges into one sound, and the result still completely amazes me every time I hear it. (Click here to listen to Metropolis- Part 1)
In addition to “Pull Me Under,” “Learning To Live,” and “Metropolis- Part 1,” you have two other epics: “Take the Time,” and the often unjustly forgotten, “Under a Glass Moon.” (click here to listen to Under a Glass Moon). The three other tracks are not as epic in structure as the aforementioned tracks, but they are no less impressive.
All in all, “Images and Words” is a must own for any fan of metal or progressive rock.
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