Heavy neo-progressive metal at its best
After the embryonic prog-metal of the 70's and 80's, "Images and Words" will definitely establish the genre in the musical landscape, as well as DREAM THEATER as its undisputed leader.. for a certain time. Sincere progress have been made since "When Dream and Day Unite". Singer Charlie Dominici has been replaced by James LaBrie, whose powerful voice is more adapted to heavy titles. In their compositions, the members have sharpened their virtuosity and their rhythm structures science, inspired by RUSH, METALLICA, QUEENSRŸCHE, MARILLION, and even ZAPPA, whose Mike Portnoy is big fan of. The production has also improved and the sound is clearer. Everything is not perfect though: DREAM THEATER offers quite soapy moments here, but its fantasy, soli and breaks are greater than before!
This second opus was initially intended as a double album, with the 25 minutes suite "A Change Of Seasons" included. However, the label imposed a single LP, resulting in the removal of various songs, and the re-recording of "ACOS", who will be released in 1995 on the eponymous EP.
The opener instantly became one of the band's great success. The cult and powerful "Pull Me Under" is a heavy title with an haunting introduction, fact-paced and calm passages, as well as an abrupt conclusion that always surprises me. Like I suppose many people, I thought my CD was broken at first listen. In fact, the musicians wanted to show death could arrive at any time... Not the most complex composition from DT, nevertheless very catchy. One of the band's classic! But the listener will have an even greater shock listening to the next track... What's this? The ballad "Another Day" simply features DT at its soapiest! A soundtrack for a cheesy eighties romantic clip, with its FM piano and saxophone. Easily the worst song of the record. "Take The Time" fortunately takes us back to a world of fantasy and dreamy metal with its gorgeous neo-heavy-prog passages, changing into groovy and funky rhythms. A lesser-known but nonetheless perfect title! Then comes the second and last black sheep of the album, "Surrounded". Another boring and out-of-place ballad, however this time more listenable than "Another Day", a bit in the style of MARILLION.
Don't worry, the second half of the disc can be browsed with serenity. In 1992, "Metropolis Part 1" was one of DREAM THEATER's most ambitious composition. An enchanting and epic tale, including numerous rhythm changes, various sonorities, catchy moments and breaks where RUSH and ZAPPA influences can be clearly perceived. It also features very short but incredible bass play from John Myung. Take the time to enjoy it, his solo interventions will unfortunately rarefy in the future... Anyway, a superb track! With "Take Your Time", "Under A Glass Moon" is "Images and Words"'s other forgotten little gem. Its majestic and floating opening unveils raging riffs and a fast-paced tune, but still with a neo-prog touch. Less breathtaking than its predecessor, nonetheless includes a few surprises and cool soli. "Wait For Sleep" is a short fairytale ballad, however this time much pleasant than the two others, introducing the longest and also maybe the heaviest song of the album, "Learning To Live". In the lineage of "Metropolis Part 1", this powerful epic displays assumed RUSH influences, with numerous ambiances and various interventions. The finale is simply heroic! Great!
"Images and words" is definitely one of DREAM THEATER's best opus, as well as an influential milestone in the progressive metal genre. This second effort show a genuine improvement compared to their debut, with better sound quality, more mature writing, more variations and better vocals.
A small remark though: this is no dark, depressive or aggressive prog-metal per se, rather fantasy / dreamy heavy neo-prog metal. The music is full of dated vintage synthesizer sounds, reminding MARILLION and SAGA, but that's what makes its own charm and contributes to the magical ambiance. Why two cheesy romantic titles among these colorful metallic epics full of gorgeous soli? I don't know... My advice: program your hi-fi to skip tracks 2 and 4. The rest is just flawless.
An essential listen for any progressive metal fan, and the one to start with if you're new to this genre or to DREAM THEATER. What are you waiting for?