DREAM THEATER — Awake (review)

DREAM THEATER — Awake album cover Album · 1994 · Progressive Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
2.5/5 ·
Raff
Though by no means a Dream Theater fan, I am also a very curious person - so,some four years ago, I bought "Awake" on the strength of the numerous rave reviews I had read on a number of prog and metal sites. Since then, I've been trying to get into it, unfortunately to no avail. However, I will try to make this review as fair and objective as possible, since panning an album just for the sake of it is not really my style.

Released two years after the undeniably ground-breaking I&W, "Awake" is widely considered one of DT's strongest efforts - and possibly the darkest, which I find to be quite true (more like unrelentingly gloomy, in my humble opinion). In fact, the band's many admirers will find a lot to enjoy in this album: dazzling instrumental pyrotechnics, long, intricate compositions - with a single exception, none shorter than 5 minutes (with epic "Scarred" clocking in at 11'), LaBrie trademark vocal theatrics, and a suitably baroque album cover as well. However, as a non-admirer, I found this record did not really succeed in converting either me or other like-minded people.

For one thing, it goes on way too long. After a while, those 75 minutes seem to go on forever, the individual tracks turning into a single, unrelenting, nearly impenetrable wall of sound, punctuated by LaBrie's more-often-than-not annoying wail. While the musical chops of the single members are quite evident, what is much less so is the ability to write actual songs that can attract the attention of those who do not yet worship at the band's altar. What I see in "Awake" is a sort of contemporary application of the well-known motto of "art for art's sake", but without the social and philosophical implications. DT can certainly play, and no one in their right mind is going to deny this simple fact: but then, why do their records give 'outsiders' (i.e. skeptics or newcomers) the impression of being exercises in narcissism, rather than coherent musical efforts?

Obviously, any track-by-track analysis on my part would be perfectly beside the point. I readily admit to being unable to distinguish between the various tracks, with the possible exception of album closer "Space-Dye Vest" (possibly the record's best composition, with very tasteful piano courtesy of Kevin Moore, whose contribution to the band's sound was sorely missed on later efforts). Opener "6.00" is quite promising, a hard-rocking, energetic song with a distinctive pace - pity that, later on, the songs start blurring into a single unit, and the attention starts to wander in such a way that eventually, halfway through the album, the ear does not perceive anything but the endless noodling of the various instruments. Blessedly LaBrie-free instrumental "Erotomania" is quite good in its own way, but fails to achieve the memorable quality that instrumental tour de forces like, for instance, Rush's "YYZ" seem to do quite effortlessly.

Not even a single comma of this review will convince any dedicated fans of the truth of what I say, and I must admit this is quite OK with me. Anyway, this review is not intended as a pointless exercise in bashing a cult album (I take my job as a reviewer far too seriously for that), but as an example of the response of the average DT unbeliever. Sorry guys... I suppose it is just not my cup of tea.
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