Dream Theater

EastWest Records, 1994

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


One of the fun parts of the music reviewer gig is learning about artists I've never listened to from my fellow writers. On a regular basis I sit up and take notice as one of my colleagues waxes eloquent about a band or disc that's completely new to me. Sometimes I even go out and buy it, or another disc by the artist in question. Sometimes I even find myself very glad at having done so.

And sometimes not. (Can't win 'em all.)

Dream Theater is considered a paragon of a genre that I really ought to enjoy, prog-metal. I mean, I love both Yes (the progressive stuff, anyway) and old-guard heavy metal bands like Led Zeppelin and Montrose. So, upon spotting Awake in the bargain bin at my local music emporium (the bricks-and-mortar kind, 'member those?), I decided to go for it.

In some ways, it was just what I was looking for. This is, beyond a doubt, a very talented group. John Petrucci (guitars), John Myung (bass), Kevin Moore (keys) and Mike Portnoy (drums) each proved to me in the first three minutes of opener "6:00" that they are technically proficient musicians. The playing is tight and fast and frequently impressive. Trevor Rabin would be very proud. (Classic Yes fans who know me are grinning already.)my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Indeed, the musicianship is quite notable. It's the music itself that makes me want to cover every bodily orifice I possess in hopes that no sound will get in.

If this is the best I can expect from prog-metal, thanks but no thanks. Quality prog music takes a series of musical themes and twists them into sonic taffy, varying, embellishing and extrapolating on them. The best heavy metal meshes brawn and melody into an immeasurably potent blast. Awake, however, doesn't evidence any of the elements I enjoy in either of the referenced genres. Instead, it combines the worst aspects of both -- the self-indulgent instrumental excesses of the weakest prog, paired with the disjointed lyrics and tone-deaf vocals of the worst heavy metal.

Awake, it must be said, is wankery of the first order. This isn't music; this is musicians showing off. Virtually every song here is from the "Hey look at me!" school of composition, full of overblown chords and time and tempo shifts that serve the ego, not the song. As if that wasn't bad enough, this disc features some of the lamest lead vocals I've heard in years.

"Innocence Faded" in particular sounds like bad pop-metal with progressive pretensions, sort of like a merger between the lowest ebbs of Kansas, Poison and Toto, with one of the seventeen utterly forgettable Rainbow vocalists who followed Ronnie James Dio sitting in. Except, not that good.

As for the other tracks, I'd seriously consider trying to use the throbby/screechy opening section of "The Mirror" to scare the aggressive neighbor cat out of our yard tonight, if I wasn't concerned about the neighbors calling the cops on me. If the mindlessly repeating chords didn't get him, the really-bad-Dio-imitation vocals surely would.

Oops, almost forgot to mention the lyrics, and that would be a mistake given the presence of gems like "Love is an act of blood and I'm bleeding / a pool in the shape of a heart" and "Mother Mary quite contrary / Kiss the boys and make them wary." The annual fake Hemingway writing contest has nothing on these guys.

Awake is empirical proof that putting a group of technically skilled musicians in a well-equipped studio is no guarantee of getting worthwhile results. Shallow, pompous and strangely passion-free, this album is, quite simply, a waste of time and talent.

Rating: D

User Rating: A


You can not be a progressive rock fan and give this album a score of (D). Perhaps Dream Theatre has it's elements of cheese, but the overall listening experience (not just a a half-minded once over) of this album eclipses any shortcomings. Dream Theatre is a band that does not cater the impatient in any way. Only open minded, active listeners will be rewarded with the euphoric listening experience that this album and Images and Words truly are.

Speaking of Musicianship, Dream Theatre had the balls to release this album (or started writing it anyway) when the Seattle scene with all of it's anti- musicianship, was at it's peak. Being a technically skilled musician at the time was about as cool as Bobby Knight's temper.

Perhaps the band has lost it's way somewhat on later albums i.e. Octovarium, but judging this work of art is like judging 'Sketches of Spain', or Mozart's 'Requiem'. One can like them or dislike them, but truly they are beyond judgement.
Considering that I am a somewhat notorious progressive rock fan (see my reviews of Yes, Pink Floyd, Genesis, Big Big Train, Guitar Garden, etc., etc.) and did in fact give this album a D, it seems clear that your first sentence is demonstrably false. As for "beyond judegment," sorry, but there are no sacred cows on this site. Just ask Christopher Thelen -- he's already gored most of 'em...

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