|Review: Dream Theater - Awake|
Label: Atlantic Records
Year released: 1994
Genre: Progressive Metal
Review online: January 3, 2004
Reviewed by: 4th Horseman
Rated 4.11/5 (82.3%) (61 Votes)
Dream Theater requires no introduction, at least not to progressive metal fans. For those making the brave move towards progressive…sorry, this album is not a good start. "Awake" does not live up to its monumental predecessor "Images and Words" (1992). For Progressive metal fans however, even more so for Dream Theater fans, this album will not be as great of a disappointment; quite the contrary actually. "Awake" is definitely more metal, more complex and heavier than any other Dream Theater release. The guitars are clearly not 'background noise' here and the album does deliver some of the coolest riffs Dream Theater has ever come out with. However, it is a bit too technical for the casual listener though.
The lyrics of the album, as is the case with pretty much all of Prog-Metal, can only be understood entirely by none other than the authors. You can get some idea about the personal issues being discussed such as perplexity, faith and anger towards the world, but for the most part, your interpretation is as good as anyone else's. That is, in all probability the idea here, to leave it to the listener to find meaning in it, which I think is a pretty cool concept, not uncommon to the genre. In terms of music, it is very intricate. "Erotomania" for example, is an instrumental track that boldly taunts and challenges others to mimic and play something as mechanical and skillful as this. While not everyone's cup of tea, the guitar work just gives a strange thrill, and the drumming is probably the highlight of the track. 'Sheer brilliance'! It does normally take about two minutes into the track to get comfortable with it, because, as already mentioned, the music is just eccentric, in a cool sort of way. "Voices" is the defining track of the album. Although in many other songs, the technicalities actually get quite annoying and tiresome towards the end, this song on the other hand was executed perfectly and it is doubtful it can be improved upon. Finishing off around the ten minute mark, the song is an outstanding journey filled with emotions and creates a hellacious atmosphere that is dark and full of surprises. The way a slow and mellow two minute long verse transforms into an explosive chorus is just unreal and leaves little doubt that this is the same band that gave us the magnificent "Images and Words" two years prior. Incorporating various sounds, whispers, chilling vocals, and instruments, "Voices" will keep your attention for the entire 9:53, purely due to the element of surprise and epic interludes thrown in just at the right times. "Scarred" is another monster track spinning for eleven minutes. Praise for this album has a lot to do with these two tracks. I would much rather have a Dream Theater album with only six or seven long tracks such as these than have eleven of moderate quality. The band really does display its talents in these songs; however, "Scarred" has quite a bit of repetition in it, whereas "Voices" just unleashes Dream Theater's talents without going back to what was already done.
The thing with this type of music is that it is generally not catchy at all. Anytime I listen to Dream Theater, I expect to invest a little time on the album before I develop a liking to it. "Awake" on the other hand, did not require any normal investment; it required utter devotion and a strong internal desire to like this album. Exceptions aside, some songs are just puzzling as to what the hell they are doing on a Dream Theater album. Forget Dream Theater, songs like "Space Dye-Vest" have no place in metal. The puzzling effect of this song is comparable to Manowar's "Nessun Dorma" on the "Warriors Of The World" album. You can appreciate the talent all you want, but it just doesn't sound right! It just gets you confused, and if that was the idea, then Bravo; mission accomplished! An interesting thing I noticed about this track is the intro's vocal melody. It is the exact same tune that is played on the keyboards at about the 5:30 mark on "The Mirror" on the same album. I don't know if Dream Theater thought they could pull a fast one and throw it in the middle of a long song without anyone noticing it! In any case, this was just something I found intriguing as it is not a common practice.
Don't let the criticisms sour you on getting this CD though. With some problems, "Awake" is not entirely a disappointment. It followed one of the greatest progressive metal albums of all time and had big shoes to fill, so I guess I expected much, much more. Another factor was all the hype surrounding this band and the sheer volume of praise this album got from Dream Theater fans, that it raised the expectations astronomically high. This CD is definitely not one of the 'coaster CDs' that I would use to place my coffee cups on. It does indeed create an adventurous atmosphere; it takes you in a world you don't really want to be in, but like to stick around just to see what it is all about. "Awake" is a journey full of surprises that will most definitely get you thinking, either about the amount of skill involved in playing such music, or what the lyrics are talking about, or if not anything at all, it will get you wondering how Prog-metal fans enjoy this stuff! "Awake" is good album. Not great, just good, as about half the songs are decent, about a quarter are ridiculous and the other quarter are just flat out spectacular.
Not recommended for someone who has never gotten a taste of Dream Theater. As for the Dream Theater fan, how come you don't already have this disc?
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