10 August 2013

Dream Theater - Awake

1994 in metal? On the face of it, probably not a momentous year. Glam was burning out before it had the chance to crowd surf into the flames and by then its sell-by-date had long passed. At the same time came a wave of a new music largely from Seattle and, well, you can guess the rest. I was only introduced to Dream Theater recently by Eddie Carter and on first impressions I can see how prominent DT are in their field. I'm converted.

Some good acts however did emerge about the early nineties. Sepultura and Pantera were introducing a new twist to the party with Groove Metal. The other genre that was rising through the ranks at the same time was Progressive Metal, with the likes of Shadow Gallery and Symphony X. However, this act I'm examining, Dream Theater was already established with a clutch of albums under their wing although they were still carving their niche in the world and if you like, a little quirkiness in their songwriting prowess. Formed in New York in the mid eighties, the 'Theater have kept a reasonably stable lineup for at least 20 years with John Petrucci (guitar) and John Myung (bass) now the remaining founder members.

Awake is their third album, released in the Grunge era and perhaps at the worst possible moment, showing them experimenting with Kevin Moore's keyboard work and John Petrucci's heavy riffs on his Ibanez and blending the two key elements together. This also would be Moore's last studio contribution with DT before choosing to forge his own musical path. Mike Portnoy also left the act fairly recently citing exhaustion, which is a real shame as he's one of the most technically gifted and methodical drummers I've ever heard. Petrucci also demonstrates assured and confident dexterity not dissimilar to that of Joe Satriani's, while James LaBrie has reasonably strong facets in his singing tones and they remind me a little of Vince Neil although I personally think that LaBrie has far more discipline in this department.

None of the loops or the rhythm stay the same on Awake for one minute. It's like "Hi, how are you doing?" then suddenly "OK I'll catch you later." There's always some alteration on a beat or chord structure just to keep you on your toes. Erotomania feels like a metal refined version of a Marillion opus, and Space Dye Vest has some curious lyrical content accompanied by a lone piano. The instrumentals throughout are also peppered with various movie excerpts, eg Damage and A Room With A View. Might not be to everyone's tastes but it does help with the flow of the song progression. Oh, and apparently, there's also an audio clip commentary recorded during the OJ Simpson freeway pursuit.

Innocence Faded is a lively little retro number with hints of Genesis and slowed down Rush giving a kaleidoscopic acoustic. I also find very entertaining the melodic and structurally sound Caught In A Web while Scarred is worthy of all of its 11 minute grandiose.

In among the grunge and alternative rock pile of the time, this was the first indicator that Prog Metal was about to take off and put daylight between itself and the Glam and Hair slush. Dream Theater has earned its spurs as a benchmark and as an album, Awake is one I've certainly found pleasantly amusing although I've yet to hear the remainder of their discography. They also have a new album out in September, and certainly one I hope to review in due course. M. Richardson 08/08/2013.

8 out of ten. Oh, now you have my attention, and maybe my money, time and heart.

Innocence Faded recorded live in 2006. Petrucci with some excellent fretwork here.

Awake is available for purchase as a CD or MP3 download here

The whole album is here on Spotify

Click here for Dream Theater's official website

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