REVIEW: Dream Theater’s Discography

I love Dream Theater. I would even rank Dream Theater to be on the top of my favorite list. When I first encountered this weird-named band when I was in high school, I was first reluctant. Heck, every ‘bandista’ in our room talks about them while I was still listening to Simple Plan, Green Day and other cheesy bands. Curiosity brought me to listen to “Metropolis Part 1” and since then I was a rabid fan.

Years of listening to DT made me quite sensitive the radical changes in their sound and even their personal lives (hehe). So I decided to make a review of their albums. This has two reasons: (1) I’d like to share my appreciation of DT’s music to the metalheads out there; (2) my girlfriend is already having a headache listening to my musical insights and rants about the band to the point that she accused me of being gay.

So let’s start. (white noise fades in)

When Dream and Day Unite (1989)

  • 1. A Fortune in Lies 5:13
  • 2. Status Seeker 4:18
  • 3. The Ytse Jam 5:46
  • 4. The Killing Hand 8:42
  • 5. Light Fuse and Get Away 7:24
  • 6. Afterlife 5:27
  •  7. The Ones Who Help To Set The Sun 8:05
  •                                      8. Only a Matter of Time 6:36

Despite the rather poor recording and rather mushy song writing, I still believe Dream Theater’s debut album is a blast. Of course, Charlie Dominici really sounds like a cross between Europe’s Joey Tempest and Rush’s Geddy Lee’s screeching vocals; the orchestration is more of a Rush-like hard rock type. There is a very prevalent 80s sound (dense backing vocals and arrangements).  But definitely, this is still Dream Theater, with Kevin Moore highlighting his splendid keyboard skills in “Status Seeker” and John Petrucci giving us a taste of exotic guitar playing that we definitely will not hear from a normal hard-rock record. Yet, despite the esoteric nature of their music, the songs in this record are still surprisingly catchy and easy to listen to.

It is inevitable to compare DT during this era with their late 80s heavy rock/ metal companions. DT really sounds like a Symphony X/Queensryche/Rush hybrid on this one. The centerpiece “The Killing Hand” (which I will brand as the best song in this record) sounds like Rush’s The Necromancer”, “Xanadu” and other Rush epics. Songwriting is typical Petrucci/ Portnoy: fantasy, dreams, philosophical shit and other weird stuff that almost all progressive rock bands like to sing about.

Other gems in this album are “A Fortune In Lies”, “Light Fuse and Get Away” and of course the fan favorite, “Ytse Jam” (which of course is ‘majesty’ when spelled backwards. Majesty is the first name of the band before they switched to Dream Theater).

Images and Word (1992)

1. Pull Me Under 8:11
2. Another Day 4:24
3. Take The Time 8:21
4. Surrounded 5:30
5. Metropolis Pt. 1: The Miracle and the Sleeper 9:32
6. Under a Glass Moon 7:04
7. Wait for Sleep 2:32
                                                  8. Learning To Live 11:31
 

To some Dream Theater ‘purist’ fans, Images and Words is the most ‘Dream Theater’ album around. Dubbed as the landmark of the progressive metal genre, the sound of this album is very light compared to their later albums (but of course much heavier to progressive rock bands like Rush), with John Petrucci holding the volume of his guitar and letting the notes jump around every song.  Kevin Moore’s rather relatively simple but ingenious keyboard work is something that many DT fans miss (me personally) especially since the lavish orchestrations of present keyboardist Jordan Ruddess has dramatically transformed DT’s music into something denser and heavy to the eardrums. Images and Words is a huge departure to their rather cheesy debut album When Dream and Day Unite, with the band shedding off a huge part of their Rush influences and developing their much grittier sound.

“Pull Me Under” is considered their biggest hit, but personally I think the said track is rather lame. Petrucci played a very controlled solo, and Moore’s bluesy segment is somewhat un-affecting. The songs “Another Day” and “Surrounded” are the more radio-friendly songs, but for my own liking “Surrounded” is the more effective Dream Theater pop tune, as it still showcases DT’s craving for odd rhythms, and above all has a very catchy tune.

Now for the main pieces. “Metropolic Part 1”, “Under a Glass Moon,” and “Take the Time” are what I consider the most kiss-ass songs of the album, displaying each  of the band members world-class talents in their respective instruments. James LaBrie is a blast, and without question I would consider this album as his best performance ever.  The finale, “Learning To Live”, is without doubt the best song in this album. To know why, better plop that earphone now and enjoy the 11+ plus minute extravaganza.

For a prog fan who has a liking for Rush, Yes and 80s hard rock, and has less ear for hardcore metal music, this album is the best for you.

Awake (1994) 
1. 6:00 5:31
2. Caught in A Web 5:28
3. Innocence Faded 5:48
4. A Mind Beside Itself: Erotomania 6:45
5. A Mind Beside Itself: Voices 9:53
6. A Mind Beside Itself: The Silent Man 3:48
7. The Mirror 6:45
                                                  8. Lie 6:34
                                                  9. Lifting Shadows Off A Dream 6:05
                                               10. Scarred 11:00
                                               11. Space-Dye Vest 7:29

This album has disappointed many DT fans who have known Dream Theater’s sound from Images and Words. But despite (or because of) the heavier riffs and louder volume, Awake expanded DT’s repertoire and proved that the progressive metal genre is indeed progressive.

It took me really a hard time before I appreciated fully this second album effort. However, listening to “Innocence Faded” made to reconsider the general opinion. Yes, “6:00” (or maybe even “Caught in a Web” are rather disappointing, but the “A Mind Beside Itself Trilogy Suite: “Erotomania”, “Voices”, “The Silent Man”) is a masterpiece. It is musically diverse, even hard-rocking at some moments, and mind-blogging (ever had an idea who is The Silent Man? give me some answers!) “Scarred”, on the other hand, is angriest DT song to date. “Space Dye Vest” is heartbreaking, and it is not even a love song. To all emo fans, this song is an ear candy, the best song to motivate oneself to get that razor from the cabinet. Labrie again showed an exemplary performance. Myung and Petrucci stepped up and showed us their hidden arsenal in the songs “Lifting Shadows Off a Shadow” and “Lie”.

“Lifting Shadows Off a Dream” is my favorite. The mellow-ness of the song is punctuated by an odd groove towards the end of the song. Too hard to explain. All in all, “Awake” is one of the highlights of DTs career.

Falling Into Infinity (1997)

1. New Millenium 8:20
2. You Not Me  4:58
3. Peruvian Skies 6:43
4. Hollow Years 5:53
5. Burning My Soul 5:29
6. Hell’s Kitchen 4:26
7. Lines in the Sand 12: 05
                                                  8. Take Away My Pain 6:03
                                                  9. Just Let Me Breathe 5:28
                                               10. Anna Lee 5:51
                                               11. Trial of Tears 13:07

To say that Falling Into Infinity is meant to be a more commercial album is to say enough. But I would go on to say more. Songwriting was a bit lousy, and it is very evident that there is an attempt to make every track more ‘commercial’.  “Anna Lee” is a true-blue ballad, and I consider it very good for  radio song. “Take Away My Pain” and “Hollow Years” are boring to death. “Peruvian Skies” tried to like a more sellable Metallica song. And the list goes on. Of course, despite this, there are still gems like “New Millenium,” “Lines in the Sand,” and “Trial of Tears.” However, compared to the general epic-ness of their previous albums, “Falling Into Infinity” is without doubt an all-time low.

Metropolis Part 2: Scenes from a Memory (1999) 

Act I
1. Regression 2:06
2. Overture 1928 3:37
3. Strange Deja Vu 5:12
4. Through My Words  1:02
5. Fatal Tragedy 6:49
6. Beyond This Life 11:22
                                                  7. Through Her Eyes 5:29
                                                 Act II
                                                  8. Home 12:53
                                                  9.  The Dance of Eternity 6:13
                                                10. One Last Time 3:46
                                                11. The Spirit Carries On 6:38
                                                12. Finally Free 11:59

A musically colossal concept album in the likes of The Who’s Tommy and Quadrophrenia, Scenes from a Memory is considered by many as DT’s masterpiece. And why not? For me, this is certainly one of the most sonically diverse albums from them. Coming from the ear-fuck song “Metropolis Part” from Images and Words, this album seeks to elucidate the vague story of The Miracle and The Sleeper. And eventually they came to an interesting storyline.

The one thing I really admire with this album is its cohesiveness and unforced continuity. Many musical themes from “Metropolis Part 1” are rehashed (or rather, elaborated) throughout the album. The opening song “Regression” already hits the connection between the song and the album. “The Dance of Eternity”, arguably the most ear-fucking song and complex song they ever created, recreated the already complex “Metropolis Part 1.”

Now let’s go to the diversity of the sounds in the album. The first three songs are hard-rockers, typical Dream Theater. “Through My Words” explains the storyline and introduces the most important musical theme (in D major). “Fatal Tragedy” is something neo-classical metal ala Yngwie Malmsteen. “Home” features Jordan Ruddess employing sitar sounds through a tasteful sequence in a B minor/ Indian Scale. “The Spirit Carries On” sounds like a Christian praise and worship song (featuring a Gospel music inspired vocal solo by Theresa Thomason), but of course it is what I consider the dramatic peak of the album.

Now for the highlights. For a first time listener, check out “Beyond This Life”, “Home” and my favorite “Finally Free” (this songs summarizes the storyline, of course lyrically but more importantly musically, stitching the utilized musical themes into one explosive song). Weakness: “Through Her Eyes” (this is adorable in first hearing but will sound rather lame if listened to for about three times), “One Last Time”, and “Overture 1928.”

What is the biggest weakeness of this album? The storyline is lame. Yeah,  it is almost like they forcibly created a profound ‘predestination’ story from the song “Metropolis Part 1”. Some elements are rather unconving and even corny. If we are to grade this record to the epic-ness of Tommy, Pink Floyd’s The Wall or maybe even Jesus Christ Superstar, definitely the narrative content of Scenes from a Memory is subpar. Nonetheless, what I really admire is the music, so who cares? Hehe.

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