A Review of Dream Theater's Awake

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Dream Theater, Awake (EastWest Atlantic)

Reviewed by Paul W. Cashman

Awake is Dream Theater's third album, and after the quiet underground success of Images and Words (certified gold in sales back in January 1995), hopes and anticipation have been high among fans and on the nets. With Awake, they may well have matched I&W's sustained brilliance. They've certainly delivered a solid album with all of what DT fans look for, and some new twists as well.

As we've come to expect from this Long Island, NY-based band, virtuoso performances on all instruments (including the throat) abound. Production is rich and mostly seamless, especially with all the sampling, generally voice vignettes from a variety of sources, including "A Room With a View" and news coverage of the O.J. Simpson chase. At 75 minutes, this CD is chock-full of material, but you'll want to get the CD: the cassette is missing an 11-minute track and must be considered incomplete.

When Awake was recorded, Dream Theater consisted of James Labrie on vocals, John Petrucci on guitar, John Myung on bass, Mike Portnoy on drums, and Kevin Moore on keys. Moore has since left DT to walk a different path, and the tour has been conducted with keyboardist Derek Sherinian (Alice Cooper, Vinnie Moore, etc.) Derek was announced as Dream Theater's new official keyboardist in March of 1995 while the band was touring Europe.

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Impressions by Track:

We begin with "6:00," and after Portnoy gets us going with an introductory drum lesson, Labrie's voice enters, timed perfectly after some well-placed samples. He sounds much lower and gravelly than on past offerings. The soaring chorus here really sets this song apart right away.

The second track "Caught In A Web" is a bit choppy, but Portnoy's splendid drums intermixed with Petrucci's sharply-defined axe work carry the tune and then some. This one took a bit to grow on me, but grow it did.

"Innocence Faded" is one of the more commercially-viable tracks on the album, a well-assembled tune with a strong chorus (maybe too strong?) An elegant tune as only DT can do one. The brilliant guitar ending, reminiscent of Dixie Dregs, means this one isn't a completely commercial-sounding effort.

"A Mind Beside Itself" is a trilogy containing three distinct tracks:

  1. "Erotomania," an instrumental track, continues the Dregs-like style from "IF" and blends it with a soaring melodic foreshadowing of "The Silent Man" before racing off again into the ether. Unsurprisingly, this is a particularly memorable tune. Close listening will reveal snippets from nearly every other song on Awake.
  2. "Voices" starts strongly, then dips into a reflective mode with Kevin's delicate keys underscoring a quieter interlude laced with John P.'s guitar and Portnoy's anchoring drums. Then we're racing off again.... At times sounding much like Queensryche in the Mindcrime days, this is also a terrific tune, with Labrie's most emotional vocals on the CD coming here....
            ...Seen my diary on the newsstand
            Seems we've lost the truth to quicksand
            It's a shame no-one is praying
            Cause these voices in my head keep saying
            "Love, just don't stare".....
  3. After such a wild ride, a contemplative moment isn't out of place, and "The Silent Man" provides that release. An acoustic track, this is a perfect foil to the manic "Voices" and "Erotomania," which presaged the melody here about ten minutes beforehand. Your subwoofer will lap up the low bass in this one!

The contemplative mood lasts only as long as that last track; "The Mirror" starts out with a heavy beat that you'd have to be dead not to tap along to. Then Kevin's keys come in as a backdrop and hey presto, we're listening to Dream Theater again. Portnoy sneaks in some especially intricate work here and Labrie's vocals and Myung's bass are also highlights. Another fine track, which slips without pause into "Lie," forming an unofficial suite. "Lie" is the anointed first single from AWAKE and first video, a heavy, hard-driving track that melds in true DT style into a well-honed instrumental bridge finale. A good track, but not my first choice as a single -- chopping "The Mirror" off the front really hurts it.

"Lifting Shadows Off a Dream" is perhaps the 'cleanest' soft track on the album, not quite as choppy as "Caught In A Web" nor as chorusy as "Innocence Faded." This one would probably have done well in radio airplay in softer markets. Both John P. and John M. get their licks in here, and Kevin's keyboards add a pleasant backdrop as does Portnoy's delicate work.

"Scarred," the 11-minute opus that is omitted from the cassette version starts gently, then roars off the pad with time-changes galore. This is classic DT, with everyone contributing their share and then some. The ending wanders a bit, but it's still a marquee track.

"Space-Dye Vest" is Kevin Moore's swan-song; he wrote both words and music for this track. A deeply personal, piano-driven piece, this is far and away the saddest and most introspective song on the album, arguably the saddest song DT has ever done. Labrie's vocals sound ethereal here, and both Johns' carefully understated work on strings accentuate this track. A quiet beginning yields to a soaring crescendo that almost makes you forget the sadness of the song, until Kevin's keys wrap it up all alone. This is one of DT's most unique songs, already a fan favorite and a fitting tribute to Kevin Moore; his last work with DT appears here.

--And that's a wrap. Overall, this is another impressive album from one of the progressive world's brightest prospects. For me, the stretch of music from the end of "Innocence Faded" through "Lie" (with "The Silent Man" as a welcome chance to take a breather) is especially enjoyable. There's something for almost everyone here; bring a big appetite, since you've got an hour and fifteen minutes to choose from!

Out of five stars:
As a progressive metal album: **** */2
As a rock album: *****

Comments, insults, promos and demos to Paul W. Cashman, pellaz@adelphia.net :)

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