2. Caught In A Web
3. Innocence Faded
A MIND BESIDE ITSELF:
6. The Silent Man
7. The Mirror
9. Lifting Shadows Off A Dream
11. Space-Dye Vest
Awake, the third album by prog-metalheads Dream Theater, is an album that takes more than just one or two listens to fully soak in all of the little intricacies, flourishes and oddities sprinkled throughout. While I would normally subtract a few points for not being readily enjoyable, I give those points right back because the payoff is completely worth it. This whole album simultaneously pays tribute to earlier progressive acts (Queensrÿche, Pink Floyd) and creates the blueprint for future bands of the genre such as Tool and Meshuggah.
The opening track “6:00” to me sounds very similar to Rush, albeit with a heavier edge. There is something about Mike Portnoy’s drumming on the song that reminds me of Neil Peart. Also, the keyboard riff by Kevin Moore is one of the best, most prominent utilizations of the instrument in heavy metal, as it supplies one of the catchiest aspects to the song. “Lifting Shadows Off A Dream” is a slowly building kind-of-ballad which features effective use of delay in the guitar riff in the first half. The overall result is engaging, emotional and ultimately leaves you with an uplifted feeling.
“Space-Dye Vest” is a dark, seven-minute piano ballad that strays mostly from the metallic sound in earlier tracks. Instead, it moves at a moderate tempo and creates a bleak and gloomy atmosphere with the affecting piano chords and the distressed yet subdued vocal delivery by James LaBrie. Contrarily, “The Mirror” is a highly advanced, extremely technical piece of music. Constant change of meter and feel keep the listener on the edge; it is uncertain what the band will do around each new corner. Note that this is one of the heaviest and crunchiest sounding songs on the album (probably second only to “Caught In A Web,” whose beginning sounds deep enough to be Disturbed). This is due to a more noticeable employment of the bottom string on a seven-string guitar.
Tracks four through six are connected under the subtitle “A Mind Beside Itself.” The three-part section begins with “Erotomania,” a multilayered instrumental that includes several different styles and variations, ranging from a symphonic Faith No More approach to a hard rock Boston-esque organ segment. Second is “Voices,” whose song structure is not quite memorable or superior enough to stand up against other tracks on the album. Though it clocks in at nine minutes, it does not do anything special enough to make it endearing to the listener. The final track in the saga is a simple acoustic piece called “The Silent Man.” This track is stripped down from the usually very progressive Dream Theater sound and instead uses simple guitar chords to get the message across. Though it is radically different, it is still worth a listen or two.
Two of my favorite tracks on the whole album are “Lie” and “Scarred,” both of which come toward the end of the album. “Lie” has a sound that would not be out of place if it were on the Tool album Undertow; it is not as progressive as it could be, but makes up for it with some dark, heavy riffs and teeth-gnashing rage within the lyrics. “Scarred” is the longest song on the album (ELEVEN MINUTES!) and certainly benefits from length. There is so much greatness going on during the track, from its funky jam session introduction to its headbang-worthy power chords to its occasional symphonic tendencies. Probably the best track on the album, this song is a must-have.
While I have compared many of these songs to various other artists, Awake remains highly original, mesmerizing, elaborate and, in a way, ahead of its time. Listening in the year 2010, the album still holds up and has not aged a bit since its initial release in 1994. As a matter of fact, it sounds more modern than anything that came out of the 90’s. That is saying something. Well done, Dream Theater.